"Perhaps a radical is someone who does believe that newness, genuine newness, is possible. Whereas a conservative is perhaps someone who believes that new expressions are possible, but these are only reformulations of old things – and thus the old is preserved, even if it is reformed."The world in which I live believes newness is impossible: I am surrounded by fans of Solomon, continually quoting "There is nothing new under the sun" in response to my wistful pleas. The upside of this perspective is [perhaps forced] contentment with things as they are, and commitment to working within what is known and accepted. It's a safer and more grounded perspective, anchored in what is known and proven - and, quite frankly, (from a theological perspective, at least) it's more easily and convincingly defended.
On the other hand, this perspective absolutely quenches my hope. If I look around me and assume that anything good I might hope for will have to come from what already is, the flatness of potentiality is devastating. I want desperately to believe the words of the prophet: "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev. 21:5) And I want to believe that newness isn't just a characteristic of the afterlife. I want to also believe the Gospel writers who wrote about "new wine", and the writers of the epistles who spoke of "new creation." Not to mention Jesus, who ushered in both a "new commandment" and a "new covenant."
I understand that roots are important, and that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. I don't question my indebtedness to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, or to the medieval mystics John and Theresa. I wouldn't be the person I am without the influence of my Mennonite ancestors, or of my faithful parents. But just as undeniable are the few remarkable occasions in my life when something completely broke and then was transformed. Out of emptiness, out of the rupture of all that had been, was born something radically new. You could argue (and many do) that the "new" thing was in fact linked to something very old, and on some levels you would be right. On the other hand, I inhabited both the former and the latter - and I can tell you, categorically, that the new truly is new. I couldn't have gotten here from there without a radical change, without the gift of something breaking in and utterly transforming that which had been into that which now is.
My hope is with the radicals.
"Thus both the radical and the conservative are interested in the past, but in different ways. One thinks that the past must continue to be brought into the present while the other thinks the past is a womb from which an utterly new event can arise..."