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

Christianity Today features Fleming’s new book, The Crucifixion

Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2016

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march/why-did-jesus-choose-cross.html


The Episcopal New Yorker interviews Fleming Rutledge about The Crucifixion

Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2016

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The Crucifixion wins Best Reference Book award

Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 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 Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge crosses the pond

Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Church Times is a widely read publication of the Church of England. The May 27 issue contains a review 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 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 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, 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

Why Donald Trump is not a normal candidate
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Russell Moore, the prominent Southern Baptist leader, has courageously stepped out to be the spokesman of the moment for true evangel-icalism (evangel being Greek for "gospel") in American political life. His op-ed piece in The New York Times yesterday, " Why the Church Must Reject Racism," led to an appearance on NPR's Morning Edition today. He spoke forthrightly about the dishonesty of Trump's appropriation of a vaguely Christian identity, and explained that the media was using the word "evangelical" in a harmfully inaccurate way. In fact, he said that he was no longer going to allow himself to be called an evangelical unless he is able to explain what is meant by that word.

Just in the last few days, it seems that there might be a buildup of open resistance to the hijacking of the word and the identity. Several sources (noted by Russell Moore) have referred to recent polls appearing to show that evangelicals who attend church regularly and are active in specific congregations are less likely to support Trump than self-identified "evangelicals" who have no particular loyalty to a house of worship.

In any case, as I have explained in Tips From the Times, I think it is a distraction to continually focus on the "anger" of the American people as the principal cause of the Trump phenomenon. It's almost become a cliche to talk about the "anger" of the population. I think that's too generic to be a sufficient explanation of what's happening. I am--for the first time ever--getting involved in an online campaign against a candidate because I want to point out the fascistic direction in which Donald Trump would take us. I made a preliminary attempt to define fascism in my post yesterday:
http://tips.generousorthodoxy.org/2016/05/trump-preserve-shock.html
I think we should watch very carefully as Trump continues to rely on spectacle instead of addressing issues and discussing policy. Collecting enormous masses of adoring people around himself feeds his insatiable ego. That is what he needs on a daily basis. He quickly grows bored and irritated if he cannot continually have this craving met. That is the raw material from which fascistic leaders can create an aura around themselves. Trump clearly has a genius for this. In an inchoate way he has discerned that, as a friend just emailed me, "in times of anxiety, people look for the man on horseback." The man (or, I suppose, woman--Evita?) who casts himself in this role feeds the people's cravings at the same time that he feeds his own. This is in no sense the true statesmanship that we so desperately need today.

Do I like Hillary Clinton? No. I do not. We have a serious dilemma here. But that's not my main focus at present. I hope to be one among a growing body of thoughtful people who see the importance of identifying Trump as a phenomenon that we do not want in the United States of America, let alone the wider world.
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Latest Tips From the Times

Best new article about Trump and the f-word
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

So many people are now talking about the fascist flavor of the Trump candidacy that I really don't need to continue to do so. Here is a particularly good article. The author is Peter Steinfels, a prominent Catholic writer and thinker whom I have admired for decades. 

