Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (26) Ransom and Redemption

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we finish Chapter 7, ‘Ransom and Redemption’ – together these concepts see the cross as that which redeems (brings freedom) by the paying of a ransom (the payment of some sort of price).

Rutledge returns to questions that have surfaced earlier (these are my phrasing of the discussion):

What does the ‘scale’ of the payment, say about the gravity of the problem (sin)?

The gravity of sin is met with a gravity of response by God – the ‘extreme nature of the crucifixion’ (295). Rutledge comments that,

‘it is part of the good news that God has offered God’s own self as “payment”.’ (295-96)

Something deeply wrong has been put right.

If the cross involves a ransom, what is paid to whom? If the Son’s death is ‘payment’ to God, does this give a picture of God as a Father who sacrifices his own son?

In Jesus, it is the triune God himself who has intervened to reclaim – to buy back, if you will – his lost creation, and the price he pays is his own self in the person of the divine Son of Man. The price is unimaginably great precisely because the Adversary is unimaginably great. The Adversary could be seen as a sort of diabolical trinity as well, for Sin, Death and the Devil are all three named by the New Testament writers – an “unholy trinity”. The cost of deliverance is the life of the Son of God. (294-95)

The question arises then, to whom is the “payment” made?

Rutledge demurs from Howard Marshall and others who see that it is God who receives the ransom. She argues it is better to leave this as an image of victory won at great cost, “without pursuing the notion that it is literally to be paid to anyone.” (n.26, p. 296)

In doing so, she is countering (some) Feminist critiques of the cross as a form of child abuse. And also any sense that the cross is somehow ‘required’ by God. For Rutledge, these are distortions that fail to take the Trinitarian life of God into account.

The critics of the God-language are wrong on this point; the tradition taken as a whole is solidly behind the idea that the cross of Christ is an event undertaken by the Three Persons united. (297)

To imagine that the cross is somehow God’s ‘reaction’ or coerced action because of Sin ‘then we do not have the creator God of the Bible.’ (297).


‘it is God’s very nature to go out from God’s self in love. The love that comes forth from God is expressed first, from all eternity, within the Tri-unity of God itself; God has no need of a creation to love.’ (297)

In Summary

Coming back to the idea of ransom (payment for sin) and redemption (deliverance from bondage), Rutledge concludes this chapter with these words,

And so we end this chapter on a note of high exaltation. The redemption wrought by God in Christ was indeed a mighty deliverance and points ahead to the glorious future of the reign of God. The ransom imagery reminds us that this great liberation involved not only a loosing from bondage, but also an atonement for sin; not only cosmic victory but also an ultimate price. (301-02)

Next, we begin chapter 8, The Great Assize’ or Last Judgement.

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (25) Ransom and Redemption

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we begin Chapter 7, ‘Ransom and Redemption’

Together these concepts see the cross as that which redeems (brings freedom) by the paying of a ransom (the payment of some sort of price).

Some want only to talk of redemption – deliverance from that which imprisons. They tend to be less comfortable talking of the cross involving payment of a price. Rutledge in this chapter wants to hold these concepts together and comes at redemption through the lens of ransom.

“The Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45)

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. (1 Cor. 7:23).

Redemption is a deeply biblical theme that runs throughout the Bible and is a broader category than ransom. God is a God of deliverance and salvation who sets his people free.

Ransom zones in on the cost of deliverance.

So Rutledge returns to the ‘gravity of sin’ here.

“The human predicament is so dire that it cannot be remedied in any ordinary way. If we fail to see this, then we have ‘not yet considered the weight of sin.’ Redemption (buying back), therefore, is not cheap. In the death of Jesus we see God himself suffering the consequences of Sin. That is the “price”. When Christian teaching falls short of this proclamation, the work of Christ on the cross is diminished to vanishing point, becoming nothing more than an exemplary death to admire, to venerate, perhaps even to emulate, but certainly not an event to shake the foundations of this world order.” (287)

Rutledge acknowledges that conservative-evangelical communication of the atonement is ‘more deeply heartfelt and preachable’ that more liberal interpretations. It speaks personally and directly to the deep self-giving love of God in Christ. Take 1 Peter 1:18-19 which she describes as ‘an evangelistic text if ever there was one’. (288)

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

So Rutledge comments

Jesus himself is the price of our redemption. The church needs to hear the apostolic truth that the death of Jesus was an offering of incomparable value … deliverance at cost. (288)

It is this combination of ‘deliverance at cost’ that Rutledge argues for in study of redemption and ransom from OT to NT.

