Posted by: gcarkner | August 30, 2015

Fall Grad Student Reception

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Get Perspective on your Academic Career

Word of Welcome from UBC Faculty

Long hours in the laboratory, thesis proposals, the weight of comprehensive exams means that a grad student needs a support infrastructure. I can’t speak highly enough about getting involved with a group on campus like GCU, and also finding a good church home base. Also as you are walking into your office or biking into campus, try praying for your profs, fellow students, or admin staff; this can help stimulate surprisingly fruitful conversations. And don’t forget that you are here to serve undergrads with grace. Feel free to track me down for coffee; I love ideas exchange.

~Dr. Craig Mitton, PhD

Associate Professor

School of Population and Public Health

As a graduate student several decades ago I found the Grad Christian Union community at my university uplifting spiritually and socially. In an often chilly secular environment, it was a great venue to meet other grads outside my own field and cultural background and develop friendships and join in events with those who shared the same core values. I am still in contact with several of these friends 30 years later. With some other faculty and graduate students, I helped to launch the Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum a number of years ago. Gord has been a solid advisor to this group as well 

~Dr. David Ley

Professor Department of Geography

University of British Columbia

There is no more important bellwether for our society and our culture than the university — and yet Christians within academia often travel incognito, which isn’t good for them, isn’t good for the university, and isn’t good for other Christians, who often feel alone when really they’re not. A ministry to grad students and thus provides a vital venue where Christians can connect, show their colours, and stimulate each other to play the full role they’re called to play as fully alive and “out” followers of Christ. Decide to be a public Christian at UBC.

~Dr. Dennis Danielson

Professor of English

University of British Columbia

Graduate research is often like looking for a lightswitch in a totally dark room. It can be frustrating at times. It certainly was for me! It was invaluable for me to have close connection with other Christians whom I could share that load with, and who were praying for me.

 ~Dr. Bé Wassink

Instructor, Materials Engineering

University of British Columbia

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How to Succeed as a Graduate Student?   ~Dr. Martin Ester
I am Martin Ester  a computer science professor at SFU who has supervised graduate students for more than ten years. I am also a Christian who is convinced that my faith is relevant to all aspects of my and our world. I continue to enjoy this part of my job very much and have the impression that my students also do enjoy their studies, at least once in a while. Sometimes current or prospective students ask me for advice how to succeed, and I have tried to distill the following short advice, which will hopefully be useful not only for computer science students.

1) Make sure to know why you are doing this.
Make sure that you know why you are going to grad school. The monetary benefit of earning a higher salary with a graduate degree may be smaller than you think. And the reputation of your degree may also not be worth investing several years of your life (you have only one!). You may waste part of your life and will not even succeed with your graduate studies if you do not have a better answer. I believe that you need to have a passion for your thesis topic, an inner motivation to explore that helps you to overcome the inevitable hard times during grad school. On the other hand, your studies need a purpose that goes beyond your own interests, and you should have a realistic understanding of how your studies will help you to better serve “humanity”. Keep in mind that, e.g., not every PhD can have an academic career.

2) Be hungry to learn and be teachable.
I have often noticed that super smart grad students with a somewhat arrogant attitude have the feeling that “they have arrived already” and are neither working hard enough nor willing to accept guidance from their supervisor. As a consequence, they tend to be less successful than grad students who may be a tick less intelligent but are really hungry to learn and willing to accept both encouragement and correction from their supervisor or from other people such as reviewers of their scientific papers. Read as many good books and papers as possible. Discuss your research with your supervisor, with other professors, with your fellow students. Apply and test the results of your research in industry, government or where possible. Finally, ask the deep questions and try to come up with solid, new answers.

3) Maintain your balance.
This advice may surprise you the most. Do not get me wrong, you must work hard, really hard to succeed in grad school. However, while grad school is very important, realize that there is more to life. Take care of your body by feeding it properly and exercising enough. Do not neglect your social life, but cultivate meaningful friendships at school and outside. And pay attention to the spiritual dimension of your life which connects you to God. As Jesus summarized when asked for the greatest commandment: “Love God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and body. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Do not postpone the seeking of balance in your life until after grad school, when “things will get better”. Things will not get better, but worse: you will get only busier in the course of your life. Therefore, start finding and maintaining your balance now!

