Fleming Rutledge is a preacher and teacher known throughout the mainline Protestant denominations of the US, Canada and parts of the UK. She is the author of seven books and has received a grant from the Louisville Foundation to complete a book about the meaning of the Crucifixion.
One of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, she served for fourteen years on the clergy staff at Grace Church on Lower Broadway at Tenth Street, New York City.
Fleming and her husband celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009 and have two daughters and two grandchildren. She is a native of Franklin, Virginia.
What is generous orthodoxy? A statement of purpose
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.
Posted: Monday, September 16, 2013
Fleming's Sept 15 sermon at the Duke University Chapel is now available for viewing on video at the Chapel website here.
Apocalyptic theology lives! a report from the diaspora
Friday, November 22, 2013After spending a week at Princeton Seminary, talking one-in-one with students and meeting with two advanced seminars in the theology of preaching, I am amazed and grateful that the work I have been doing for so many years is not a solitary project being carried out in a corner, but is breaking out across the scholarly landscape. When I was at Duke last spring, I met a few young students who were intensely interested in apocalyptic theology, and I have been corresponding with a few more, but here at Princeton it is even more obvious that there is a real movement afoot. Students are reading not only the "fathers and grandfathers" (see my apocalyptic "family tree" on this website) but are beginning to do their own work. Two PhD students at Princeton left today for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion/ Society of Biblical Literature; they are both giving papers closely related to apocalyptic theology. At that meeting, virtually all the 3rd-generation apocalyptic theologians, or those who are more or less closely related to them, will be present to encourage (and critique) this fourth generation. Why is this important? Well, for those who believe that a dimension of the New Testament that had long been in eclipse is actually its center, it is exhilarating. Apocalyptic theology offers a way of preaching and teaching the gospel that brings us back to the earliest apostolic message and yet puts us in touch at the same time with what God is doing in the world. It frees us from the burden of "if-then" and lets us live "because-therefore" ("If I am sufficiently well-behaved, spiritual, active for justice [or whatever], God can 'realize his dream' of the Kingdom" vs. "Because God has already done everything in Jesus Christ, I am already on my way to do the good works he has prepared for me to walk in" (Ephesians 2:10 as interpreted in the Book of Common Prayer). Properly understood, the gospel liberates us for action, not because we believe that the coming Kingdom depends on our doing the right thing, but because we live according to the promise that God is already working through his servants to do the right thing, namely to bring his Kingdom to pass in his coming new creation. This is only a hint. There is much more! A search of this website will show several more entries explaining apocalyptic theology.
The pre-Advent season arrives
Saturday, November 16, 2013I am still having trouble with Blogger. The second half of this post does not have spaces between paragraphs. Sorry... Having heard that the liturgical powers-that-be were considering the wisdom of extending Advent back into the weeks following All Saints Day, and being very much in favor of this move, I was a bit disappointed to hear that the pre-Advent Sundays are to be called "Kingdom Season." Does this sound a bit trite and pop-cultural to anyone besides me? It doesn't have the right ring to it. Even "the season of the Kingdom" would be better; but that still doesn't get at the unique trajectory of those nine weeks.
Many lovers of Advent have long been advocating the extension of the season, but with a rather more gutsy and apocalyptic tonality. After All Saints, the lectionary (on most Sundays in most of the three cycles, though not quite all) takes a turn toward judgment and the Last Things. The chief personage of Advent is the apocalyptic prophet par excellence, John the Baptist. Advent, properly understood, is the season of the Second Coming. That will mean the definitive arrival of the Kingdom in its plenitude and permanence, but it will also mean the conclusive and final rejection of all evil. We can't speak of the Kingdom without being conscious of the forces that war against God and all his purposes. That's what the Synoptic Apocalypse is about (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), and it is always read on the next-to-last Sunday before Advent (leaving many preachers feeling queasy about what to say, as I can testify from my travels). The very last Sunday before Advent is Christ the King Sunday, which proclaims the sovereignty of God over all the demonic Powers that strive both among us and in us to conquer his Kingdom. For those who will grasp the opportunity, it's the best season of the year for preaching. There is something extremely bracing about looking evil and death straight in the eye and announcing the certainty of God's judgment upon all that is at work to destroy his creation.
If anyone doubts that Advent is and has always been the season of the second, not the first, coming of Christ, she might take a look at the Episcopal hymnal. There are 23 hymns in the Advent section, and all but two are focused unequivocally on the Second Coming, not the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. "O come, O come, Emmanuel," originally in Latin, dates from the 9th century. Probably the greatest of all is Wesley's "Lo, he comes with clouds descending," which is typically sung on Advent I. The Episcopal hymnal really is a treasure beyond compare and is a major reason why I could never leave the Episcopal church.
(Rumor has it that there is to be a newer hymnal, however, which bodes ill.)
In the Middle Ages (and we do love the Middle Ages, do we not? or is it our romantic idea of the Middle Ages that we love...?), Advent was the season of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, on the four Sundays, in that order. Once, during Advent at Grace Church in New York, we preached on the Four Last Things, in that order. It was very exciting. It was like confronting Satan in his own domain with the more powerful Word of God ("the Prince of Darkness grim,/ we tremble not for him;/ his rage we can endure,/ for lo! his doom is sure:? one little Word shall fell him." (Martin Luther, Ein' Feste Burg).
Advent always seems to begin in the dark...the darkness of a world determined to make a mess of everything, no good deed going unpunished, another Cold War (or will it be a Hot and therefore terminal war?) seeming to loom, the Middle East in tatters, China with its new religion of consumption rising and rising, the American government at a low point...the cry that goes up during the pre-Advent and Advent seasons is Revelation 22:20, Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus. "We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge," as the Te Deum puts it; properly understood, this is the best news ever heard. To be judged by the One who is the fountain of all justice and mercy is to be delivered from the grip of the worst that can happen and into the embrace of "Love Divine, all loves excelling."
Latest Tips From the Times
More heroic Christians
Friday, December 6, 2013There is so much to be learned from reading The New York Times, and particularly the obituaries. I will not comment on the death of Nelson Mandela, truly a man for all the ages, because there will be so much splendid--and nuanced--reflection in all the media. I am interested presently in the obituary for Alec Reid, a modest and self-effacing Roman Catholic priest who played a quiet but essential role in the historic Good Friday accords in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister of Ireland at the time, Charles J. Haughley, regarded him as the most important person in the whole peace process between the IRA and Protestant pro-British Unionists. Another piece in the Times interests me even more. On its recommendation I have just ordered A Miracle, A Universe by Lawrence Wechsler. It tells the story of how, in Brazil, Roman Catholic Cardinal Arns and Presbyterian leader Jaime Wright risked their lives to photograph the records that the military junta kept of their acts. They distilled a million pages of records into a narrative of the junta's tortures, murders, and "disappearances." I admit that I wish something like this was in the background of Pope Francis, Cardinal in Argentina during its "Dirty War."