Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, November 20, 2020

Image and Presence, by Natalie Carnes

Natalie Carnes, Ph.D.

Natalie Carnes, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology

Associate Professor of Theology

  • Duke University, Ph.D. (Christian Theological Studies)
  • University of Chicago, M.A. (Religion)
  • Harvard University, A.B. (Comparative Religious Studies)

Natalie is a constructive theologian who reflects on traditional theological topics through somewhat less traditional themes, like images, iconoclasm, beauty, gender, and childhood. For this work, she draws on literary and visual works as sites of theological reflection, and her interest in doing so takes her into questions of religious knowledge and authority. What are the possibilities and limitations of different theological genres?

In addition to authoring articles in Modern TheologyJournal of Religion, and Scottish Journal of Theology, among other journals, Natalie has published two books. The first is Beauty: A Theological Engagement With Gregory of Nyssa, and the second is titled Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia.

Her third book, forthcoming spring 2020, is a theological narrative entitled Motherhood: A Confession. It mirrors the structure and themes of Augustine's Confessions to offer a different story, that reflects on different flesh as to consider what it means to be human in the face of the divine.

Currently, she is working on a new project, co-authored with Matthew Whelan, that explores intersections of poverty, aesthetics, luxury, and art. In it, they pursue the question: What is the place of art in a world of poverty and suffering?

Natalie lives in Waco with her husband and three children. You can find a recent essay on beauty and affliction here, a blogpost on Confederate monuments here, and a blogpost on Rihanna dressed as a pope here. For more information on events, blogposts, and other writings, you can visit her website www.nataliecarnes.com.

Academic Interests and Research:

Systematic theology, Christology, theological anthropology, theological knowledge, theological aesthetics, images, iconoclasms, children, childhood, feminist theology, patristic theology.


Motherhood: A Confession. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.

Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017. 

Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

Peer-Reviewed Articles:

“How Love for the Image Cast Out Fear of it In Early Christianity.” Religions. Special issue on Platonism and Christianity. J. Warren Smith, ed. 8.20 (2017): 1-15. 

“Embracing Beauty in World of Affliction.” Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts. Forum on Beauty and Form. Thomas Pfau and Vivasvan Soni, eds. 5.1 (January 2017): 1-14.

"That Cross’s Children Which Our Crosses Are’: Imitatio Christi, Imitatio Crucis.” Scottish Journal of Theology 69.1 (January 2016): 63-80.

“Receiving the Fragments of Balthasar: Critique and Community in Christian Theology.” Pro Ecclesia 24.4 (Fall 2015): 432-38.

“We in Our Turmoil: Theological Anthropology Through Maria Montessori and the Lives of Children.” Journal of Religion 95.3 (July 2015): 318-336.

“A Reconsideration of Religious Authority in Christian Theology,” The Heythrop Journal 55.3 (May 2014): 467-480.

“Prelude to a Theology of Iconoclasm: Making, Breaking, Loving, and Hating Images.” LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 16.2 (Spring 2013): 15-32.

“Possession and Dispossession: Wittgenstein, Cavell, and Gregory of Nyssa for Life Amidst Skepticism.” Modern Theology 29.1 (January 2013): 104-123.

“The Mysteries of Our Existence: Estrangement and Theatricality.” Modern Theology 28.3 (July 2012): 402-22.

Courses Taught at Baylor:
  • REL 1350 Introduction to Christian Heritage
  • REL 3351 Introduction to Theology
  • REL 3397 Gender, Feminism, and  Theology
  • REL 4300 Theological Language, Theological Silence
  • REL 4300 Images and Idols
  • REL 4355 Salvation
  • REL 5363 Christology

Natalie Carnes, Image and Presence

Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia
(Encountering Traditions), 1st Edition, by Natalie Carnes (Author)

~ The Construction and Destruction of Images ~

Images increasingly saturate our world, making present to us what is distant or obscure. Yet the power of images also arises from what they do not make present―from a type of absence they do not dispel. Joining a growing multidisciplinary conversation that rejects an understanding of images as lifeless objects, this book offers a theological meditation on the ways images convey presence into our world. Just as Christ negates himself in order to manifest the invisible God, images, Natalie Carnes contends, negate themselves to give more than they literally or materially are. Her Christological reflections bring iconoclasm and iconophilia into productive relation, suggesting that they need not oppose one another.

Investigating such images as the biblical golden calf and paintings of the Virgin Mary, Carnes explores how to distinguish between iconoclasms that maintain fidelity to their theological intentions and those that lead to visual temptation. Offering ecumenical reflections on issues that have long divided Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, Image and Presence provokes a fundamental reconsideration of images and of the global image crises of our time.

Natalie Carnes - Image and Presence
Jan 15, 2019

Episode: Welcome to the inaugural episode of OnScript's new Theology Stream. OnScript's newest co-host Amy Brown Hughes talks with Natalie Carnes of Baylor University about icons, iconophilia, iconophobia, and iconoclasm. This topic has loomed large in church history, and carries important theological implications.

