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The Chasm Of Incomprehension Between Amazing Grace And Contemporary Identity (via Fleming Rutledge)

A culture that exalts the image of the self will also sing along to Amazing Grace.
Past generations of Christians had little problem thinking of themselves as wretches (in contrast to wretched).
What do they think they’re singing?

From Fleming Rutledge.

It is baffling that our whole society knows and apparently loves to sing “Amazing Grace.” What are people thinking of when they sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me”? The man who wrote the hymn was a slave trader who came to see the wickedness of his activities. Most of those who sing the hymn today know nothing of this background. It is startling to hear it robustly sung by people who are so imbued with today’s talk of self-esteem that one can’t imagine them identifying themselves as wretches. A chasm of incomprehension has opened up between the way of the old slave trader who knew that he had been redeemed by Christ in spite of himself and the contemporary notion of a generalised sort of spiritual self-improvement. The joy of the hymn writer is specifically that of being released from the burden of sin. His gratitude is “for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.” The link between the confession of sin and a prevenient state of blessedness, however poorly understood today, remains indissoluble.

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion – Understanding The Death Of Jesus Christ Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 2015, pg 170.


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Outrage In The Heart Of God (via Fleming Rutledge)

In a world that viewed itself as growing more and more pacific the idea that God should be without wrath – a deified reflection of itself made some sort of sense.
In a world that is more and more quick to dwell in outrage, the idea that God should be without wrath is peculiar.

From Fleming Rutledge.

The Biblical message is that the outrage of God is first of all in the heart of God. If we are resistant to the idea of the wrath of God, we might pause to reflect the next time we are outraged about something – about our property values being threatened, or our children’s educational opportunities being limited, or our tax breaks being eliminated. All of us are capable of anger about something. God’s anger, however, is pure. It does not have the maintenance of privilege as its object, but goes out on behalf of those who have no privileges. The wrath of God is not an emotion that flares up from time to time, as though God has temper tantrums; it is a way of describing his absolute enmity against all wrong and his coming to set matters right.

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion – Understanding The Death Of Jesus Christ Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 2015, pg 129-130.


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“There Is No Other Way To Be A Disciple Of Jesus Than To Be In Communion With Other Disciples Of Jesus” (via Fleming Rutledge)

An observation from Fleming Rutledge about the Gospel of John and how it demonstrates that while Jesus was relating to individuals, he was creating a community, a family, a body, branches joined to a common vine.

Taking the Gospel and the Epistles of John together, no writings in the New Testament are more concerned with the church than John. You wouldn’t necessarily notice this, however, if you read the Gospel without looking for it. Our typical American individualism tends always to focus on the single, supposedly autonomous person, so we typically read the Bible through that lens. And it’s true that for the first two-thirds of the Gospel, John features a striking number of personal, intimate conversations between Jesus and single individuals: the Samaritan woman, Nico- demus, the man born blind, Thomas, Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene. These stories stand out because they are beautifully crafted by John, a master dramatist. So, most people tend to read the Fourth Gospel that way. But the overwhelming emphasis in John is not on individuals, but on the organic connection that Jesus creates among those who put their trust in him. This theme reaches its apex in chapters 15 and 16, during the last hours of his life on earth, when he teaches, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).
There is no other way to be a disciple of Jesus than to be in communion with other disciples of Jesus. Why do you suppose the Lord didn’t separate out each one of his followers, stand us up separately, pronounce us each a unique individual, and then bid us go off and create ourselves?
He did the opposite; instead of making us independent and self-centered, he makes us mutually interdependent and other-directed.

Fleming Rutledge, Three Hours, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 31-32.


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No Common Criminal’s Death (via Fleming Rutledge)

Fleming Rutledge observes that the execution method which Jesus suffered was one that was carried out upon those guilty of a particular crime against the state.
His execution marked him as an enemy of the state.
It served as a warning to any who might resist its authority.
This is the means by which Jesus demonstrates that he overcomes the world.

In this saying from Luke’s Gospel, the two — Luke and John — show a similarity: Jesus is pinned to an instrument of torture, completely helpless, at the mercy of sadistic torturers and mocking passersby, and yet he is reigning from the cross as a King.
A King, and yet crucified between two thieves. The traditional word is thief, but that’s misleading. This is not Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread. These are bandits, brigands — lawless, full-time professionals who were a serious threat to the famous Roman rule of order. Crucifixion was the supreme penalty (summum supplicium, Cicero called it) for a particular type of criminal, guilty of the impermissible offense of sedition (rebellious disorder, in the archaic sense of the word). These men have often been described as “common criminals,” but that’s not quite right. The Romans didn’t waste their time crucifying small-timers. These two men were a serious threat to the system. So they’ve been tried by the Romans and condemned by their laws, presumably with justification, for one of them actually admits that he was justly convicted for being an insurrectionist, for the term used by Pontius Pilate “perverting the people’ (Luke 23:14).