No preacher or Bible teacher needs to be skittish about believing and proclaiming that “there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin”, as long as the theme of deliverance from another sphere of power is also kept in view. (294)

So what does a ransom do? How are Christians set free?

  • We are captives, powerless to free ourselves
  • A rescue mission is launched
  • A ransom is some kind of exchange. Usually, this is some amount of money somehow equivalent to the value of the life being redeemed.
  • But with Christ’s ransom ‘for us’ it is a vastly unequal exchange: the Son of Man (one person) for many.

In Jesus ‘a power strong enough to deliver the entire human race has appeared, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly says, once for all. This is surely at the very heart of the gospel. (294)

In the next post we follow Rutledge’s discussion of ransom and redemption and particularly the question of ‘Who is Paying Who? – Trinitarian Considerations’

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (24) modern objections to self-sacrifice

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we finish Chapter 6, ‘The Blood Sacrifice’. Again, there is far more here than I am commenting on, this simply gives a flavour of the discussion.

Some of the themes unpacked are:

  • Sacrifice in the book of Hebrews
  • The lamb of God
  • The story of Abraham and Isaac – a theological interpretation of sacrifice and substitution
  • The temple veil and the mercy seat
  • The Greek word hilasterion – does it mean ‘propitiation’ (the barrier lies within God himself, hence a sense of somehow satisfying God’s wrath) or ‘expiation’ (an action aimed at removing the barrier of sin that lies between us and God). Rutledge denies neither, coming down on expiation as the primary cause of the atonement and propitiation as a secondary result.

The idea of self-sacrifice today

But the topic we are going to zone in on is Rutledge’s discussion of modern attitudes to self-sacrifice.

This blog has had regular discussions of contemporary consumerism as a theological issue and form of modern idolatry. Rutledge is spot on in her description of our Western consumer society as unheralded in human history, ‘it is like nothing the world has ever seen before’ (271).

The fragmenting of social ties and a culture of instant everything, has, she argues, resulted in an emptying out of ‘any sense of the value of sacrifice in ordinary life’ (271)

So you agree with this? Is it too strong? Are not many millennials searching for significance and a worthwhile cause precisely because of the emptiness of our all-embracing consumer culture?

Women’s objections to sacrifice as empowerment

But Rutledge’s main discussion is on women’s objections to sacrifice as empowerment. By this she refers to a reaction by many women thinkers, arising out of women’s experience, that they have been the sex expected to bear a disproportionate burden of sacrifice.

“Many women have been conditioned to think that they have no choice except to be ignored, patronised, exploited, and abused. This has been disabling for women, profoundly so in many cases, and it is part of the work of the church in our time to rethink this whole matter. (272)

My comment – there is some echo of Nietzsche here and his critique of Christianity as weakness, representing life-denying death and nothingness.

The central objection, Rutledge says, is that sacrifice has functioned, and been valued, as a means of denying fulfilment to women. It has resulted in women being subordinated and disempowered. This is religion of repression and is far from the authentic teaching and life of Jesus (273).

We will never get past this hurdle if sacrifice is thought to be a form of weakness and abject self-suppression. (273)

Sacrifice as an alternative mode of power

The alternative Rutledge proposes sounds surprising

The way to rethink sacrifice is in terms of power (273)

But she means by this a ‘good’ sense of power, rather than ‘bad’ (suppression). Jesus lived a self-sacrificial life that embodied ‘an alternative mode of power’ (274)

Here we get to the paradox of the cross. It is in apparent ‘weakness’ and sacrificial self-giving that the powers of Sin and Death are confronted and overcome.

Paul particularly, sees Jesus’ death as an ‘apocalyptic confrontation with the forces of the enemy’ (274). Jesus’ giving of himself is the ultimate ‘weapon’ in the war.

