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The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ Hardcover – November 23, 2015
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— Duke Divinity School
"This is a work of a lifetime that could only be written by someone who has lived a life determined by the cross."
— author of The Jesus Creed
"In this amazingly complex but clear book Fleming Rutledge goes deftly where few seem willing to go — to the variety of imaginations shaping early Christian explorations of the significance of Jesus' death. She is one of the few theologians who not only preach inclusivism but practice it by inviting all points of view into the discussion."
Marilyn McCord Adams
— Rutgers University
"To those who think they want a maximally mellow God who overlooks our faults and accepts us just as we are, Rutledge's challenge is to 'get real.' Twentieth-century atrocities bear witness: there is something drastically wrong with the human condition, which only God can fix. Setting things right calls for crucifixion, not only Christ's but also ours. Rutledge has given us a very Pauline book, full of information and observations to provoke clergy to preach the cross to their congregations."
Leanne Van Dyk
— Columbia Theological Seminary
"Before we can get to the glorious resurrection, we must take full account of the tragic necessity of the cross. . . . Penetrating and unflinching in its insistence on Jesus Christ, condemned, crucified, dead, and buried, this book powerfully demonstrates that the crucifixion of the Son of God is good news of cosmic and comprehensive scope."
Richard J. Mouw
— Fuller Theological Seminary
"Though I have been thinking much about the cross of Christ for a half-century now, Fleming Rutledge has taught me many new things in this wonderful book. And where she addresses matters that I have long cherished, she has inspired me anew. This book is a gift to all of us who pray for a genuine revival of crucicentric preaching and cruciform discipleship!"
Larry W. Hurtado
— University of Edinburgh
"Demonstrating impressively wide reading, incisive observations, and a passionate concern for clear thinking and faithful preaching, this book is a big read but well worth the effort, especially for clergy — but also for thoughtful laity."
— Princeton Theological Seminary
"After publishing numerous books of powerful sermons, remarkable for their biblical depth and their contemporary relevance, Fleming Rutledge has now produced this profound volume on the saving significance of Christ's death. She makes the welcome argument that Christus Victor themes need to be counterbalanced by priestly elements like substitution and expiation. . . . Here is the kind of strong theology that will undergird strong preaching. Preachers who take this book to heart could well revitalize the church."
— Virginia Theological Seminary
"Fleming Rutledge here lays out the horror of the cross with unflinching honesty and with a patient, full exposition of the rich themes of Christ's redeeming death. She does not shy away from the demands of her theological vision, taking up motifs of satisfaction, substitution, rectification, and divine wrath in turn. Throughout, Rutledge draws on the rich storehouse of a preacher. The whole world stands under her gaze — literary examples, political folly and cruelty, horrendous evils of war and torment and torture, religious timidity and self-deception, human faithlessness and sin. But always the gospel rings out. Christ's cross has won the victory, and it is all from God. This book is a moving testimony to the courage, intelligence, and faithfulness of one of the church's premier preachers. Every student of the Scriptures needs this book."
John D. Witvliet
— Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
"A deeply probing and richly evocative exploration of the central mystery of the Christian faith. This is a book to contemplate, to savor, to reread. It promises to nourish renewed Christian preaching, a new generation of Christian poets and hymnwriters, and ministries of witness, evangelism, pastoral care, worship, and Christian education that brim with doxological testimonies about the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural reality of Jesus' life-giving death. It is easy to glibly repeat Paul's claim that Jesus' death is a scandal and stumbling block. It is quite something else to let that claim transform how you perceive the world and the triune God who created it. This book confronts all that is glib and evokes that life-giving transformation."
Philip G. Ziegler
— University of Aberdeen
"To read this book is to share in a work of joyful, honest, evangelical thinking done right at the foot of the pulpit steps for the sake of the one thing that finally matters in the church — the hearing and proclamation of the word of the cross in all its scandalous power."
— editor of Christianity Today
"I can hardly think of a book more necessary for our time. Many well-meaning attempts to summarize the good news today barely allude to the cross, and we're left with an anemic if not a false gospel. Read, mark, and inwardly digest this book if you want to learn about the cross that truly rectifies the ungodly, even the likes of you and me."
Paul Scott Wilson
— University of Toronto
"In beautiful flowing words, Fleming Rutledge encourages the church to get over its often embarrassed silence on the crucifixion. Her immediate accomplishment is brilliant. She recovers a rich array of biblical images relating to Christ's death and places them within the final stages of a drama in which God is the principal actor and humanity has a vital role. Persistent readers will find their hearts transformed. Preachers will be emboldened to speak more
frequently of the cross, contributing to the gospel renewal of the church."
