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 Rutledge’s book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ named Best Reference Book of 2015

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ has been named the Best Reference Book of the Year (2015) by the Academy of Parish Clergy (APC).

This group gives two “Best Book” awards each year, the Best Book and the Best Reference Book. The Crucifixion is considered a reference book because of its size and density (612 pages of text, plus preface, acknowledgements, and indices); a Best Reference Book is further described by the APC as the best book published in 2015 that every member of the clergy might want to have permanently in his or her reference library.

(The APC Best Book this year is Deborah Hunsinger’s Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel, and Practical Care. This represents a double whammy by Eerdmans Publishing, which published both “Bests.” The awards will be presented at the annual APC conference in Florida in February. APC also selects “Ten Best Books” of the year for clergy, which will be announced on their website.)

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

Martin de Boer (Professor Martinus C. deBoer) has emailed Fleming Rutledge from Amsterdam:

“Your book arrived in the post a few days ago. Many congratulations on this very fine publication. This is a major theological event, I think. I see that you have a veritable host of endorsements. I am happy to be among them.”

Timothy Jones, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, SC, emailed this:

“Fleming Rutledge’s new book, really her life work, is just out--The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ . While it is close to massive, it is magisterial. She claims and reclaims the cross and its compelling meaning in a way I'm not sure I've ever read.”

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

A small but urgent call to all the churches
Monday, February 1, 2016

The "small proposal" that I offered on this blog during the seasons of Advent and Christmas seems to me now to be more desirable than ever. Almost every day there is an article in The New York Times about Trump, Cruz, and the "evangelicals." The evangelical Trump supporters are a huge conundrum (and, indeed, an embarrassment) to mainline evangelicals like myself, but the reporters are really trying to interpret them to us. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand how this can be.

Many people think that the NYTimes is beneath contempt because of its liberal bias. Editorially, of course, it does have a liberal bias (I never read the Times editorials....nor do I read the Wall Street Journal editorials). However, I do believe that their reporters who write about religion, particularly Laurie Goodstein, do a commendable job of reporting, that is to say, diligently working to present a story in an interesting way, but hewing close to the facts and, above all, seeking understanding. Indeed, during my years of reading Ms. Goodstein, who presumably is not a Christian, I have never caught her in an egregious mistake concerning the Christian churches.

I have been writing with alarm about the vast chasm between the mainline congregations and the conservative evangelical ones. Just to give one example, I heard on good authority that in approximately the year 2008, the then Episcopal Bishop of New York had never heard of Tim Keller, the widely known senior pastor of the PCA Church of the Redeemer, with five locations in Manhattan. This degree of insularity and self-centredness is really disastrous for the wider mission of the church of Christ. Along about that same time, the aggressively secular New York Magazine named Tim Keller as one of the most influential people in the city.

Mainline Christians nowadays seem to be so eager to distance themselves from the Christian Right that they often don't seem to be anchored in any essential Christian identity at all. Many theologically-minded observers believe that this capitulation to the culture has a lot to do with the decline of the historic mainline churches ( the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [PCA], the Evangelical Lutheran Church [ironically, these are the "liberal" Lutherans], and the United Church of Christ [UCC]). Thus, at present, the gulf between many aging, diminishing mainline congregations and the large flocks of mostly young people who crowd into New York's Church of the Redeemer is painful to see.

My small proposal addresses the importance of local clergy reaching out, one pastor at a time, to build relationships across these divides. Today, Laurie Goodstein has an article about a select group of Baptist pastors, one black, one white. They met in Jackson, Mississippi, of all symbolic places. This article presents the Christian church at its best, reaching out across barriers at some degree of risk to itself.  The president of the Southern Baptist Convention (white, with its origins in racism) and the president of the National Baptist Convention (black, founded just after the Civil War), met with Ms. Goodstein to discuss the recent "bold gesture" made by the two long-alienated groups to try to find common cause. The context for this unprecedented attempt at rapprochement was the massacre at "Mother Emanuel" Church in Charleston and the Black Lives Matter movement. The president of the National Baptist Convention told Ms. Goldstein that his reaction to the Jackson gathering was "almost euphoric"--it was "filled with hope, and a sense of possibility."

It's important not to romanticize the black church. Black Baptist pastors have a culture of their own, not always commendable by white church standards. But there is a sense in which the white church, and indeed the white population of the US, does not deserve the forgiving nature of the black church. Were it not for the strong message of redemption and mutuality taught by the African-American church for all these 150 years and more, we might have had a formerly-enslaved population among us that would rival the Islamic state. It should humble us to see how ready the black church is to be reconciled with us.