The Semi-Fascist Candidate

By Peter Steinfels on dotCommonweal (the Internet blog for Commonweal magazine)
May 16, 2016
Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is not a fascist; he is a semi-fascist. I recognize the risk of using the f-word. In fact, I am positively allergic to it. This case, however, is different. The U.S. is at a moral crossroads. We need to be utterly unambiguous about why. 
I emphasize the “semi” in semi-fascist. Trump has shown no interest in the stereotypically fascist exaltation of discipline, not for himself and not for any organized movement. The closest his militants get to uniforms are baseball caps. And though he may have toyed with the occasional outbreaks of violence at Trump rallies, those scuffles are absolutely nothing like the systematic thuggery of budding fascisms.    
On the other hand, consider this: He has built a political movement on a populist nationalism that scapegoats enemy groups both within and without. He will expel or bar alien intruders. He plays relentlessly on a sense of national humiliation, victimization, grievance, and decline. He asserts that the nation faces an emergency that justifies torture and murdering the wives and children of our terrorist enemies, even briefly suggesting that as Commander in Chief he could order the military to violate the laws of war. Unlike full-fledged fascists, he is not explicitly anti-parliamentarian, an idea perhaps too complex for him (or perhaps too multisyllabic); instead he scorns virtually the entire political class as “stupid” or “without a clue,” i.e., unable to make a deal. He takes no note of Congressional procedures and Constitutional limits. He is indifferent to civil liberties except for gun rights, and has spoken ominously about reining in the press. When asked about compromise, he replies by vaunting his own “flexibility,” as though compromise were nothing more than a personal skill rather than an appreciation for distinctive outlooks and interests. If none of that rings an alarm bell, you haven’t read enough about Europe in the 1920s and ’30s. 
Still, why not just call Trump an authoritarian or a demagogue, which would be bad enough? Why not “Caesarist” or caudillo? Liar, bully, opportunist, vulgarian, purveyor of toxic politics—won’t that language suffice? I don’t think so. 
All those other terms underplay the seriousness of the moment. I deliberately choose semi-fascist for its historical resonance. It calls to mind a critical period in the last century. We continue to judge the public figures of that time by the political and moral choices they made regarding a fresh form of venomous politics.
Fascisms, often inchoate in early stages, have never come to power without the acquiescence or connivance of elites.  American voters, yes, but especially American elites, intellectual, religious, cultural, and above all economic and political, now face a moment of profound choice. We shouldn’t let them off the hook by using euphemisms.   
Until now, conservative elites—the Republican “establishment” most famously—have been divided about Trump. Most have opposed him. The corporate establishment detests his unorthodox positions on trade and immigration. Some conservative political elites have welcomed his attacks on Washington and “political correctness”; his nativism; his defense of military might overseas and gun rights at home; and above all the “excitement” he generates, drawing crowds to stadiums and voters to the polls. But even more conservatives have objected to his liberal views on sexual issues, his slurs against groups the GOP needs in the future, and his potential impact on down-ballot candidacies. Foreign-policy elites of all sorts quail at what seemed like an uninformed, off-the-cuff “America first” reshuffling of longstanding alliances and engagements. In every quarter there have been questions about Trump’s personality.  
Admittedly, that personality lends itself more easily to psychological than ideological labels. Clinical narcissist, say some worriers. Seriously unstable, say others. Efforts to describe him have exhausted the second letter of the alphabet: blowhard, boor, braggart, buffoon, blusterer, brash, belittling, belligerent, brutal, bombastic. His record of outrageously crude, boastful, and wildly inaccurate statements, almost gleefully volunteered, goes back many years. His stream of consciousness speeches, skipping from one non sequitur to another, are mesmerizing for their self-centeredness and his compulsive measuring of himself against others. Perhaps an “a” word rather than a “b” one would best describe this mix of egocentricity and insecurity: adolescent. That would not be fair to most teenagers.
The Trump psyche, now being politely referred to as his “temperament,” raises serious doubts in itself. What renders it more threatening is its powerful resonance with millions of angry voters. America is “losing, losing, losing”; radical Islamic terrorism is “a big, big problem”; his primary victories are “amazing”; he will replace Obamacare with “something much, much better”; America will “win, win, win” again, and be “a great, great power over everybody.” If you have doubts, well, “believe me!” The sheer vacuity and primitive articulation of his ramblings make ordinary political promise-mongering sound highly sophisticated.  They do not faze Trump’s zealous followers, however. On the contrary, the more magical Trump’s proposals, whether to wall off Mexico at Mexico’s expense or to track down, arrest, and deport 11 million U.S. residents, the more he defies all standards of consistency, civility, and fact, the more his followers see proof of his sheer power of will.