— Yale University
"The word that came to my mind as I read Fleming Rutledge's book The Crucifixion was 'bracing': the book is bracing in its vigorous affirmation of the centrality of Christ's crucifixion in the Christian proclamation, bracing in its description of the unspeakable horror and shame of the crucifixion, bracing in its affirmation that we are one and all sinners, bracing in its identification and rejection of the many forms of theological silliness now inhabiting the church. Though meant for pastors and laypeople, this book will also benefit scholars. It carries its deep learning with eloquence and grace. I will be returning to it."
J. Louis Martyn †
— Union Theological Seminary
"In the crucifixion we sense anew the intersection at which Christian drama and Christian dogma meet one another with announcements that are emphatically universal and nothing less than cosmic. At that intersection we are truly fortunate to have the voice of Fleming Rutledge, one of the most gifted theological preachers of our time. In her writing we encounter the confluence of high drama and arresting dogma, as they work together to strengthen the preacher and provide a high-protein diet that will nourish the congregation to vigorous health."
— McMaster University
"If churches of the twenty-first century are to bear any relation to those of the first, then the cross of Christ must return to the center of their proclamation and life: that, in essence, is the message of Fleming Rutledge's Crucifixion, a book that should serve to mediate much contemporary biblical scholarship on the subject to ministers and other interested readers. Unlike a good deal of that scholarship, however, Rutledge treats a variety of New Testament motifs that speak to the salvific effects of Christ's death, refusing to allow any one motif to so dominate the discussion as to exclude the others. Richly illustrated with examples from literature and current events, this book should prove a gold mine for preachers at the same time as it invites the careful reflection of every reader on the mystery of salvation."
David Bentley Hart
— author of The Beauty of the Infinite and Atheist Delusions
"Rutledge's work on the crucifixion is not only broad but also deep. Thought-provoking, often moving, this book offers a genuinely novel approach to a topic on which it often seems nothing new can be said."
Robert W. Jenson
— Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology
"This justly celebrated preacher has been digging into the doctrine of atonement for many years. Here is the rich harvest of her labors — a resource especially for preachers like herself."
— The King's University, Edmonton, Canada
"In this bold, uncompromising, nuanced, and expansive work Rutledge takes us through — and beyond — theories of atonement, avoiding all merely individualistic, spiritualized, religious, moralistic, and therapeutic reductions of the meaning of the crucifixion. Rutledge resolutely proclaims the truth of Christ crucified. To all priests, preachers, and professors: if you care about the church and its mission in history, read this book!"
— University of Toronto
" 'Who put the roses on the cross?' asked Goethe, who in fact preferred that the brutal cross be covered in roses. Fleming Rutledge brushes the roses aside and asks us to look at the cross and, even more so, at Him who hung upon it for our sake. This is a book marked by outstanding exegesis, theology, and pastoral sensitivity — a book for thinking Christians and even thinking unbelievers."
Martinus C. de Boer
— VU University Amsterdam
"In this thoroughly readable book, preacher-theologian Fleming Rutledge demonstrates that she is also a fine exegete. She brings recent scholarship on Paul's apocalyptic theology (in particular the work of J. Louis Martyn) fruitfully to bear in her profound and far-ranging theological reflections on the crucifixion. Through careful exegetical study of the Bible in dialogue with a range of interpreters, she has produced a book that merits a wide readership among theologians, biblical scholars, and preachers."
— Union Theological Seminary
"In the rich tradition of the preacher-theologian, Fleming Rutledge in her own incisive voice gives testimony to the rectifying significance of Christ's crucifixion with detailed exposition that is at once deeply reflective and full of deep conviction. From a wealth of scholarly references and observations ranging from Scripture, the history of church imagery and its critics, literature, modern theology, and the daily news, readers will find much to ponder in this commendably studied yet vitally proclamatory gospel treatise."
— University of Gothenburg, Sweden
"In this remarkable study of the cross Fleming Rutledge weaves together many metaphors, motifs, and themes into a hermeneutically well-reasoned synthesis. She has mastered an incredible amount of material, including biblical scholarship, the history of theology, and contemporary systematic theology. And she is a master communicator. This is a great book."
