Generous Orthodoxy  

The word ortho-doxy (Greek for "right doctrine") has both positive and negative connotations. In a culture that prizes what is iconoclastic and transgressive, orthodoxy has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive and tyrannical at worst.

The position taken on this website is that we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the "righteous" by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.
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Latest News

Fleming's forthcoming book has received a *starred* review from Publishers' Weekly

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus Christ

Fleming Rutledge. Eerdmans, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7619-5

With her trademark eloquence and theological rigor, Episcopal priest Rutledge ( The Crucifixion) reflects on the liturgical season of Advent, challenging the conventional interpretation of Advent as preparation for Christmas. She highlights “the eschatological, future-oriented nature of Advent,” advising that the contemporary church rediscover its call to proclaim Christ’s Second Coming as the primary focus of Advent’s “watching and waiting” theme. Rutledge elucidates complex theological notions, such as the church’s mandate to live in between the “once and future, now and not-yet,” and “apocalyptic theology,” which emphasizes the battle between God and the “great Enemy... the personified demonic power of Sin and Death.” The book includes a comprehensive thematic introduction, several previously printed essays, and numerous sermons, which are meant to be sampled one or two at a time and are divided into categories such as “Justice and the Final Judgement” and “The Armor of Light.” Rutledge intends this book as a “valedictory message to serious young preachers,” and it will also appeal to anyone looking for challenging, insightful, and inspiring sermons that wrestle with the grim reality of suffering and “the problem of evil” while also offering hope.  (Sept.)

See the original review here.


Fleming is a regular now on the very popular “Crackers and Grape Juice” podcast. Look for “Fridays with Fleming”

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/crackers-and-grape-juice/id1100507919

 


A very knowledgeable recommendation of The Crucifixion, from London

Posted: Monday, February 20, 2017

"I'm Fleming Rutledge, and I approve this synopsis, from London, of my book The Crucifixion."
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-review-the-crucifixion


Fleming's book The Crucifixion has been named the Book of the Year (2017) by Christianity Today

Posted: Friday, December 16, 2016

Here is a link to the webpage with the announcement. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/january-february/christianity-todays-2017-book-of-year.html


The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge crosses the pond

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2016

The Church Times is a widely read publication of the Church of England. The May 27 issue contains a review of Fleming's book along with two others. Here is an excerpt from the review by Dr. Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester:

"The most substantial of these books is The Crucifixion, by the veteran US Episcopalian [sic] priest; Fleming Rutledge. A gifted preacher and spiritual writer, this is her theological magnum opus of 600 pages. Don’t let the length put you off: this is pure gold, reminiscent in style of Ken Leech at his best. The book is at once profound and preachable. A preacher will find material, and illustrations, for many sermons. Any Christian would find it uplifting, and academic theologians will see just how theology can best be put at the service of the wider Church. Her main dialogue partner is American Christianity, which evades the cross, as it comes packaged “as inspirational uplift — sunlit, backlit, or candlelit”. Not that the cross can ever be interpreted without reference to the resurrection, but this must be as a conjoined paradox rather than as a balance or neat sequence. If there is a central motif in this restless and multi-faceted book, it is that Jesus Christ represents, and enacts, God’s apocalyptic entry into creation in order to confront and destroy the powers and principalities of evil, supremely in the confrontation that the cross portrays. Hence the importance of its public dimension. The cross is not just an ugly death but a public ugly death."

 

 


The Crucifixion wins Best Reference Book award

Posted: Friday, May 13, 2016

Dick and Fleming Rutledge are shown with Professor Deborah Hunsinger and Professor George Hunsinger of Princeton Theological Seminary at the Episcopal Conference Center in Oviedo, Florida, where both women won Best Book awards from the Academy of Parish Clergy. Prof. Hunsinger's book, the Best Book of 2015, is Bearing the Unbearable, which puts trauma theory to work in the service of the gospel. Fleming Rutledge's book, The Crucifixion, won as Best Reference Book of 2015, so designated on account of its heft and comprehensiveness. George Hunsinger, who has won many awards himself, wrote an endorsement (aka "blurb") for Fleming's book. It was a wonderful reunion of colleagues.


The Episcopal New Yorker interviews Fleming Rutledge about The Crucifixion

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2016

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The Crucifixion was reviewed on the Reformed-ish blog by Derek Rishmawy, who calls it a “beautiful piece of theology”, ideal for pastor-theologians.

Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016

http://derekzrishmawy.com/2016/03/16/the-crucifixion-understanding-the-death-of-jesus-christ-by-fleming-rutledge/


Commonweal, the highly respected Roman Catholic magazine, has given Fleming's The Crucifixion a prominent, positive review:

Posted: Sunday, February 28, 2016

The reviewer, Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, associate professor of theology at Boston College, calls the book a "remarkable" and "monumental" work, and closes by echoing "the chant Augustine heard in the Garden: tolle, lege: take up and read! Rutledge’s volume wonderfully celebrates the triumph of redeeming grace: the crucified Messiah, Jesus who is 'the wisdom and power of God.'"

https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/crucifixion-0


The Christian Century featured a very positive review of The Crucifixion:

Posted: Saturday, February 27, 2016

http://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2015-09/crux-matter

 


Fleming presents her new book at the Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore:

Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2015

http://www.stmarys.edu/the-crucifixion-according-to-fleming-rutledge/

The photo shows Michael Gorman, of the EI, responding to her presentation. The copy is by David Neff, retired editor-in-chief of Christianity Today.