What Trump celebrated in those weird victory speeches was winning. He mocked his rivals not because of their policies but because they were not winning. Questioned about the tenor of his conduct or campaign, the presumptive nominee’s reply is simple: I’ve been winning. Winning is validation. 
However did we get here? Who or what is responsible? The debate has been lively. Most of us know the answer—the other guy. Read the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal and you’ll learn it is all Obama’s fault. Liberals blame the rigged economy, growing inequality, the Great Recession, loss of jobs to globalization, years of tutorials in rage by talk radio, and the Koch brothers. (Count me in, for the most part.) Conservatives blame liberals who deride traditional values, shrug off what their loss has meant to the economically vulnerable, and then treat the floundering reactions of the downwardly mobile as bigotry.  (Count me in here, too, at least a little bit.) Others blame larger forces from automation to social media. That is a vitally important discussion. Let it continue, perhaps with greater doses of self-scrutiny.    
Right now there is a more immediate challenge. The presidential candidate of one of our two political parties is a semi-fascist with a gift for mobilizing millions and may even, against the odds, win the presidency. What is to be done? 
Obviously the moral test is greatest for conservatives and loyal Republicans. Some are shamelessly failing it, enthusiastically lining up behind Trump, and shedding, when necessary, their prior commitments. Others are reluctantly getting on board, as though they had no choice. It can be expected that alarmed donors, corporate lobbyists, and other big money muscle like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will seek quiet backroom reassurances regarding tax cuts, trade, deficits, taxing hedge funds, and foreign policy commitments. Hasn’t Trump made it clear that he’s flexible and everything is negotiable? Meanwhile Republican advisors are sketching strategies for a November victory, on the premise evidently that Trump's only problems are his electoral weaknesses.  
Michael Gerson, once a speechwriter and policy advisor to George W. Bush, had a one-word description of the scurrying to climb onto the Trump bandwagon: “Disgusting!”   
Thank God, Gerson is not alone. More than a few conservatives and true-blue Republicans have declared a principled refusal to support Trump. The principles motivating them are not always clear. Are they principally objecting to Trump’s policy positions (or lack of them)? To his person and past conduct? The principled objections may be mixed and confused. What matters is whether they reflect the conviction that something very basic is at stake, something fundamental to American freedom, democracy, and values. Something even more basic than party policies on tax cuts, immigration, budgets, and Obamacare. Something not to be fixed by the emergence of a “new Trump” or a campaign strategy that can protect GOP seats in Congress. 
Liberals and Democrats have a less daunting moral responsibility but a serious one, nonetheless. They should not minimize the gravity of the Trump phenomenon. Or trivialize it by emphasizing the personal over the political. Or mute their opposition because Trump’s criticism of trade agreements, military interventions overseas, and Wall Street, as well as his on-again-off-again interest in a higher minimum wage and other deviations from small-government ideology, appeals to Democratic voters. Nor should Democratic leaders, counting on a Democratic victory, throw their energies into positioning themselves in the administration to come.   
Above all, liberals and Democrats must resist the temptation to disparage rather than welcome anti-Trump sentiment among conservatives and Republicans. That sentiment won’t be free of inconsistencies and self-serving excuses. Before Trump became “presumptive,” Robert George and George Weigel penned “An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics,” signed by over thirty politically conservative Catholics. It urged them to recognize that “Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States.” The appeal was direct and impassioned. From my perspective, it was also marred by a simplistic identification of Catholic social concerns with the Republican party. 
But so what? That appeal was written when it seemed that a not-Trump candidate had a slim chance for the Republican nomination. Today its signers and sympathizers, like conservatives and Republicans of every faith and flavor, are being asked to set aside their moral qualms and whatever visceral sense of decency, revulsion, and fear for the nation led them to go on record against the front-runner. This is not the time for liberal gloating over their predicament or chastising them with lectures on “Didn’t we warn you?” and “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”
“Better Trump than Hillary!” is now becoming the steamroller slogan. It is advanced as self-evident, no explanations needed.  For principled conservatives and Republicans who recognize Donald Trump as the semi-fascist that he is, the only honest answer to that demand will be: “I will not vote for Donald Trump. I will not support him whatever the cost or the circumstances.  If there is a real chance of a Trump victory, I will vote for Hillary Clinton.”
This is not a matter of preserving Republican seats in Congress or avoiding an embarrassing association with a vulgarian. It is a matter of self-respect, political urgency, and moral integrity. 


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