~Dr. Martin Ester, Computer Science, Simon Fraser University

Posted by: gcarkner | August 30, 2015

The Power of a Word?

The Power of a Word: Agape

We have been amazed at the power of language to leverage the world in this blog. Is the ancient Greek word agape such a term? It has a long and noble history in the West. Perhaps too few of us know of its legacy. This post will act as a first response to the previous discussion on Quality of the Will. Transcendent agape love transforms the self, according to Charles Taylor, a love from above, transcendent of the human community, beyond mere human flourishing or survival of one’s tribe. He talks about this in terms of the possibility of a transcendent turn in philosophy to release late moderns from the burden of too much choice that leaves us morally frozen, and too much freedom of the wrong kind–freedom devoid of responsibility.

This is the constitutive good which can empower the moral self, a self that emerges most robustly within a community of mutuality. Trinitarian love offers the self a certain stance towards society; it sees something good in the human self, that is, the created (imago dei) image of God  (Taylor, 1999, p. 33). Perhaps we can discover a lost humanist heritage.

Our being in the image of God is also our standing among others in the stream of love, which is that facet of God’s life we try to grasp, very inadequately, in speaking of the Trinity. Now it makes a whole lot of difference whether you think this kind of love is a possibility for us humans. I think it is, but only to the extent that we open ourselves up to God, which means in fact, overstepping the limits set by Nietzsche and Foucault. (Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?, 1999, p. 35.)

It is ironic for him to suggest that Foucault, the philosopher of freedom, sets limits that stifle certain important alternatives for self-constitution, and deprives us of sources of the self that could empower us morally. Taylor pushes ahead to build the concept:

The original Christian notion of agape love is of a love that God has for humans which is connected with their goodness as creatures (though we don’t have to decide whether they are loved because good or good because loved). Human beings participate through grace in this love. There is a divine affirmation of the creature, which is captured in the repeated phrase in Genesis 1 about each stage of the creation, “and God saw that it was good”. Agape is inseparable from such “seeing-good”. (Taylor, Sources of the Self, 1989, p. 516)

The individual self is elevated by this love, affirmed in its destiny. Agape informs and offers definition to the quality of the will; trinitarian goodness empowers, clarifies, and animates the human self. It acknowledges the value that each person gains from the recognition, mercy and affirmation of God. Within this paradigm, the self does not struggle to define itself alone, but engages this transforming love of the divine Other. Christians claim that this can be seen most clearly in the God-man Jesus Christ. The  Word made flesh underwrites all human words, all language. So affirms humanities scholar Jens Zimmerman in his recent book Incarnational Humanism Chapter 6. This is the exit that Kierkegaard talks about–exit from the burden and self-reflexive loop of despair (carrying the entire burden of meaning creation on our own shoulders). It is the marriage of the imagination and reason, the apprehended and the comprehended (Malcolm Guite). It is the reconciliation of a deep divide within academia (sciences and the humanities).

Divine trinitarian love creates the larger horizon for human loving, a love that issues from the power to love in spite of rejection, a sacrificial love. This goodness is a relational attribute in God; it exists and exhibits itself in the form of a communion of love: the relational, interpersonal, mutually supportive, loving relationship among the persons of the Trinity. Theologian Christoph Schwöbel (1992, p. 73) explains how human goodness is rooted in this divine transcendent love: “In a conception where goodness is understood as a divine attribute, rooted in God’s trinitarian agency, goodness has to be understood as an essentially relational attribute.” From this perspective, humans do not invent the good or invent love out of their individual passion, but discover it derivatively from God and in the context of community. It is a gift from God, a profound opening in the fabric of human society. Light shines through this word.

David Bentley Hart noted that historically Christians have been known for their concern for the poor, the weak and the infirmed and wishes to correct some popular, but misinformed, history. Over the centuries, Christians have made huge, significant contributions to the culture of the contemporary hospital, including the famous Knights of St. John in the twelfth century. Dr. Bert Cameron from UBC Nephrology gave a lecture on this history in the GFCF series a few years ago.

