August 13, 2020

Wednesday in Holy Week 2020: “The crucifixion of Jesus was the most secular, irreligious happening ever to find its way into the arena of faith.”

O man, thy grievous sin bemoan,
For which Christ left His Father’s throne,
From highest heaven descending.
Of Virgin pure and undefiled
He here was born, our Saviour mild,
For sin to make atonement.
The dead He raised to life again.
The sick He freed from grief and pain.
Until the time appointed
That He for us should give His Blood,
Should bear our sins’ o’erwhelming load,
The shameful Cross enduring.

Translation by Catherine Winkworth

• • •

…We are on safe ground to argue that the crucifixion of Jesus was the most secular, irreligious happening ever to find its way into the arena of faith.

The space thus opened up for irreligion at the very heart of the Christian message clears the way for all kinds of people in a way that the various forms of gnosticism simply cannot do. In gnosticism (including Christian gnosticism such as that in Corinth) there is always an inner circle, there is always a spiritual elite. Gnosticism promises mysteries that only the illuminati can fathom. It subtly or not so subtly suggests that “the capacity for being redeemed” is a condition for redemption. By contrast, the Christian gospel — when proclaimed in its radical New Testament form — is more truly “inclusive” of every human being, spiritually proficient or not, than any of the world’s religious systems have ever been, precisely because of the godlessness of Jesus’ death. In fact, the “word of the cross” is far more sweeping in its nullification of distinctions than many by-the-book conservative Christians are willing to admit. The Christian gospel, in slicing away all distinctions between “godly” and “ungodly” (Rom. 4:5), spiritual and unspiritual, offers a vision of God’s purpose for the whole human race, believers and unbelievers alike, so comprehensive and staggering that even the apostle Paul is reduced to temporary speechlessness (Rom. 11:36).

• Fleming Rutledge. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (p. 54)

Comments

  1. I’m struggling to reconcile what Rutledge is saying with the perspective conveyed by certain statements in the Bach lyrics; “For sin to make atonement/That He for us should give His Blood, Should bear our sins’ o’erwhelming load.”

    Rutledge is presenting the crucifixion as an “irreligious happening” whereas the Bach lyrics are expressing a Reformed religious perspective of a system of exchange–Transactionalism.

    I see the crucifixion as a “nasty piece of murder”, not necessary for “the forgiveness of sin”. Jesus forgave lots of sins before his murder.

    • It’s dangerous to speculate on just one sentence, but how *I* would read it is that “religion” at it’s core makes the kind of distinctions that Rutledge criticizes in the following paragraph – and secularism i at heart a denial of divine presence and purpose in the world. Jesus, when He walked the earth, threw both ideas into the trash bin – He WAS the Divine presence and purpose made flesh (John 1) and He welcomed and preached Good News to those outside the tidy order of Second Temple religion. That made Him eminently crucifiable in the eyes of both the religious and the politically expedient.

      • Robert F says

        I agree. I think the world and the temple conspired to bring him down. The secular and religious were in cahoots.

    • Hang on Tom. More to come from FR.

    • –> “I see the crucifixion as a ‘nasty piece of murder’, not necessary for ‘the forgiveness of sin’. Jesus forgave lots of sins before his murder.”

      This!

      1) To the outsider (outsider to Christendom), Jesus’ crucifixion makes ZERO sense. I’ve heard agnostics and atheists point to this as one of their main “complaints” against God. “Good News? Good News? How can sending your son to his death be Good News? And not just any death, but one of the worst deaths imaginable! That’s no God I want to be associated with!”

      2) To the insider (like me), it recalls too closely the near-horrific scene of Abraham poised and ready to kill his son Isaac. Yeah, I know all the theological reasons behind that: the promise, the foreshadowing, the yada yada. But c’mon, folks… you have a father standing over his son with a knife with the intent to KILL HIM! And he would’ve done it had the sacrificial ram not “been provided.” So this is another instance of God not looking so good. “Okay, Abraham… spare your son, but kill the ram.” He’s kind of a death-machine.

      3) Why was Jesus death necessary for the forgiveness of sin? Why did ANYONE have to pay some sort of “price”? To me, this idea paints God–with His “SOMEONE has to pay the price for screwing things up”–as an angry, wrathful jerk-of-a-father/God. DID God need someone to pay the price? Isn’t/Wasn’t forgiveness His to give in any way He saw fit, without the requirement of someone’s death? Again, He comes across as kind of a death-machine.

      (Mind you, I ask those somewhat rhetorically as I have some of my own conclusions about them, but these things have either rattled through my own brain at one point or because I’ve heard them and feel they’re rather valid arguments.)

