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

The Crucifixion is appearing on a leading Roman Catholic blog

Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2016

Roman Catholic bishop Robert Baron, master of media and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries (Proclaiming Christ in the Culture), is devoting several installments to discussing it. He begins:

Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion is one of the most stimulating and thought-provoking books of theology that I have read in the past ten years. Both an academic [thanks for the compliment, but not really] and a well-regarded preacher in the Episcopal tradition, Rutledge has an extraordinary knack of cutting to the heart of the matter. Her book on the central reality of the Christian faith is supremely illuminating, a delight for the inquiring mind—and man, will it ever preach. There is so much of value in this text that I have decided to dedicate a number of articles to analyzing it.

Here is Bishop Barron:

and here is the link to his opening installment on Word on Fire:

Bishop Barron on Fleming Rutledge's " The Crucifixion"

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.

Christianity Today features Fleming’s new book, The Crucifixion

Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2016

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

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.'"

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

Posted: Saturday, February 27, 2016


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

Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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

Words to the church in our present national crisis
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This morning's New York Times front page drives me to my laptop to write what I intend to be the most important blog post I have ever written (I have posted 355 messages on my Ruminations in the past 5 years, and 420 in Tips for the Times). This new post follows along with my immediately preceding one in Ruminations, called "We don't deserve the black church").

If I, at the age of almost 79, am ever going to put my reputation (such as it is) for preaching and teaching on the line, it's now. If I have ever written or spoken about anything whatsoever, I venture to put this post at the top of the table of contents. If I have ever been helpful to anyone seeking my guidance in the church at any time for any reason, now is the moment for me to throw all the small weight I have, God being my helper, behind what I have to say today.

My beloved professor and mentor Paul L. Lehmann used to throw around the phrase status confessionis a good deal--too often, I sometimes thought. From time to time I have wondered if the status confessionis weren't upon us, for example during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. I am quite sure that it is upon us now. Here is a definition:

status confessionis: "a state of confessing," is a dire situation in which the church must stand up for the integrity of the gospel and the authority of the Word of God it confesses, or else lose its soul. The Latin term arose during Lutheran doctrinal debates in the 16th century, but it has grown out of its original context. Today it is particularly associated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, who used it in the context of the church's response to the rise of the Third Reich.
 I believe that the soul of the American church is at stake as it has not been since the Civil Rights movement fifty years ago, when the white churches presented a very mixed and sometimes shameful face to the nation. Today I believe that all the congregations of this country--Roman Catholic, Protestant mainline, the various mainline breakaways, Pentecostal, nondenominational, Anabaptist, Seventh Day Adventist, black, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, liberal, conservative, orthodox, revisionist, you name it--are called to the same vocation in these deeply threatening times when the American experiment is at stake. I believe that any preacher in the American church today who fails to speak out in no uncertain terms, not just on one Sunday but on many Sundays, about the climate we suddenly find ourselves in, has forfeited his or her claim to preach the Word of the living God.

In the African-American church, it is customary to invite political figures to speak and even to endorse some of them. It would probably be a mistake for white churches to take up this custom. However, it is quite possible to preach many biblical sermons on the themes of mutual love and forbearance across racial, religious, ethnic and other lines without ever mentioning the name of a political candidate or a political party. The message of the old Adam and the new Adam in Romans 5:12-21 (for example) is universal and can be made unmistakably relevant to our current plight. Most of us know that Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and bless those who curse us, but we Christians are not setting a good example. I do not hear prayers for our enemies in our churches, only prayers for "our troops." This is meant to be a correction of our failure to support our troops in Vietnam, but we are in a new situation now. Never were prayers for our enemies more important to our identity as disciples of Christ. The prayer "for our enemies" in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 816, no. 6, is superb, but I have never heard it actually used in worship.