Guest: Natalie Carnes is a constructive theologian who is interested how Christian doctrine can speak to modern life in the world. She draws on literary and visual works to interpret traditional theological ideas through somewhat less traditional themes, like childhood, beauty, art, iconoclasm, and gender. She trained at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Duke before coming to Baylor, where she is currently an Associate Professor of Theology. In addition to a number of articles, she has published two books, Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa, and Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia.

On Beauty by Dr. Natalie Carnes
Nov 2, 2017, @ Dallas Theological Seminary

Dr. Natalie Carnes, Assistant Professor of Theology, Baylor University in Waco, TX, talks about beauty as one of the names of God and its healing quality. The opinions expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily reflect the positions of Dallas Theological Seminary.

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Books by Natalie Carnes


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In praise of (imperfect) images

Depictions of Jesus reveal God - but never adequately.

Short Book Review by The Christian Century

"When we interact with religious images—from an icon of Christ to a pixelated picture of Jesus on a computer screen, from the plastic bobble-head Jesus on the youth pastor’s desk to a famous medieval altarpiece—what do we experience? Revelation, longing, closeness to God, danger, mystery, hope, disappointment, peacefulness, fear?

"Theologians have long understood that when we talk about God, we need to be aware of language’s limitations, lest we turn our theological concepts into conceptual idolatry. Our relationship to even our most cherished images needs to include critical suspicion of what those images can and cannot do."

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Image and Presence

by Natalie Carnes
9.3.19 | Jack Pappas

Symposium Introduction

It is perhaps inevitable that the question of images, that is, the question not only of their value but their power to simultaneously represent and conceal, to seduce and to deceive, to make holy and to profane, would emerge as a primal locus of both theological and philosophical reflection in recent decades. Indeed, we (post)moderns live in an age which is, perhaps more than any other, saturated by and fascinated with images. Enraptured by our screens we increasingly inhabit a world of mediated immediacy, where the virtual is interwoven with the real so thoroughly and so intimately that the line separating these two poles of experience becomes ever harder to distinguish. Nonetheless, the questions which arise out of our peculiar contemporary relationship with images are themselves hardly new (as any reader of Plato is likely to observe) and have served as persistent points of theological controversy and confrontation for centuries, especially within Christianity, a fact reflected by the historical upheavals of Byzantine iconoclasm and the Reformation. The resulting divisions between those who would name their opponents “idolators” and those who would name them “iconoclasts,” suggests an incommensurable opposition between two utterly contradictory ways of conceiving the possibilities of imagining (and imaging) the Divine, and of how images in general operate. They either tell the whole truth or they lie.

Natalie Carnes in Image and Presence insists on the other hand that this familiar either/or is ultimately but a Manichean binary which misunderstands the phenomenality of images in such a way that occludes a proper understanding of their very efficacy altogether. In place of this false dichotomy, Carnes offers a conciliatory both/and, pressing in on an uncomfortable paradox at the very heart of images themselves: images only tell the truth when they admit of their own falsity, and they only lie when they purport to be identical with the truth. That is, the very difference between a true image (an icon) and a false image (an idol) is marked by whether or not the image admits of an excess beyond itself through its own self-negation (iconoclasm), or whether it occludes this excess by deceptively insisting upon its own comprehensiveness. Ultimately then, an icon is differentiated from an idol only insofar as it bears within itself a moment of iconoclasm which manifests precisely the excess which the icon analogously depicts. In Carnes’s own words, “The negation at the heart of imaging is not an eradication or an erasure . . . it is a breaking open that leads to greater revelation, it is a way of saying images mediate presence-in-absence and likeness-in-unlikeness. When absence and unlikeness are elided, the image becomes an idol” (7). Far from being incommensurable, Image and Presence instead supposes that iconoclasm and inconophilia are rather two dialectically interwoven expressions of fidelity which must be held together in revelatory tension.

While this rather radical thesis about images and their paradoxical nature is developed with a stunning multivalence which considers everything from political cartoons, pornography, to religious art, the central axis of this rewarding and challenging book is fundamentally ecumenical and explicitly christological. Indeed, Carnes prepares a veritable feast for the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic “iconophiles” as much as for the Protestant “iconoclast” which is sure to simultaneously delight, scandalize, and provoke all parties into revisiting (and rethinking) a central locus of differentiation across the plurality of Christian traditions (and indeed, across Abrahamic faiths more generally). Drawing on the classical Chalcedonian formulation of the union of Divine and human natures in the person of Christ, Carnes overcomes the oppositional dichotomy between seen and unseen, by recovering a view of Christ himself as the prototypical icon, the visible form which manifests the invisible God.

