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 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

In praise of cemeteries
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The recent communication from the Roman Catholic teaching office (magisterium) regarding Christian burial is refreshing. It is refreshing because, while being sensitive to current practices, it clearly sets out traditional Christian teaching in a way that people--whether Christians or not--need to hear. Traditional Christian burial is traditional for theological reasons. The Vatican document observes that modern practices, such as cremation before a service and scattering of ashes veer into 1) individualism, 2) pantheism, and 3) syncretism. The specific biblical message of the resurrection of the body is thereby lost, even negated. (Cremation after the funeral service of the church is not proscribed by Roman Catholic teaching, though burial is still preferred.)


This does not mean that disposal of bodies or ashes in unconventional ways in individual circumstances are inevitably gross violations of Christian teachings. If such practices become the norm, however, a serious dilution of Christian doctrine will ensue (and, indeed, demonstrably already has ensued). Here is the link to the Vatican document:
http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/10/25/vatican_issues_new_document_on_christian_burial,_cremation/1267621

I particularly like this passage from the document:
Through the practice of burying the dead in cemeteries, in churches or their environs, Christian tradition has upheld the relationship between the living and the dead and has opposed any tendency to minimize, or relegate to the purely private sphere, the event of death and the meaning it has for Christians.
Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia


I have loved cemeteries ever since I was a child. The old cemetery in my home town of Franklin, Virginia, is not especially pretty--it's flat, largely tree-less, and too close to High Street--but a great many of my relatives and so many dear friends of my family, are buried there, and so I cherish it. (All four of our children's grandparents are buried there!) When I was growing up, it was a major ritual to decorate the graves with flowers on Memorial Day. I used to accompany my aunt on these pilgrimages, and over the years my sense of being a part of a community of the living and the dead has greatly increased and strengthened. When my mother was buried there by my father in 2007, it was an enormous symbolic comfort to me to have them surrounded by my father's parents and sister (the aunt of Memorial Day), so many other relatives, and so many people that I'd known growing up in Franklin--including my Sunday School teachers! It was as if they were alive still, but not so much as individuals--rather, as a community.

My late beloved teacher and mentor, the great Pauline scholar J. Louis Martyn, told me of going to the cemetery in Texas where his brother and other relatives were buried. I think he had not been there for a long time. He told me, looking thoughtfully off into space,  "I thought it was going to be a place of death. Instead, walking around, I found that it was a place of life."

My great-great grandparents
in the University of Virginia cemetery
I had the same experience of going for the first time as an older adult to the old University cemetery (as it's called) in Charlottesville a few years ago. My grandparents, great-grandparents, and many other relatives (whose names and stories I know well from reading their letters) are buried there.  So were numerous storied names from earlier days at the University of Virginia--names of professors and others that my grandparents spoke of almost daily. It was a joyful, soul-strengthening experience for me. My mother once said that going to the University cemetery was, for her, "like going to a party." A place of life!

Best of all are the churchyard cemeteries. The best funeral I have attended in years was one where the congregation filed out of the church building directly into the churchyard where the coffin was lowered into the consecrated ground, accompanied by the prayers and hymns of the church. This is rarely possible now, since most churchyard gravesites are filled up, but for those who know the histories of the congregations, these burying grounds are precious. I have recently visited Christ Episcopal Church in Cooperstown, NY. When the rector steps out of his kitchen door to walk over to the church building, he is greeted by six generations of the family of James Fenimore Cooper (of Last of the Mohicans fame), who were loyal members of the parish. My friend Henry S. F. Cooper, who died last year, is now buried with his Episcopal ancestors. I find that very hopeful and strengthening.

New Castle, Delaware is a tiny, authentically unspoiled colonial town prized by the select few who know of it. The centerpiece is Immanuel Episcopal Church on the Green. Imagine my emotion when I found, in its cemetery, the grave of the pediatrician who saved the life of our infant daughter Elizabeth! His grave is surrounded by those of his forebears and the parishioners who knew them. What an incredibly affirming discovery!