Fleming Rutledge, Three Hours, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 17-18.


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John The Baptist And Saying ‘Come Lord Jesus’ And Meaning It (via Fleming Rutledge)

Fleming Rutledge writes about John the Baptist and what she terms “apocalyptic transvision — that vision given to the church that sees through the appearances of this world to the blazing power and holiness of the coming of the Lord.”

…. It has occurred to me that the image of Jesus as the cosmic Judge who will ultimately come again to put an end to all sin and wickedness forever is not so frightening to the poor and oppressed of the earth as it is to those who have a lot to lose.
If your loved one is in the habit of buying you expensive Christmas gifts, you might not be so crazy about the idea of Jesus coming back before Santa Claus gets here. But suppose you had been a Christian in prison in the Soviet Union. Or suppose you had been a black person in Apartheid-era South Africa directed to pack up your meager belongings and take them to a so-called homeland that wasn’t your home and that wouldn’t offer you dignified employment. Suppose you were elderly and handicapped in the South Bronx and had just been robbed and terrorized for the third time. In circumstances like those, you might say Maranatha and really mean it.
Even today, John the Baptist’s lonely, austere style of life bears witness to a reality that is coming, a reality that will expose all worldly realities, all earthly conditions, all human promises as fraudulent and transitory. His appearance on the scene at this time of year exposes our pretensions for what they really are. Never have we needed him more!

Read the whole post at Christianity Today.


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Resilient Relationships And Daily Repentance (via Fleming Rutledge)

Fleming Rutledge writes about the final prophetic promise of the Christian Old Testament, and how that foreshadows the Gospel hope and the creation wide need for it.

The final words of the Christian Old Testament are quite amazing. The Hebrew Scriptures are arranged so that the prophetic literature is in the middle, but the Christian Old Testament has the prophets at the end. The last book is Malachi, and the next-to—last verses foresee a “great and terrible day,” the day of judgment and the second coming of the Lord. It will be a time when all that has been wrong will be set right. The example that Malachi gives is astonishing. At the last possible moment, he turns away from the language of wrath and flames to something very unexpected. This is the way the Old Testament ends: “Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah [that would be John the Baptist] … He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”
The worst thing in the world, the prophet seems to be saying, is estrangement within families. It is given as the sign of the final judgment of God, his worst curse upon the human race. If you are a young person here today feeling miserable about your parents, if you are parents here today worried about your children, then this message is for you. God does not desire this situation. His will is for reconciliation. Family breakdown is a sign of the old age of Sin and Death. Reconciliation between parents and children is the sign that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Maybe you don’t have these kinds of problems yet in your family, but every family, over generations, will have some kind of wrenching, heartbreaking trouble. In every case, the fracturing of the most basic human connection is the antithesis of what God intends for his people. And reconciliation, when it happens, is one of the clearest of all indications that God is at work. Therefore the most important way that we can participate in the life of God is to seek reconciliation. Reconciliation is hard work. It requires daily repentance. For a number of years, I have had two distinguished psychoanalysts as teachers. I asked both of them a fundamental question: What is the most important ingredient in a strong marriage? They gave the same answer. One of them is a secular Jew so I was very surprised to hear him say, “The most important ingredient is asking forgiveness.”
Fleming Rutledge, Advent – The Once & Future Coming Of Jesus Christ, Eerdmans, 2018, pp 291-292.


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Christian Resistance Is A Corporate Expression (via Fleming Rutledge)

Writing on 1 Peter, Fleming Rutledge identifies the theme of the letter as “the church among the nations as the people of the crucified, risen, and reigning Christ.”

The first epistle of Peter is a letter from a God’s—eye view, and the view it gives is of the church. We can never say it often enough: the Bible is addressed, for the most part, not to individuals, but to the people of God.7 We need to say still more. As Peter puts it in various ways over and over throughout the letter, the people of God have been constituted, not by their own preferences or choices, but by Gods’ prior choice, first of Israel, and then, through Jesus Christ, of the church. The church resists, endures, and conquers not through its own efforts, let alone its merits, but because of the call, the commission, and the continuing presence of God. “The God of all grace, Who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” The church lives out of (not “into” but “out of”) its foundation upon the “living stone” (I Pet. 2:6), which is Christ, out of its baptism into his death and resurrection, out of its promised future guaranteed by his Holy Spirit. It is this certainty that gives courage for resistance.
Fleming Rutledge, Advent – The Once & Future Coming Of Jesus Christ, Eerdmans, 2018, pg 131.

The footnote indicated in the passage above expands the idea:

7. Therefore resistance is not largely a matter of individuals but of the corporate body. “Peter does not issue a general call to become a Christian and then, as a subsequent and perhaps optional move, for individual Christians to join togetherinto a voluntary association that might serve our projects of being individual Christians.” God precedes the people; the people precedes the person; the person is constituted by being incorporated into the people (Harink, 1&2 Peter, 73).