If I can bring in love here – the same paradox is in play. I have a section discussing this same point. The battle is not won by taking on Sin and the powers on their own terms – it is won by ‘the alternative mode of power’. Love is God’s weapon in the war.

And I wonder how different the history of Christianity would be if those who bear Christ’s name really believed this rather than trust in the weapons of the world to effect ‘peace’?

Rutledge quotes Hebrews 2:14-15 to make a similar point – it is in death of the Messiah that the battle is won. This is the upside down model of power in God’s economy

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

‘True power is best seen in a life willingly offered as sacrifice for the sake of others’ (275)

And where Rutledge is so good is in preaching mode where she sets out a vision for this alternative way of being in the world for the people of God today. It is worth repeating what she says in full;

Such a life, rightly understood, is uniquely empowering because it is aligned with the self-giving God in Jesus Christ. Wherever there are gracious acts of unselfishness, there are the signs of God’s kingdom of remade relationships based on mutual self-offering. Even in this old world ruled by Sin and Death, who would want to live a life of utter selfishness? To show any kind of care for others at all, some sort of sacrifice is necessary every day – to be magnanimous instead of vindictive, to stand back and let someone else share the limelight, to absorb the anger of a teenager in order to show firm guidance, to be patient with a parent who has Alzheimer’s, to refrain from undermining a colleague, to give away money one would like to spend on luxuries, to give up smoking, to bear with those who can’t give up smoking – all such things, large and small, require sacrifice. What would life be without it? (275)

Sacrifice for the ungodly

Yet, even this is not the last word. The paradox of the cross goes further … summarised in these two texts:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.  1 Peter 3:18

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

The deepest paradox of the cross is that the righteous dies for the unrighteous.

It marked Jesus’ life and this means ‘constant identification with death on the part of his followers’ (277).

This is what C S Lewis called ‘deep magic’.  It is the most revolutionary idea imaginable. It is the way God does things.

What does ‘identification with death’ mean today? What really ‘costs’ you to follow Jesus? And how is this sacrifice, paradoxically, life-giving?

Next we move to chapter 7 on ‘Ransom and Redemption’.

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (23) The Blood Sacrifice

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we continue within Chapter 6, ‘The Blood Sacrifice’. This is a big chapter and I am only focusing on a couple of discussions.

Perhaps you have done something ‘sacrificial’ for someone recently?

What makes something a sacrifice?

Rutledge says at least two ideas are present:

  • Something of value is relinquished
  • The purpose is to gain a greater good

This can be a verb denoting an action – you sacrificed something for that person.

Or it can be noun – where the thing itself being relinquished is itself the sacrifice. Like a pawn in a chess match perhaps (239)

In Jesus both the verb and noun come together.

He acts sacrificially. He chooses to go to Jerusalem. (Rutledge does not mention this, but Philippians 2:7 and Jesus’ ‘self-emptying’ and making himself a servant comes to mind here).

He himself is the sacrifice. He willingly allows himself to be sacrificed.

And in combining these two ideas in one person

‘the claim made by the apostolic preaching stands alone in the history of the world, let alone the history of religion, in this one regard: it proclaims this one sacrifice as efficacious for the whole human race and the entire cosmos for all time. (240 emphasis original)

The cost of atonement

There follows a long discussion of sacrifice in the OT, particularly Leviticus. Rutledge’s conclusion is

Basic to the ritual is the idea that atonement for sin costs something. Something valuable has to be offered in restitution. The life of the sacrificed animal, together with the sense of awe associated with the shedding of blood, represents this payment …  The use of the phrase “the blood of Christ” in the New Testament carries with it this sacrificial, atoning significance in a primordial sense … (245)

One of the simplest ways of understanding the death of Jesus is to say that when we look at the cross, we see what it cost God to secure our release from sin (245-46)

And the fundamental message of the book of Hebrews is that in Christ a superior, perfect and complete sacrifice has been offered in Christ.

This is NOT to say that God somehow tried the OT sacrificial system as ‘Plan A’ and, when it did not work, abandoned it for ‘Plan B’ – the sending of his Son. Rutledge rightly resists this Marcionite type of reading of the Bible that radically devalues the OT.