— University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
"Fleming Rutledge's reputation as a preacher is widely known, her rhetorical skills — of logos, ethos, and pathos; of content, engagement, and passion — widely respected. This treatment of the crucifixion — the fruit of almost two decades, and indeed of a lifelong journey — could in fact also be read as one long sermon. . . . What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ died for us? Honestly facing her own resistance to many traditional and contemporary framings of this question, she consults widely and delves deeply into biblical, historical, and interpretive material in search of her own answers. . . . Informing, reminding, critiquing, illustrating, unmasking, challenging, reassuring, encouraging, and inspiring, she writes for both preachers and listeners. The question Will it preach? is in fact her major concern. The answer can only be a resounding and grateful Yes!"
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For these reasons and more, Stott's book seems to me to be much more worthy of a student of the cross, especially one who would be caught up in the full blaze of the glory of Christ's work on the cross rather than a half-shadowed one.
This is a good time for the church – there are many women doing great work in theology at the moment. I think of Sarah Coakley’s first volume in her systematics God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay on the Trinity (2013), Katherine Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology Vol 1: The Doctrine of God (2015), and Fleming Rutledge’s new book on the crucifixion to name just a few. I’ve read Coakley and return to her often. Her notion of desire has had an impact on my thinking. Desire is that constant pull at the heart that recalls us to our source of existence, the source of goodness, truth, and beauty, God in three persons. This seems to me to be the best apologetic that I have as a Christian. Everyone experiences that pull of desire that hints at a fullness that is missing here in this life and points toward another life. That is not to diminish this one, but to put it in its proper place. We were meant for more. I have not yet read Sonderegger but she has a blurb for Rutledge’s new book where she calls Rutledge one of “America’s premier pastors” and that this book is a must for “every student of the Scriptures.” I picked Rutledge’s book up at the Eerdman’s table at the Center for Pastoral Theologians first conference held in Chicago a couple weeks back.
Rutledge is an Episcopalian priest and while I was initially skeptical of that designation given the sad state of that denomination, the list of those endorsing the book is a veritable who’s-who. Flipping through the three or four pages of endorsements was impressive and I turned to my friend and said anyone who can get both Stephen Westerholm and David Bentley Hart to blurb a book is doing something right! What follows is not a book review in the traditional sense, though that will hopefully follow at some point, but some reflections on Rutledge’s discussion of justification in the eighth chapter of the book, “The Great Assize.” Wrestling with her understanding of it has been fun and deepened my love of the Scriptures.
An “assize” I have learned, is a judicial inquest, and the “great” assize is an allusion to the Day of the Lord, the Final Judgment. For those not enamored by theological happenings, the doctrine of justification has probably been the issue of the last five years for Biblical scholars and theologians alike. This is not the place to engage in a comprehensive overview of that debate but here is a helpful summary of one of the highlights of that debate http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/a-justification-debate-long-overdue. (I was actually privileged to be a part of that discussion, I swiped a lanyard from a table because the conference was sold out and preceded to nervously make my way to the conference room only to find out no one was checking registrations. I do not regret my deception! Haha!)
But to make quick of the matter before getting to Rutledge, I am convinced that when the scriptures talk about “justification by faith” they do not mean how one becomes a member of the family of God. Justification is not the initial moment of salvation but the declaration of God after one has proclaimed that Jesus is Lord. This is widely disputed but, I think, is the correct interpretation of the biblical doctrine of justification, even though I have a great deal of sympathy for those who miss it because Paul often does seem to conflate “salvation” with justification.
In “The Great Assize”, Rutledge contrasts a forensic interpretation of justification with an apocalyptic interpretation, clearly rooting and arguing for the latter. (One of the things that is most helpful about N.T. Wright’s massive volume on Paul, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, is that his understanding of God’s “righteousness” as covenant faithfulness seems to do away with having to choose between one or the other and a host of other issues besides. I will come back to that in a later post.) Rutledge’s understanding is guided by the great scholar Ernest Kasaemann and his notion of “apocalyptic.” The fundamental premise of this view is that the righteousness of God is “not a gift so much as it is a power.” What does that mean without going in to the minutiae of New Testament interpretation? For Rutledge, God’s justification—his declaration that those who are in the family of God are no longer sinners but saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8)—is a performative action “it has the power to create what it requires. When God regards one as righteous, a true metamorphosis is occurring” (334). Justification, for Rutledge, is God’s logizomai (the creative power that spoke the entire cosmos into being in Genesis 1) “brings transformed persons into being. This is called dikaiosis, (justification)” (333). This is how Rutledge, I presume, would respond to Wright’s dismissal of the Reformer’s notion imputation of righteousness as some type of “gaseous substance” (makes me chuckle every time) in his response to Piper in Justification (IVP, 2009).