In the coming days, this symposium will continue to probe and to challenge the boundaries of Carnes’s project, bringing it into conversation with a variety of perspectives. Andrew Prevot wonders about the potential and inherent limitations of encountering the suffering and the oppressed as embedded within an analogical relationship between the face of Christ and the face of the other. Both Kathryn Reklis and Amaryah Shaye Armstrong seek to challenge the hidden power relations which underly not only much of our modern fascination with images and aesthetic categories but also the limitations of the Christian tradition itself for confronting the legacies of coloniality, slavery, and the oppression of indigenous communities. Jennifer Newsome Martin interrogates the relationship between an ontological conception of the image and the constitutive role of an apprehending subject in order to further elucidate the philosophical dimensions of the theological-aesthetic claims at the very heart of Image Presence. Taken together, this cacophony of voices, each with their own concerns and insights, as well as Carnes’s own thoughtful engagement with them, undoubtedly reveals the rare richness and complexity of this exciting book which surely invites ever greater conversation.

Andrew PrevotAndrew Prevot
Prosoponic Likeness

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by R.E. Slater
November 20, 2020

Please note: I write these notes to myself. They are not intended to be exact transcriptions from the speakers themselves. What I have written are not their words but my own thoughts. - res

Please note: All panelists provided textual statements for comments to attendees. These are not allowed to be publically published as they are intended to form to the moment-in-time not replicable beyond the panel discussions themselves as very specific conversations to one another in the AAR setting

Panelist Bios

Matthew Novenson: Matthew Novenson is Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh, where he is also director of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins. He has been visiting professor at Dartmouth College and Duke University Divinity School and visiting research fellow at Durham University. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Journal for the Study of Judaism, New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Scottish Journal of Theology, and elsewhere. He is the author of Christ among the Messiahs (Oxford University Press, 2012) and The Grammar of Messianism (Oxford University Press, 2017) and editor of Monotheism and Christology in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Brill, forthcoming) and The Oxford Handbook of Pauline Studies (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

Makoto Fujimura: Fujimura is also an arts advocate, writer, and speaker who is recognized worldwide as a cultural influencer. A Presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts from 2003-2009, Fujimura served as an international advocate for the arts, speaking with decision makers and advising governmental policies on the arts. His book “Refractions” (NavPress) and “Culture Care” (IVPress) reflects many of his thesis on arts advocacy written during that time. His books have won numerous awards His books have won numerous awards including the Aldersgate Prize for "Silence and Beauty" (IVPress).  In 2014, the American Academy of Religion named Fujimura as it’s 2014 “Religion and the Arts” award recipient. Fujimura currently divides his time between Princeton, NJ studio and Pasadena, CA studio.  A popular speaker, he has lectured at numerous conferences, universities and museums, including the Aspen Institute, Yale, Princeton and Oxford Universities, Sato Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum. Fujimura founded the International Arts Movement in 1992 and Fujimura Institute in 2011. In celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible, Crossway Publishing commissioned and published The Four Holy Gospels, featuring Fujimura’s illuminations of the sacred texts which was featured at the inaugural exhibit at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. He holds four honorary degrees, most recently from Roanoke College.  He also serves on the Board of Trustees at his alma mater, Bucknell University. 

Brian Lugioyo (Lu-hee-you-hee-yo) is a professor of Theology & Ethics at Azusa Pacific Seminary. He is a Cuban-American theologian whose research interests are in theological anthropology and neuroscience, liturgical theology and ethics, and 16th-century theology, focusing on the work of Martin Bucer. He is the author of Martin Bucer’s Doctrine of Justification (Oxford University Press, 2010), co-editor of Reconsidering the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology in the New Testament: Essays by Theologians and New Testament Scholars (Mohr Siebeck, 2014), and recently the chapter “Martin Luther’s Eucharistic Christology” for the Oxford Handbook of Christology (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He is also ordained in the Free Methodist Church.

Joanna Leidenhag joined the School of Divinity in 2018 on a project in Science-Engaged Theology, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. She completed her PhD in systematic and philosophical theology at the University of Edinburgh (2019), focusing on discussions in analytic philosophy of mind and the doctrine of creation. She graduated with a joint Honours degree in Modern History and Theology from the University of St Andrews (MA 2013), and went on to complete a MA in Theological Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary (MA 2014). She also holds an Advanced Diploma in Fine Arts, and specialises in oil painting.

Author: Natalie Carnes is a constructive theologian interested in how Christian doctrine can speak to the complexities of modern life. Drawing on literary and visual works, she interprets theological ideas together with a range of themes, including images, iconoclasm, beauty, gender, and feminism. In addition to Image and Presence, she's published two other books, Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa and Motherhood: A Confession. Natalie trained at Harvard, University of Chicago, and Duke before coming to Baylor, where she is an Associate Professor of Theology in the Religion Department and an affiliated faculty member of Women’s and Gender Studies.

