Posted by: T. Boyd | December 9, 2016

Gleanings from Fleming Rutledge

(Last Update: August 6, 2017)

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ

dick-and-fleming-rutledge

This is the most important book I have read this year, other than the Bible.  Mrs. Rutledge took over 20 years to write this, and it is a masterpiece – it should be read by every serious believer who wants to understand the true meaning of the Atonement by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I plan to write more about what this book is stirring in my heart – it is so profound and addresses so much of what is wrong with the Christian Church, at least in the affluent Western countries.  I want to help share these thoughts.

For now, I will quote some of the passages from the book (the Kindle edition), and will put some impressions in the comments section.

(Update: April 24, 2017 – have been too busy to keep this posting up-to-date with the reading, so there are gaps – hope to come back to the missed chapters)

Most churchgoing people are “Jews” on Sunday morning and “Greeks” the rest of the time. Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, science. The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.
Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ – (Kindle Locations 2458-2460). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
“A Spirit who could derogate from the glory of Christ crucified in order to promote a more dazzling glory of his own, who passes by the sufferings of Christ in order to offer us a share in a painless and costless triumph, is certainly not the Holy Spirit of the New Testament [who] glorifies, not himself, but Christ, and therefore his mission is to reveal the full glory of Calvary, and to bring us into possession of all the blessings that by his death Christ has won for us.” 
– (Kindle Locations 2503-2507).
A feature of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion that is apparently Bach’s own invention is not only musically arresting but also of great theological importance. Jaroslav Pelikan describes it thus: 

[Bach uses] the “halo,” the string quartet that plays various chords to accompany each of the sayings of Jesus and, it has been said, “floats round the utterances of Christ like a glory” [quoting music historian and Bach biographer Philipp Spitta]. . . . Bach was apparently the only one [among composers of his time] to see that the absolutely appropriate place to suspend the “halo” leitmotiv was at the cry of dereliction, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. . . . The glory of the Father was withdrawn from the solitary figure on the cross . . . now he is all alone and forsaken.  – (Kindle Locations 2681-2688).

Sometimes it is objected that a father who would allow his own son to be cursed and abandoned must be monstrous. Trinitarian thinking is of the essence here, however. The Son and the Father are doing this in concert, by the power of the Spirit. This interposition of the Son between human beings and the curse of God upon Sin is a project of the three persons. The sentence of accursedness has fallen upon Jesus on our behalf and in our place, by his own decree as the second person. 
 – (Kindle Locations 2726-2730).
We have looked at passages from Paul’s Corinthian letters to show what happens to a church when it loses sight of the cross. Paul’s insistence on the “word of the cross,” then as now, causes offense, because a “Corinthian” church is self-congratulatory, certain of its own spiritual attainments, whereas the cross of Christ displays God’s leveling of all distinctions in his godless death.
–  (Kindle Locations 2804-2807)
The Corinthians were self-congratulatory about their spiritual (so-called) accomplishments, and tended to be antinomian (nomos, “law”). As we shall see, the Galatian church was the opposite, being led in the direction of a new legalism.
– (Kindle Locations 3124-3126).

If God in three persons is most fully revealed to us by the Son’s accursed death outside the community of the godly, this means a complete rethinking of what is usually called religion.

– (Kindle Locations 2813-2814)

Those who suffer most from injustice are the poorly educated, the impoverished, the invisible. Justice is involved with law and judges; the people most likely to suffer injustice cannot afford good lawyers, do not even know any lawyers, whereas lawyers and judges are the ones who have the money to buy books. In other words, those most likely to be affected by the issues raised in this chapter are least likely to be reading about them. This puts an extra burden on the privileged reader, but such challenges are not unrelated to Jesus’ teaching that the one who does not take up his cross and follow him is not worthy of him (Matt. 10: 38). Trying to understand someone else’s predicament lies at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.

– (Kindle Locations 3145-3150)

There are many things that we do not know about Jesus, but of this we can be sure: his mind and heart were shaped by intimate, continuous interaction with the Scriptures.

