News scribes face the perennial task of devising features pegged to major dates on religious calendars.
Due to the somber and difficult theme, perhaps the most challenging is Good Friday -- Great and Holy Friday for Orthodoxy, whose date of April 14 coincides with other Christians’ in 2017. One rarely sees a fresh, first-class media article about the day Christ died.
Relief is on the way this year, thanks to “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ” by Fleming Rutledge, proclaimed the “2017 Book of the Year” by Christianity Today magazine and newly reissued in paperback by Eerdmans. Sample chapter headings: “The Godlessness of the Cross.” “The Question of Justice.” “Condemned into Redemption.”
The Religion Guy has not, at this point, read this Episcopalian’s 696-pager and relies on those who have. Hosannas come from across the ecclesiastical spectrum. Robert Imbelli of Boston College deems the work “remarkable,” indeed “monumental.” “Wonderful,” exclaims Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary. Pastor Andrew Wilson of King’s Church, London, calls it “extraordinary,” and “full of imagery and pathos, illustration and contemporary application.”
England’s Bishop Peter Forster says Rutledge’s work is especially important for “American Christianity, which evades the cross” or repackages Good Friday as what Rutledge calls “inspirational uplift -- sunlit, backlit, or candlelit.” Virginia Seminary’s Katherine Sonderegger says “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. ...”
Consider what Rutledge calls “the living significance” of this ancient execution: Why exactly did Christ die? Did the crucifixion display God’s wrath, or God’s love, or human depravity, or some combination thereof? How could a great injustice bring justice? How could an emblem of shame produce glory? Why does a death 2,000 years ago carry such power today, and why is that more true in the developing world than the West?
Though these matters are complex by nature, Rutledge aims at clarity and is an engaging writer. She’s a good bet to focus things in plain English via an interview, since her intent is to make the Christian belief “accessible,” especially for those “who think they have no faith, or have inadequate faith.”
Duke University’s Stanley Hauerwas says this is “a work of a lifetime.” Indeed, Rutledge has pondered and preached on the cross for more than 20 years, issuing along the way other Holy Week tomes. The chapter on Christ’s “descent into hell” alone took her two years.
Rutledge is an interesting story in and of herself. By family heritage and career she’s fully embedded in “mainline” Protestantism, in fact ranks as one of its heroines because she was among the first women regularly ordained to the Episcopal priesthood (January, 1977). But this wife of 58 years and mother of two is firmly planted in her denomination’s waning but vibrant theologically orthodox wing, which gains her a hearing among “evangelical” Protestants and Catholics.
After 14 years of parish ministry in Manhattan, and shorter stints in Salisbury, Conn., and Rye, N.Y., Rutledge turned to a career as an itinerant teacher, preacher and teacher of preachers based in remote Alford, Mass., journeying across the U.S., Canada, and Britain. Her Web site: www.generousorthodoxy.org. To request review copies or interviews: firstname.lastname@example.org or 616–459-4591.