We suggest that this benevolent humanism emerged because they were inspired and empowered by agape love. They discovered this transcedent turn in their identity. Hart recalls by example:

There was … a long tradition of of Christian monastic hospitals for the destitute and the dying, going back to the time of Constantine and stretching from the Syrian and Byzantine East to the Western fringes of Christendom, a tradition that had no real precedent in pagan society. St Ephraim the Syrian (A.D 306-373), when the city of Edessa was ravaged by plague, established hospitals open to those who were afflicted. St. Basil the Great (A.D. 329-379) founded a hospital in Cappadocia with a ward set aside for the care of lepers, whom he did not disdain to nurse with his own hands. St Benedict of Nursia (A.D. 480-547) opened a free infirmary at Monte Cassino and made care of the sick a paramount duty of the monks…. During the Middle Ages, the Benedictines alone were responsible for more than two thousand hospitals  in Western Europe.  (David Bentley Hart, 2009, p. 30)

Indeed, there seems to be much power in this word agape to change hearts, move planeloads of food and aid, protect children, provide education, fight for justice and make a dramatic difference in society, to move the world in ways that we all admire. Could it be one of the hidden hypergoods that we are searching for in late modernity?

We finish with an insight Taylor got from Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky: (Sources of the Self, 1989, p. 452)

What will transform us is an ability to love the world and ourselves, to see it as good in spite of the wrong. But this will only come to us if we can accept being part of it, and that means accepting responsibility … Loving the world and ourselves is in a sense a miracle, in face of all the evil and degradation that it and we contain. But the miracle comes on us if we accept being part of it. Involved in this is our acceptance of love from others. We become capable of love through being loved; and over against the perverse apostolic succession [of terror and violence] is a grace-dispensing one. Dostoyevsky brings together here a central idea of the Christian tradition, especially evident in the Gospel of John, that people are transformed through being loved by God, a love that they mediate to one another, on the one hand, with the modern notion of a subject who can help to bring on transfiguration through the stance he takes to himself and the world, on the other … What he [Dostoyevsky] was opposing was that humans affirm their dignity in separation from the world.

~Gord Carkner PhD Philosophical Theology and Cultural Studies

See: Schwöbel, C. (1992). “God’s Goodness and Human Morality”. In C. Schwöbel, God: Action and revelation (pp. 63-82). Kampen, Holland: Pharos.

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history.

Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism. 2012.

Our Core Values in GCU

students challenging fellow students on the cutting edge

integrity: pursuit of excellence in research and personal character

 the agape posture of respect in relations with colleagues

preparation for global citizenship

a stance of intellectual openness in the pursuit of faith-reason interface

a constructive contribution to campus discourse

exploring the rich heritage of Judeo-Christianity, both academically and personally

develop a deep identity in Jesus Christ while respecting difference in convictions of others 

draw from the wisdom of faculty across the disciplines

Posted by: gcarkner | July 21, 2015

Consequences of Radical Freedom

Radical Freedom and its Discontents

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According to Charles Taylor (Hegel and Modern Society, 1979, pp. 156f), historically the trend toward the radicalization of freedom comes from four key moves. It is an adventure in nihilism. It involves a decontextualization, a shaking loose of the self from definitions of human nature and from the natural world, the cosmic order, social space, or history. This gets back to Michel Foucault’s notion of getting free of oneself and his critique of the present. There are four stages to this move and four consequences.

Stage (a) The new identity of the self-defining subject is won by breaking free of the larger matrix of a cosmic or societal order and its claim. Freedom is defined as self-dependence, and self-sufficiency. It entails a negative concept: freedom is won by breaking the hold of the lower oppressed self (constructed by a disciplinary society for Foucault) so that one might explore one’s potential, experimental self. (Ibid., p. 156)

Stage (b) Human nature is not simply a given, but is to be remade, reinvented. To be integrally free, one must reshape one’s own nature. The only kind of situation which this view can recognize is one defined by the obstacles to unrestricted action, which have to be conquered or set aside as external oppression; liberation is a process which results in freedom from shackles. One of the key shackles is the identity given to one’s self by others. (Ibid., pp. 155, 156)

Stage (c) In this stage, there is a celebration of the Dionysian expressive release of instinctual depths (the uncensored self) of the human animal. ‘Modern society is seen as the oppressor of the spontaneous, the natural, the sensuous or the “Dionysiac” in man’ (Ibid., p. 140). Rooted in Schopenhauer, this dark and pessimistic view of freedom and the human condition leads to despair about freedom understood as self-dependence, because this sort of freedom can release violence and many other forms of negative human self-expression. There is both fear of, and celebration of, such human desires in the third part of Foucault’s oeuvre, the later ethical works.

