I am tempted to create a blog post by simply
stringing together a series of Fleming Rutledge quotes. The words she uses are often
adequate to spark the mind and generate combustion. However, I shall do more
than that; I shall interact with some of her writings on the atonement rendered
by the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Much of what I write here
will stem from my reading of The
Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ
, Fleming Rutledge,
Eerdmans, 2017. But, some thoughts will have their origin in other writings and
interviews with Rutledge.

Fleming Rutledge is an Episcopalian Priest
in the grand tradition of preacher, theologian, author, and scholar. She has
written much, preached much, and said much in interviews for many publications,
but her greatest work is The Crucifixion,
published in 2017. She says that it has taken her a lifetime to write this
book. Others consider it a landmark book and it has given Rutledge a
significant platform from which to speak. The most significant theme of the
book is stated this way,
“From beginning to
end, the Holy Scriptures testify that the predicament of fallen humanity is so
serious, so grave, so irremediable from within, that nothing short of divine
intervention can rectify it.”
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of
Jesus Christ
, p. 127.
She goes on to say that,
“If we think of
Christian theology and ethics purely in terms of forgiveness, we will have
neglected a central aspect of God’s own character and will be in no position to
understand the cross in its fullest dimension.”
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of
Jesus Christ
, p. 131.
Her theology is not one that suggests we
can achieve human happiness or self-actualization through human achievement.
She is clear that the only hope for humankind is the cross of Christ and the intercession
of God. God has clearly entered into history in the incarnation, death, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Rutledge sees this as the only hope of a world
gone wrong.
“The New Testament
writings all presuppose that the fallen human race and the equally fallen
created order are sick unto death beyond human resourcefulness.”
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of
Jesus Christ
, p. 141.
And yet, our
deeds are not without hope, and one sees in her words, threads of other
conversations heard in other places. Rutledge says,
“Here is an important
distinction with far-reaching implications for Christian behavior. The deeds of
Christians in this present time — however insignificant they may seem, however
“vain” they may appear to those who value worldly success — are already being
built into God’s advancing kingdom.”
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of
Jesus Christ
, p. 14.
Tolkien had words
like Rutledge in The Silmarillion,
when he said,
I am Ilúvatar, those
things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have
done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its
uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that
attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more
wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, p. 15-18.
What they are both saying is that, even our
flawed, or sinful, or poorly aimed actions are capable of redemption, and can
be woven into the tapestry of the will of God. The crucifixion, though not
necessary at the creation of the universe, was required because of the sinful propensity
of every human alive and every human that has ever lived. God saw this
propensity, and saw that our actions had created the need for the cross; so, he
sorrowfully wove it into the pattern of the universe such that,
“The crucifixion is
the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which
everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance.
The resurrection is not a set piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of
divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The
resurrection is, precisely, the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without
the cross at the center of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be
treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. It is the
crucifixion that marks out Christianity as something definitively different in
the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is
truly revealed. … we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important
historical event that has ever happened. The resurrection, being a
transhistorical event planted within history, does not cancel out the
contradiction and shame of the cross in this present life; rather, the
resurrection ratifies the cross as the way “until he comes.”
Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of
Jesus Christ
, p. 44.
In The
, and also in her other works, Rutledge even goes so far as to
say that Jesus’ descent into Hell was a necessary aspect of his death on the
“The Old
Testament God” is the one who has come down from his throne on high into
the world of sinful human flesh and of his own free will and decision has come
under his own judgment in order to deliver us from everlasting condemnation and
bring us into eternal life. He has not required human sacrifice; he has himself
become the human sacrifice. He has not turned us over and forsaken us; he was
himself turned over and forsaken. This is what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah
says: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed
him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our
transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the
chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (53:4-5)”
Fleming Rutledge, And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the
Old Testament
, p. ?
Notice Rutledge’s
carefully chosen words here. She is purposely saying that it was God who died
on the cross. She distinguishes an important concept by saying this rather than
speaking of God’s Son dying on the cross. This does indeed differentiate the crucifixion
from child-abuse (some have disparagingly suggested such an explanation of the cross) and Rutledge emphasises how it was God, who came to earth as a human; it was
God who suffered; it was God who died; it was God who paid the price; it was
God who descended into Hell to set free the captives.
Rutledge goes on to say that,  
“We have to come to
terms with what seems to be godforsakenness in the world. Many people find that
difficult or even impossible. And people who find it difficult or impossible
will probably not come to church on Good Friday and will concentrate on the
happy aspect of the faith. But I think that’s too bad, because the real depth
and strength of the faith is its facing of the worst, and the fact that Jesus
faced and endured the worst is ultimately, for many, the only comfort we have
in the extremities of the kind of situations that I’m talking about.
The only comfort we
have is that Jesus was there before us and that somehow, he wrested away the
power of death and sin precisely in his abandonment. How that happened, I can’t
say. But the entire proclamation of the church, of the New Testament witnesses,
is that that is what happened. Precisely out of the abandonment, he descended
into hell.”
Fleming Rutledge, “Interview
with Rev. Fleming Rutledge”[1]
Rutledge is a gift to the church at this
time in history. I encourage all to read her writings and particularly her
latest, The Crucifixion.

[1] Fleming Rutledge, “Interview with Rev. Fleming Rutledge,” Religion and Ethics News Weekly, April
19, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2013/04/19/april-18-2003-interview-with-rev-fleming-rutledge/18886/.

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