Whenever I pass a graveyard on my walks, I stop in. I look for the oldest grave and read some of the inscriptions, and I try to imagine the lives of the people there. It makes me feel part of a great continuum. For a Christian, one of the joys of visiting old cemeteries is reading the biblical inscriptions and prayerful commendations on many of the headstones. It is jarring, today, to move from the old sections of cemeteries to the more recent graves and see the stones with pictures of golf, fishing, sailing, and other hobbies, as if the deceased were not part of a comprehensive community at all, but defined and remembered only by their individual pastimes.

The great writer Joseph Mitchell famously wrote of his fondness for cemeteries. He said that whenever he was feeling down, he would visit a favorite cemetery and come away invigorated. I can understand that. Somehow a cemetery communicates a sense of shared humanity and one's belonging to it--not to mention the overarching providence of God. A place of life!

---------------------------------------------------------------

Here is a list of the most beautiful cemeteries I have visited, in order of beauty (in my opinion) :
1) Hollywood in Richmond, on the heights overlooking the James River
2) Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto, with vast numbers of walking paths, majestic trees, and an eye-popping ravine
3) the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, with surely the most lovingly maintained flowers and plantings, and the most elegant tombstones (the travel writer H. V. Morton thought it was the most beautiful in the world) 
Honorable mentions: Essex, Connecticut alongside the Connecticut River, especially lovely in fall; and Greenwood Cemetery in Rye, NY, with ancient trees and the burial place of the great preacher Theodore Parker Ferris.
The Protestant Cemetery in Rome

The Protestant Cemetery in Rome


Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto is beloved by joggers, strollers (of both kinds), and dog-walkers


Just as I was preparing this blog post, a lovely article about family cemeteries appeared in The New York Times, with an endearing photo of a family in their cemetery in Cartersville, Virginia. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/your-money/family-cemeteries-bind-generations-for-remembrance-and-tax-reasons.html?_r=0






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Reading in the age of Trump
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Well, as I've written in Ruminations, the pre-election status confessionis has now morphed into something else. We now have to figure out how to accept the new reality without "normalizing" it. It seems to me that in this greatly altered political scene, preachers and leaders within the church need to do more intentional and more theological reading.

I realize that my sources are pretty "elitist." I do listen to CNN (mindful that "CNN sucks!") quite a bit, but much more frequently to the in-depth interviews on NPR (I just sent in yet another contribution to WNYC which has pledged itself to double down on serious, analytic journalism in the time soon to come). Oh, and let's not forget the relentless interviewers on the BBC, who outdo anyone that I know of in American media; I just listened to a takedown of a government spokesman in Istanbul, where the British interviewer, with her comprehensive knowledge, cut off the guest at every pass. However, there is no substitute for actual reading. The publications that I read more or less cover to cover are the New York Review of Books and The New York Times....not exactly populist sources! I look in on The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard fairly regularly, which places me firmly in the traditional old-line Republican camp. I read the "Publius Decius Mus" article that has gotten so much attention. I try to listen to Fox News sometimes, but except for the ballsy Megyn Kelly, it's a pretty painful experience. I depend on friends to send me articles from The Atlantic and The Guardian.

However, the point of this is that even with my mostly left-leading sources, it's possible to get some idea of the breadth and depth of people's reactions to the new situation. For instance, soon after the election, The New York Times featured a remarkably sympathetic portrait of a Trump supporter, an devotee of right-wing, often fake news named Laurence something (darn it, I lost the link), a man to be taken seriously (and perhaps even literally). I was touched by the description of this man, the adoptive father of several mixed-race children, who did not fit into any predictable box.

