I have a short essay half-formed in my mind, developing my argument from “La Misère du Littéral” to make the point that the whole discourse of what counts as “literal” interpretation or “biblical literalism” has gone off its rails. The same may be said of “fundamentalism,” as shown by the Revealer’s recent post about “Britain’s cleverest fundamentalist.” The article in the New Statesman to which they link doesn’t go that far; the closest its author comes is to suggest that he’s writing about someone whose “views come across as hardline, explicit and specific, verging on the fundamentalist… because of the gulf between his straightforward expression of belief and the kindly muddle of the old liberals who dominated for so long.”
The theologian in question is Tom Wright. Now, I disagree with Tom about plenty of topics, within our field of mutual specialization and in a broader theological sphere. For all I know, he supports Manchester United and the Yankees. But the Revealer’s characterization of Tom as a “fundamentalist” shows a disregard for the ethics of journalistic precision that reflects very poorly on the site and its contributors. The only rationale I can think of for labeling Tom a “fundamentalist” is that he takes positions on Christian doctrine and ethics that depart from the Manhattanite liberalism that regards any clear dogmatic claim as ludicrous (unless, perhaps, it’s made by a Tibetan Buddhist). Tom is a resolutely critical reader of the Bible, a throughly modern intellectual, and is miles away from the kinds of ecclesiology and theology that “The Fundamentalism Project” analyzed with scholarly precision.
But why let accuracy preclude name-calling? Tom doubts that gay and lesbian Christians can reconcile the exercise of their sexual inclinations with the theology he is entrusted to protect and promulgate. He thinks, risibly enough, that the phrase “of the body” in the millennia-old articulation of Christian faith in the “resurrection of the body“ should actually be understood to refer to bodies. No one sophisticated enough to work at the Revealer could be suspected of so callow a blunder!
I tell you, the more I hear from the prominent voices of Christian progressivism, the more determined they seem to fulfill all their adversaries’ worst opinions of them. If Tom is a fundamentalist, so am I. If Tom is a fundamentalist, all the term can mean is that the accuser thinks he or she is smarter than Tom. Guess what: you’re wrong both about Tom and about yourself.