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 is a regular now on the very popular “Crackers and Grape Juice” podcast. Look for “Fridays with Fleming”:

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/crackers-and-grape-juice/id1100507919

 


A very knowledgeable recommendation of The Crucifixion, from London

Posted: Monday, February 20, 2017

"I'm Fleming Rutledge, and I approve this synopsis, from London, of my book The Crucifixion."
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/book-review-the-crucifixion


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

Debating "free will"
Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I have been involved in a miniature discussion on Twitter with a group of admirers of Pope Benedict XVI  (I'm an admirer too...sort of). Does God sometimes override human will? Is it always necessary for us to say "yes" to him before he can do anything with us? I offer the illustration of St Paul, who said nothing but "no" to God until God knocked him off his horse and blinded him on the way to Damascus. Other biblical no-sayers include Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos, Ezekiel, etc etc. (See the poem "The Hound of Heaven"...)

I attended an Episcopal church this past Sunday morning, the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The traditional Episcopal liturgy was used. As it progressed, the prayers, hymns, and readings seemed almost as though they were designed specifically to guide us in this controversial matter. The first thing that struck me was the Collect for the day:

O Almighty God, who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful [human beings]: Grant unto thy people that they may love that which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise...." 
This is a virtual paraphrase of Augustine's celebrated saying: "O Lord, grant what you command, and then command what you will" (Da quod jubes, et jube quod vis). This was the utterance that riled up his great antagonist Pelagius. So here we are right in the middle of the Pelagian controversy once again. It never dies, but arises anew in every generation--so determined are we to hold on to our own supposed freedom, even to our utter destruction.

The second Scripture reading was from Romans 8:
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot...but you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit...
The mind that is set on the flesh cannot submit to God's commandments.What then will free us from the grip of the "flesh"? Can we just make up our minds to free ourselves? or do we come to realize that "we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves"? (That's from the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent.)

I was taught by some of the greatest biblical scholars of the second half of the 20th century, but it was eight years after graduating (I can date it almost exactly) before I finally began to catch on to the radicality of Paul's teaching. Romans 8 can't be called as witness to the issue of  "free will" unless we understand what Paul means by "flesh" and "Spirit." "Flesh" (sarx), in Paul's thinking, does not refer to material or carnal matters. Paul uses the term sarx to mean an entire realm or dominion--"this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4)--ruled by the cosmic Powers of Sin and Death. Paul uses the phrase "the freedom we have in Christ Jesus" in Galatians 2:4 to make the strongest possible contrast between the freedom we have in Christ and the legalism of the newcomers in the Galatian congregation who want to reintroduce the rule of Law. In Romans 7:9-11, Paul explicitly says that God's good commandments have been seized by Sin and made into a weapon of destruction. Paul is greatly alarmed by the new teachers in Galatia and their assault on "the freedom we have in Christ Jesus," mounting a ferocious counterattack. There is no similar crisis in the Roman congregation, so Paul speaks in a more moderate tone; however, in the letter to the Romans it is more obvious that Paul is speaking of two realms, the realm of the flesh and the realm of the Spirit. We are in bondage to the realm of the flesh until the Spirit sets us free. (This language of bondage and freedom is found in the Fourth Gospel also--see John 8:31-36).

To sum up the previous paragraph (I realize that Paul's letters are not easy, but they have always been central to understanding the gospel): Humankind is in bondage to the Powers of Sin and Death, and no amount of  human effort can untie that knot. "The good I would do is not what I do, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:19). It is only the action of God in the Holy Spirit that can free the human will to be conformed to his will. God's action is prevenient (pre-venere, going-before) to the human decision.

Getting back to this past Sunday's service:
The Gospel reading was the raising of Lazarus. I have often enjoyed remembering a remark I once heard--I can no longer recall who said it, but I remember the effect it had on me: "Could Lazarus have said no?" This was half a joke and half completely serious. The command of Jesus ("Lazarus, come forth!") is called "irresistible grace."

The next hymn was "Take my life and let it be/ consecrated, Lord, to thee." I've always loved the line, "Take my intellect, and use/ every power as thou shalt choose." I've always relied on that line to guide my very poor prayers as I've pursued my writing.  I suppose one could say that God won't answer that prayer unless I say yes to him first, but I've found that it is often when I am most recalcitrant that grace finds me in spite of myself.

The communion hymn was one that I have not sung for a long time.  The tune by Stainer is a bit syrupy to my taste and I had always thought of the hymn as rather sentimental. Not so! The text is by William Cowper, a good minor English poet. The hymn expresses a deep sense of estrangement from God and a desperate plea for his presence. The fourth verse reads:
The dearest idol I have known
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.
The hymn seems to confess the utter inadequacy of the petitioner to put his thoughts in order, and his utter dependence on God to make the first move.

[Cowper had a tragic life, struggling with depression and mania. In this he is like the greater hymnwriter and poet, Christopher Smart.] 
Read about Cowper here: 
http://www.hymnary.org/person/Cowper_W

These references are fragments, and none of them will convince a person who has made up his/ her mind to honor human freedom more than the prevenient and irresistible grace of God, but it all added up for me. Not my will, O Lord, but thine be done.







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Latest Tips From the Times

I am shifting to Twitter!
Monday, January 23, 2017

I have decided to stop writing for this "Tips from the Times" feature on my website. From now on, I will simply reTweet articles that I think are notable, trying to be selective and not send too many. I have really enjoyed doing Tips, and I think there are some good pieces in my Tips archives, but I am spending too much time on it and--as we all know by now--Twitter is easier and more efficient, if not exactly mind-stretching! I will be able to put more effort into Ruminations. Many thanks to all my readers.
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