* * * * * * * * *

Observation by Matthew Novenson 
see his statement

Matt had many astute observations. Too many to write down.

Observation by Makoto Fujimura (Reknown Artist)
Introduction - We create false dichotomies, demonize the opposing view, and create a wasteland between either poisoning the very soil of future discussion.

NT Wright quote- "I'm learning to lean into the theology of the New Creation" - MK

This means my new aim is to "Invoke the abundance of creation and to learn to journey into this New Creation". Thus I am working with colors of interdependence rather than colors of independence. Mixing binary, opposing colors bears this out. Whereas if we learn to use these binaries as complements to one another like Matisse did than we have a whole other result. One of intended beauty. Similarly with jazz, music, etc. An intentionality to create in oppositions bring out powerful, dangerous images into another reality of new creational beauty.

Wikipedia - Woman In A Purple Coat or The Purple Coat is a painting by Henri Matisse from 1937. It depicts Matisse's assistant Lydia Delectorskaya. This painting is an example of Henri Matisse's mature decorative style. Matisse depicts his model and companion of many years, Lydia Delectorskaya, in an exotic Moroccan costume, surrounded by a complex of abstract design and exotic color.[1] This is an example of one of the final groups of oil paintings in Matisse's career, in 1950 he stopped painting oil paintings in favor of creating paper cutouts.

Learn to affirm differences while learning to co-create with one another. This is my advice for ours and future generations. - MK

MK had many, many, many excellent observations. very helpful. paper statement is ok but not as full as the presence of the artist's verbal statements

Observation by Brian Lugioyo 
see his statement

Brian remembers his Los Angeles protests for BLM this past summer and its meaningfulness to him as a tangible presence of God in his individual and social experience as well as with those he was surrounded by in similar protests. Presence makes speaking of God/Christ less abstract. Being in the moment brings Christ into the moment too in the experience of mankind. Not as an abstract spiritual force but as well as a visible, living, breathing, vernacular presence that is not transcended to the experience of the moment.

What is the role of liturgy in transforming presence in our Christian lives? Worship + the mediating presence of the Spirit creates powerful moments of godliness, inspiration, bonding, healing, etc, with one another.

Observation by Joanna Leidenag
Excellent insights - See her extensive statement

Response by Natalie Carnes
see her astute statements online

MY last thoughts: I found the discussion on "image and presence" of great interest to myself. I loved the complexity of how God is expressed artistically, architecturally, scientifically, medically, publically, socially, personally, anthropologically, economically, industrially, in literature, poem, music, etc. How does one express process based images of biblical statement, assumption, ideology, theology, philosophy, etc, in profound ways. One thing which stuck with me came from the reknown NYC artist  Makoto Fujimura who spoke today. He mentioned he is struggling to learn how to lean into New Creation personally and as an artist when taking opposing societal ideations and repurposing those iconoclastic juxtapositions into subjects of beauty, healing, bonding together, solidarity, etc. One simple example is the falsities that conspiracy communities hold on to as opposed to known facts and truths. Similarly with destructive images of justice as opposed to reconstructive images of restorative justice. The question of tying to blend (but not syncretise) opposing images into images of godly new creation is something we should all pursue. Matisse had done this in Paris using garish colors which clashed with one another to produce pleasing images to the eyes (thoughts, settledness, relaxation, reaffirmation, etc.) - re slater

The Crucifixion, by Fleming Rutledge


Fleming Rutledge
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fleming Rutledge (born 1937) is an American Episcopal priest, author, theologian and preacher. Ordained to the diaconate in 1975, she was one of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church.

Rutledge is widely recognized in the United States, in Canada, and in the UK not only as a preacher and lecturer, but also as one who teaches other preachers. Her particular expertise is the intersection of biblical theology with contemporary culture, current events and politics, literature, music and art. She has often been invited to preach in prominent pulpits such as the Washington National Cathedral, the Duke University Chapel, Trinity Church in Boston, and the Harvard Memorial Chapel.

Early life and education

Rutledge was born in 1937 in Franklin, Virginia. Rutledge graduated from Sweet Briar College in 1959 magna cum laude with highest honors in English. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1975. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in May 1999.[1]

Ordained ministry

Ordained to the diaconate in 1975, Rutledge was one of the first women to be ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church (January 1977).

For fourteen years Rutledge was assistant and then Senior Associate at Grace Church in New York City, a parish celebrated at that time for its youthful congregation and evangelistic preaching. She was actively involved in the renewal there. Her previous position was at Christ's Church, Rye, New York, where she was known for her creation and leadership of an extensive Christian program for high-school youth.

Rutledge served as interim rector of St. John's, Salisbury, Connecticut (1996–1997), and has twice been a resident Fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton. During the 2008 fall term, she was resident at Wycliffe College, Toronto, where she taught preaching. Most recently, she was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (April 2010).