Fleming's new book is published and available

Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, is now officially in print. It can be ordered at a discount from Eerdmans directly, or from Amazon if you must. If you are a supporter of an independent bookstore, do ask them to order directly from Eerdmans. Eerdmans is superlative in speedy response and delivery, and they give substantial discounts to clergy.

This book about the cross of Christ is not like any other book presently on the market. It delves deeply into all the major images and motifs used in the Old and New Testaments to explain what is happening on the cross. That phrase, “what is happening,” is important. The crucifixion of Christ is not simply a spectacle to wonder at. God is doing something, something unique and cosmically effective, in historical time, at a specific geographical location intimately associated with his promises to the Jews. What is this thing that God is doing? This book attempts to answer that by reflecting in depth on what the Scriptures show us.

The book also attempts a close look at the problem of evil. There is no “answer” in this life to the problem of evil and suffering, but the suffering and excruciating public death of Jesus by torture is related to it in a way that is unique in religion and actually undercuts human religious ideas. The chapter called “The Descent into Hell” examines this matter in depth. Individual human frailty and sinfulness is addressed in the chapter called “The Substitution.” Social evil—war, violence, crime, oppression, racism, exploitation—is addressed particularly in “The Apocalyptic War: Christus Victor.” The entire volume is organized around the central proclamation of the gospel: the justification of the ungodly.

Several lay people have already testified that they are finding the book readable and engaging. To be sure, it is directed to pastors, preachers, and students, but it is also accessible to inquiring non-specialists. It can profitably be used by study groups, particularly by using the eight chapters in Part Two: The Biblical Motifs.


Recent Ruminations

Thoughts for the Advent season 2018
Friday, November 9, 2018

Some churches (especially in the mainlines) use the Common Lectionary for the Sunday scripture readings, but many do not. I preached from the lectionary the entire time I was in parish ministry and found it sufficiently rich and challenging to sustain me in the pulpit for many years.  After that, when I became a peripatetic preacher, I found myself choosing passages freely. There is much to be said for both. When the lectionary texts from the Old Testament and the Epistles are selected, there is great richness to be excavated. However, the lectionary can also be quite confining, especially when one has been in ministry for many years and comes upon the same texts for the same day every three years. Moreover, if the sermon is solely from the Gospels month after month, year after year, preacher and congregation alike will be on a very restricted diet. In addition, three lessons and a Psalm in one worship service is too much. No one can preach effectively on more than two lessons at a time. A series of sermons based on a selected chapter or book of Scripture is a particularly enriching exercise. (I've always wanted to preach a series on Ecclesiastes--and Ezekiel, and Habakkuk, and so forth--but have never had the opportunity. The lectionary does encourage a series on Romans once every three years—during the summer when attendance is likely to be non-serial!)


Having said that, I nevertheless find that the lectionary readings for pre-Advent and the first three Sundays of Advent, in particular, have immense significance. In this season more than any other, the themes of the righteousness of God and the judgment to come are front and center. These are not subjects that many readers of this blog would freely choose.  I vividly remember taking an eminent visiting theologian to an Episcopal service on a Sunday morning a decade or so ago. It must have been near Advent, because at least one of the texts spoke vigorously of judgment. The preacher said airily, “We don’t believe in judgment any more,” and passed on to one of the other  texts. That’s a true story. My guest was appalled.

In the news this month I have been reading of the relentlessly cruel war in Yemen, and the brazen Saudi-executed murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The two are intricately linked. The war in Yemen, which is causing one of the most devastating civilian crises of our time, has been prolonged by the aggressive participation of the Saudis, who in turn rely almost entirely on the West for sophisticated weaponry. A photo of a strikingly beautiful little Yemeni girl on the verge of death from hunger was on the front page of The New York Times. Many people wrote to the Times in distress, offering help, but the child died a few days later—one of many who were perhaps not so beautiful and therefore not chosen for the front page, but equally loved by their impoverished, powerless parents. The Saudis bomb indiscriminately, using armaments supplied by America, Britain, and France. The United States in particular is heavily invested in the Saudi role in Yemen. The war has been going on for four years, and international observers are predicting a famine of epic proportions soon—some are saying the worst in 100 years.  The season of Advent is designed to tell us that we are involved such things whether we know it or not.