The question that naturally followed for me is so then we are justified on who we are, because we are actually made righteous? But Rutledge affirms Hays subjective genitive interpretation of the phrase “the faith of Jesus Christ” rather than “faith in Jesus Christ” in places like Galatians 3 so is clearly placing the impetus on Jesus action rather than ours. I think this is spot on. So I was a little confused reading her conception of logizomai and her affirmation of the subjective genitive reading of dikaiosune theou. In my understanding of the forensic notion of justification, per Wright, is not that God is able to declare “justified” because we actually are righteous, but because we are in a sense “hidden” in Christ and so in a sense, God does not look on us at all, only the crucified and risen Lord, declaring him justified and so us as well, us who “no longer live but only Christ in us” (Galatians 2:19-20). I still think that she is also a little confused on this point, clearly believing in the “imputation of righteousness” of the Reformers through which we are declared “justified!” but also holding on the subjective genitive reading. These two things seem to stand in a bit of tension to me but I would welcome insight there.
N. 68 on pg. 333 is an important part of the discussion but seems to further muddy the matter. She brings up the term “alien righteousness” of Luther, a righteousness, in other words, that “never becomes our own possession but is always received gratefully from God as a gift” (n.68, 333). As I alluded to earlier, on the next page she quotes Kaesemann and says that God’s righteousness is not a gift so much as it is a power; here, again, she seems to want to have her cake and eat it too. Is justification primarily to be seen as an “alien righteousness” i.e. a gift, or is it a transformative speaking, i.e. a power? She seems to argue for both. She says that
‘[I]mputed righetoussness’ and ‘alien righteousness’ are still concepts of tremendous importance because they protect the central theme of Paul in the Corinthian letters, panta ek tou theou, and they guard against works-righteousness – provide that the phrases are understood to refer to something that is truly happening, not just theoretically ‘counted as’. The righteousness of God is a gift that is received anew daily from the Giver, but it really is a gift, whereby, the receiver participates in righteousness through Christ (n.68, 333).
So God’s declaration of “justified!” is truly a performative utterance making us actually righteous, and yet it is an “alien righteousness” which isn’t really ours but is a pure gift. Isn’t she, like the Reformers, misunderstanding the imagery of the lawcourt which is central to justification? Much more to say but it will have to wait, given the length of this already!
What follows is a sorrowfully short sketch; the present writer, instead, hopes the present reader (you) will just buy and read it.
After a long list of endorsement from significant theologians of our time, Rutledge begins. The book is divided into two unequal halves: (1) socio-historical and literary analysis of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion and (2) biblical motifs of the crucifixion. Rutledge draws from the climatic well of apocalyptic interpretation, specifically thanking Ernest Käsemann. In short, apocalyptic interpretation argues that starting during Babylonian exile (or some time later), there arose an insistence that the God of Israel is “breaking into” the world in new “revelatory” (apocalyptic) ways that expose and destroy the cosmic forces of Evil and Sin — the apex being the crucifixion — and, thus, execute and establish justice through the dikaiosyne theou (“righteousness of God”). The foremost apocalyptic forerunner was none other than Apostle Paul. This apocalyptic framework fits well with Christus Victor. However, unlike Gustav Aulén, Rutledge incorporates in kaleidoscopic fashion a surplus of other motifs — not theories.
I conclude with her own words:
All the manifold biblical images with their richness, complexity, and depth come together as one to say this: the righteousness of God is revealed in the cross of Christ. The “precious blood” of the Son of God is the perfect sacrifice for sin; the ransom is paid to deliver the captives; the gates of hell are stormed; the Red Sea is crossed and the enemy drowned; God’s judgment has been executed upon Sin; the disobedience of Adam is recapitulated in the obedience of Christ; a new creation is coming into being; those who put their trust in Christ are incorporated into his life; the kingdoms of “the present evil age” are passing away and the promised kingdom of God is manifest not in triumphalist crusades, but in the cruciform witness of the church. From within “Adam’s” (our) human flesh, the incarnate Son fought with and was victorious over Satan — on our behalf and in our place. Only this power, this transcendent victory won by the Son of God, is capable of reorienting the kosmos to its rightful Creator. This is what the righteousness of God has achieved through the cross and resurrection, is now accomplishing by the power of the Spirit, and will complete in the day of Christ Jesus (611).
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