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Rallying Behind Tom Oord

Dr. Tom Oord (Brandon Hill Photography)


It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that yet another progressive evangelical has been pushed out of a teaching position at an evangelical school. Getting around tenure is always tricky for these schools — one school did away with the entire church history department, allowing them to lay off a tenured prof they didn’t like.

Now it’s Tom Oord. I’ve known Tom for many years. He’s what I’d call a “theologian of love,” since love is his primary interest and topic. He’s been pivotal in the Open and Relational Theology Group at the American Academy of Religion, and I’m thrilled to be partnering with him and others (Tripp Fuller, Douglas Meeks, Miroslav Volf, et al) to bring Jürgen Moltmann to AAR this year in Atlanta. Tom is a wonderful guy, an entrepreneurial theologian, and a respected scholar.

Tom had the gall to hint that he may be an evolutionist, which was enough, it seems, for his employer, Northwest Nazarene University, to eliminate his position under the guise of budget cuts. As Ric Shewell has been documenting, many have been rallying behind Oord. This week, the faculty cast a no confidence vote in the administration of university president David Alexander.

So it seems that things are still unfolding. In the midst, I’ve got two comments:

1) I have no doubt that the enrollment at NNU is down and finances are suffering. The explosion of evangelical colleges in the second half of the 20th century flooded the market with a glut of schools. Too many. As GenXers fall away from church, their kids are less likely to attend evangelical schools. But the real crisis for these schools will be in 10 years, when Millennials start sending their kids to college.

2) Many schools are getting more conservative in response to this downturn, but that’s exactly the wrong strategy. They’re doing it to appease their aging Baby Boomer donors. Yes, the Baby Boomers currently have the money to finance these schools (and, for that matter, non-profits (remember the World Vision controversy) and churches), but the better long-term strategy would be to find a moderate path that also appeals to the more open and inquisitive Christianity of Millennials.

And if NNU, or any school for that matter, wanted appeal to Millennials, Tom Oord is exactly the kind of professor they’d want. He’s a gifted teacher, he’s ambitious, and he’s scholarly. That’s a hard combo to come by. That’s why I support Tom Oord, and I call on you to as well.


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