This is related to my concern about the gulf between mainline congregations and the so-called Christian Right. The mainline churches have almost no public voice at all, these days. All the news is about the conservative-evangelical Trump supporters, the anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage crowd, the biblical fundamentalists. Scorning and ridiculing these Christians is not working. It is stoking the fires of fear, resentment, insularity. I believe the initiative belongs to us in the mainlines. I believe we clergy should be willing to risk our sense of intellectual and cultural superiority in order to be in conversation and fellowship with pastors in the "other" churches in our towns and cities.

And I am pretty sure that Will Campbell of blessed memory would not only agree, but would be leading the effort.


The article by Laurie Goodstein, excerpting her interview with the two black and white leaders, is here:

Will Campbell is remembered here:

And my small proposal is further described at:


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Latest Tips From the Times

Two types of masculine spectacle: Donald Trump and the Edwards family of Surry, Virginia
Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The conservative (somewhat) Republican commentator David Brooks, whose persona on television and in his New York Times column is gentlemanly, thoughtful and wise, writes on the morning after the Iowa caucuses that the present political situation can be explained, in part, by a growing appetite for “masculine spectacle.” He compares Donald Trump’s aggressive and bombastic behavior to that of professional wrestlers, whose performances are partially faked to dramatize a primitive story line of conquest and dominance. Brooks suggests that the current cultural trends, with traditional notions of male and female identity increasingly being challenged, reinterpreted, or undermined, has resulted in a climate of confusion about masculinity and fear of disempowerment among many men, particularly in the working class. (I would argue that it’s a problem among the privileged classes of men also, though less visible because hidden under various veneers.) Trump’s public behavior, Brooks observes, arises not only out of his megalomania but out of his canny marketing instincts. He grasps the anger that many socially and/or economically insecure men feel, and he taps into it very effectively with displays of contempt and outrage sprayed in all sorts of “politically incorrect” directions. This, he implies in his performances, is the way that “real men” behave. Alas for polite, reflective, “low-energy” Jeb Bush, who stands no chance in this arena.

In the same issue of the New York Times, there is a vivid portrait of a very different sort of masculinity, written by the reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg. I grew up in Tidewater Virginiawhere the legendary Edwards Virginia Smokehouse just burned to the ground, sending shock waves throughout the area and beyond. The family business was founded in 1926 by the grandfather of the current president and “cure-master,” Samuel W. Edwards III. The Edwards family’s sustainable methods of raising hogs and smoking meats are respected throughout the United States, with foodies comparing their ham to the best of Italy and Spain. (The Smithfield Ham leviathan just a few miles down the James River is now owned by the Chinese, to the utter disgust of all true Virginians.) The Edwards retail shop, like the smokehouse, is in Surry County, Virginia, across the river from Jamestown. I paid a ritual visit to the store just a few years ago; it was as authentic as the Cracker Barrel stores are phony.

The Times article describes how Sam Edwards III, “a big man with an easy manner,” inherited the business and learned the art of smoking ham from his father, Sam Jr., who in turn was taught it by his father, SWE Sr. Mr. Edwards III escorted the Times reporter through the property. He said, “I look at it like this is life. As heartbroken as we are, I’m a plodder. I’ll just keep going on.” He vows to rebuild and to continue to pay his workforce if he possibly can. His lifelong friend and hog breeder Tony Seward said, “He’ll be the one that’s going to get me through all this.”

Last week, young “Sammy” Edwards IV, age 26, went through the charred remains of the smokehouse with the maintenance manager, J. C. Judkins III, looking for the brass skeleton key to the original smokehouse built by SWE Sr. When they found it, scorched but intact, Sammy cradled the precious object in his hands and Mr. Judkins, “a burly man in a knitted cap,” fought back tears. “It’s not one of those things you can find words for,” he said. “This is all extended family.”

The reporter, Ms. Stohlberg, concludes:

Mr. Edwards [III] is more stoic than tearful. Yet there is an image he cannot get out of his mind: a photograph taken as his company burned down. Part of the sign that read EDWARDS had dropped off, leaving only four letters: D-A-D-S.

He wondered, he said, if his father and grandfather were talking to him.

Which “masculine spectacle” do you prefer?

Here are the links:


PS. If the Edwards family are Trump supporters, don’t ever tell me.


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