This book is phenomenal. There have been very few books that I have come across where from cover to cover it has been rejuvenating, refreshing, and powerful. Despite being one of the most elusive doctrines, Fleming Rutledge has produced a masterpiece on atonement. Formerly, Rutledge has worked on this manuscript for 18 years, but really it is the fruit of a life-long wrestle with the cross of the Crucified Lord. And though some might withhold enthusiasm about a non-academic (strictly speaking, a non-PhD holder — though one might need reminding that the West’s theological giants, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and even our 20th century Karl Barth, never held doctorates) writing a hefty (600+ pages) theological treatise, caveat lector: this is a substantial and monumental treatise.
What follows is a sorrowfully short sketch; the present writer, instead, hopes the present reader (you) will just buy and read it.
After a long list of endorsement from significant theologians of our time, Rutledge begins. The book is divided into two unequal halves: (1) socio-historical and literary analysis of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion and (2) biblical motifs of the crucifixion. Rutledge draws from the climatic well of apocalyptic interpretation, specifically thanking Ernest Käsemann. In short, apocalyptic interpretation argues that starting during Babylonian exile (or some time later), there arose an insistence that the God of Israel is “breaking into” the world in new “revelatory” (apocalyptic) ways that expose and destroy the cosmic forces of Evil and Sin — the apex being the crucifixion — and, thus, execute and establish justice through the dikaiosyne theou (“righteousness of God”). The foremost apocalyptic forerunner was none other than Apostle Paul. This apocalyptic framework fits well with Christus Victor. However, unlike Gustav Aulén, Rutledge incorporates in kaleidoscopic fashion a surplus of other motifs — not theories.
I conclude with her own words:
All the manifold biblical images with their richness, complexity, and depth come together as one to say this: the righteousness of God is revealed in the cross of Christ. The “precious blood” of the Son of God is the perfect sacrifice for sin; the ransom is paid to deliver the captives; the gates of hell are stormed; the Red Sea is crossed and the enemy drowned; God’s judgment has been executed upon Sin; the disobedience of Adam is recapitulated in the obedience of Christ; a new creation is coming into being; those who put their trust in Christ are incorporated into his life; the kingdoms of “the present evil age” are passing away and the promised kingdom of God is manifest not in triumphalist crusades, but in the cruciform witness of the church. From within “Adam’s” (our) human flesh, the incarnate Son fought with and was victorious over Satan — on our behalf and in our place. Only this power, this transcendent victory won by the Son of God, is capable of reorienting the kosmos to its rightful Creator. This is what the righteousness of God has achieved through the cross and resurrection, is now accomplishing by the power of the Spirit, and will complete in the day of Christ Jesus (611).