The inadequacies in the system were not a flaw in the design, but part of God’s purpose from the beginning (Heb. 7:11) (246)

In other words, the concept of sacrifice as atonement for sin

was part of God’s preparation of his people for the sacrifice that would not fail, namely, the self-offering of the Son. This is a crucial theological point, namely, that the sacrifice of Christ was not God’s reaction to human sin, but an inherent, original movement within God’s very being. It is the nature of God to offer God’s self sacrificially. (247, my emphasis)

Have a think about that last sentence. If it does not lift our hearts in awe and thanksgiving then perhaps we have yet to understand and experience the ‘wonder of the cross’ for ourselves.

In the next post we continue within this theme of the cross as a blood sacrifice.

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (22) The Blood Sacrifice

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post we begin Chapter 6, ‘The Blood Sacrifice’

I think Rutledge is right to say at the start of this chapter that there is, in some quarters, a certain distaste or disdain for much talk of the blood imagery of the Bible today. She tells stories of where she was politely requested not to talk of ‘the blood’ at Easter sermons.

Yet, the theme of ‘blood’ is a prominent one in the New Testament.

How much is this image of Christ’s work on the cross talked about today in the church circles where you move? If not, why not?  

What is your reaction to hymns and poetry that rejoice in the ‘blood of Christ’? For example:

William Cowper?: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins”

John Donne: God “wrote your name in the blood of that lamb which was slain for you”.

Does this not all seem a bit, vulgar, violent and, well, bloody?

Is this an image that is simply ‘out of step’ and ‘out of touch’ with modern life? Shoudl we dispense or downplay all this talk of blood when it comes to the work of Chirst? Rutledge says a big ‘No’ to this.

Rutledge lists four NT texts written by four different authors – many other examples could have been chosen:

Acts 20:28: 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Colossians 1:19-20: 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

1 Peter 1:18-19: 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Hebrews 13:11-12: 11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

And so Rutledge comments that

The motif of sacrifice, and specifically blood sacrifice, is central to the story of our salvation through Jesus Christ, and without this theme the Christian proclamation loses much of its power, becoming both theologically and ethically undernourished. (233)

We will come back to that emphasis on ethical undernourishment.

But what does ‘the blood’ mean? Rutledge has a good discussion of this question.

‘The blood of Christ’ as metaphor

Our modern discomfort with the word ‘blood’ may be due, at least in part, to a failure of imagination.

Or perhaps it is also because we live in a sanitized Western culture where blood is hidden away from everyday life.

Yet, the word is obviously a metaphor. The Gospels and the rest of the NT are remarkably restrained when it comes to the actual bloody details of the death of Jesus. There is no lingering at all on the biological consequences of Roman barbarity and cruelty.

The real focus of the New Testament writers is in what Rutledge calls the ‘inner significance’ of the blood of Christ (235) – the spiritual effect of the death of the Messiah.

References to the blood of Christ are three times as numerous in the New Testament as the death of Christ (236).

The framework of the OT sacrificial system prepared the way for God’s people to appreciate that without the ‘shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins’ (Heb 9:22).

Jesus’ own actions and words at the Lord’s Supper refer to a sacrificial death: ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (Mark 14:24).

And so Rutledge affirms what has always been believed by Christians from the very beginning,

‘Jesus’ death interpreted as a sacrifice, and specifically a sacrifice for sin, is one of the dominant ideas of the New Testament’ (236)

A Metaphor for Life or for Death?

But what is ‘blood’ a metaphor for?

There are those who argue ‘blood’ refers to the pouring out of ‘life’. Rutledge summarises the argument. A key text is:

  • Lev 17:11: 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

  • See also Gen 9:4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”

  • Deut 12:23: 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.

Thus, the case goes, ‘blood’ refers to the pouring out of life. Death is not the main focus, it is almost only a consequence of the giving of life.

Does this matter? Rutledge says, emphatically, yes it does.