 It is not too far-fetched to compare Jesus’ total immersion in the Scriptures to the young person of today who is continually plugged in to electronic media.

– (Kindle Locations 3156-3157)

In a Newsweek article about heaven, Kenneth L. Woodward noted, “Missing from most contemporary considerations of heaven is the notion of divine justice.”  When affluent white Americans think of heaven, we tend to think of celestial serenity, natural beauty, and family reunions. Black Americans and other disadvantaged groups would be much more likely to think of God’s promise that there will be ultimate justice. For anyone who has suffered great wrong, it is important to know, as the book of Revelation promises so wondrously, that all wrongs will be righted (Rev. 21: 3-4).

– (Kindle Locations 3564-3569).

Personal note: I am a white, relatively affluent American male, whose view of heaven has been reshaped from the former to the latter, because I see injustice daily in the new location we moved to in the highest poverty area of urban Virginia.  It’s not just the crime rate, its the joblessness, the despair on the faces around us; it’s the trash in the alleys and on the streets; it’s the poor upkeep of roads, sidewalks, and even street signs;  it’s the rusty front of the U.S. Post Office and the poor service the customers receive there; it’s the poor education that the kids get because of so many problems, and the many fatherless families in the area.

And my heart cries for justice.  I join my Black friends, my loved ones, in looking forward to the rectification of all things in the Kingdom.

God does not possess his justice (righteousness, same word) far off in a remote empyrean [heaven]. The righteousness of God is not a static, remorseless attribute against which vulnerable human beings fling themselves in vain. Nor is it like that of a judge who dispenses impersonal justice according to some legal norm. God’s justice, as Desmond Tutu insisted, is not retributive but restorative. It is natural that many do not understand this, because “God’s love, resisted, is felt as wrath.” 

 – (Kindle Locations 3720-3724)


Only God Can Save from a Weight of Sin So Great

We can identify the center of Anselm’s logic in 2.6. Here, he urges that the weight of sin is so great (nondum considerasti quanti ponderis peccatum sit) that there is no possibility of atonement or satisfaction unless the price paid is “greater than all the universe besides God.” 

Boso. So it appears. . . . 

Anselm. Therefore none but God is able to make this satisfaction. 

Boso. I cannot deny it. 

Anselm. But none but a man ought to do this [he has already established that it is the guilty party, and no one else, who ought to make the restitution]. 

Boso. Nothing could be more just. 

Anselm. If it be necessary, therefore . . . that [salvation] cannot be effected unless the aforesaid satisfaction be made, which none but God can make and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it. 

Boso. Now blessed be God! We have made a great discovery. 

– (Kindle Locations 4393-4407).

Hart is thus saying, from a quite different perspective, almost exactly the same thing as J. L. Martyn: the resurrection is God’s validation of his Son’s redemptive death, not the replacement of it. “The resurrection of the Son does not eclipse the Son’s cross.”

– (Kindle Locations 4467-4470).

I went through a period of thinking when I thought the resurrection is the most important historical event, but I see I was wrong.  Of course it is of great importance, but it is not where the emphasis of the gospel lies.

Anselm emphasizes that the “God-man” goes to his death in full knowledge of what he is doing. The crucifixion “is an event in God’s triune life.”  It should never be interpreted as a deed done to an unsuspecting Son by his Father.  

Anselm is at pains to show that the Son laid down his life of his own accord (John 10: 18). “The Father did not compel him to suffer death, or even allow him to be slain against his will, but of his own accord he endured death for the salvation of men” (1.8).

To the objection that the Son had no choice since the Father commanded him to obey, Anselm replies that this was not at all the way it unfolded:

[S] o precious a life . . . given with such willingness . . . the Son freely gave himself to the Father. For thus we plainly affirm that in speaking of one Person we affirm the whole deity, to whom as man he offered himself. And, by the names of Father and Son, a wondrous depth of devotion is excited in the hearts of the hearers when it is said that the Son supplicates the Father on our behalf. (2.18, emphasis added)

The Son had agreed with the Father and the Holy Spirit that there was no other way to reveal to the world the height of his omnipotence than by his death. (1.9)

– (Kindle Locations 4483-4496).

