Tom Oord Is Blogging

Here’s a taste:

Postmodern Christians can live faithfully between the absence of absolute certainty and the abyss of extreme relativism. This middle ground promotes both humility and conviction.

Postmodernists reject the idea that we can know with absolute certainty the full truth about reality. Absolute certainty requires inerrant sense perception. It requires a set of inerrant ideas. Or it requires inerrant interpretation of an inerrant source. Such inerrancy does not exist.

This lack of absolute certainty about the full truth of reality, however, is not bad news for Christians. After all, faith resides at the heart of the Christian message. Christians are believers not proposition defenders.

Faith is different from absolute certainty. But it’s different from absolute mystery too. Faith need not be blind or unreasonable.

To believe is not to reject reason or evidence altogether. One can affirm a degree of confidence in the greater plausibility of statements, ways of living, or perceptions. And this greater confidence can foster reasonable conviction. Faith can be grounded.

A number of postmodernists affirm that what we regard as true extends well beyond verbal statements. Truth also has a livable, embodied element. It has an aesthetic element too. Truth is personal, communal, and even cosmic. Truth is multi-faceted.

Postmodernists recognize that we cannot comprehend truth entirely. We see through a glass darkly. And this inability to be absolutely certain or to know reality fully should lead us to humility.

Pride still comes before a fall. But pride emerges not only when we retain full control of our lives. We can also sin through pride by thinking we have full and certain knowledge. We forget that the just live by faith. Postmodernism can foster the virtue of humble living.

In sum, postmodernists need not reject truth. But postmodernism reminds us that “we know in part.” Christian convictions embraced in humility can help us live abundant life in our emerging world.

via Truth and Postmodernism · For The Love of Wisdom and The Wisdom of Love · Thomas Jay Oord.

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  • So succinct and a great expalanation! Thanks for posting this!

    Loved these nuggets:
    ‘Christians are believers not proposition defenders.’

    ‘Faith is different from absolute certainty. But it’s different from absolute mystery too. Faith need not be blind or unreasonable.’

    ‘In sum, postmodernists need not reject truth. But postmodernism reminds us that “we know in part.” Christian convictions embraced in humility can help us live abundant life in our emerging world.’

  • Biblically, faith rests on evidences. Therefore, God had been angry with Israel, not because they couldn’t muster up enough courage to take a leap into the darkness of belief, but because they had every reason to believe and still refused:

    “He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall. He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night…But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High…When the LORD heard them, he was very angry; his fire broke out against Jacob, and his wrath rose against Israel, for they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance…In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his WONDERS, they did NOT BELIEVE” (Psalm 78: 12-17, 21-22, 32).

    Israel was guilty because they knew better. They had proof, but they rejected it, REFUSING to believe. The Christian faith is more substantial than what many of its adherents acknowledge.

  • Daniel,

    i am failing to make the connection of your comment to this post. CAn you help me out here? What is YOUR point? i have chronic Lyme Disease and my comprehension is often affected. Yet, i am failing to see how your comment relates to the words of Tom Oord.



  • “Truth also has a livable, embodied element. It has an aesthetic element too. Truth is personal, communal, and even cosmic. Truth is multi-faceted.” Dang! I wish I would have written that. I’m with EP. Succinct, powerful. It “sticks”. Thanks Tony.

  • EP,

    Sorry that my comment wasn’t more clear. Let me try to make the link between my comment and the essay. Although it’s true that we “see in part,” there are certain things that we can know with great clarity and assurance. For instance, Jesus performed miracles so that we might know certain things (Acts 1:3).

    Assurance is a Biblical concept (Col. 2:1-4)! For instance, it is so important that I am assured that Christ loves me and will receive me into heaven. When I used to doubt that He truly loved me, I secretly resented Him and consequently lived a very anemic, self-cnetered Christian life. (Martin Luther had expressed something similar. He hated God until he became certain that salvation was a free gift so that no one could boast!) Because I now KNOW that He loves me with a love that goes beyond understanding (Eph. 3:17-20), I find that I have been freed from so many personal concerns and fears (John 8:31-32).