Stage (d) The final stage of this Nietzschean nihilism is the death of all traditional values (transvaluation of all values) and the admission that ethics is grounded in the will to power. The empty self risks ending in nihilism, that is, self-affirmation through the rejection of all values. One after the other, the authoritative horizons of life, Christian and humanist, are cast off as shackles on the will. Under these circumstances, freedom means dependent in one’s actions only on oneself, lacking accountability to God, principle or society (Ibid., p. 157). Foucault’s ethics seems to include all four stages. He points enthusiastically in the direction of freedom, but does not offer parameters or guidelines of how to proceed, intentionally so. Nor does he offer ways of avoiding or managing the most negative results of this kind of freedom. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | July 3, 2015

Summer Good Reads

Good Reads for Summer 2015

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  Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship.

John Dickson, Humilitas  

Iain Provan, Against the Grain: selected essays.  

Susan Cain, Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.

Wendell Berry, This Day.  

Os Guinness, The Global Public Square  

Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain: an autobiography of faith.  

Daniel J. Treier, Virtue and the Voice of God: towards a theology of wisdom.  

Daniel James Brown, Boys in the Boat: nine Americans and their quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics  

Rowan Williams, The Truce of God (2005)  

David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World.




Posted by: gcarkner | May 31, 2015

Twin Heritages Recovered

Two Heritages: Christ and University

a. What if we could harness the power, resources and critical skills of the research university for the growth and health of the contemporary church?

b. What if we could harness the full richness of Christian history and spirituality, benevolence and moral capacity for the enrichment and inspiration of the university community and academia itself?

It would surely break open a new, powerful vision of unparalleled creativity and promote untold good for humanity. It would give us  fire in the belly we have hardly imagined. It would be a boon to research and a boon to the church, producing a win/win scenario. The alienation between these two highly influential institutions (carriers of significant weighty heritage) is nothing short of a tragedy of late modernity. Perhaps we are due for some Big Sky ReThinking.

Envision the Possibilities

  • Faith and Reason could pull together like plow horses. We could rethink their relationship.
  • Science and the Imagination could complement one another with intensity.
  • Wisdom could be combined with Spirit to enrich philosophy and education.
  • Goodness and Beauty could become central to research and application of insight.
  • Excellence of character could complement excellence of scholarship in the formation of students and the model of professors.
  • A new paradigm of freedom could be discovered: as generosity of spirit rather than an end in itself, a freedom that builds community and promotes joy.
  • We could recover Christian Humanism for robust social change, and satiate our hunger and thirst for meaning and purpose. There is a robust tradition to tap into here.
  • The Wonder of the Cosmos (13.8 billion light years across) made available through powerful telescopes could complement an appreciation of the Creator who loves us intensely, has a vested interest in or well-being, in this small corner of the known universe on the edge of the Milky Way.
  • Pioneering in science through particle accelerators, revolutionary breakthroughs in genetics, nanotechnology and neuroscience could be complemented by a great leap forward in human compassion and  social responsibility, a leap forward in ownership of responsibility for climate change and our relationship to the biosphere.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | May 14, 2015

Take Every Thought Captive John Lennox Is Anything Worth Believing?

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Take Every Thought Captive

Take every thought captive poses an inspiring challenge by Paul the Apostle in II Corinthians 10; this is part of our ongoing GCU study group. It entails a challenging statement on intellectual and spiritual discipline, one of the mind and heart. The UBC graduate students wrestle with the quest to think and negotiate the university landscape differently, to access and apply the graces of God in their context. Paul uses the dramatic, attention-grabbing metaphor of war in order to build Christian resolve in the young church, while at the same time deconstructing the very culture of war.

What kind of warfare is Paul addressing? What kind of weapons is he offering? What sort of strategy? How does it relate to the academic enterprise of graduate school? What are the ideologies of our colleagues that set up a wall to the gospel, the negative apologetic? What worldview has taken our friend captive and hampers their spiritual insight? How do we get at the whole truth with the aid of the Logos? These are critical questions.

Paul’s weapons are rooted in the capital virtues, the gentleness and authority of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit: truthfulness and integrity, righteousness, patience, the gospel of peace and blessing (shalom), faithfulness, hope, knowledge of God and his calling, a constructive stance or attitude (Ephesians 6: 13-17), discernment and discipleship, respect and dialogue, leveraging agape love, refusal of despair. We must build our consciousness and use multivalent angles and approaches to build bridges to faith as the diagram below suggests. We also need to tap in to those Christian roots of higher learning and preparation for leadership.