Parallel to all this is the matter of the Khashoggi murder, with its unusually grisly details. I have written in my Crucifixionbook that wherever there is impunity, the Powers of Sin and Death will find free range.  The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS),  has learned that he had better conduct his killings with more circumspection in future, so as not to embarrass his American and European sponsors, but there will be no real punishment. Three major American consulting companies (McKinsey, BGG, and Booz Allen) continue to be deeply involved in helping MBS build up his country according to economic indicators. One specialist in the region says that these consultants “soft-pedal” their advice, because “their fear is that if they speak truth to power at this stage…they will be tossed out.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/04/world/middleeast/mckinsey-bcg-booz-allen-saudi-khashoggi.html

What has all this got to do with Christian faith, and with Advent in particular? The season of the church year that lends itself best to speaking about these matters is the season in which we speak of the coming judgment of God, and the traditional Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell). Advent looks to the future when the righteousness of God will triumph over all evil, but not without judgment. There is no human being who will not be present at the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:32). Who and what will save us from our complicity with evil in the Last Day? Our good deeds? Matthew 25:34-46 might lead us to think so. That’s one of many reasons that we need Paul and the other Epistles alongside the four Gospels.

What bothers me most, and what should bother all of us, is a continuing bifurcation in Christian thinking between sins and Sin. In so much of the teaching and preaching of the churches, we are fixated on individual sin and ignore corporate sin because we do not understand that the entire planet Earth is occupied by forces determined to undo the work of God. When we personally know people to be kind, useful members of our local community, it is very difficult to think of them as part of the machinery of the Devil. If I myself give food to the hungry at Thanksgiving and contribute to Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists, doesn’t that get me off the hook?

In a word, NO. As Paul writes in Romans 5, we are all born into Adam—“Sin came into the world through one man [Adam] and Death through Sin, and so Death spread to all men because all men sinned…”

There are times when we should examine our own hearts for the signs of the sinful nature (“Adam”) that infect our own hearts, and there are times when we need to see the larger picture. I get criticism because, in my Crucifixion and Adventbooks, I concentrate so much on corporate sin. But that is deliberate. I believe that the only way to get the attention of the whole church is to understand two things (this is oversimplified, but I’m hoping it makes the point):

1) The “evangelical” churches of the so-called Christian Right tend to concentrate on individual sin (as long as it’s not the president’s—he gets a pass) and therefore to excuse or ignore the involvement, active and passive, of every individual in corporate misdoing. A classic example is the often-heard slogan, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” That is to say, if one person is reckless or careless enough to kill with a gun, that’s his problem (not to mention the problem of the person[s] killed); governmental regulations have nothing to do with individual misdeeds.
2) In making social justice their central message, the mainline churches have admittedly made major contributions in the past (for instance during the civil rights movement, when some white churches made really significant contributions), but if care is not taken, this message will, over time, attract only the like-minded, and in so doing will have devalued the gospel of the justification of the ungodly (Romans 4:5 and 5:6), which identifies all of humankind as perpetrators of evil, whether through conscious intent, or through weakness, or through ignorance (Romans 3:9-11).

It is crucial to understand two things at once:

1)      We are each of us subject to the law of Sin and Death (Romans 5:12-21), and all of us are caught in an intricate web of global misdoing, so that it is impossible to blame any one individual or even groups of individuals for socioeconomic crises, and equally impossible to find a permanent earthly solution to any geopolitical problem.

2)      Nevertheless, God through Jesus Christ has created a body of disciples to wage war against Sin and Death with the full panoply of the armor of God, even to our own deaths—whether the death be literal or figurative, it will be death to this world.  

Ephesians 6:10-18 is illustrious for its powerful description of the armor of God. Ephesians is not one of the strongly apocalyptic books of the New Testament, because it is not markedly future-oriented as are the undisputed letters of Paul; however, the author of Ephesians well identifies the apocalyptic world-view of the New Testament, writing of “the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Paul would say that we are all “the children of disobedience” because we are all “in Adam”  (I Corinthians 15:22)—but Paul also says, “You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). In Romans 8 Paul proclaims the new life in Christ as a present reality even as he preserves the now-not yet dialectic so central to the Advent message. Paul is referring to baptism, in which God’s action counts for everything: God “ has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:12-13).

The best imagery therefore for Advent is that of underground resistance against the “dominion of darkness.” We do not belong to the darkness, not because we are righteous, but because God is righteous.

There is a passage well known to Pauline scholars but somewhat neglected in the churches. It is referred to as the hos me (“as though not”) passage in I Corinthians 7:25-31. This is the classic now/not yet passage. Paul teaches that every Christian—and every Christian community—is to live in this world “as though not” living in it, “for the form of this world is passing away.” What a challenge to preach! I have never done so. Perhaps I will do so this season.







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Latest Tips From the Times

I am shifting to Twitter!
Monday, January 23, 2017

I have decided to stop writing for this "Tips from the Times" feature on my website. From now on, I will simply reTweet articles that I think are notable, trying to be selective and not send too many. I have really enjoyed doing Tips, and I think there are some good pieces in my Tips archives, but I am spending too much time on it and--as we all know by now--Twitter is easier and more efficient, if not exactly mind-stretching! I will be able to put more effort into Ruminations. Many thanks to all my readers.
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