Although “The Shack” has been validly criticized by many, it does make clear to me how important it is to understand that the Father was fully involved in the suffering of the Son, Jesus Christ on the cross.

If acknowledgment of fault is difficult for individuals — perhaps especially for men, who have been conditioned not to show weakness — how much more so is it for groups. A nation, tribe, corporation, or other human collective will typically define itself as superior to its enemies, competitors, or antagonists. Think of how difficult it is for any country or national group, including our own, to admit that it has done anything wrong. The wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq will continue to haunt the United States. Even after all the pain and second-guessing, our tendency is still to hunt for exculpating factors. We continue to think almost entirely in terms of American casualties, as though the deaths of Vietnamese peasants and Arab civilians are of lesser consequence.

– (Kindle Locations 4875-4881).

 Since the Reformation, the sad divisions in the church have often been marked by bitter disputes about the nature of the atonement, with some parties insisting that only one explanation of it is correct and others are erroneous. This has been a difficult stance to maintain, since there was never a Council of Nicaea or Chalcedon to determine an orthodox position regarding the crucifixion, as there was about the nature of Christ and the Holy Trinity. The strong reaction in recent decades against “theories” of the atonement has actually been useful. “Theories” are spun out of human mental capacity, and we are dealing here with an event far beyond human mental capacity.

 – (Kindle Locations 5775-5781).

I never thought before about how much good the Council’s did in the first millennium to keep Christianity “on track”, something that was lost in the Reformation, viz. the unity of mainstream Christianity when a Council could speak for it. 

Memory (remembrance) in biblical thought does not mean “calling to mind.” “Remembering” means present and active. That is the reason for the statement in the Passover Haggadah that it was not our ancestors who were brought by God out of bondage into freedom, but we ourselves. The Seder supper is not a memorial of God’s saving action in the past, but an appropriation of that same saving power in the present.

– (Kindle Locations 5951-5955).

When we repeat Jesus’ words, “do this in remembrance of me,” in the communion service, we do not simply call Jesus to mind. Jesus is actively present with power in the communion of the people. Disputes about the Lord’s Supper have divided the Christian church, but understanding the biblical concept of remembrance can help us. We are not just thinking about Jesus’ actions in the upper room; we acknowledge that he is present and acting with the community gathered at the table in the present time. The doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper can be understood in this way by everyone, from the most sophisticated person to the simplest.

– (Kindle Locations 5966-5971).

Viewed from a New Testament perspective, we see the impetus for projecting the exodus into the future as an eschatological event already present in the Old Testament. Eschaton in Greek means “last.” To speak of the eschaton, therefore, means to speak of the Last Judgment, the second coming, the new heaven and new earth — traditionally grouped under the heading of the last things. However, eschatology is not so much a cluster of topics as it is a thought-world. A good basic definition is that of C. K. Barrett: “In characteristically eschatological thinking, the significance of a series of events in time is defined in terms of the last of their number. The last event is not merely one member of the series; it is the determinative member, which reveals the meaning of the whole.”

– (Kindle Locations 5996-6002).

The words “eschatology” and “apocalyptic,” though future-oriented, are not interchangeable. The key apocalyptic idea, to be developed further in later chapters, is the sovereign intervention of God, with a corresponding displacement of the capacity of human beings to bring that intervention about. It must be said in the strongest possible terms: in no way does this emphasis on the divine agency mean that there is nothing for us to do, or that our activity is meaningless. What it means, rather, is that human activity points to the future reign of God and participates in it proleptically (prolepsis, “to anticipate”). It does not, however, make it come to fruition; only God can complete his purpose. At no time does the Bible suggest that we are, in the currently popular phrase, “co-creators with God”; rather, we are graciously called and moved to be participants in what God alone is able to create. 29 The word “eschatology” does not necessarily make this distinction clear; it is possible to refer to the “last things” and thus speak eschatologically, without being careful to show that God alone will cause those last things to come to pass — the emphasis that is the hallmark of apocalyptic. The role of the people of God is participation in what God is already doing.