‘If all the emphasis is on the giving of Jesus’ life, then we are left with no explanation of his being Godforsaken or under any kind of a curse, which … is one of the most profound aspects of Christ’s crucifixion. (238)

Yes, of course Christ gives his life, but to try to take the focus off his death

… means that we cannot speak of representation, substitution, propitiation, vicarious suffering, or even exchange happening on the cross because the whole idea of Christ coming under the judgement of God is eliminated. (238)

Next, we follow Rutledge’s unpacking of the theological theme of sacrifice.


Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (21) Exodus today?

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post, we continue looking at The Passover and the Exodus and the cross as a dramatic act of deliverance by God.

We stay with the question of what does it look like today for God’s people to live in the power of his great Exodus deliverance at the cross of his Son, Jesus Christ?

… the passing of Jesus through death into life unfolds the eschatological significance of the passage of the Israelites from bondage into freedom. (227)

Political Implications of Exodus Today

In the final section of this chapter Rutledge looks at the universal political implications of Passover / Exodus.

Much space is given to the American Civil Rights Movement and the deep Exodus themes within the experience of the African American community in light of the great sin of slavery by white Empires.

Exodus of old becomes Exodus of the present.

Preaching, worship, church gatherings, the ideal of non-violence, leadership by ordained ministers like Martin Luther King – the Civil Rights movement was shaped profoundly by Christian theology, symbolism and history.

Rutledge quotes Paul L. Lehmann, from his book The Transfiguration of Politics;

Reading the ‘Dream Speech’ now is to relive the day of its utterance for all who heart it on the Washington Mall or through the media. And in so doing one can affirm again Mrs King’s Report that “it seemed to all of us there that his words flowed from some higher place, through Martin, to the weary people before him. Yes – heaven itself opened up and we all seemed transformed.” “Transfigured” is perhaps the truer word. And this, not only because another Exodus was in the making, but also because a moment of truth had broken in from which there could be no turning back. Moses and Elijah were in the wings, Righteousness and resurrection were on the move. And there was yet great suffering to be endured. (230, Lehmann, 182-83)

Rutledge sees this as an example of a ‘new Exodus’ – an event where God is already at work and

‘who gives his Word from a higher place to his weary people’ (230)

The power of the Exodus story, says Rutledge,

‘continues to hold out the promise of life around the world over the centuries as people who have been oppressed cling to the promise that God is acting among them.’ (231)

‘Political Transformation’ verses ‘Holy Distinctness’?

What do you think of Rutledge’s hermeneutic?

Is it legitimate to universalise the Exodus this way?

How we answer that question will, to a large degree be shaped by our prior theological assumptions.

Rutledge (in my view) seems to be coming from a ‘transformationist’ perspective – where God’s people are to be front and centre involved in the political transformation of sinful social structures. In doing so, this fallen world can be changed to reflect something of God’s heart for the oppressed and marginalised.

There is a certain Christendom ‘blurring’ of lines here between the community of God’s people (the church) and the hopes and aspirations of broader political communities.

A ‘holy distinctness’ framework is wary of concepts like ‘Exodus’ and ‘kingdom’ being universalised beyond the boundaries of the community of God’s people to apply to the world in general.

[If you are interested you can read here a journal article for Evangelical Quarterly I wrote a while back on public theology and engagement in politics using an Irish example]

The overwhelming emphasis in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is God’s Word spoken to and for his people – there is rarely a hint of a wider mandate to transform the world. In fact, quite the opposite – most of the time what the ‘world’ is doing politically is completely irrelevant to the writers of the New Testament. Their focus is firmly on the spiritual authenticity of the church- the people of God.

There are no easy answers here. I am firmly on the ‘holy distinctness’ side. I am deeply sceptical of where the church takes it upon itself to transform the world. It often ends in disaster.

We need to recognise that to take a story like the Exodus and apply it to our very different cultural and political world is not an obvious or simple thing to do.

Richard Bauckham has said on this issue that a creative and imaginative hermeneutic is needed to apply ancient texts to modern political life. [Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically (London: SPCK, 1989)]

So, my answer is … it all depends. What is the context?