  • The Bible and The New York Times (1998)
  • Help My Unbelief (2000)
  • The Undoing of Death (2002)
  • The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in "the Lord of the Rings" (2004)
  • The Seven Last Words from the Cross (2004)
  • Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Sermons from Paul's Letter to the Romans (2007)
  • And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2011) – ISBN 1561011975[2]
  • The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015)
  • Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (2018)

* * * * * * * *

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ
by Fleming Rutledge

Though the apostle Paul boldly proclaimed “Christ crucified” as the heart of the gospel, Fleming Rutledge notes that preaching about the cross of Christ is remarkably neglected in most churches today. In this book Rutledge addresses the issues and controversies that have caused pastors to speak of the cross only in the most general, bland terms, precluding a full understanding and embrace of the gospel by their congregations.

Countering our contemporary tendency to bypass Jesus’ crucifixion, Rutledge in these pages examines in depth all the various themes and motifs used by the New Testament evangelists and apostolic writers to explain the meaning of the cross of Christ. She mines the classical writings of the Church Fathers, the medieval scholastics, and the Reformers as well as more recent scholarship, while bringing them all into contemporary context.

Widely known for her preaching, Rutledge seeks to encourage preachers, teachers, and anyone else interested in what Christians believe to be the central event of world history.

* * * * * * * *

Books by Fleming Rutledge

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Fleming Rutledge - The Justice and Righteousness of God - Program 5022
May 22, 2014

Writer and preacher, Rev. Fleming Rutledge, one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church, talks about God's justice. She says to be outraged on behalf of one's own group is to be human, but to be outraged on behalf of the defenseless and the oppressed is to do the work of God.

Fleming Rutledge on 'The Crucifixion'
Oct 8, 2016

On September 25th and October 2nd, Fleming Rutledge taught a class on "The Crucifixion" at Calvary-St. George's Church in NYC. We thought we'd record the second of her two classes. Enjoy!

Fleming Rutledge | The Body Prepared for Jesus | 2019 Theology Conference
Wheaton College, Apr 16, 2019

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Review of "The Crucifixion" by Fleming Rutledge

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 696 pp.

reviewed by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

You must read this book.

I have never said that about any book I’ve reviewed, and rarely at all. Rarer still is there a book of seven hundred pages that should not have been a single page shorter and never leaves the reader bored for a moment. If this is the only book of theology you read in your life, or the last book of theology in your life, it is enough. By zeroing in on the most central and most shocking claim of the Christian faith—that Jesus Christ, truly divine and truly human, died on a cross—Rutledge has opened up for us the entire Scripture, the dogmatic claims of the church, the nature of God, the meaning of life. It is no exaggeration to say that everything hangs together in Jesus’ hanging on the cross.

This is also one of the best books I’ve ever come across for teaching theological method; it would make an outstanding textbook for an entire semester’s study. Rutledge studiously avoids the constricting method of trying to find the one single motif, image, proposition, or expression that is correct, into which everything else must fit: a good way to kill both faith and imagination. Instead, her reverence for Scripture suggests the method of listening to the whole canon, in its many tones and nuances, pictures and expressions, for what all the component parts are trying to say and not for what we might prefer them to say.

This nevertheless allows for some ranking of relative importance, noting internal tensions or disagreements among the various biblical books, and thinking through what they might mean. There’s no doubt that Rutledge ranks Paul first as an interpreter of the cross in its apocalyptic dimensions, but she doesn’t snub the Gospels or the other Epistles, or the Old Testament for that matter, in the process. The book is instead an exemplary work of faith seeking understanding, reason seeking conformity to divine wisdom.

Part 1 of the book lays out just how shocking, horrifying, and humiliating the cross was in its place and time. We have a hard time accessing this because none of us have seen a crucifixion in real life—as would have been a not abnormal experience under the Roman empire—and time has sanitized this ubiquitous symbol. The cross, back then, was reserved for the dregs of the empire, for the slaves who dared to revolt; it was virtually never inflicted upon Roman citizens, no matter how outrageous their behavior.

In addition, Rutledge goes into appropriate but not lurid detail on the physical impact of crucifixion (noting that the New Testament says not a word about this—perhaps not to rivet attention on the wrong issue, or perhaps because it was so well known there was no need to go into it). The conjunction of political punishment and bodily catastrophe prompts the question: why this means of God’s death?

And that brings us to another refreshing and timely aspect of Rutledge’s work: knowing the American religious context as well as she does, she can challenge and correct the errors of the religious right and religious left alike. For instance, she rightly critiques the domesticated answer to the question above—“to show how much God loves us”—as a non-answer. Why is love shown with brutal suffering? Why should God go through this to prove such a point to us?

At the same time, Rutledge skillfully deconstructs a fixation on punishment or propitiation as the be-all-and-end-all of atonement theology as found in a certain kind of Evangelicalism. The liberal disdain for Anselm is analyzed and found wanting; but so is the droning chorus of “Jesus paid for my sins with his blood” without ever deigning to ask to whom or what for.

