I would suppose that most Ploughboy members of the Society come to Tyndale’s life and work through wanting to read the first printed Gospel in English. We read to nourish our lives of faith rather than to subject the text to academic scrutiny. We enjoy reading the words of an archetypal evangelical Christian. We want to read prayerfully. Well, today Christianity is still very divided and the Reformation struggles in the Church continue between those labelled “evangelical” and those labelled “liberal”. Just to be annoying I have decided I am an “evangelical liberal” because I am frequently finding myself in conflict with a third yet growing group within the Church; the evangelical fundamentalists. I suppose that fundamentalism will be discredited and forgotten in my lifetime. I hope it will be, and in reading Keith Ward’s What the Bible Really Teaches, I have come to see just how the mission of the Church is being hindered by fundamentalism. So let me outline the bottom line of Christian theology which fundamentalists find so hard to come to terms with:
- The Creator of all that is, God, loves all people of every faith or of none equally. To respond to God by trying to live according to the Gospel is to live life to the full, doing what Jesus did, being prepared to love people of every faith, from Samaritans to pagans… and these days to humanists and atheists.
- Jesus saves all humanity, not just those whose beliefs conform to an exclusive form of Christianity. One can get fed up with hearing fundamentalists quoting John 14.6 : “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one come to the Father except through me”. All can come to the Father because Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation” (the first chapter of Colossians) Read Ephesians 1.9 and then appreciate what Keith Ward writes: “Christianity poses a scandal of universality, that the whole of created reality, vast in extent in both space and time, is to be included in Christ… whatever finite conscious beings there are, or ever have been or ever will be, will all be united in the divine reality that took form on earth in Jesus of Nazareth.”
When the fundamentalist proclaims that their exclusive ‘Christian’ community is saved and everyone else is going to burn, I would echo Keith Ward’s words: ‘Common human decency might lead us to doubt such an extraordinary interpretation of John’s Gospel.’
The evangelical Tyndale wrote in The Parable of the Wicked Mammon: ‘I am bound to love the Turk with all my might and power, yea and above my power, even from the ground of my heart, after the ensample that Christ loved me.’ I wonder what he would say about those who at present are so easily persuaded to demonise all followers of Islam.
William tried to wrest the Gospels from the clerics of the Church and give ploughboys the Word in plain English. We ploughboys can all interpret for ourselves the parable of the Good Samaritan or understand that healing miracles exhort us to compassion and to lovingly serve those who suffer, but if we are to be spared the absurdity and unquestioning infantile simplicity of the fundamentalist then we must make the effort to study and understand Scripture. As the saying goes, when we look into the well which is two thousand years deep to discern the image of Jesus we must be sure that we are not just seeing a reflection of ourselves.
A fascinating passage from Brian Moynahan’s biography made it clear that Tyndale acknowledged the need for thoughtful study and interpretation. Writing in “An Exposition upon the First Epistle of John” in 1531 he quotes William: “I have taken in hand to interpret this epistle… to edify the layman, and to teach him how to read the scripture and what to seek therein.” It was not enough for a father and mother to beget a child, he said; they had to care for it until it could help itself, and “even so it is not enough to have translated… the scripture, into the vulgar and common tongue, except we also brought again the light to understand it.”
Some fundamentalists, aware of the derision of so many of their incredulous neighbours, become ever more selective in the texts they quote, more restrictive in who they regard as “saved” and belong to ‘Christian’ communities which are ever more exclusive. Hopefully the fundamentalist bubble will burst soon. Real Christianity demands the effort to cross over deep chasms of history, geography and culture if we are to root our faith in Christ. It will cost us “not less than everything”…