Faced with a situation of a virtually apartheid 1960s America in which:

  • one ethnic group was systemically discriminated against
  • where God’s heart is clearly on the side of the poor and oppressed
  • where the church’s agenda is not to seek power of its own
  • where evil and sin is to be confronted and named
  • where there is a willingness to suffer rather than to inflict suffering

These surely were conditions for Christians to get involved in a struggle for justice. This is what love for others in need calls for.

I just wouldn’t call it a ‘new Exodus’. Christ’s work on the cross cannot be equated with an agenda of political and social change, however right and just.

Next, we begin chapter 6, ‘The Blood Sacrifice’

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (20) The Cross as deliverance from slavery

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post, we continue looking at The Passover and the Exodus and the cross as a dramatic act of deliverance by God.

Some questions:

How seriously is the idea of being ‘enslaved’ or in ‘bondage to Sin’ taken today – even within the church?

To what are we moderns enslaved today? What does that slavery look like?

If you are a Christian, what has your experience of deliverance meant in practice?

Rutledge is well aware of how Christian reinterpretation of the Passover and Exodus finding their climax and fulfilment in the story of Jesus is seen by Jews as a profound and mistaken distortion.

She is at pains to argue that Easter does not invalidate Israel’s election as God’s chosen people (224) and points to Paul’s appeal in Romans 9. She proposes that Christians should and must engage with the Jewish viewpoint with empathy and understanding.

Nevertheless, Rutledge also warns of American mainline churches being so concerned not to offend that ‘we are in danger of allowing the Old Testament to slip away from us.’ (224)

The thrilling story of the Exodus 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 … This story of surpassing power ought to be an indispensable part of every Christian’s operating system. (224).

The point here is that Easter as a new Exodus is all about the power of God to effect glorious deliverance. God is a God of freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)

The cross represents the victory of God and should be celebrated as such with joy and thanksgiving by the people of God. Rutledge quotes this hymn and Miriam’s song of victory;

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King …
… Where the paschal blood is poured,
death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
through the wave that drowns the foe. (Latin Hymn, trans Robert Campbell)

Exodus 15:21

21 Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”

Which brings to mind another wonderful song of celebration by the Boss –

Rutledge comments here that

This verse should give us goose bumps … it is a direct link to the imagery in the New Testament (226)

It pictures the cross as that which delivers us from slavery to sin. All of us are in bondage to its power. Its reach is systemic and personal. The reality of sin’s reach and power means that

… it is important not to spiritualize, de-historize, or individualize the exodus too much, or it will lose its edge. Affluent communities need to understand that they are enslaved by the pursuit of wealth, comfort, and status, often achieved at the expense of the poor. (226)

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (19) The Passover and the Exodus

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post, we begin looking at the major images and themes of how the Bible talks about the cross. First is The Passover and the Exodus.

Rutledge’s main stated concern in these chapters is ‘Will it preach?’ Will it help and guide Christians who wish to deepen their understanding, teaching, social action and personal faith.

As discussed earlier, Rutledge is operating with two broad categories for understanding what the cross achieves:

  1. There is sin and guilt for which atonement needs to be made
  2. There is slavery, bondage and oppression from which humanity needs deliverance

And it is the second of these most in view when it comes to The Passover and Exodus.

I think one of the first essays I wrote at Bible College many years ago was on how the Exodus was remembered throughout the Old Testament. I am sure it was terrible but I remember learning how foundational that event was for Israel’s identity and worship.

Rutledge talks of the Exodus as a ‘living event’ – an old story that becomes a new story for every generation (217).  The Passover memorial meal is far more than mere ‘remembering’ – it is ‘an appropriation of that same saving power in the present.’ (218)

Passover and Lord’s Supper

Similarly, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, Christians are not merely ‘remembering’ Jesus but believe that he is actively present in power (218).

All the four gospels – with John doing it slightly differently – place the passion narrative in a Passover setting.

Paul talks of Jesus as

‘Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

Rutledge draws out a number of parallels but also stresses that, in the death of Christ, God has done something radically new. The cross as a ‘novum’ is the dividing line between Old and New Testaments, it marks the distinguishing event between Judaism and Christianity.

Exodus: God intervenes from ‘on high’.