      • anonymous says

        Incarnation as ‘salvation’ – another line of thought unexplored by evangelicals

      • Dana Ames says

        Rick,

        If you have time, bop on over to YouTube and listen to Fr John Behr’s ten retreat talks he gave at Little Portion Hermitage. I am confident it will blow your mind 🙂

        Dana

      • I think the Franciscans via Duns Scotus get it right. Jesus, Himself, is THE GOOD NEWS and God’s gift to humanity–not Jesus killed on a cross. The crucifixion is the sin filled response to God’s gift–a grand FUCK YOU!

        Tuesday with Michael Spencer
        from 2007

        Debates about “transactionalism” have often been debates about the atonement. The Bible places the death of Jesus as the apex of a scriptural thread of sacrificial theology. Sacrifice is plainly transactional. No one can deny that, and I wouldn’t try. But is the death of Jesus a transaction, or is it a sacrament that allows us to think about the unthinkable and unknowable in a way that can be understood humanly and temporally?

        Classical theologians argued about who received the “payoff” from Christ’s death on our behalf. Satan? The Father? When did the payment go into effect? Was the transaction between members of the Godhead, or does human faith and/or obedience effect the transaction? Did the atonement’s benefits extend to those who lived before it happened? Transactional questions are endless, leaving some persons weary and wondering, “Is this what the death of Jesus is all about? How many sins can be forgiven by how much blood? The calculation of worth?”

        Such debates assume a temporal and transactional understanding of the atonement. They are built on the idea that, at some point in time, our reconciliation in Christ did not exist, but was in the future. Some Christians writers in the early history of the church, giving up the temporal aspect of the atonement, wondered if the “transactional” language of sacrifice was obscuring eternal truths about God. Was the death of Jesus a temporal sacrifice, and therefore a transaction, or was it something else? If God were dealing with another race in another galaxy, would the death of Jesus be the same, for the same reasons? Or could it be different because, in actuality, that death is a sacrament, and not a transaction at all.

        Theologian Robert Capon has put forward an alternative to traditional ways of looking at the atonement, one that moves beyond the transactional language by introducing another familiar concept from Christian theology: The death of Jesus as a sacrament of God and the Gospel. This controversial proposal will upset some readers, but it has persuaded me to rethink not only the death of Jesus, but the reality of God as presented in Christ

        By sacrament, Capon means a sign of reality. A sign that points to, and allows understanding of reality. The sacrament is not the totality of the reality, but participates in the reality. When a person interacts with a sacrament, he or she participates in the reality on the “other side” of the sacramental window.

        Most Christians associate Baptism and the Lord’s Supper with sacraments. Capon says these are true sacraments of Christ. Christ is really present in these signs, but those participating in the sacrament are not “transacting business” with God, but are experiencing the grace of God that is always present for everyone. Those with faith perceive the meaning of a sacrament, and see the reality it presents, but the power of a sacrament is always true, no matter what the circumstance.

        The “always present” aspect of the sacrament is the most controversial. Capon is saying that God’s forgiving grace is always present in Christ, always and for everyone who recognizes and believes it. Grace does not “appear” in the sacraments or in preaching and then vanish until the next transaction.

        This sacramental understanding goes beyond just those signs mentioned in traditional theology. For Capon, all of reality, all of life is sacramental. The grace of God is part and parcel of creation, according to Capon, because Christ is always mediating the grace of God to His creation. We cannot escape the mediating love of God in Jesus unless we simply ignore it. Even then, Capon muses controversially, our escape from grace may prove to be futile.

        Capon suggests that the cross, in fact the incarnation itself, are sacraments through which we see and experience the ever-present grace of God. Creation is a sacrament. All human life and experience is a sacrament. Jesus is the apex of sacramentalism. Once a Christian begins to think sacramentally, there is, in reality, no separation between existence and the love of God.

        In this rejection of transactional language, Capon is not belittling the cross, but magnifying it as the epitome of the incarnational sacrament. While Capon does not believe a “transaction” occurred, he does believe the sacrificial- and transactional- imagery of the cross powerfully presents the grace of God in Christ, though it does not exhaust or limit that grace simply to the death of Jesus. Christ himself- God the Son- is the eternal sacrament and the very substance of the grace God extends to us in the Gospel.

        I’m quite drawn to this as one who has grown weary of the debate between “limited” and “universal” atonement. Was the atonement effectual for a predetermned number? Or potentially for all, actually for none? Capon says the death of Jesus shows that God, in Christ, reconciles the world, i.e. creation, to himself. At his cost; in Chirst, effectually and graciously. Lift that up and believe it.