– (Kindle Locations 6038-6049)

Surely the danger here is that Christians may be, and often have been, tempted to think that the constituting of Israel by God as “a peculiar people” (see Exod. 19: 5; Deut. 14: 2 KJV) has been invalidated by the Christ event. This notion should be decisively repudiated (Rom. 9: 4)…..If we really want to combat anti-Semitism, what better way to do it than to foster love of the Hebrew Scriptures? There is a gap in the mental furnishings of white Christians in America today. The thrilling story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt ought to make our collective hairs stand on end, but the mention of it is likely to be met with blank stares. We need more sermons on this central shaping story.

–  (Kindle Locations 6076-6087).

The first thing to remember is that these codes [the Levitical laws] were given to God’s people living in alien territory. This was true of the Israelites throughout most of their biblical history; they were “sojourning” in either Canaan or Babylon or the Roman Empire. The period when they were truly at home was all too brief. This is still true for Christians, or should be, because the people of God are always going to be uneasily situated. We live as exiles in territory that is either besieged or occupied by alien gods.  The church should always have a sense of being in a strange land, and if we are not feeling this tension, we are not really being the church: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6: 1).

– (Kindle Locations 6505-6510).

This distinction does not mean that Israel is allowed to disdain the people around her. In a particularly significant passage, Leviticus instructs, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19: 34). Ellen F. Davis calls this a “destabilizing factor within Leviticus,” meaning that even within the strict Holiness Code, a future way is already opened up; “the Levitical vision contains the mustard seed that will grow to burst the limits of that vision . . . this is what happens with Jesus and his followers.”  Set-apartness is not meant to encourage a sense of superiority on the part of God’s people; it is God who is superior, not his servants.  The members of the community are not to look down their collective noses at the Canaanites floundering in their idolatry. If we take the whole grand sweep of the Old Testament into consideration, the ultimate design is for Israel to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. Looking ahead to Romans 4, concerning the promise made to Abraham, there is no one, however far gone in unrighteousness, who is beyond the reach of the crucified One who died for the ungodly (Rom. 5: 6). Therefore, the people of God both do, and do not, hold themselves apart.

– (Kindle Locations 6537-6548).

In a footnote for Chapter 6, Pastor Rutledge writes:

25. Philip Hughes, in his commentary on Hebrews, makes a nice distinction between “separation from” and “separation to,” which removes some of the problems associated with the idea of being “set apart.” He makes this point with reference to Heb. 13: 12-13, where Christians are called away from the sacred precincts to go “outside the camp,” where Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” (12: 2). “By suffering outside the gate, Jesus identifies himself with the world in its unholiness. . . . On our unholy ground he makes his holiness available to us in exchange for our sin which he bears and for which he atones on the cross. . . . This following of Christ inescapably involves going outside the camp where the cross, too shameful to be placed inside the camp, is located.” He then quotes F. F. Bruce to great effect: “What was formerly sacred was now unhallowed, because Jesus had been expelled from it, and what was formerly unhallowed was now sacred ground because Jesus was there” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977], 580-82).

-(Kindle Locations 7400-7408).

I was able to check out that Commentary by Hughes, and in reading it, I was thrilled to see something about Hebrews 1:3, written in the 8th Century by the commentator, Alcuin, where he points out “it is no less to govern the world than to create it; for in creating, the substances of things were produced from nothing, while in governing, the things that have been made are sustained, lest they should return to nothing.”  That was something I had never thought about.

A crucial difference between wrong and evil is that people are implicitly in charge of the universe in which rights and wrongs are discussed; people have systems of laws to right wrongs. But evil implies a different universe, controlled by extra-human forces. Wrong is a human offense that suggests reparation is possible and deserved. Wrong is not mysterious. Evil suggests a mysterious force that may be in business for itself and may exploit human agency as part of a larger cosmic conflict — between good and evil, God and Satan. 