Cross: God intervenes ‘from within God’s own life, in the form of his Son’s self-offering’.

Exodus: Israel is delivered physically from bondage under Pharaoh to (eventual) freedom in their own land.

Cross: Jesus delivers believers from bondage into freedom, from sin into righteousness.

Passover / Exodus: deliverance from death.

Cross: in John’s Gospel Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). But he is also the Passover lamb whose blood saves from death (p.220).

In 1 Peter, the Passover lamb is linked with the Suffering Servant is Isaiah 53;

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23-24).

We should not miss how utterly remarkable this is. The first Christians are reinterpreting the foundational event of Israel’s election and salvation by the one true God and seeing in Jesus’ death and resurrection a new exodus, a new liberation, a new act of God’s mighty love and saving power.

This is not at all to invalidate the Old Testament. We will come back to this and how the Exodus acts as an Easter Liturgy in the next post.

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (18) Sin versus Sentimentality

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

In this post, we finish chapter 4 on ‘The Gravity of Sin’

Some questions up front

How much, do you think, preachers and teachers face up to what Rutledge calls the ‘sickening’ character of human nature?

How much do we confront and confess our brokenness and depth of depravity?

How can this be done constructively in corporate church life?

Or do you think the church generally prefers sentimentality and politeness in preaching and worship? And is then shocked when Sin rears its ugly head?

In the last post we traced Rutledge’s argument that Sin is not something we do, it is something we are in (195). It is a power that enslaves, it shapes our personalities, thinking and actions and the human society in general in a billion different ways.

Given the ‘gravity of sin’ and its effects in the world – the Holocaust, continual wars, repeated genocides, fear of violence, injustice, acts of terror, human destruction of our globe, racism, exploitation of the weak by the powerful ad infinitum …  it is ironic – and perhaps understandable – that so much of Western life lapses into sentimentality.

Rutledge is writing in an American context and says this:

It is the lazy person’s way of receiving data about life, without struggle. It is apparently very important for us to believe in innocence. Such a belief is a stratagem for keeping unpleasant truth at bay; it is a form of denial. (196)

The Bible is anything but sentimental. A collection of inspirational stories it is most emphatically not. It is unblinking in its description and analysis of human nature – with every sort of failure recounted, often ‘by men and women of God’s own choosing’ (196).

But in the age of the internet, social media and the 24 hour news cycle, it is becoming harder and harder to live in denial.

The RoadI love film. I think one of the major trends of recent decades is the exploration of the relationship between human nature and hope. What hope is there for the future given the catastrophic mess we are making of the world? Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for example.

An Irish digression: Over the last 30 years or so, any concept of ‘innocence’ has been stripped from Irish public life.

The Garda (police), banks, politicians, the Church, schools, sports (drug assisted Irish Olympian gold medalists), the legal system – have all been exposed and laid bare as overflowing in corruption, greed, power and self-serving interest.

The weak, the poor and the powerless have been ruthlessly exploited by the powerful and there has been next to no accountability and justice. The ‘myth’ of Ireland as a model religious nation full of devoted worshippers has evaporated as if it never existed.

To come back to the crucifixion, Rutledge argues that

‘The crucifixion of Jesus is of such magnitude that it must call forth a concept of sin that is large enough to match it … Looking at Jesus on the cross, we see the degradation and Godforsakeness of it, and we see the corresponding gravity, the weight, of sin … we may conclude that the gravity of sin was so great that no correspondence in heaven or on earth was weighty enough except the self-offering of the Son of God – not by the swift guillotine blade, but by submitting to the degradation of crucifixion. (200-201)

However, while we need a weighty and realistic doctrine of Sin, there is good news:

God’s grace comes unsuspected, invading our circumscribed sphere in which we contrive fruitlessly to exonerate ourselves. The knowledge that we are imprisoned by Sin is not a prior condition for restoration. Such knowledge arises out of, and is therefore overcome by, the joyful tidings of redemption and release. In this glad certainty of new life, the people of God go to their knees to acknowledge their need for a deliverance from Sin that they have already received. (204 emphasis original)

In the next post we begin Part 2 on Biblical Motifs of the Atonement.