        By suggesting that the atonement is not a temporal transaction, and that we do not conduct transactions with God as much as we come to realize what God gives us in the Gospel, Capon has helped me greatly. In the “altar call” of my evangelical Baptist tradition, transactions with God were proclaimed right and left, and sincere seekers believed that participation in the “sacrament” of coming to the front of church to pray would move God to do what we would not do otherwise. I now believe this is a profound misunderstanding of the God of the Bible, dishonoring the greatness of the Gospel of Jesus victorious, ever-present love for me.

        I now believe the “Gospel” has been there since before the foundation of the world. It is the “eternal Gospel.” It is the Gospel of the Son who eternally offers himself up to God as our mediator. The cross of Jesus is the great “window” through which we see this reality, but all of Christ’s incarnation, and all of the church’s sacraments that point to him are also “windows” through which we see the eternal, unchanging kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

        https://internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-101-out-of-business-with-god

  2. Christiane says

    THEY WILL LOOK UPON HIM WHOM THEY HAVE PIERCED

    Zechariah 12:10
    “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of mercy and supplication, so that when they look on Him whom they have thrust through,* they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and they will grieve for Him as one grieves over a firstborn . . . “

    • Christiane says

      A Fleming Rutledge quote that helps with the context a bit:

      ““With all due respect to the religions of the world, there is no other story like the Christian story. The god who thunders, the god who persecutes and condemns, the god who wreaks vengeance – yes, we know this god from the caricatures. We know this god from the old paintings. We know this god from hearing continual references to “the Old Testament God.” But this is not who God is. “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)

  3. Dana Ames says

    I started reading “The Crucifixion” and didn’t even get halfway through; it just didn’t sit well with me and I had to stop. I thought Rutledge put way too much weight on the “cry of dereliction”. I thought she barely investigated what Incarnation had to do with Christ’s death. I thought that the way she portrayed the Father was still too focused on the Sin problem and didn’t get near the Death problem. I wondered if she ever read Athanasius. The book did not affirm my trust in a God “who is good and loves mankind”, as we say at the end of many of our prayers in EO. I know she was trying to get away from “the father killing his son” scenario; it just didn’t work for me.

    Sorry, hope I don’t offend.

    Dana

    • I’ll likely end up in your reading circle Dana. ;o]

    • Robert F says

      It is because of who Jesus was that the crucifixion has unique meaning and importance. Salvation theories about the crucifixion that abrogate the fact that it was the identity of Christ as expressed in the Incarnation that made his crucifixion redemptive are deficient. What matters in everything is who Christ was; aside from that, the cross is blood spattered wood with no redemptive power at all, just an instrument of torture and death.

    • Christiane says

      Thank you for coming here and sharing with us, Dana. I’m glad there are blogs where people can come into the main hall and share from the ‘different rooms’ and traditions of the faith. That is what has made Imonk so unique among blogs. It is a very special thing to be able to read the shared insights of other Christian people.

  4. Burro (Mule) says

    But, but, but, but doesn’t salvation mean we go to the comfortable, hey-neighbor!, well-landscaped place instead of the hot, crowded, up-yours-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on place? I mean, isn’t that the whole point of the exercise?

    Actually, Ms Rutledge leans a little too close to the awlley-awlley-in-come-free model of the apokatastasis for my comfort. There is a lot of space between the monstrous tick-tock God of the Princeton systematics and the squooshy “Oh, I-guess-they-all’ve-been-pretty-good-this-year” Burl Ives Santa Claus God, and the Bible doesn’t seem to commit itself anywhere.

    I have a personal problem with the ‘is she/he a Christian (meaning born-again) or not” question my wife as a Latin Pentecostal constantly asks. That question has such limited utility for me as a guide to interpersonal relationships I’ve stopped asking it, even mentally. This causes no small discord in my marriage, and I resent the theological paradigm it represents even more so because of that.

    Yet everywhere I read in the Bible, EVERYWHERE, there is a delineation between those who fear God and those who disregard Him, between those who keep His commandments and restrain their behavior thereby, and those who give free rein to their concupiscence and passions, between those who gosh-diddley-darn-it believe and those who can’t bring themselves to swallow all that hogwash.

    Once again, I cling to the Chalcedonian adverbs;

    Without confusion
    Without change
    Without mixture
    Without separation

    and wonder how to square my soteriology to them.

  5. Christiane says

    Chaplain Mike,
    my comment for Dana went missing. Can you help?
    Thank you

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