Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (4) theologia crucis

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 in chapter 1, ‘The Primacy of the Cross’.

To be clear, I am not attempting to re-tell the author’s argument in every detail but am giving a sketch of the content of each chapter – probably two or three posts per chapter during Lent should just about bring us to the end of the book for Easter. Along the way I will try to make clear what are my comments and what are the author’s.

Chapter 1 makes an eloquent case for how the cross is the test of whether any Christian theology, or indeed any expression of Christianity, is authentically Christian or not. Without the cross at the centre there is a gaping empty hole.

Maintaining focus on the theologia crucis (theology of the cross) is extremely difficult, particularly in a Western culture of comfort and affirmation.

After reminding us of how all four gospels are structured around the cross as the climax of Jesus’ life and ministry, Rutledge concludes

The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance. (44)

What then is the relationship between the crucifixion and the resurrection? This is a key question for Rutledge.

Since the resurrection is God’s mighty transhistorical Yes to the historically crucified Son, we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important historical event that has ever happened. The resurrection, being a transhistorical event planted in 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”. (44).

A substantial part of this chapter then explores theologies which DO attempt to cancel out, side-line or bypass the crucifixion. Where the cross may not be so much denied, but it is not at the centre and the focus Christian life and experience is elsewhere.

Can you think of modern examples of such ‘cross-less Christianity-lite’ in your own experience? What would some symptoms of such a theology in preaching and worship?

Rutledge particularly focuses on Gnosticism – both ancient and modern as by far the most pervasive and popular rival to Christianity. We’ll come back to this in the next post.

One thought on “Lent 2019: Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion (4) theologia crucis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s