Chapter 5 is on ‘The Passover and the Exodus’

Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (17) The gravity of Sin

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddWe continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).

We are continuing within chapter 4 on ‘The Gravity of Sin’ and, in particular, Rutledge’s discussion of what Sin actually is.

That ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15:3) is the core of the gospel.

But what is Sin? And why did Jesus have to die to somehow ‘deal’ with Sin?

This is a big chapter. Again, it’s worth repeating that these blogs only give a flavour of the book and do not do justice to Rutledge’s prose and argument. For that you need to go to the book itself – you could do a lot worse, it’s excellent.

Rutledge goes even higher in my estimation by bringing in Calvin and Hobbes:

Calvin and Hobbes Christmas

Rutledge sees 4 issues here: (180)

1) What’s Santa’s definition of good and bad (What’s God’s definition?)

2) How good to you have to be to qualify as good? (And who makes the determination?)

3) Maybe good is more than the absence of bad (which raises the issue of evil as the absence of good)

4) Such philosophical questions lead to worry which only a theological answer can resolve.

Sin is much more than failing to be as good as we might have been. Nor is Sin a comparison game – ‘at least I am not as bad as x’.

Sin is a power under which all of us are enslaved (Rom. 3:9; John 8:34). Only a greater power can liberate us. The Cross is that which liberates from Sin and Death.

Sin is responsible guilt for which atonement must be made. The Cross is sacrifice for sin.

Human solidarity in bondage to the power of Sin is one of the most important concepts for Christians to grasp. But it is not enough to say that we are in bondage to Sin. A result of that bondage is that we have become active, conscripted agents of Sin. (178-79)

So, Rutledge argues,

Unless we are to abandon the New Testament witness altogether, we much acknowledge that the overcoming of sin lies at the very heart of the meaning of the crucifixion’ (185)

A Cosmic Struggle

The story of the Bible then can be seen as

‘a cosmic struggle between the forces of Sin, evil, and Death … and the unconquerable purpose of God. (184-85)

This battle is seen in every book of the New Testament (see examples pp 186-90, with Paul in particular seeing Sin as a power that enslaves). It is framed in light of the story of Sin in the Genesis: the Fall as the story of how all humans are in a vast rebellion against God.

And, just when you think Rutledge can’t get any better, she brings in Bob Dylan – ‘You Gotta Serve Somebody’ – we all live under one dominion or another, the dominion of Sin or the dominion of Christ. (191)

Sin-Lite: Sin as bad deeds

We come back here to how a watery theology that attempts to speak of the gospel only in terms of God’s love or grace, without a robust account of Sin is, biblically and theologically speaking, incoherent.

It arises from a discomfort that to talk of Sin is somehow a ‘negative’ or ‘downbeat’ message. It cuts across American optimism but is far from confined to America.

But the Bible, and the OT in particular, gives serious attention to the ‘great weight’ of Sin. Rutledge comments that

‘Christian attempts to moderate or minimize it are anti-Hebraic.’ (191)

Another way the seriousness of Sin is minimised is by seeing it as some sort of catalogue of ‘bad deeds’. Rutledge comments on a humourous People magazine survey in which various actions were rated on a scale of badness – a ‘Sindex’.

Really bad Sins: murder, rape, child abuse.

Pretty bad: parking in a handicapped space; cutting someone off;

Not so bad: smoking, swearing, masturbation, copyright infringement, unmarried and living together.

Corporate sin was not mentioned.

Most telling for our purposes here, “Overall, readers said they committed about 4.64 sins per month.” We may laugh at this, but clearly, our sense of sin as specific actions is deeply ingrained. (194)

The Good PlaceWhich all brings to mind The Good Place – which is all about Sin and how to get a score good enough to get into heaven. I’ve watched and enjoyed all three series.

But while amusing – and The Good Place is very amusing – this trivializes the Bible’s realistic and weighty diagnosis of Sin.

Here’s scoring of ‘good deeds’ in The Good Place  just so you know what to focus on!


We will come back in the next post to how the Bible’s view of Sin confronts and contrasts to that of American sentimentality and superficial optimism about human nature.