There are countless biblical texts that can be expounded from the pulpit in our situation, and not all of them are from the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. To give just one obvious example: Deut. 24:11-22, with its repeated reminder that "you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt."  (In fact, I'll venture to say that almost any passage from Scripture will lead to the same conclusions when read from the perspective of our crucified Lord.) The conservative churches have shied away from this sort of preaching because of antipathy toward what's seen as the substitution of social justice messages for the biblical gospel, but now, if ever, is the time to shuck off that false dichotomy. President Obama gave us some good texts in his address at the memorial service for the five police officers: "I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you," says the prophet Ezekiel...and Obama pleaded, "That's what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart." He also quoted I John 3:18, "Let us love, not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth."

If the preaching and teaching of the church, week in and week out, is grounded in the gospel of a Lord who was crucified for all sinners (Romans 8:3-4), it would not be so easy for us to fall back into tribal patterns, fear of people not like us, guilt by association, the demonizing of perceived enemies, and other non-Christian habits of mind. If we were so grounded, it would be easier for the average Christian in the workplace or club or family gathering to speak up against these pernicious divisions that we now see coming out from under the rocks. When a sincere, albeit naive, Christian like Tim Tebow is led astray by false teaching, we see that anything can happen.

A dear friend in South Africa called yesterday and asked me what was going on in the United States, how this sudden unleashing of xenophobia and nativism could have happened. I groped for an answer. My best thinking is that the often-invoked factor of "anger" is not a sufficient explanation. I believe the Bible and all great literature teaches us that there is a fault line in all of human nature, not just in certain subgroups.  In those fortunate enough to have grown up in a strong culture of respect and forbearance, this fault line is more deeply suppressed, not so likely to break through the restraints of civilized behavior. In those who are estranged from such familial and group cultures, the ugly instincts that lie within us all are just waiting for permission to appear in public. Thus, many people who have not been brought up in a Christian community like "Mother Emanuel" in Charleston, where the black members of a Bible study refrained from grabbing their guns when nine of their number were murdered by a white man, will react in a fashion not consonant with the evangelical message, no matter how they may identify as evangelical. Similarly, there are a great many Jews who are so strongly grounded in their own story ("you were slaves in the land of Egypt") that they are disproportionately represented in philanthropic groups supporting the oppressed and needy; whereas other Jews not so deeply grounded (e.g., Bernie Madoff, the "Den of Thieves") will drift away from their own roots and commit crimes against their own tradition.

The Body of Christ, when it is working the way God means it to, is a living illustration of what God intends for humankind. It is a "culture," if you will, that is stronger than the flawed individuals who are its members. Great heroes like Bonhoeffer have emerged from the church, but every day there are ordinary, nonheroic people who rise up and resist injustice in the name of Christ, in small ways perhaps, but "God gets in the midst" as the black Christians say, and he magnifies it. This is the Christian community acting as the branches of the Vine which is Christ.

Christians in America are on the verge of committing crimes against the gospel.  Let us who are preachers and teachers and church leaders rise up and meet this challenge, not counting the cost but being faithful to the Lord who promises that he will be with us to the end of the world. He has guaranteed that his Word will not return to him empty.


A few months ago, when the primaries were just beginning, I heard a commentator say that he hoped Donald Trump would soon have to step out of the running, because the longer he stayed in, the more Americans would feel that they had permission publicly to express hostile and violent thoughts about blacks, Jews, immigrants, Muslims, Hispanics, and other perceived enemies. Now it has come true; the genie is out of the bottle. Here is the link to the July 14 NYTimes front page:


P. S. Now that this post has been read by three times more people than my most popular previous post, I'm going to start a feature in Tips for the Times on this website about preaching in this crisis. I'm collecting examples from the news and will list them, adding to them as the weeks go by. These illustrations for sermons offer examples of what I believe should be the empowering message of every sermon: Because the crucified Jesus is victor, even the smallest actions of the "least of these" count for a great deal. As a preacher said in a memorable Christmas Eve sermon that I heard long ago, referring to the innkeeper who offered the stable, "No one can do everything. But everybody can do something."
("Jesus is Victor" was the clarion call of the father and son who are often today called simply "the Blumhardts." On a family tree of apocalyptic theology, the Blumhardts of Bad Boll in Germany are great-grandfathers.)