And the ever-wise David Brooks advises us Trump critics to "take a break from our never-ending umbrage to engage in a little listening":
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/opinion/fellow-trump-critics-maybe-try-a-little-listening.html

The best careful description of Trump supporters that I've read comes from before the election, indicating the prescience of its source. It's from the Washington Post. It's long, but well worth pondering:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/08/a-new-theory-for-why-trump-voters-are-so-angry-that-actually-makes-sense/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.62a6445a4cef

My next recommendation is a November 11 column by Nicholas Kristof urging all people of good will to resist the ugly spirits released from Pandora's box with a "12-step program" of affirmative actions.  I have already found that some of his suggestions are really helpful, and make one feel re-empowered. (One strategy that he doesn't mention is subscribing to ProPublica, the first online newsroom to win the Pulitzer-Prize; supporting it definitely feels like a step in the right direction.) Here's the link to Kristof's column:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/opinion/a-12-step-program-for-responding-to-president-elect-trump.html 

Nicholas Kristof sometimes identifies himself as a nonbeliever, but there is something in his background and sensibility that shades toward an evangelical heart. (He recently interviewed Tim Keller.) For years I have noticed that he makes a point of defending evangelicals, broadly defined, against liberal disdain. An indefatigable world traveller, he has observed, close-up, the charitable activities of Christian agencies and missions in dangerous countries abroad, and calls the attention of his readers to them. The link below takes you to a column in which he specifically refers to evangelicals as people who should have a respected place on campuses in order to open up our educated population to the fact that politically liberal views are not necessarily the be-all end-all. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/10/opinion/sunday/the-dangers-of-echo-chambers-on-campus.html

One of the great questions confronting the church in the years to come will be how to conduct ourselves when everything seems to be going the wrong way. I was very impressed by Amanda Taub's analysis of failing corrupt regimes around the world. She writes about "islands of honesty" and how they can help to bring down an unlawful government. This should encourage us all, because even one person can be an island of honesty. Here is the link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/09/world/asia/south-korea-brazil-argentina-impeachment.html?_r=0


I read everything that Eduardo Porter writes in his column "The Economic Scene" in the Times. He examines moral and ethical issues related to the economy. It's worth Googling his name and reading his recent columns. The one that most caught my attention, about income inequality, reminds us that since the 1970s, "there has been close to zero growth for working-age adults in the bottom 50 percent." Here's the link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/business/economy/a-bigger-economic-pie-but-a-smaller-slice-for-half-of-the-us.html?_r=0:

Mark Danner is one of our most important long-form journalists. His most famous essay informed a wider public about one of the most horrific massacres of civilians in recent times, by US-trained soldiers in El Mozote, El Salvador, in 1981. As a sign of its importance, it was given its own New Yorker cover when it was published in 1994 (Wikipedia has a pretty good account of El Mozote and Danner's research.) Danner has a new piece, "The Real Trump," in the December  22 issue of The New York Review of Books. He is one who is going to continue his decades-long fight for humane values by exposing and writing about lies and cover-ups. (You have to subscribe to read this one.)

I was arrested by a one-page piece by Evan Osnos, about the extraordinary Chinese dissident Xu Hongci, who endured horrific decades in the Chinese labor camps, escaping three times, successfully on his fourth try, in 1972. He died in 2008, leaving behind a manuscript of his story, which will be published this January as "No Wall Too High." The last paragraph of Osnos' piece caught my attention:
Xu's story can be read as a testament to man's unwillingness to succumb...But above all, it should be read as a warning. Tyranny does not begin with  violence; it begins with the first gesture of collaboration. Its most enduring crime is drawing decent men and women into its siege of the truth. (The New Yorker, Dec. 19 & 26)
And finally (for now), one of my favorite columnists is E. J. Dionne, whom the Times stupidly let go some years back. He writes for the Washington Post now. This is a very affirming piece about what may very well come about to galvanize people, young ones especially:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-good-that-could-come-from-a-trump-presidency/2016/12/28/63f5c82e-cd0e-11e6-a87f-b917067331bb_story.html?tid=a_inl




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