Posted by: gcarkner | March 4, 2015

Surprised by Oxford

Surprised by Oxford: a memoir. by Carolyn Weber
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Commentary by Jan Porcino, former Student Worker at Harvard University

This is a great book. It gave me so much joy to watch this very competent and diligent young Canadian woman journey from agnosticism to faith in Jesus as she pursued her studies for a D.Phil at Oxford.  There are wonderful quotes from great literature she includes in each chapter. It is fascinating to observe the varied circle of friends and professors God brought into her life: their significant conversations over time, her deep questioning and diligent study in the rich (yet decidedly hostile to Christianity) environment of Oxford. It was completely engaging; I could have sat down and read it cover to cover in one sitting.

One male theological student befriended Carolyn; he not only makes good coffee, but is skilled in carefully discussing her tough questions and patiently listening to her many doubts over the weeks and years. He is also consistently gracious and kind to her in her suspicions about the trustworthiness of men arising from her life-experience and her feminist convictions. I was particularly moved by her description of this theological student’s American parents who visited Oxford and invited Carolyn to join them for dinner. They embody the beauty of the gospel and life-long discipleship through the tough places of life: including his father’s military service in Viet Nam. That evening visit impacted her deeply. When I finished the book, I read the “Acknowledgments” and to my joy, discovered a personal link to his folks who are now her in-laws. Her father-in-law, Stuart Weber, was an outstanding member of my graduating class of ‘67 at Wheaton College! Her description fits what I knew of him from a distance during those four years. This is a thrilling true story.

30% off at Regent Bookstore
Hope you have time to enjoy this special journey to faith, one of real integrity.
Posted by: gcarkner | March 2, 2015

Apologetics Conference March 6 & 7

Apologetics Canada is running another conference this March 6-7, 2015 in Abbotsford and Vancouver and now also in Barrie, Ontario.

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Posted by: gcarkner | February 28, 2015

What Happened to Ideals?

In Search of a Few Good Adventurers

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Some see this as such a cynical age that they wonder whether ideals have currency anymore. We wish to protest. As a ministry to graduate students at UBC and beyond, in Graduate Christian Union and the Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum, we are diligently on a quest. It is not an easy, safe or superficial desire. Quite the contrary, in our quest, we are looking to find and nurture the next generation of culture- and nation-shapers, builders of the literary imagination, institution-shapers. We are looking for the future apologists, justice-seekers, politicians who care about the common good and the weaker members of society, peace-negotiators, international relations adjudicators. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | February 27, 2015

The (Un)Common Good The (Un)Common Good by Jim Wallis, Bestselling Author

In his important 2014 book The (Un)Common Good:How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, Jim Wallis posts an epilogue of Ten Personal Decisions for the Common Good which relate strongly to the concept of a calling where human beings can flourish together. We highly recommend this book of solid, tangible vision. Wallis is one of the mature prophetic voices in our day. I find this book offers a great balance in the path of following Jesus and a close reading of Scripture. Wallis expands the horizons of the possible for believers

~Gordon E. Carkner Ph.D. Philosophical Theology

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1. If you are a father or a mother, make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them. If you are not a parent, look for children who could benefit from your investment in their lives.

2. If you are married, be faithful to your spouse. Demonstrate your commitment with both your fidelity and your love. If you are single, measure your relationships by their integrity not their usefulness.

3. If you are a person of faith, focus on not just what you believe but on how you act on those beliefs. If you love God, ask God how to love your neighbour.

4. Take the place you live seriously. Make the context of your life and work the parish that you take responsibility for.

5. Seek to develop a vocation and not just a career. Discern your gifts as a child of God not just your talents, and listen for your calling rather than just looking for opportunities. Remember that your personal good always relates to the common good.

6. Make choices by distinguishing between wants and needs. Choose what is enough rather what is possible to get. Replace appetites with values, teach your children the same, and model those values for all who are in your life.

7. Look at the business, company, or organization where you work from an ethical perspective. Ask what its vocation is, too. Challenge whatever is dishonest or exploitive and help your place of employment do well by doing good.

8. Ask yourself what in the world  today most breaks your heart and offends your sense of justice. Decide to help to change that and join with others who are committed to transform that injustice.

9. Get to know who your political representatives are at both a local and national level. Study their policy decisions and examine their moral compass and public leadership. Make your public convictions and commitments known to them and choose to hold them accountable.

10. Since the difference between events and movements is sacrifice, which is also the true meaning of religion,  and what makes for social change, ask yourself what is important enough to give your life to and for.

Finding the integral relationship between your own personal and the common good is your best contribution to our future. And it is the best hope we have for a better life together. (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good, pp. 297-8)

Posted by: gcarkner | February 24, 2015

Human Slavery in Canada: Feb 25 Professor Ben Perrin

Professor Benjamin Perrin

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Associate Professor UBC Law

Senior Fellow MacDonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy


Confronting Modern-Day Slavery: Human Trafficking in Canada

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 4 p.m.