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Latest Tips From the Times

Preaching in this political crisis
Friday, August 5, 2016

As of July 26, my Rumination called "Words to the church in our national crisis" has been read by three times more people than my most popular previous post, I'm therefore starting a feature here in Tips for the Times specifically about preaching in this crisis without mentioning names or political parties. I'm collecting examples from the news and will list them, adding to them as the weeks go by. These illustrations for sermons offer examples of what I believe should be the empowering message of every sermon: Because the crucified Jesus is victor, even the smallest actions of the "least of these" count for a great deal. It is a great mistake for Christian people to think that their small contributions are too meager to make a difference. As a preacher said in a memorable Christmas Eve sermon that I heard long ago, referring to the innkeeper with no rooms who offered the stable as a substitute, "No one can do everything. But everybody can do something." I believe that offering examples of a manageable nature is much more encouraging and empowering than sermons along the lines of "we are called to...[some impossibly great task of do-goodism]...." which have the effect of making most people feel impotent and vaguely guilty.

("Jesus is Victor" was the clarion call of the father and son who are often today called simply "the Blumhardts." On the family tree of apocalyptic theology, the Blumhardts of Bad Boll in Germany are great-grandfathers.)

Here are some illustrations from the news:

1) As a good example of "everybody can do something," here is a story (New York Times, 8/2/16) about a young Olympic swimmer, Yusra Mardini, who fled Syria with her sister last August under conditions that we privileged ones in America can scarcely get our minds around. When they finally made it to Germany, the two of them were named by the Olympic Committee to a "Refugee Team" of stateless people who would otherwise be unable to compete at the Games in Rio. (Thank goodness they won't be swimming in sea water.)

The journey to Germany from Syria was harrowing beyond the capacity of most of us to imagine. After a month-long overland journey of hardship and danger, the two sisters and a larger group met with smugglers in some woods near Izmir in Turkey to get their boat. Their dinghy was meant for 6 but was packed with 20 people. When it began to founder, the two girls, powerful swimmers, guided the flimsy boat for three and a half hours in the gathering darkness to Lesbos. That was just the beginning. They walked for days at a time, sleeping in fields, or churches (perhaps to the churches' credit). But here is the point of the story for my purpose. Even though they had money, they were poorly treated in Europe. Taxis would not stop for them, and restaurants refused to serve them. Yusra remembered, though, that "there were good people, too." She told how, when she first arrived, she had no shoes. There was a Greek girl about her age who saw her and gave her the shoes off her own feet.

"Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something..." in the name of the Lord, and the small loaves and fishes will be multiplied by the Spirit.

2) At the top of the front page of the NYTimes for July 24, there is a stunning nighttime photograph: it shows two automobiles and two men with heads bowed, one gripping the shoulders of the other in a sort of embrace, both of them silhouetted against the glare of their headlights. One man is a large, tall, youngish-looking cop. The other is a smaller, much older man with grey hair. The caption explains that Pastor Dwayne Hewett of Hiram, GA, has pulled over to lay on hands and pray for the safety of Deputy Matt Stachowicz.
(This is the sort of thing I was saying in my Rumination about the black church. The NYTimes has little time for prayer, as a rule, but the African-American church still commands respect. )

3) This photo is accompanied by a long article ("One Shift: Officers Patrol an Anxious America").  Ten reporters in ten different parts of the country rode along with cops on their shifts. It's a rich portrait. I especially liked the vignette about a Houston cop, just a few days after the massacre in Dallas, who responds to an urgent dispatch about a man waving a gun in front of a laundromat. The cop goes--alone--to investigate. He finds three Hispanic men and one black man in the street. He requires them to lie face down, handcuffed, on the pavement. Finding them unarmed, he lets them go. One of the men puts up his hands and, smiling, says, "Thanks for not shooting me." The cop says as he drives away, "Y'all have a good one."

4) There are two police stories of special note in a long account of the hours during the standoff as the Dallas massacre unfolded: one is about the care that the cops took of a young black mother, Shetamia Taylor, who was seriously wounded (they drove her to a hospital in a squad car with no rims, the tires having been shot out). The other story is about two cops who were very close to one another, Jaime Castro and Lorne Ahrens. Officer Castro (Hispanic) rushed to the hospital when he heard reports of officers being shot. When he arrived, he learned that officer Ahrens (Caucasian) was fighting for his life. Castro recalled a night when the two were in danger. Ahrens told him he'd stay right with him: "I'll take a bullet for you." Now it was Castro, watching through the glass window at the hospital, who silently pledged himself to his critically injured comrade. As he recounted later, "I wanted to grab the surgeon and say, "Get back in there. Does he need an organ? Does he need one of my organs? I'm here, get it."

Officer Ahrens died soon after. But it does not take much stretch of the imagination to see how these offers of life-in-death across ethnic boundaries remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for everyone, without regard to race or political views.

The two stories are in a long article: (headline in the NYTimes: "The Fog of War, Unfolding In Dallas Streets"):

5) Here's an inspiring quote about what's possible in America, from Michelle Obama yesterday (OK, yes, that's mentioning a name...but it is so clearly nonpartisan, appealing to the better angels of all our natures, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln):

That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves."
6) There are many stories about how Jesus "sees" people in a way that no one else does, not even themselves. He "sees" the Samaritan woman at the well. He sees Zacchaeus in the tree. He sees into the heart of the Roman centurion, and the man with the epileptic son, and the woman who touched his garment in the crowd. He sees a blind beggar who cannot see him and whom everyone else is so used to seeing as a beggar by the road that they don't see a full human being.  The word "see" in the Bible, as most of us know, usually implies profound, revelatory insight, not just visual apprehension: "was blind, but now I see."

The Commissioner of the NYPD, Wm. J. Bratton, has frequently turned in recent months to the words of an African-American activist known as Sweet Alice Harris, whom he knew in LA, years ago. Especially after the massacre of the Dallas police officers, he has called upon her words. She said to him, "We need to find ways to see each other." 

Commissioner Bratton says that the department was "struggling, struggling"  with how to teach its officers about their "implicit bias," the often subconscious racial bias they may carry. "It's very difficult," he said. The ultimate goal is to open officers' eyes to others' perspectives, Mr. Bratton said. "That includes opening my own mind."
"Bratton, Face of 'Broken Windows,' Aims to Mend Racial Fences"--NYTimes, July 26, 2016.

7) James Alan McPherson, the African-American writer, died this week. In 1981, he was in the very first group of 21 people to win the "genius grant" (the MacArthur), and was professor emeritus at the celebrated Writers' Workshop of the University of Iowa. Born in strictly segregated Savannah in 1943, the son of an electrician and a maid, he watched his father's painful struggle to overcome prejudice and gain a license as the first black master electrician in the state. He attended segregated schools and worked as a railroad car waiter, eventually finding his way to Harvard Law School. After graduation he decided against law, went to the Writers' Workshop, and became a well-respected writer of fiction and essays, winning the  Pulitzer in 1978.

The important thing for the purposes of preaching is his description of what it means to be an American. In The Atlantic in 1978, he wrote that "each United States citizen would attempt to approximate the ideals of the nation, be on conversant terms with all its diversity, carry the mainstream of the culture inside himself....As an American, by trying to wear these clothes, he would be a synthesis of high and low, black and white, provincial and universal. If he could live with these contradictions, he would be...a representative American.

He continued, "I believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself 'citizen of the United States.' "

There, it seems to me, a black man is calling for something akin to what Christians do when the Church is working the way it's supposed to. Definitely not easy, and requiring both courage and patience, but together, we can be the salt and light that Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount.

8) Get your pocket Constitution! If I were preaching this Sunday, I would refer to Barbara Jordan, who grew up in the black church (her father was a Baptist preacher). Most people today are too young to remember her electrifying appearance, oceanic voice, and "Churchillian" eloquence during the Nixon impeachment hearings in Congress. I heard her live on television and it was a defining moment in my life. I can hear still her "voice of God" saying,
My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total, and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution."
Here's an obituary:


To be continued....


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