The Myth of Certainty:
The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment

by Daniel Taylor, InterVarsity Press, 158 pp.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

The title of this book takes us directly to the central focus of Daniel Taylor’s argument, namely; that certainty of absolute truth is a myth. As a matter of fact, he argues that if truth could be equated with absolute certainty there would be no need for faith. He asserts, however, that even though we are forced to live with uncertainty, we can still find meaning in life if we are willing to risk commitment.

A central metaphor Taylor uses to discuss his idea of truth and certainty involves a stadium full of people watching a hockey game. While everyone is aware of the truth that a hockey game is being played, each person sees the game in a unique way. Understanding that my experience of the game is one experience of the truth, gives me the humility to listen to how others experienced it. In the end, any retelling of the game will fall short of the truth of the game. That is beyond human comprehension.

Taylor is hard on both those in the church who claim to know truth with absolute certainty as well as those who claim that their superior reasoning ability verifies that there is no truth. A die-hard fundamentalist who insists that his version of “the game” is the absolute truth of the matter has little reason either for exercising faith or taking any risks. In reality, his position is not that much different from the non-believing rationalist who will act only on the basis of scientifically proven fact.

Taylor writes this book for reflective Christians who sometimes use their unanswered questions as an excuse for not risking commitment. Truth, he says, is never found in some sort of disembodied state, but in relationship. One can not love, for example, on the basis of reasoned truth alone. It involves a commitment, which is always risky. So Taylor finds that there are three things that make the risk of commitment worthwhile, even when all his questions are not answered. First is the personal and collective memory of how faith and life have worked in the past. Second, is the fact that risking in the context of community allows others to believe for you at the times of your greatest doubts. And third is the knowledge that truth is best pursued in the company of the committed.

Yet, Taylor admits that it remains a challenge for reflective persons to remain committed and involved in a faith community that is not always hospitable to reflective thought. So he offers some helpful survival tips. Seek a deepening and broadening, instead of a hardening, of your understanding of truth. Remember that truth is in essence relational - develop a love for truth and for people. When some questions refuse to be answered, allow them to move to the periphery of your conscious experience for a while. And finally, don’t stay on the negative side of arguments. Even while searching for truth, be involved in positive activities that celebrate faith and life in your community, even though absolute certainty keeps eluding you.

This is a very thoughtful and relevant book, especially for reflective persons who sometimes find it hard to risk commitment in the company of others who are non-reflective by nature.