Woodward (IRC) Room 1, UBC

120101_003 Audio  File


Modern-day slavery is one of the most egregious human rights violations of our time. Human trafficking involving sexual exploitation and forced labour occurs around the world – including here in Canada. Professor Perrin will present the main findings from his study on human trafficking in Canada, including the shocking prevalence of Canadian women and girls as victims, and discuss how our country is responding to this hidden national tragedy.


Benjamin Perrin is an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law and a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy. He is one of Canada’s leading authorities on human trafficking and author of Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking (Penguin, 2011), which was named one of the top books of the year by the Globe and Mail. Prof. Perrin has served as Special Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister and Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The U.S. State Department has recognized him as a “hero” acting to end modern-day slavery.

He received a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Calgary in 2001, a Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto in 2005, and a Master of Laws (with honours) from McGill University in 2007. He was called to the Bar in Ontario in 2007 and the Bar in British Columbia in 2010. Professor Perrin is an internationally recognized researcher and advocate for victims of crime. The Governor General of Canada and victims’ groups have also recognized him for his work to combat human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Professor Perrin is the recipient of the Wilson-Prichard Award for Community and Professional Service from the University of Toronto. He is co-editor of Human Trafficking: Exploring the International Nature, Concerns, and Complexities (CRC Press, 2012), and editor of Modern Warfare: Armed Groups, Private Militaries, Humanitarian Organizations and the Law (UBC Press, 2012). He is also the author of numerous law review articles and book chapters, and regularly provides commentary in the media. Prior to joining UBC, he was a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, judicial intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, assistant director of the Special Court for Sierra Leone Legal Clinic (which assisted the Trial and Appeals Chambers), senior policy advisor to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and executive director of a non-governmental organization that combats human trafficking.


Posted by: gcarkner | February 18, 2015

Bring Me Justice

Top Picks on Social Justice

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Strength to Love by Martin Luther King Jr.

Let Justice and Peace Embrace by Nicholas Wolterstorff

The (Un)Common Good by Jim Wallis

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros (OUP)

Leading with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider

Justice Awakening: How You and Your Church Can Help End Human Trafficking by Eddie Byun

Reconciling All Things: a Christian View of Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katagole and Chris Rice

The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking (Penguin, 2011) by Benjamin Perrin–> See his upcoming lecture at UBC on February 25

The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen

I am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai


Posted by: gcarkner | February 9, 2015

Poem from C.S. Lewis

From the Collected Poems of C.S.Lewis

‘Set on the soul’s acropolis the reason stands

A virgin arm’d, commercing with celestial light,

And he who sins against her has defiled his own

Virginity: no cleansing makes his garment white;

So clear is reason. But how dark, imagining,

Warm, dark, obscure and infinite, daughter of Night:

Dark is her brow, the beauty of her eyes with sleep

Is loaded, and her pains are long, and her delight.

Tempt not Athene. Wound not in her fertile pains

Demeter, nor rebel against he mother-right.

Oh who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,

Who make me in a concord of the depth and height?

Who make imagination’s dim exploring touch

Ever report the same as intellectual sight?

Then could I truly say and not deceive,

Then wholly say that I BELIEVE’.

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Take note of the upcoming March 25 lecture by Jason Lepojarvi of Oxford

Agape Versus Eros: C.S. Lewis and Anders Nygren on the Meaning of Love

Woodward (IRC) Room 1 (4:00 p.m.)

Posted by: gcarkner | January 29, 2015

Jesus as an Affirmative

Jesus is the Yes and Amen to it All

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His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1: 3-8)

In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. Here are some reflections on what this might mean. It is a statement on the multi-dimensionality of the one that billions follow today.

  • Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and “glue” of creation and the purpose or end (telos) of creation, both the alpha and omega. He is more than 13.8 billion light years of time. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the ground of creation (the very ground of being itself), without which nothing would exist, without which this very text would be meaningless. All the fullness of God dwells in him (he is God with us–Emmanuel). He is God incarnate (fully God and fully man as per the Athanasian view); in him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. It is through Christ that all things are reconciled to God—providing the source and basis of healing relationships, both divine and human, the prince (champion) of peace. He is the cornerstone or foundation of the church, through which he is most visible and present to the world by means of the Holy Spirit.
  • He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.) and the prophetic utterances and longings of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, justice and reform. He is the mysterious Son of Man spoken about in ancient Hebrew discourse. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. His is the final priestly sacrifice for the sins of mankind.He is also a poet, firing the imagination with his life-giving, inspiring teaching, causing us to rethink our identity and purpose, our vices and virtues. His represents both a unique and universal story, real story, an anchor for a powerful human narrative (its very architecture). He calls humanity to a new level of existence, a journey upward, calling us to a new level of responsibility for the Other, for personal choices and values and for creation.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | January 29, 2015