As a final example, Rutledge exposes the shallowness of both extremes’ conception of sin, whether the blame is assigned to self or to structure. Each is fully entangled in the other, and each is the prey of the powers of sin, death, and the devil, which have furthermore exploited the God-given law to hold human beings captive. Only an apocalyptic cross, Rutledge argues via a vast range of scriptural texts, can answer to our predicament—can both rescue us and change us. We need both.

Part 2 then takes up the major biblical motifs that describe, illuminate, or explain the crucifixion of Jesus. Much as I enjoyed Rutledge’s deft handling of atonement theologies and contemporary half-truths, I found this part of the book even more rewarding. It opened up the Scriptures instead of shutting them down (which, sad to say, seems to be the case in most preaching I hear). She deals with, in order, the Passover and Exodus; blood sacrifice; ransom and redemption; the great assize; the apocalyptic war (more familiarly known as Christus Victor); the descent into hell; substitution; and recapitulation. Again, these various motifs are not in competition with each other. Many are found in many books, and the biblical writers shift among them with ease and grace. Focusing on each theme individually brings out its depths and enriches the wider picture.

Any quibbles I might have here or there are purely trivial in the context of this magnificent volume. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It will strengthen the mind, warm the heart, and nourish devotion to the one who humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross—whom we rejoice to call our Lord and God.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is the Editor of Lutheran Forum.

- Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

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Crux of the matter

by Anthony B. Robinson
September 28, 2015

The Christian Century: Review

The Crucifixion, by Fleming Rutledge

Preacher Fleming Rutledge’s magnum opus is many things. It is an examination and rethinking of virtually all the major ways in which the death of Christ has been interpreted. It is also an argument that the how of Jesus’ death—the ghastly and dehumanizing ordeal of crucifixion—matters. But perhaps more than either of these, Rut­ledge’s book is a protest. It is a protest against what might be termed Chris­tianity lite: against the many contemporary iterations of the Christian faith, both conservative and liberal, that don’t have much in the way of theological depth and seriousness—iterations that trade a rich, world-shaking, challenging faith for what seems only a mess of trivia.

The Crucifixion is also an extended protest against the failure to take seriously evil and sin—that is, to take seriously the world in which we live. Implicit in her argument is this thesis: a Christian faith that does not face and come to grips with radical evil does not deserve to be taken seriously.

Early in her study, Rutledge observes that “personal engagement with the cross is difficult and painful, but leaders of congregations will have a hole in the center of their ministry without it.” She is right. Preachers who engage the apparently negative are not only doing so in a culture that is thoroughly committed to the upbeat and positive, but they are likely aware of the complexity of preaching and teaching about something that is both central and controversial. It is easy to get it wrong, and hard to get it right.

Don’t conservative and evangelical churches regularly preach the cross and the crucifixion? Yes, they do. But they often reduce these themes to formulaic, even mechanistic interpretations of their meaning, related only to individuals and their fate after death. Moreover, as Rutledge argues persuasively, such proclamations are often theologically incoherent, doing violence to the trinitarian nature of God and rendering the God now separated from Jesus Christ into a monster.

Perhaps partly in reaction to the predominance of such reductive and misleading interpretations of the crucifixion by conservatives and evangelicals, other parts of the church—mainline, liberal, and progressive congregations and their preachers—have had less and less that is substantive to say about the crucifixion. Pelagianism, ever knocking at the mainline door, sidesteps the cross to emphasize Jesus’ good works and his role as a moral exemplar and spiritual guide. Then proclamation tends to become telling stories about Jesus rather than preaching Christ crucified. In some mainline church settings, the crucified One is portrayed as just another innocent victim of the empire, not as the One whose death constituted God’s redemptive disruption of the world.

One of Rutledge’s crucial contributions is her reconsideration of Anselm, in which she shows that neither liberals nor conservatives have him right. Both camps have rendered Anselm far more simplistic, less nuanced, and less pastoral than he was. On more than one occasion Rutledge quotes Anselm’s rejoinder to his interlocutor, Boso, “You have not yet considered the weight of sin,” implying that this is also true of much contemporary American interpretation. Whatever else one may say of Anselm, he did take seriously the weight of sin.

After discussing Anselm, Rutledge takes up what she calls biblical motifs for understanding and interpreting the crucifixion. The use of the word motif is important. Too often interpretations of the death of Christ are described as theories, but in Rutledge’s view, a theory is far too tidy and rational for the layered ways the crucifixion is witnessed in scripture. The term motif is more fluid and suggestive, and it allows for the ways in which scripture is in dialogue with itself.

