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 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 was reviewed on the Reformed-ish blog by Derek Rishmawy, who calls it a “beautiful piece of theology”, ideal for pastor-theologians.

Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 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, 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.

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

Resurrection: Worship during the Great Fifty Days
Monday, April 25, 2016

An advance copy of a long, detailed, and affirming review of my book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ has just arrived (it will appear in Pro Ecclesia this fall). At the end, the reviewer observes that I do not have much to say about the Resurrection--except to insist (repeatedly) that the crucifixion and the Resurrection are a single, inseparable event--and he hopes that I will write a book about the Resurrection.

I am sorry to disappoint anyone, but there will be no book from me about the Resurrection. I hope that readers will correct me if I am wrong, but I have never read a book about the Resurrection that seemed adequate to me. I think words and comprehension fail us at this point, and only proclamation works: "The Lord has risen, and has appeared to Simon!" "He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him!" "For now is Christ risen from the dead!" Even my beloved Karl Barth lets me down on this subject, and my almost-favorite commentary on the Fourth Gospel (by Rudolph Bultmann, believe it or not) is hopeless on the Resurrection. My writings about the Resurrection, such as they are, appear in the collection of my sermons called The Undoing of Death.

I believe that the Resurrection lives in the worship and the continuing life of the Body of Christ. This morning I attended a service at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans on Cape Cod. For me, the service was an embodiment of the Resurrection. This is partly--but not entirely--because the rector, Adam Linton, was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church for twenty years, after graduating from Gordon-Conwell. The Orthodox Church is known for its emphasis on the Resurrection, and Fr. Linton absorbed this well. (He is also, be it noted, an exponent of the theology of the cross, and is thereby an exemplar of the teaching that the cross and Resurrection should be understood as a single, inseparable event.)

The service began with the customary Easter Acclamation ("Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!") and the singing of a rousing Easter hymn: "We know that Christ is raised and dies no more." There was something added, however. The congregation at Holy Spirit is obviously practiced in saying "The Lord is risen indeed!" (or, "He is risen indeed!"); it was said again, enthusiastically, at the end of the sermon, and again at the offertory.

The long, somewhat difficult first reading for the day, Acts 11:1-18, was exceptional. The lay reader read slowly, carefully, with understanding and, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer counseled, "with inmost rapport" as if being spoken to directly by the Word of God--not addressing the people herself, but as one being addressed--thereby conveying the awe and wonder of discovery in the final line, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life!"

The sermon was on John 13:31-35, and specifically the theme of glory (doxa) in John. At the Last Supper, Jesus says, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified." This saying occurs immediately after Judas leaves the table "and it was night." In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus' "hour of glory" is the hour that he is "lifted up" on the cross. Thus, again, the cross and the power of the Resurrection are linked. In the Eucharist, Paul writes, "we remember the Lord's death until he comes" (I Corinthians 11:26). In the passage from John, it is clear that the Lord's Supper is a participation in his glory.

The prayers of the people, very well and audibly read by a layman, were obviously written to address not only the concerns of the community but also the issues of the day, with an eloquent appeal for the healing of our political process. I did not know until the service was over that the prayers of the people at Holy Spirit are written every week by none other than Dilys Smith, widow of Frank Smith who was the beloved organist-choirmaster at Grace Church in New York during most of my 14 years there. Most parishes can find a person who is gifted to write special prayers, and when it is well done it makes an unforgettable impression, week by week. (Not to praise Dilys overmuch, but it was also she who read the lesson from Acts.)

In this case, the petitions this Easter season each concluded with the words, "in the power of the Resurrection, we rejoice, saying..." and the congregation responded each time with "Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you!" By the time of communion, therefore, it was clear to everyone that this was an Easter service, and that the "new commandment" that we should love one another as Jesus has loved us is given to us through the power and the glory of the self-giving of the Lord.

We live in a time when, for most people, Easter is one day and then forgotten. But worship like this is worthy of the Great Fifty Days, and it makes the resurrection alive in our hearts and in our lives.

(And by the way, when I had dinner with the rector and his wife in their home, the meal began with the usual grace and then, unexpectedly, with the raising of wine glasses and "He is risen!" How joyful!)

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Latest Tips From the Times

W. E. B. DuBois as an early environmentalist
Sunday, April 3, 2016

Up in the Berkshires where we have a second home, we have become very conscious of W. E. B. DuBois, who was born and raised in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Only recently has DuBois been given the attention in his home town that he should have had all along. Great Barrington shunned its black native son until fairly recently, partly because of his race and partly because--like quite a few idealistic, progressive Americans in the 40s and 50s--he had communist sympathies; it was the era of McCarthyism. Near the end of his life, he was so disillusioned that he moved to Africa. He died in Ghana at the age of 95, on the day before Martin Luther King's "Dream" speech.

DuBois was an exceedingly interesting and important person by any standard, a pioneering figure who was the first African-American ever to receive a doctorate from Harvard. He was a co-founder of the NAACP and the founder of the Niagara Movement, the first significant activist organization to promote the rights of "black folk" (the name of DuBois' most famous book, one among many trail-blazing works, is The Souls of Black Folk). A brief glance at his biographical data gives a sense of his remarkable qualities and achievements, as well as his prickly, contrarian side. I am a supporter of local efforts to promote his memory in Great Barrington, a cause which has seen significant success in the last decade. He was truly a citizen of the world, a man of remarkable sophistication and of many facets.

To illustrate: Our local online newspaper, The Berkshire Edge,  has just published a splendid, poetic speech given by DuBois on the subject of the Housatonic River, which flows through the center of Great Barrington. I read this speech  with amazement; it identifies him as an early environmentalist. It is hard to believe it was written in 1930, almost forty years before the first Earth Day of 1969 (in which, I can't resist mentioning, I was a proud participant). There is an organization in southern Berkshire County which supports the River Walk along the Housatonic, a delightful stroll which I often take. The river has been hideously polluted for a long time, as DuBois describes (it got a lot worse after his time), and it still needs a good deal of remediation, but the work of restoring the banks of the river to its native condition has been proceeding apace--thanks, in part, to an enthusiastic group of high school students called the Greenagers. There are several spots along the walk where DuBois is remembered, particularly a rain garden in his memory, which captures runoff for the nurture of healthy native plants.

I hope that my readers will take an interest in W. E. B. DuBois after reading this remarkably prescient and moving speech that he gave about the river he loved:

The story of the struggle to gain recognition for DuBois in Great Barrington, which has required decades of work by a few brave, tireless advocates, is told in Those About Him Remained Silent, by Amy Bass (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

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