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It is not people themselves, but faulty or immoral reason, that we are called to take captive on campus. This comes complete with arguments and assumptions that set themselves against the knowledge of God: scientism, consumerism, materialistic naturalism, exclusive secularism, reductionism, market fundamentalism, toxic politics of hate, and various types of imperialism. These can be somewhat formidable at times. Alister McGrath, a British theologian, represents for many of us someone that believes the mind really matters to spiritual health, that sharp theology and clear thinking is important to all believers. He articulates Paul’s intent and strategy in his books: Intellectuals Don’t Need God? and A Fine-Tuned Universe. See also Blog Post Can We Make Peace Between Faith and Reason?

Christ-centeredness must reign supreme in our minds and not just in our hearts. Grace and love must be combined with philosophical and theological sharpness. Circumspect thinking and positive action also comes through strongly in the prophetic work by Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good: How the gospel brings hope to a world divided. Our strategy on campus and beyond must be active in initiating and hosting conversation about the big questions. It is a public challenge and a confidence-builder for Christians that Jesus the Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the very nexus of faith and reason, truth and love personified. This is the background radiation of the universe.

~Dr. Gordon Carkner

Does the Universe Need God? Dr. Hans Halvorson, Princeton University

Paul K. Moser The Christ-shaped Philosophy Project Ravi Zaccharias Response to New Atheism

See also Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the Search for God in Science and Theology.

Questions and Answers with Professor John Lennox

Philosopher Dallas Willard on Understanding Naturalism

Duelling Oxford Professors on the Existence of God: Peter Atkins and John Lennox

Posted by: gcarkner | April 8, 2015

God and the Multiverse, May 6, UBC

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Deborah Haarsma

Astronomer from Calvin College and  President of BioLogos

God and the Multiverse

 Wednesday, May 6 @ 4:00 p.m.

Woodward (IRC) Room 1, UBC

Audio File


The last 100 years have transformed our understanding of the universe.  We now know that the universe is ancient, beginning in a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, and that it continues to expand today, at an ever-increasing rate.  We’ve also seen amazing evidence that some physical laws and constants are fine-tuned for life, as well as hints that our universe is part of a much bigger multiverse. What does all this have to do with God?   This talk will give an overview of a range of religious and non-religious responses to these exciting discoveries.


 Deborah Haarsma earned a PhD in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in1997. An experienced research scientist, she was Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College from 2009-2012, Professor of Astronomy from 1999-2012. She has several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. Dr. Haarsma has studied very large galaxies (at the centers of galaxy clusters), very young galaxies (undergoing rapid star formation in the early universe), and gravitational lenses (where spacetime is curved by a massive object). Her work uses data from several major telescopes, including the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico, the Southern Astrophysical Research optical and infrared telescope in Cerro Pachon, Chile, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory in orbit around the earth. Since January 2013, Dr. Haarsma has served as President of BioLogos ( a serious academic dialogue between current world-class science and Christian faith.  BioLogos was founded by Dr. Francis Collins of the National Institute of Health in the USA, and runs annual conferences for scientists and church leaders. In this subject area, Haarsma published Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma. She also edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee.

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Nebula where Stars are Born

Sample Talk by Dr. Haarsma at Westmont College

See also:

Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: the Search for God in Science and Theology (2009).

“Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them—above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments?

In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God.

The celebrated Gifford Lectures have long been recognized as making landmark contributions to the discussion of natural theology. A Fine-Tuned Universe will contribute significantly to that discussion by developing a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with the intellectual and moral complexities of the natural world. It will be essential reading to those looking for a rigorous engagement between science and the Christian faith. – Amazon

Satyan Devados at Cal Tech God, Math and the Multiverse

Interview with Physicist Steven Barr

David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes

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Galaxy similar to our Milky Way

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Background Radiation from Big Bang