Building Bridges…5

Dialogue About Jesus of Nazareth

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Few people doubt any more that Jesus actually existed historically (N.T. Wright among many of the greatest world scholars on the ancient world). Most people also agree that he was indeed a great moral teacher and miracle worker. Religious and political leaders throughout the world, including many of the great opponents of Christianity, hail the moral superiority of his life. Mohandas Gandhi the Indian reformer aspired to the ideals of the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, a monument of justice combined with mercy, a trajectory of peace and nonviolence. The philosopher John Stuart Mill thought Jesus a genius and probably the greatest moral reformer who ever existed. Even Napoleon Bonaparte considered him a superior leader (although these two men were very different in character and ambition). Islam heralds him as a prophet. American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. saw Jesus as someone who could end segregation and bring equality of opportunity between blacks and whites. He could produce the beloved community from all nations and tribes of the world. Bishop Desmond Tutu was assured that Jesus teaching could end the injustice of Apartheid in South Africa and bring reconciliation and healing to a nation torn apart.

There exist today in the minds of people many different versions of Jesus. Cultural interpretation is a key factor in this dialogue. Few would dispute that Jesus is a historical figure, that he is public truth. He is a major culture driver all around the world; his life has had huge impact. But so often, it depends on which version makes a person or group comfortable, which form of Jesus resonates with the cause. Which version do we want to believe? There is the blond-haired, blued-eyed Jesus that Malcolm X despised; to him, this Jesus is a white racist. Others prefer the revolutionary Jesus who looks more like Che Guavera of Liberation Theology, a freedom fighter  keen to overthrow an oppressive government. There is the Jesus who justifies the wealth and hoarding of the privileged classes. Yet others want a Jesus who fits the children’s story book genre: gentle, sweet and loving. Many Global North skeptics, agnostics and atheists are happy with a good moral teacher, a Jesus who is safe and innocuous; this group usually has little concern for the actual content of what he taught (that might clash with their values) or who he actually claimed to be. Let’s not forget the feel good Jesus of the Moral Therapeutic Deism crowd (Christian Smith) who is my Facebook friend, there to make me feel alright, to bless all my desires and gaols and to give me just what I want.  Or worse, there is the Jesus of the health and wealth gospel who will make me rich, if I play my cards right. There seems to be a different Jesus of the political right and left? He is depicted in a variety of motifs in films and plays: Jesus of Montreal, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Passion, The Gospel of John. Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | January 28, 2015

Building Bridges…4

Dialogue Through Language of  the Moral Good

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How can we talk about morality these days in a civil, rational manner? Opinions can be strong and emotions can be close to the surface. Discussions can be quite heated and many fear entering the fray. Charles Taylor offers a way to recover an ancient but lost language for today in his important contribution Sources of the Self (1989), discovered in the research of my Ph.D. thesis on the brokenness of the self and the crisis of identity in late modernity. His challenge in a day of innovation, radical self-construction or self-invention, is to ask what are the goods that you and I are relating to, and in what community and what historical context? This offers some balance to the current rhetoric of radical freedom—a rhetoric which is often bereft of the good. See Taylor’s template to analyze one’s self-construction (from Malaise of Modernity) below:


Taylor’s Moral Self-Construction Diagnostics

Category A (Creativity)

(i) Creation and construction (as well as discovery) of the self.

(ii) Pursuit of originality in one’s self-crafting.

(iii) Opposition to the rules of society and even potentially to what one recognizes as morality, or the moral order.

Category B (Social and Moral Accountability)

(i) Openness to horizons of significance prevents one’s self-creation from losing the background that can save it from insignificance and trivialization (self-destruction of meaning).

(ii) Self-definition needs to be developed in dialogue with significant Others, that is, fellow moral interlocutors within a community and a narrative. (Taylor, 1991, pp. 65, 66)

Tension exists between the quest for freedom and creativity and the quest for the good, as most people feel the need to pursue freedom, first and foremost. Thereby people tend to focus on Category A to the exclusion of Category B. Individual autonomous choice is a high priority for late moderns. The movie: Wall Street: money never sleeps kicks into a great discussion about such values. Taylor believes that there is great potential in recovery of the ancient language of the good for today’s moral culture, and in the reassessment of morality within a communal context. In many ways, radical individualism has run into a wall and led to a number of extremes. Poststructuralist philosophers of freedom are also know as philosophers of the extreme. There is maturity and self-undertanding to be achieved through this discourse. He does in the end raise the tough question: “Does the best life involve us seeking or acknowledging or serving a good which is beyond (independent of) mere human flourishing? This also has serious implications for basic happiness or well-being. In this pursuit, Taylor suggests the need for a recovery of the thickness of language:

Our language has lost, and needs to have restored, its constitutive power. This means that we can deal instrumentally with realities around us but their deeper meaning (background in which they exist) the higher reality which finds expression in them, is ignored and invisible. Our language has lost the power to Name things in their embedding, their deeper and higher reality. The current incapacity of language is a crucial factor in our incapacity of seeing and being; our vision and our lives are reduced and flattened.