  • Thank you Tony for bringing Tom Oord to my attention. I resonate with everything he writes in this post. Man, he knows how to articulate ideas!!!

  • Jane Smith

    The authors “Tony Jones” and now, “Tom Oord” are both on my ever-expanding books-to-buy list.

    Someone called Daniel said “The Christian faith is more substantial than many of its adherents acknowledge.” Perhaps it is, but the phenomenon we are now calling “postmodernism” is no new thing. Even a brief glimpse of the history of Christianity shows Christian Truth to be elusive indeed. Look at the church councils, look at the fact that the church split into various groups long, long before the Protestant Reformation. At present, Benedict XVI is gathering together as many traditionalists as he can in the hope of shoring up the walls of certainty, hence his invitation to the Anglo-Catholics. Even the Eastern Orthodox Church has its troubles – some think that it is poised to split over the very issue of certainty and the place than can and should be given to modern rationalism in theology. The Anglicans, of course, as we all know, have been tearing themselves apart for some decades over what does, and does not, constitute truth.

    Whether any of us like it or not, we have no choice but to be, in some sense, postmoderns.

    Tom Oord is right – no need to get upset over this, it should lead us to humility and, with any luck, even compassion.

  • Jane Smith,

    Although postmodernism has some valid things to say about the way we’ve done theology and legitimately warn us to be more self-critical, I think it has gone too far. There are many things that I can be quite certain about, including things about our faith. For instance, it is historically certain that Jesus died on the cross. Lee Strobel wrote, “Both Gerd Ludemann, who is an atheistic NT critic, and Bart Ehrman, who is an agnostic, call the crucifixion an indisputable fact.” And for good reason! There are just too many incontestable accounts verifying this fact.

    In fact, so much of the Bible is about the need for certainty. Moses doubted that Israel would believe him that God had sent him back to Egypt to get them out. Therefore, God sent him back with miraculous signs so that Israel could be SURE that God was with them (Exodus 4:1-9). We too need certainty. I had been shriveling up without the certainty of Christ’s love for me!

    Even logically, we can’t doubt that we can have certainty. When someone says, “You can’t be certain about these things!” I merely reply, “Are you CERTAIN that I can’t be certain?” If he claims that he is certain about uncertainty, then he contradicts himself. If instead he is not certain about his claim, then he has to be more tentative about his dismissal of certainty.

  • Jane,

    Just one more thought. Please don’t feel that God has rejected you or that something is the matter with your Christian experience because you lack that sense of cognitive certainty. In many cases, it comes slowly. I would just encourage you to trust that He will provide it as you seek Him.

  • Jane Smith

    Thank you, Daniel, for your honest responses. Yes, I agree: there is no reason to doubt the historical veracity of the crucifixion or, indeed, of the Exodus.

    I like what Tom Oord said: let’s seek to live in the middle ground between certainty and the abyss of absolute relativism.

    And you don’t have to worry about me: I have long realised that knowing God is not to be confused with cognitive certainty. That’s a western myth that postmodernism has finally dispelled.

    Thank God. 🙂

  • Jane Smith,

    I am very troubled by the impact of postmodernism upon the church and individual Christians. POMO dumps upon us a web of irreconcilable contradictions like:

    “We can’t be certain about anything!”

    However, this itself is a statement of certainty! This statement or concept therefore invalidates itself. There are many problems that will spin off from such a stance. Without certainty, many say:

    “We can’t judge others and their lifestyles. They have their own truth or inner logic for doing what they do. We can’t impose our ideas upon them.”

    However, judging, correcting and being the light to the world is central to our Biblical calling and life in Christ! Besides, this statement is also incoherent. It’s actually JUDGING those that it accuses of judging. Pretty hypocritical, huh?

  • It is important to see the unseen but essential emphasis Dr. Oord is placing on the relationship between certainty and truth. Without this we will misread what he writes. First, he makes a distinction between certainty and absolute certainty. Although it may seem to be a meaningless play of words, it actually points to an significant distinction. I can be certain of something today and in the future change that certainty for a new one. This is a necessary certainty for our daily living. Absolute certainty, on the other hand NEVER changes.