The Christus Victor motif reflects the apocalyptic theological orientation that decisively undergirds the entire book. Some of Rutledge’s most important themes derive from this perspective. She is influenced here by a number of New Testament scholars, including Ernst Käsemann and J. Louis Martyn (she studied with Martyn at New York’s Union Theological Seminary). Most of all Rut­ledge draws from the apostle Paul to convey an understanding of the crucifixion and resurrection as the apocalyptic novum—God’s decisive intervention in which the new age began.

Two of the many themes that apocalyptic theology contributes to an understanding of the crucifixion are particularly significant: sin and divine agency. Rutledge understands Sin and Death (she capitalizes them) as the twin ruling powers that hold the world and fallen humanity in their grip. Sin is not merely the misdeeds of individuals. Sin is a power and a realm that enslaves all human beings. What is required is not simply correction but deliverance. God and fallen human beings are not the only players on the field of life. The active powers of Sin and Death are there too. In the incarnation, God in Christ invaded the enemy’s turf—a perspective that casts a different light on Christmas.

This leads to the second particularly significant theme, divine agency. In the apocalyptic perspective, God is the primary actor. Salvation depends not on human beings getting it right, but on God’s action—God’s decisive intervention to encounter and disarm the powers of sin and death and to rectify what has been put out of joint. Rutledge stresses that God has done and is doing something we cannot do for ourselves.

In at least one quarter of American life, emphasis on these themes makes perfect sense: the world of addiction and recovery. Addiction is a matter not simply of personal error, but of being in the grip of a demonic power that wills one’s destruction. Many recovering addicts understand and confess their powerlessness over addiction and their need for and reliance on a higher power. This sounds remarkably like apocalyptic theology and Paul’s gospel. For Paul we are all addicts, all slaves of sin. The real reason mainline Christianity tends to be averse to both Paul and the cross may lie here: we doubt that we are sinners, and we are pretty sure we don’t need saving, thanks just the same.

Rutledge’s subtitle is Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, and her work goes a long way toward advancing such understanding. But there is a more ancient sense of the word understanding that I suspect she would also welcome: we stand under something that we cannot fully see or grasp. Rutledge helps those who preach and those who listen not only to understand the meaning and significance of the crucifixion, but also to stand under it in awe and devotion.

*Anthony B. Robinson is a United Church of Christ minister and the author of many books on church life and leadership, including Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations (Eerdmans). 

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by R.E. Slater
November 20, 2020

Please note: I write these notes to myself. They are not intended to be exact transcriptions from the speakers themselves. What I have written are not their words but my own thoughts. - res

Please note: All panelists provided textual statements for comments to attendees. These are not allowed to be publically published as they are intended to form to the moment-in-time not replicable beyond the panel discussions themselves as very specific conversations to one another in the AAR setting

Panelist Bios: 

Stanley Hauerwas: Professor Stanley Hauerwas was most recently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School. Over the course of his career, he has sought to recover the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life. This search has led him to emphasize the importance of the church, as well as narrative for understanding Christian existence. His work cuts across disciplinary lines as he is in conversation with systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, as well as the philosophy of social science and medical ethics. He was named "America’s Best Theologian" by Time magazine in 2001. Dr. Hauerwas, who holds a joint appointment in Duke Law School, delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectureship at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland in 2001. His book, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, was selected as one of the 100 most important books on religion of the 20th century. Dr. Hauerwas also more recently authored The Work of Theology (Eerdmans, 2015), Hannah’s Child: A Theological Memoir, 2nd Ed. (Eerdmans, 2012), and War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity ( Baker Academic Press, 2011).

Cambria Kaltwasser is assistant professor of theology at Northwestern College, Iowa, and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She earned both her M.Div. and her Ph.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary, where her research focused on Karl Barth's account of human agency as responsibility before God and neighbor.  Her broader interests include theological anthropology, covenant, sanctification, and Christian hope. She is a fellow of the Barth Translator's Seminar through the Center for Barth Studies. Kaltwasser lives in a farmhouse in Orange City, Iowa, with her husband Jared, and two children, Asher and Adrian.
Preston Hill: Preston Hill is a PhD Candidate in Theology at St Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, having previously completed an MLitt degree in Analytic and Exegetical Theology at the Logos Institute. He is researching Christ’s descent into hell in the theology of John Calvin. Preston served as director of the 2019 Theology and Trauma Conference at the University of St Andrews and is an aspirant for ordination to priesthood in the Anglican Church of North America. Preston is currently a Doctoral Intern and faculty member at the School of Counselling at Richmont Graduate University in Tennessee where he researches and teaches on theology and trauma to master’s level licensed therapists from a Christian perspective.
Cynthia Rigby: Professor Cynthia Rigby joined the faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1995. She is a sought-after speaker who is known for making the “so what?” of Christian doctrine clear and accessible. The Dallas Morning News called Professor Rigby "one of the great theologians of our time." An energetic scholar, Dr. Rigby's latest book is Holding Faith: A Practical Introduction to Christian Faith (Abingdon Press, 2018). She is a general editor of the nine-volume lectionary commentary series, Connections (Westminster John Knox); the first volume was published in 2018. She is currently completing a book on Christian feminist theology for Baker Academic Press and a book for Westminster John Knox Press tentatively titled, Splashing in Grace: A Theology of Play. Professor Rigby enjoys lecturing and teaching for academic, church, and denominational events both domestically and internationally. Dr. Rigby is actively engaged with congregations, preaching, teaching adult education classes, and leading church conferences on many different subjects. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Professor Rigby serves on the board of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and recently served as an author of the Sarasota Statement for the Next Church (2017). In 1998 Professor Rigby received the PhD in systematic theology from Princeton Theological Seminary where she was awarded a doctoral fellowship and the Wildrich Award for Excellence in Homiletics. Prior to her appointment at Austin Seminary she served several churches, lectured at New Brunswick and Princeton Seminaries, and spent a year as Pastor of Special Ministries with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Cagayan d’Oro City, Mindanao. In 2010 Dr. Rigby became the first faculty member elected to Austin Seminary's Board of Trustees.

Author: Scott Harrower is associate professor of systematic theology, moral theology and patristics at Ridley College, Australia. He is the author of Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts; and God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World.

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Observation by Stanley Hauerwas 
Structure of book. CC1-4 Clearing the swamp of telling the Crucifixion; the Godlessness of the Cross I found as one the more sensitive discussions in the book re Psalm 22: Why the Life of Jesus cannot be separated from His Crucifixion. Excellent: How God's agency is something in the past but is here with us now. I felt Barth constantly in her writings.

CC1-4 - This is biblical; Second Part - This is biblical; but how are these different; Perhaps a different approach than "biblical" may have been more helpful. Its organization seems to need a different type of organization.

Sentimentality has been more distructive to how Christians and theologians have thought about The Crucifixion. Crucifixion is the heart of how we understand Christianity and is inseparable from the OT.

Observation by Cambria Kaltwasser 
Karl Barth background; Covenant: Christian Hope; Iowa; Presbyterian.

I choose how to contextualize God's Love and Judgment. She struggles to turn from Divine Agency to Human Agency. There is not enough allowance for the latter's responsibility of sin.

God's Wrath v Love; Forgiveness v Justice; Gospel v Law. The tension between each must include the other. They are not binary categories but necessarily inter-related categories. Each are poorer without the other. It is a common mispractice amongst Christian churches.

Observation by Preston Hill 
Christian Therapist - Suffering, Trauma, Atonement are of extreme interest to me.

Theme of Theodicy - How does this help Christians today who have suffered deeply? Or of humanity and nature generally? The best answers are wrenched out of our guts than in a classroom (pg 7). 

Bonhoeffer's commentary on Genesis: Adam to be like God but we can never understand Adam's sin. There is an infinite chasm between act and doing the act of sin/evil. Evil is the privation of the good. It is unjustifiable. Evil's answer is in lament and the after affect of suffering. For survivors of autracity the unexplanation of evil is a balm to their hearts and spirits. Evil is unexplainable and inextricable. Suffering is the response to oppression. "You intend it for evil, I intend it for good." (cf. Cynthia Rigby).

Allen Lewis ||s Fleming R. - to experience the horror without knowing the ending. [This falls in line with the thought of process theology/philosophy]. Engaging in trauma then also has a hope involved in that God will try to heal and bring redemption to all agency-filled activities, consequences, and results.

Calvin is the foil for atonement theologies of Trinitarian Heterodoxy of Father taking wrath out against His Son, descent into Hell, etc. But there is no Trinitarian rupture but a feeling of rupture of the ontology of God's Self. He was feeling our perceptions and experiences of "God forsakenness" unto Himself. This act redeemed creation. Calvin felt there was room for doubt and despair.  So these are the good things of Calvin.

In the post-traumatic context in a post-Holocaust world, talking about suffering is not enough. Suffering is a closed wound. Trauma is an open wound which lives on and on in the survivor. How then does the Crucifixion give us conceptual tools to take Jesus in the lives of traumatized people?

Observation by Cynthia Rigby 
Austen Theological Seminary, Texas; Editor, Author; Reference Work; Feminist; Lecturer/Teacher to all groups; congregational teacher/lay pastor; boards and committees; Ph.D from Princetone in Homilectics; Serves as pastor in churches and the United Church of Christ; Board of Trustee to her Seminary.

Apologizes for lack of the Black voice in the conference and in its representation in Fleming's interviews in her book. Restorative Justice is interested in breaking the cycles of violence.

Finally, to think of reparation in terms of grace more than in relationship to the Cross' penality?? That amnesty may lead to making amends, etc.

Response by Scott Harrower (Australia theologian)
Thank you for including a voice from the Pacific! :)

FR is more than a typecast of an Anglican.

The Transforming Grace of Resurrecting Love.

see statement to all four observers