Friday, May 22, 2009

Unpacking New Creation Theology

Today I am gonna answer the question, “What is New Creation Theology?” I’ve been talking about it here at the blog for the last two days, but I’m not sure the reader knows what I mean by it.

Just to recap: according to Galatians 6:15-16, circumcision nor uncircumcision (being Jew or Gentile) is insignificant; the rule or standard by which to measure a person is “new creation.” In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls this a rule (the Greek word “kanon,” from which we derive our English word, “canon”), and says that peace and mercy will be upon the one who lives by this rule.

Earlier this morning I engaged the text of Galatians 3:28 which has been used by egalitarians to argue for women in ministry. On the basis of Galatians 3:28 alone, women have a place in ministry. I showed that, in line with Gordon Fee’s interpretation, Galatians as a book is all about ecclesiology—how the Christian community should live together despite its various distinctions (be they ethnic, economic, social, gendered, etc.). I walked the reader through Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2 and showed that Paul was concerned with more than just Peter acknowledging the salvation of the Gentiles—Paul wanted Peter to act on the soteriological position of the Gentiles by eating with them WITHOUT SHAME because they were “new creation” in Christ! Consequently, the same Paul who wanted the rule of New Creation to drive Peter’s ecclesiology wants all believers in Christ (yes, even complementarians!) to have the rule of New Creation to drive their ecclesiology as well.

Having said all this, I now want to tackle the issue at hand: what is New Creation Theology? To answer this question, we will need to look at the following passage: 2 Corinthians 5.

14For the love of Christ(T) controls us, because we have concluded this: that(U) one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all,(V) that those who live might no longer live for themselves but(W) for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16From now on, therefore,(X) we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is(Y) in Christ, he is(Z) a new creation.[b](AA) The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God,(AB) who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us(AC) the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself,(AD) not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us(AE) the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:14-19, ESV)

This passage is the main passage in favor of New Creation Theology. It not only tells us that every man in Christ is “new creation,” but it also goes on to state what it means to be new creation: “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (v.17).

What does it mean to be “new creation”? to be new creation means to be in Christ. And, because a person is in Christ, the hierarchical distinctions (such as gender, ethnicity, and class status) are made null and void. Because of this, Paul writes in verse 16,

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.”

Regarding this verse, Gordon Fee writes,

“He[Paul] asserts that the new creation brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection nullifies viewing anyone/anything from the ‘OLD AGE’ perspective (Greek KATA SARKA, ‘according to the flesh’). Why? Because Christ’s death has brought the whole human race under the sentence of death (2 Cor. 5:14), so that those who live in God’s new order do so for the One who died for them and was raised again (2 Cor. 5:15). Thus being ‘in Christ’ means belonging to the new creation: the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). This radical, new-order point of view—resurrection life marked by the cross—lies at the heart of everything Paul thinks and does (cf. Phil. 3:4-14)” (“Discovering Biblical Equality,” pg. 178).

Now some may say that I am stretching this concept a bit too far. And the complementarian is probably condemning me into outer darkness at this point (where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth); however, I have proof for the claim that Gordon Fee makes (and that I believe): to demonstrate, we will now look at Galatians 3:28, along with Colossians 3:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:13. I’ll set them up here so you won’t have to worry about finding them.

28(E) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free,(F) there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28. ESV)

11(A) Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,[a] free; but Christ is(B) all, and in all. (Col. 3:11, ESV)

13For(AA) in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—(AB) Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and(AC) all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13, ESV)

In all three verses, we find that “Jews and Greeks” are mentioned; “slave and free” are mentioned. But what we find different in these three passages concerns the designations of “male and female” and “barbarian and Scythian.” First, regarding male and female, we know that these two genders are opposites: one cannot be both male and female at the same time (seeing that “female” is the feminine “male”). However, the distinctions “barbarian” and “Scythian” are not polar opposites—rather, they are two shades of the same color:

“These two expressions are not here set in contrast to one another. The Scythians were BARBARIANS, but were generally considered to be THE MOST EXTREME FORM; THEY WERE THE WILDEST AND MOST SAVAGE OF THE BARBARIANS” (“The Believers’ Bible Commentary,” William McDonald and Art Farstad, pg. 2010).

To place “barbarian” and “Scythian” in relation to each other, we first have to know what a “barbarian” is. Merriam-Webster Dictionary online gives us two definitions:

(1) of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people.

(2) lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture.

Barbarians were believed to be inferior; and they were given this label because they
were usually uneducated. Barbarians were savages, those who seemed to be out of touch with human civilization (and even reality). Scythians, however, were “the wildest and most savage of the barbarians,” which means they were the ABSOLUTE WORST!
And yet, as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and IN ALL.” The wonderful thing for Paul was that this rule of “New Creation” included EVERYONE. No matter what societal standing one had, EVERYONE had equal standing in the eyes of God, and before God.

But, that’s not all. Not only did the New Creation Rule affect one’s standing before God, but also ONE’S STANDING BEFORE GOD’S PEOPLE! As I stated in my last post on Galatians 3:28, our soteriology—our belief that God saves all who come to Him—must influence our ecclesiology—how we carry out this New Creation Rule amongst the community of believers. In future posts, I will focus on how soteriology affects ecclesiology. Paul certainly believed it did—and what’s good for the apostle Paul is good for us, too.

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