 A Fruitful Angle on Moral Dialogue

  1. Try to discover the goods (values, human qualities, virtues, ideals) in your friend or interlocutor (dialogue partner). What are their instincts with respect to the good? Are they embracing or running from the good? What good or goods shape them and their outlook?
  1. Get to know them well enough to understand what is their ‘hypergood’ (dominant and controlling good)—something in their ‘heart of hearts’ or core motivation. This is key to connecting with them at the deepest spiritual level, finding that common ground to talk about, breaking through suspicion and building trust.
  1. Discern what they consider the sources of this good (invented, self, nature, God, fantasy/mythology). Where do they look for inspiration of for an example to follow? Where do they find their metaphor for living? This is the motivation question, the constitutive good. Another way of putting it is their moral driver. Where is their community? Their favourite songs, hangouts or movie offer a clue.
  1. Affirm what you can in all of this, and begin your dialogue on this positive common platform: it might be the value of respect for others, concern for the biosphere, protection of the poor, homeless or exploited, social justice, love of children, concern about global warming. You will also find much that you disagree with, but your common cause is what they consider the good. Spend a good amount of time talking about this and understanding it. The common ground creates the arc for significant dialogue and mutual growth.
  1. Dialogue on sources of the good: Respectfully reveal to them some of your common and also divergent commitments. If you are a Christian, share something of how God’s grace and goodness has transformed you and share the joy you experience when mediating this goodness to others. Share some of the stories you have heard, or been a part of, where the good is motivated by God. Discuss the idea of a gift and how it does not fit normal economic exchange.
  1. In love, challenge the person that maybe they have left out (or buried) some of the most important goods in life, things that could animate their existence, give them hope and deep meaning. The gaps in a person’s moral worldview are telling. Taylor insists that we must see the empowerment of self and identity in recovering the language of the good.

We all attempt to construct and make sense of the world. But ultimately, it is God’s infinite goodness that is the measure of all human attempts, human constructions of the good. This is a major gift to our humanity, our human flourishing, our civilization. His glorious goodness (Psalm 107) is our final or ultimate aspiration or marker; it is a powerful form of inspiration. This should keep us humble in our approach; human standards are always somewhat insecure, transient, subject to will to power, tribalism, self-interest and conflicts of interpretation. D. Stephen Long in his brilliant book, The Goodness of God, writes:

The task of Christian ethics is to explain the church’s relationship to other social formations as they develop, die, and mutate into different forms. It will do this by recognizing God’s goodness as that against which all things are measured (including the church). This task will remain as long as those other formations exist. It is a task where our primary vocation is to bear witness to God’s goodness. Such a goodness is not natural to us, although God seeks to share it with us. It is a gift, the gift of Jesus Christ. He is God’s goodness, for God’s goodness is God’s own self.

See also the recent academic book by from Professor R. Scott Smith from Biola University: In Search of Moral Knowledge: overcoming the fact-value dichotomy. (IVP Academic, 2014); and the profound statement by Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a world divided. (Brazos, 2014); and the dialogue on The Qualities of the Will within this blog.

~Gord Carkner

 p.s. Dr. Christian Smith, noted sociologist from Notre Dame University, sees that American university students fit generally into a more or less relativistic frame of ethics. They ought to be open to the above discussion of the good amidst a culture of hyperpluralism.

The individual relativist (sometimes called a soft relativist) often makes up morality as life unfolds, sometimes choosing from different religious and philosophical traditions; it is taken to be a matter for self-construction. There is nothing transcendent, objective or systematic about values; moral convictions belong strictly to an individual’s free and personal choice. Tolerance then becomes a necessary sanction of an individual’s views or opinions, so we can loosely get along within a pluralistic values society. It promotes the outlook that there are no absolutes, no right or wrong, no transcendent source of the good, only individual or social constructions, personal values within a marketplace of possible options. Christian Smith (Souls in Transition) articulates the mood this way in his award-winning study on 18-23 year olds. He notes the following characteristics in this generation:

  • soft ontological antirealists
  • epistemological skeptics (question everything)
  • perspectivalists (various ways to see this; mine is only one among many alternatives)
  • in subjective isolation (following my own unique path)
  • constructivists: building my self and my morality from the ground up (often rejecting the tradition of my parents)
  • moral intuitionists (how I feel about a situation or decision is the most important factor)


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