— she quotes  here from Morrow, Lance. Evil: An Investigation. New York: Basic Books, 2003.

Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 11410-11415). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

 Wow.  The following excerpt is very disturbing, and in my sheltered world I didn’t even pay attention when it was going on.  So sad.

The Hidden Factor of Complicity As the twentieth century drew to a close, it was becoming clear that the extermination of six million Jews and several million Slavs, Roma (gypsies), homosexuals, mentally retarded people, resistance leaders, and others at the hands of the Nazis was not to be the last genocide in our time, in spite of pious and defiant cries of “Never again.” The demonstrable failure of the Christian church during the roundup of Europe’s Jews was to be exceeded — if that were possible — in 1994 by the sometimes enthusiastic participation of Christian leaders and institutions during the Rwandan genocide. The insistent question that such events raise, over and over, is whether Christian faith really makes any difference when self-identified Christians participate in radical evil. Stephen R. Haynes, writing in the Christian Century, observes that Rwanda was the most Christianized country in Africa (90 percent), yet huge numbers of victims were killed in church buildings where they had sought refuge. “Like Nazi Germany, genocidal Rwanda is an exceedingly unattractive venue for Christian self-examination. Much of the evidence indicates that ‘blood’ proved thicker than baptismal water, that faith was powerless to overcome the interests of class or ethnicity. . . . Christians must ask what this and other episodes of mass killing reveal about the essence and extent of our fallenness.” 134

The Rwandan atrocities force us to reexamine our understanding of human nature. The manner of the murders has caused especial notice, since hundreds of thousands were hacked with machetes, burned in churches, and shot point-blank and face-to-face. This was not an industrialized, anonymous operation carried out at remote locations by a few fanatical officials “just doing their jobs”; it was a person-to-person massacre by people who in many cases knew their victims, and were even colleagues with them on the staffs of the same hospitals and members of the same parish churches. Anyone who cares about Christian witness must be haunted by the question: What would I have done?

Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 11489-11507). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

 

It is a new epistemology, a new way of knowing. When God reveals himself, the old arrangements become obsolete. The distinctive characteristic of Job, in the last analysis, is his consuming desire to receive a response from God. He got one. It was not the response he could have expected, but in an utterly strange way God was gracious to Job. The clue that we need is the detachment of the question about suffering from the self-revelation of God. The question “Why?” is not the right question and will never yield the right “explanation.” 152

David Hart, writing about The Brothers Karamazov, describes Ivan’s posture as “rage against explanation.” 153 Hart argues that we must not be persuaded into a position that requires us to make sense of everything that happens. It is premature to say to a sufferer, “There must be some reason for this.” The sufferer may (or may not) eventually come to this belief by himself, in and through the suffering; but it is a first rule of pastoral ministry that the would-be consoler must never put such words into the sufferer’s mouth. In many situations the best rule for the “comforter” may very well be silence. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the “explanations” offered are consoling only to the “comforter,” not the sufferer. There are only two possible responses to horrendous suffering. The first is to share the sufferer’s pain at length, in silence. 154 The second, as Hart concludes, is to “hate these things with a perfect hatred.” 155

Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 11615-11629). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.


Responses

  1. This book stirs so much deep within my heart that it is hard to express. But I should be commenting as I read through it, to write some thoughts that impress me.

    One thing I want to do soon is listen and read the lyrics of Bach’s Matthew Passion – to experience that change that occurs in the “halo” for the “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” section. I will try to post a sampling of that difference.

  2. She writes: “We have looked at passages from Paul’s Corinthian letters to show what happens to a church when it loses sight of the cross.”

    I can say that this book has shown me what happens to me when I lose that sight – I get proud and smug and start thinking I’m not a bad dude after all. But understanding the passion of Jesus wipes that smugness right off my face.

    And later she wrote: “It is not too far-fetched to compare Jesus’ total immersion in the Scriptures to the young person of today who is continually plugged in to electronic media.”

    What struck me was how much I am guilty of spending hours with the media, but only minutes in the Scriptures.


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