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Cosmological History

Posted by: gcarkner | March 30, 2015

Rene Girard on Deep Easter

The Gospel According to René Girard

~ Peter Barber, Ph.D. Student Religious Studies at UBC~

The two principal assertions of Girard’s hermeneutical model are ‘mimetic desire’ and ‘scapegoating’. Mimetic desire is the idea that humans do not experience being and identity autonomously, but always only through an Other, a model for one’s desire. Desire and by extension ‘being’ is borrowed. This essential feature of human nature accounts for the enormous learning capability (the physical apparatus for which is now identified as the brain’s mirror neuron system), and is a positive basic feature of human existence. And yet, since desiring and being is through a model-other – two or more persons desiring the same object(s) – rivalry over the object(s) can and often does result, occasioning conflict and seeming to necessitate in the estimation of the rival(s) the need for sacrifice of the Other, in order to gain the being blocked or inhibited by the model-obstacle.

It is in this way that scapegoating regularly results from mimetic desire going sideways, as just described. Positive learning descends into destructive violence. The term scapegoat is chosen by Girard because it encapsulates our cultures’ reception of the spirit of Christ’s revelation throughout history, that sacrifice of the other is not ‘good’, is not even necessary, but is the false transfer of responsibility for rivalry and violence off of oneself and entirely onto the Other. The transferal is followed by destruction of the Other for his/her/their guilt, and for the danger or social pollution they still pose, in blocking access to the desired object(s). Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 29, 2015

The Challenge of Easter


Giovanni Bellini

How are we to understand Good Friday and Easter from such a distance? How does it relate to our experience? Is it mere sentiment or something more profound? Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making: recovering our creative calling, (Chapter 8 “Jesus as Culture Maker”) has some brilliant insights into the difference that Jesus life, death and resurrection have for shaping the horizons of possibility (shalom and human flourishing) for societies, ancient and modern. He helps us grapple with the various dimensions of this sorrow and celebration. See also I Corinthians 15.

The Cross

He suffered the full weight of the human story of rebellion against God. He was literally impaled on the worst that culture can do–an instrument of torture that stood for all the other cultural dead ends of history, from spears to bombs, gas chambers to waterboards. Like all other instruments of violence, a cross is cultural folly and futility at its most horrible. (141)

The core calling of [Jesus] life is not something he does at all in an active sense–it is something he suffers. The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion–not a doing but a suffering. (142)

On Good Friday, love embraced suffering as Jesus drank the bitter cup. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. self-consciously followed the same journey of the suffering death of Jesus, the way of the cross, as he promoted civil rights for African-Americans in the Southern USA in the 1960s. He worked hard to replace the perverted symbol of the cross which was used as a justification for aggression, hate and violence—e.g. the Ku Klux Klan. His life quest was to restore the cross as a symbol of love, mercy, justice and non-violence. He incarnated a form of extreme love, a committed non-violent protest against systemic injustice. ~Iwan Russell-Jones, Professor of Faith and the Arts, Regent College

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | March 24, 2015

Scholar Claims Moral Knowledge is Vital

Book Review by J. W. Wartick

(full review

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R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (IVP Academic 2014) is a systematic look at the possibility of moral knowledge in various metaethical systems, with an argument that a theistic, and specifically Christian, worldview is the most plausible way to ground the reality of morals.

Smith begins by providing overviews of various historical perspectives on ethics, including biblical, ancient (Plato and Aristotle), early (Augustine through Aquinas), and early modern (Reformation through the Enlightenment) systems. This survey is necessarily brief, but Smith provides enough information and background for readers to get an understanding of various ethical systems along with some difficulties related to each.

Next, the major options of naturalism, relativism, and postmodernism for ethics are examined in turn, with much critical interaction. For example, Smith argues that ethical relativism is deeply flawed in both method and content. He argues that relativism does not provide an adequate basis for moral knowledge, and it also undermines its own argument for ethical diversity and, by extension, relativism. Moreover, it fails to provide any way forward for how one is to live on such an ethical system and is thus confronted with the reality that it is unlivable. Ultimately, he concludes that “Ethical Relativism utterly fails as a moral theory and as a guide to one’s own moral life” (163).

For Naturalism, however, Smith contends the situation is even worse: “we cannot have knowledge of reality, period, based on naturalism’s ontology. Yet there are many things we do know. Therefore, naturalism is false and we should reject it not just for ethics, but in toto” (137). His argument for this thesis is, briefly, that naturalism has no basis for mental states–and therefore, for beliefs–and so we cannot have knowledge (see 147ff especially).

For full review see:


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