    Secondly, he makes the distinction between the truth about reality and the FULL truth about reality. We may know in part the truth about reality but we will never have the FULL truth about reality. From a Christian perspective, the full truth about reality is found in GOD alone. We will never know God FULLY, nor will we have his FULL perspective on reality (or we would be God ourselves).

    All this does is make us open to change if what we get to know does not fit what we knew before to be the truth. That’s all.

  • Florin,

    I certainly agree with everything you’ve written. I have no problem when people say that we don’t have ABSOLUTE certainty about the Christian faith as long as they apply this limitation to other areas of inquiry or scholarship. I just don’t want the Bible degraded below the other forms of knowing, whether it’s the sciences or even our perceptions.

    Likewise, I have no problem when people say that we have to be humble about our interpretations of Scripture as long as they extend this same principle of humility to the sciences, etc. Too often, people preach “humility” when it comes to Scripture but then violently impose the latest scientific theories upon it.

  • Jane Smith

    Yes, I agree: Florin has summed up Dr Oord’s distinction between everyday certainty and absolute certainty very well.

    What we are loosely referring to as “postmodernism” has its troubles and, yes, can be used to undermine people with sincere and sensible moral and religious convictions.

    I don’t think people like Tony Jones are doing this. Instead, they are engaged in the time-honoured task of fighting various pernicious heresies.

    In our own time, these heresies include biblical literalism, the prosperity gospel and the frenetic drivel presented on so-called Christian television. All of these things have, unfortunately, reached South Africa’s shores (I live in Pretoria).

  • Jane – I’m with you. We are still fighting the heresies of Gnosticism — that dandelion in the lawn of Christianity ever since the writing of 1 John. And we are still trying to shed our Greek dualism which Paul tried to attack on the hill in Athens.

  • Brad Cecil

    Always nice when people recognize that the postmodern turn is a “friend and not any enemy” to people of faith. Still amazed that some think we can understand reality with absolute understanding and certainty. I am sad that Chistian thought became wed to the assumptions of modernity, but I am happy to see thought leaders recognize this “return of faith” in post modernity – this is very exciting to me even after all these years of talking about this stuff. good stuff Tony!

  • Jane Smith

    Thanks to Jim Fisher for his support.

    “We are still fighting the heresies of Gnosticism.”

    It seems to me that we are fighting the heresies of materialism rather than Gnosticism, and that it is the various crude forms of material heresies that have done so much damage in recent decades.

    Can he tell us (or, at least, me) more?

  • Jane – An internet search of “gnostic heresy” will bring up a lot of good resources. Basically it is a belief in spirit-good-body-bad which extends to “If the body is evil, it does not matter what a man does with it.” I think is extends even further: As long as we are saved, it doesn’t matter what we do with the rest of our lives. As long as we go to church on Sunday it doesn’t matter what we do the rest of the week. As long as I get my stuff it doesn’t matter that the rest of the world is wanting. Material heresies, I think, are the same weed, just a slightly different color.

  • Jane Smith


    However, the Gnostics lived austere, ascetic lives – and that’s the last thing recent heresies seem to suggest.

    Perhaps, when all is said and done, we’re simply up against hedonism and wishful thinking.

  • Ben Duarte

    “Postmodernists reject the idea that we can know with absolute certainty the full truth about reality”.

    Do postmodernists truly believe that this is true? Are they certain of this? This seems to be an objective comment, thus offering a full truth about reality.

    “Christians are believers not proposition defenders”.
    It seems that Christians are both. We see Christians believing and defending (apologetics), offering people reasons for faith in the Bible, Church history and today. How many times did Paul defend his faith in the book of Acts? Most that are well read in Theology have seen the Church do apologetics, thus defending their proposition. Men such as Dr. Thomas J. Oord, Tony Jones, and others like them are the re-making of 19th and 20th liberal theology. Nothing new, We must believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the father, but by Him. At Jude 3, we are commanded to contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints.