Posted by: gcarkner | March 29, 2021

Some Good Friday and Easter Thoughts

Faith in God includes one’s ongoing resolve to receive God’s moral character in Christ inwardly, and to belong to God, in the reverent attitude of Gethsemane; Christ in you is the inward agent-power of Christ working, directing at the level of psychological and motivational attitudes, towards a cooperative person’s renewal in God’s image as God’s beloved child; furthermore Gethsemane union with Christ as Lord calls for volitional cooperation and companionship with Christ, who empowers and guides how we think, not just what we think.

~Dr. Paul Moser, Philosopher Loyola University, Chicago

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 and reflect on the meaningful quotes by other authors and leaders.

~Gordon Carkner

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. as an instrument of 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, former BBC Filmmaker and Professor of Faith and the Arts, Regent College Good Friday Poem by Malcolm Guite

Can Beauty Save Us? by Jimmy Myers, with permission.

This is the image of a Jewish man from Nazareth, crucified. In fact, his is the face of “the King of the Jews” and yet, it is supremely grotesque, bearing all the marks of suffering. His face reveals real forsakenness; his body aches of real bodily torture and real agony. His corpse lies mangled and bloodied, and his eyes…proclaim the dreadful word that causes all who hoped in him to shudder: death. There is nothing at all glamorous, desirable, or romantic about this image of the crucified One. But, of course, what is so profound about the face of this human is that his is also the face of God. His face radiates the Beauty of divinity, for he is Light from Light uncreated, the perfect image of the Father. He is, as Hebrews 1:3 says, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” The beauty of this person, wholly man and wholly God, lies in the mystery that he brings salvation to the world not by excluding suffering but by uniting himself to it. He refuses to recoil from a world that has become repellent; he does not laugh at the dereliction of others; he does not look at all that is bad and conclude, “all is well.” He does not stand far off. In his beauty, he comes near and embraces the “ugly” ones. He associates with strange and lonely and exiled folk, bringing the outcast in. He is the servant who suffers, and, protesting against “the way things are,” he laments “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He exemplifies and creates a people committed to what David Hart calls “strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness” to those whom Nietzsche would have annihilated…. He brings the whole festival of divine grace to a world that has excluded itself from it and invites…humanity to take part, to enjoy a feast of resurrection where all divisions, segregation, and exclusion are transcended, where all have their place at the supper of the Lamb, where all, who see the face of the Beautiful One and in that seeing are transformed, are inundated and radiated by Beauty itself. In a word, to paraphrase St. Athanasius, he becomes the Ugly One so that we, the original ugly ones who have made this world ugly with our violence, might become beautiful. This reveals the scandalous message of the Christian aesthetic regime, an alternative regime to that of our time: Beauty saves the world, but only by facing the Ugly head on and actually uniting himself to the regime of the Ugly. We cannot be saved by beauty as long as “beauty” is held captive by immanent attempts to achieve transcendence. The thought that we can be saved by immanent beauty is the presumption of a contemporary secularity that thinks that humanity can ever slowly, by carefully putting one foot above the other, ascend the ladder towards infinite beauty that awaits an enlightened race of humans. The truth that will always confront all of us at the top of that ladder, however, is the face of the God who, beyond history, came into history and became ugly, mangled, and ripped apart by deep dereliction and thorns, a face that unbearably whispers: you can only be saved by the beautiful one who has become the ugly one. In other words, the Ugly one alone can save us, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, whose divine Beauty is manifest in his descent to become—Jesus of Nazareth. (Jimmy Myers, Can Beauty Save Us? Why Do We Suffer?

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One of the Smartest Scholars on the Resurrection

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Posted by: gcarkner | March 29, 2021

René 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. This could be an older sibling, an exemplar or a mentor. 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) or things could end in rivalry over the object(s). This can and often does result in 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.

It is in this way that scapegoating regularly results from mimetic desire going sideways, as just described. Positive learning descends into destructive violence, the desire to destroy what you admire. 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 guilt, and for the danger or social pollution they still pose, in blocking access to the desired object(s). It threatens social chaos, and the scapegoat is sacrificed to restore peace and order. 

Read More…
Posted by: gcarkner | February 8, 2021

Ray Aldred on Truth & Reconciliation

Rev. Dr. Raymond C. Aldred

Director of the Indigenous Studies Program

Professor of Indigenous Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology

Can We Handle the Truth and Take Responsibility for Reconciliation?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 @ 4 PM


In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools, Canadians have often viewed Christianity as the enemy of Indigenous people. But there is another side to the story, claims Professor Ray Aldred. Almost two-thirds of Indigenous people in Canada actually call themselves Christian and appreciate what they have learned from Christian leadership over the years. Aldred notes that there is currently real hope for a better day, a way forward for our Indigenous people. This hope begins in community, in rethinking our identity, who we are and where we have come from. In this address, he will show the need to tell the truth and use human imagination to heal relationships with the land/creation, with family, clan and community, and with the Creator. At the heart of Indigenous peoples’ quest for healing is a shift in identity from shame to dignity of heritage. Mohawk writer Patricia Monture notes that key to this shift is a decision to take responsibility for all relationships, “Responsibility is at the heart of Indigenous freedom and self-determination.” We must strive to live in harmony with all things and all peoples, including the new visitors. We also wish to heal our treaty covenant relationships: through the threefold strategy of telling the truth, listening to one another, and seeking a common plan to repair the damage of abuse. Employing the principles of restorative justice, the difficult task of retelling our stories offers an important, creative way forward. These stories help us revisit the pain, face reality, and rediscover the good roots of our heritage. These vital steps constitute the effective direction of hope, as Ray has discovered through much experience.


Reverend Dr. Raymond C. Aldred holds a Master of Divinity from Canadian Theological Seminary,  and a Doctor of Theology  from Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology. Currently he is the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program, whose mission is to partner with the Indigenous Church around theological education. He is professor of Theology: Narrative, Systematic, Indigenous at the Vancouver School of Theology on the UBC campus. A status Cree, he is ordained with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada. Born in Northern Alberta, he now resides with his wife in Richmond. Formerly Ray served as the Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. He is former Director for the First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada, now a committee member, where he works to encourage Indigenous churches. Ray also has had the privilege of addressing several college conferences and meetings to raise awareness of these issues. He and his wife, Elaine, are involved in ministry to help train people to facilitate support groups for people who have suffered abuse.

Samples of Ray’s Perspective from YouTube The Big Idea: Relativism and the Struggle for a Stable Society with Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 12, 2021

Scientism and the Quest for Meaning

Many people today confuse science as a practice with scientism, a harmful ideology. This seminar offers a critique of scientism and shows how it restricts our thinking and does damage to the human quest for a fulsome, robust meaning. Dr. Gordon Carkner, someone who has studied both in the hard sciences/medical science and the humanities, shows the way forward out of the grip of scientism to a more whole understanding of knowledge. He points in the direction of a fresh paradigm and offers some excellent resources.

Coming Soon: The Transforming Power of Agape Love.

Posted by: gcarkner | January 4, 2021

Paul Allen on Critical Realism

Paul L. Allen

Dean & Professor of Theology, Corpus Christi College

Critical Realism: An Enduring Epistemology for Science and Theology

Wednesday, January 27 at 4:00 p.m.


Critical Realism emerged as a way of thinking about knowledge in the mid twentieth century. After disillusionment with positivism and straightforward empiricism, critical realism (CR) established itself as a way that many scientists and scholars think about how knowledge is won and progress achieved. This realization came with an associated insight that reality is made up of different strata of reality: molecular, biological, psychological and spiritual, rather than a picture of reductionism of various entities to simple parts. Borrowing from the historian of science Ernan McMullin, the Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan and several other thinkers, I want to affirm two things about CR: 1) it best describes how to affirm reality in judgments whilst conceding the variety of historical paradigms that have affected how we know things to be true. 2) CR can help us understand how to do theology, notably with respect to scriptural testimony and doctrinal claims that were written and formulated in different cultures and in accord with different assumptions than our own. 


Dr. Paul Allen specializes in systematic theology, the science-theology dialogue and theological anthropology. He taught at Concordia University prior to coming west. His publications include his doctoral dissertation, published as Ernan McMullin and Critical Realism in the Science-Theology Dialogue and (with Peter M.J. Hess), Catholicism and Science. More recently, he has written Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2012) as well as articles in journals such as Zygon: Journal of Religion and ScienceThe American Catholic Philosophical QuarterlyHeythrop Journal of Theology and Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosphie.

Posted by: gcarkner | December 16, 2020

Advent Reflections 2020

 Everything is New in 2020 in Light of the Incarnation

He Comes, God is Coming; Can You Feel It? Can You See It?

God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us, and thereby trust is forged between word spoken and the reality of which it speaks, between the words we speak and transcendent realities to which we point. The Word became flesh … a human life … a work of art … a prophetic Word, shaping a new humanism … a new community … a new social imaginary. Integrity is his name. God with us is the hope of a new creation, a new covenant, new purpose, abundant new life, a new age breaking in.

Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi (1609-1629) Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gordon Carkner reads his Advent Reflections

He comes: At just the right time, it was kairos time, richer, deeper, more meaningful than chronological time. He comes to dwell among us in incarnate human flesh: pulsating corpuscles, arms and legs running to greet us, face filled with compassion, hands breaking bread to feed the masses, words that give life and vision, that fire the imagination about justice, righteousness and human passion. Here lies the great invitation to counter nihilism, violence, lies, will to power, division.

The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before…. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon. (Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas)

It is high time to slow down and search the deeper things of life, reach higher than ever before for a transcendent I-Thou encounter with divine Otherness. It is time to ponder the big question of meaning, purpose and identity. The profound light from heaven dispels darkness, confronts evil, frees the oppressed. Indeed, there is more here than meets the eye, there is plenty of wonder to captivate. Where are our best philosophers, historians and scholars, poets and scientists? What say they about the dramatic Christ event? There are clues to a great turn in history: both fulfilment and promise. What kind of thunderous inbreaking is this? What’s the meaning of this virgin birth, this epiphany of grace, these angelic visitations, these strangers seeking wisdom? Advent is a sign of good things to come for Mary, for the Jewish people, for the whole world. It speaks of infinite hope and goodness amidst despair and disappointment.

We have touched him with our hands, rubbed shoulders, gone for long walks, felt his robust embrace, dined and broken bread together. We heard wisdom from his lips that set our minds and hearts on fire. We have been embraced by his care and inclusion. How did he know us at such depth? At the end of it all, we have captured a mission that drove us to reach the world. It was a compelling message: dikaiosune justice, caritas grace and agape love, one that drills down deep into human culture. Deep calls to deep. We saw him die and rise again, ascend through the heavens. He has inaugurated an economy of grace and goodness, humility and compassion, justice for the poor. He conquered death itself.

The pregnant Mary sings her Magnificat, praising an awe-filled, enthusiastic Yes to God’s work in and through her womb: Things hidden for centuries become so crystal clear this holy night, so completely riveting, earth-shaking. Insight has set up a new epistemology, a new way of knowing and being that includes love at its core. We have entered a new world, one where agape love is the main game in town, the infinite game, the end game. Peace-making, reconciliation and blessing (shalom) shape our relationships, our posture towards others and the world. We feel refreshed and renewed.

It is a new playing field, a paradigm shift has taken place, a new human narrative has emerged with fresh interpretations of our raison d’être, our role in the bigger scheme of things. We need poets, we must invent new language, new metaphors to capture the wonder of what is happening. Infinite meets finite, like a comet burning through the atmosphere. Divine goodness ushers in hope of healing. A new future is born. Our people have waited and longed for this for centuries, believing he would come, if only in their wildest dreams. Their faith feeds on divine promise to covenant-keeping Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, the prophets. Once upon a time, we could only hope for such wondrous things. Now they are palpable, life-transforming, future-altering, here.

You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you … for the waiting time. (John Bell, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart)


A Communication Beyond Our Imagination

Sincere Christian believers claim Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Word (his divine logos) made flesh, embedded in human culture and time. God’s speech is embodied, full-blooded, not flat or lifeless, not reductionistic or atomistic, no mere words. It is a divine move, a communicative action, that changes the universe of our perceptions. It is poetic-prophetic-pedagogical, a profound speech act, full of living spiritual vitality and deep truth. The language of incarnation leverages the whole world and transforms individuals along with society. It is strategically, intensively integrated with the human story, not a figment of our imagination. There is much to grapple with as we see in scholar Jens Zimmermann’s thoughtful Incarnational Humanism.

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ.  (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism.)

Divine speech act starts with creation: God spoke and the heavens, the stars, the seas, the plants and trees, all living creatures, man and woman came into existence, in abundance. They continue to do so  through his grace: creatio continua. God’s Word, his will for humanity, was enacted in particular places and times. It makes space for new drama, new dynamics today, for tragic optimism, for hope, justice and compassion in our confusing world. God has carved out space and time for his presence. When humans are addressed by God, they are drawn up into divine dialogue. Come, follow me; Be with me; Learn from me. Something profound occurs when humans take up such a great opportunity to reason and commune with their Creator, to grapple with this profound reality, to take on Jesus’ yoke, his kingdom mandate and his mantle of Lordship. They are identified, loved and valued by their divine mentor and source of life, their moral compass, wisdom and identity.

But God is present in reality no matter what unreality our practice and our ponderings imply. He is forever trying to establish communication; forever aware of the wrong directions we are taking and wishing to warn us; forever offering solutions for the problems that baffle us; forever standing at the door of our loneliness, eager to bring us such comradeship as the most intelligent living mortal cannot supply; forever clinging to our indifference in hope that someday our needs, or at least our tragedies will waken us to respond to his advances. The Real Presence is just that, real and life-enhancing, ushering in a new age. Nor are the conditions for the manifestation of his splendours out of the reach of any of us! Here they are: otherness, openness, obedience, obsession. (The Captivating Presence by Albert Edward Day)

As perlocutionary act, the incarnation is a robust speech act that produces an effect, an existential impact in those addressed through God’s very utterance. God’s Word has indeed impacted all human culture spheres: Science, the Arts, Ethics and Religion, given birth to our great universities. Brilliant Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, sees the Word of God revealed in three powerful ways: through Creation, Scripture, and most profoundly the Incarnation. These are three different types of language, each powerful, complementary, integral to the divine voice. They open new spaces for human meaning and identity, spawning new fields of articulacy. Jesus is the Articulate Word that makes sense of us.

These words use both traditions of semantic logic, take advantage of the full human linguistic capacity like Charles Taylor says in The Language Animaldesignative and constitutive. Jesus, the transcendent one who takes on human flesh, brought the fullness of heaven to earth and in so doing, showed that the Unity and Trinity of God need not be destroyed when expressed in the multiplicity of the world. This includes statements, images, concepts, personhood and judgments. He is the ‘Superword’ (Überwort) above all words, the very speech of God (Balthasar). Everything hinges on whether God has spoken. The alternative is cosmic silence, the Absolute or Dasein (Being) remains silent beyond all words, as in Zen Buddhism.

To have found God, to have experienced him in the intimacy of our being, to have lived even for one hour in the fire of his Trinity and the bliss of his Unity clearly makes us say: Now I understand. You are enough for me. (Carlo Carretto, a desert monk, from The God Who Comes)

In the year of COVID-19, 2020, in late modernity, in our divided world, the incarnation is God’s megaphone to awaken the world spiritually (hear the angels trumpets). Those who discern the dawn should awaken the world. This magnificent event calls us to fullness of being as the Imago Dei, amidst all our confusion, challenges, conundrums, contradictions and existential struggles. Make room for the God who comes, give ear to the God who speaks, allow yourself to be embraced by the loving God who includes, and calls you into his most noble conversation this Advent Season. Enjoy his presence.

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-euducator, Graduate & Faculty Ministry, UBC

Isaac Wimberley, The Word

Advent is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent… If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time. (Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac)

St Olav Choir, The Word Was God

Posted by: gcarkner | November 26, 2020

Christmas Reading 2020

Reading is great for your mental and spiritual health. Read like your life depended upon it. Here are some of our suggestions for Christmas gifts or personal enrichment. Stay alert; the world is changing.

Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today. Daniel Philpott (Oxford University Press).

Light from the Distant Stars. Shawn Smucker

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Jaron Lanier

In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World.  Jake Meador

Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. Rebecca Loughlin.

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling and the Mystery of Making. Andrew Peterson.

The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selections from his Poems, Letters, Journals and Spiritual Writings.

The Price of Tomorrow. Jeff Booth

Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor & Shame in Paul’s Message & Mission. Jackson W.

His Testimonies, My Heritage: Women of Color on the Word of God (edited by Kristie Anyabwile).

The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. David Brooks (Random House).

Virginia Stem Owens, Wind River Winter (Regent College Publishing, 2001).

Daniel Taylor, In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom in Celtic Holy Islands (Bog Walk Press, 2005).

For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference. Miraslov Volf & Matthew Croasmun.

Recently posted on YouTube: The Existential identity Crisis of Millennials.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 16, 2020

John Owen : Protecting Democracy

Protecting Democracy from the Outside

Wednesday, November 18 @ 4:00 p.m.

John Owen

Taylor Professor of Politics

Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture

Senior Fellow, Miller Center of Public Affairs

University of Virginia

Audio Only File of John Owen


Three decades after its supposed permanent global triumph, democracy is in trouble nearly everywhere.  In the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, constitutional self-government is on the back foot, as polarization destroys societal trust and anti-liberal populist movements and leaders gain power.  Autocracy is becoming even more entrenched in the two giants, China and Russia. Some other countries proclaim the desire to be more like them.  Once seen as an inevitability, democracy now appears a fragile achievement. In world politics, there is an evolutionary dynamic which the international environment selects for some types of state.  Since World War II, the United States and other mature democracies have deliberately tried to preserve democracy at home by shaping the international environment through a liberal-internationalist foreign policy.  In the language of evolutionary theory, they have engaged in niche construction, altering their environment to “select for” constitutional self-government, and “select out” authoritarianism.  They enjoyed great success, but in recent decades, the niche has actually come to undermine democracy, favoring autocracy.  Liberalism itself has been transformed from its earlier classical forms to a cosmopolitan version that seeks to erase all barriers to economic and social interaction in the name of individual fulfillment.  Such cosmopolitan liberalism has provoked a cultural and economic backlash that acts to jeopardize constitutional democracy itself.  China and Russia meanwhile are constructing their own niches, reshaping the international order to select for autocracy.  Defending democracy from the outside will require a reformed liberal internationalism that will de-polarize electorates, restore solidarity among democracies, and be less inclusive of authoritarian regimes.  As the most powerful constitutional democracy, the United States retains the most important role in this reformation.


John M. Owen is Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Miller Center of Public Affairs, at the University of Virginia.  Owen is author of Confronting Political Islam (Princeton, 2015), The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton, 2010), and Liberal Peace, Liberal War (Cornell, 1997), and co-editor of Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order (Columbia, 2011).  He has published scholarly papers in the European Journal of International RelationsEuropean Journal of International SecurityGlobal PolicyInternational Organization, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, International PoliticsInternational Security, International Studies QuarterlyPerspectives on Politics, and several edited volumes.  His articles have appeared in Foreign AffairsThe Hedgehog ReviewThe HillThe Washington Post, National Interest, The New York Times,and USA Today.  He is a former Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies; he serves on its editorial board and that of International Security.  Owen has held fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, the Free University of Berlin, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Research Center.  He is a recipient of a Humboldt Research Prize (2015).  He holds an AB from Duke, an MPA from Princeton, and a PhD from Harvard.  In Fall 2020, he is a Visiting Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of British Columbia.

Karl Mannheim 1942: “With the coming of the Renaissance and Liberalism, Christianity failed to remain the basic ferment and integrating force in social life… The spiritualization and regulation of human affairs, public and private, has gradually been left to the competing institutions in society… This secularization produced a stimulating variety of human experience… But the fact that the competing value systems cancelled each other out led to the neutralization of values in general. This is one of the reasons why liberal society at its present stage is handicapped in resisting the spiritual and political challenge coming from the totalitarian states… A liberal and competitive economy and its society can function quite well with neutralized values as long as there is no threat from within or without which makes a basic consensus imperative… [in which case] liberal education for intelligent partisanship… must gradually be replaced by a new education for responsible criticism, wherein consciousness of the whole is at least as important as awareness of your own interests… Such a new morality can only be achieved if the deepest sources of human regeneration assist the rebirth of society”.

Tolstoy predicts the current epidemic of fake news: “The more men are freed from privation; the more telegraphs, telephones, books, papers, and journals there are; the more means there will be of diffusing inconsistent lies and hypocrisies, and the more disunited and consequently miserable will men become” (The Kingdom of God is Within You – 1893).

Also Recommended: Netflix Documentary called Social Dilemma

See also

You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own. ~ Michelle Obama

Posted by: gcarkner | October 5, 2020

Quality of the Will Series: Post 12.

Zen Versus Incarnation

Beyond Gnosticism to the Logos Made Flesh in Community

In this series, we have been exploring the recovery of ethics, moral agency and identity through a reflection with our grande pensée Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. It has been an amazing, enlightening journey indeed. The consequences of this discussion are earth-shaking. At the core, we have been positioned by a retrieval of the language of the good, the hypergood, the moral framework, preserving the good within community, the transcendent turn towards agape. We have become aware that Millennials and Gen Z need this message in a big way as they grapple with their existential identity crisis and their loss of hope.

Charles Taylor’s Concept of Moral Realism by Gordon E. Carkner

Continuing from our discussion about how the good is carried forward in community as an embodied lifestyle entity, we now elaborate further the concept of the incarnation of the good. In which way do we traverse late modernity? Is it the via positiva (incarnation frame) or the via negativa (Gnostic or Zen frame)? This is a crossroads for us in the West, it is very consequential. Do we try to escape the world and our responsibilities or do we find that deeper calling towards a thick self by taking responsibility for the world and for our behaviour?

The Big Comparison

We compare, through the scintillating quotes and reflections below, two radically different stances on truth and reality, spirituality and identity, personal hope and destiny, moral empowerment and deep freedom.

–Everything depends on whether God has spoken to humankind (John 1: 1-18) or whether the Absolute or Being or the One (Plotinus) remains silent beyond all words.

The Gnostic Frame of Mind

–Natural (Gnostic) man tries to escape from this world of limitation, finitude, death. Individualistic schemes of salvation lead him to dissolve his individual humanity or to dissolve his ties with the rest of humanity in attempts at union with the Absolute. In the end, all systems of natural religion or religious philosophy are based on attempts at identity. Without the revelation that comes from a personal God, a personal Absolute, reason tends to take over and reason projects itself as a monologue, the union is ultimately with oneself…. The way of human religion and religious philosophy is the way of ascent—towards God to be sure, but most significantly away from the world of multiplicity, individuality, relativity…. One is in danger of losing both the world and God. There remains absolute emptiness, Nirvana…. The ascent is always the way of silence [negation]. (Raymond Gawronski, Word and Silence, 69-70)

–Zen is apex of East Asian development of negative theology: Selflessness as Emptiness, The “Unword” –Anima technica vacua creates hunger for Zen in the West, a soul technologized to the point of emptiness which seeks fulfilment in the occult, in Zen. –Zen was the tradition of the élite in China and then Japan, now in the post-Christian West. –Zen is the view of absolute nothingness, Non-Being, Nirvana = Samsara—a religious nihilism (double negative of being and non-being)–. Zen represents the most intense, the extreme human attempt to escape the limits of the human condition.– It implies the annihilation of God, man, and the world—the emptiness of Sunyata. Speech and meaning disappear. Finality and form are to be overcome.

–We are talking about “absolute nothingness.” Illusion is Being, therefore Nirvana has the name of “Non-Being” = the Truth– Being is actually itself Non-Being: the way of Zen is one of realizing the identity of Being and Non-Being and living accordingly in contemplation and everyday life. Thus the Zen philosophy of selflessness (practiced loss of self).– It is a radical religious nihilism—the belief that all things come from nothingness and are nothing. The Absolute is ineffable, inexpressible. We are dealing with the mystery of emptiness, a total paradox.– Therefore, Zen is the unword, silence, self-annihilation, the void. It is dis-incarnation.

The allure of Gnosticism is that religion appears to be under my control, with a technology to rise higher similar to the myth of Icarus. But there are problems with this assumption.

The Incarnation Frame of Mind

–This insight is rooted in the brilliant, rich writing of Hans Urs von Balthasar and other top theologians. Kevin Mongrain is a great interpreter of his thought. He suggests that incarnation of the Word in Balthasar is a key biblical theme in both old and new covenants writing: “When God reveals his Word, he confronts the finite human mind with a reality it cannot conceptually or speculatively master.” The prophetic tradition in Israel (for example, Deutero-Isaiah) can be read christologically as the site of an ever-increasing incarnation of God and God’s will in human hearts, opening people to a perpetual training, shaping and formation in order to become worthy bearers of the Word incarnate. The ancient prophetic vocation was to mirror God’s goodness and truthfulness to the community of Israel, to adjure them to offer mercy and justice to the poor, weak, the widow and the orphan, the outcast and the stranger. People were called to glorify God for his grace, mercy and holiness through ethical lives of covenant obedience. This was on a trajectory of deep freedom and purpose, a means of flourishing in the world as a community in love with God. The people often left this mandate for selfish, greedy pursuits and suffered for it, even experiencing exile under foreign superpowers. Disobedience, moral corruption led them into devastation.

Mongrain notes that the prophetic tradition reaches its zenith in Jesus Christ, uniting old and new covenants in the incarnational dynamic of the Word. Jesus reveals the inner life of the Trinity of love, a beautiful, high love (agape) which is open to human participation, opened to all races and nations, to the entire social strata. Going even further than what the prophets offered as the caretakers and defenders of the divine Logos, Jesus claimed for himself the divine authority to make a decision about the eschatological destiny of every person. That was new, dramatic. It included an unprecedented power in Christ’s redemptive grace and compassionate concern for the poor and marginalized (The Sermon on the Mount). Kevin writes “The glory of God shines through the poor, powerless, obedient Word of God in the crucified and resurrected rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. He was not just a temporary vessel of the Word, unlike the prophets. He was the man in whose human existence God proceeded to his final act of self-utterance, his final speech-act.” Another top theologian D. Stephen Long (2009, 177) writes: “Jesus Christ is the ‘way’ or ‘logic’ of our speaking of God, for he is the Procession who takes on creatureliness without confusing it with divinity in the concretion of his one Person.” Jesus embodies the Logos, constitutes the fullest and most complete incarnation of the Word. He dwelt among humans, offering a full identification with the existential human dilemma. The new covenant thereby calculates as the recapitulation and fulfilment of the old covenant.

The Incarnation is God’s Great Masterpiece in Creation

The Christian insistence on history is an insistence on the reality of the world, and so the action of God is a saving action, rather than one of dissolution. Religion for Israel, is in its relation with God. It is not a means by which the world is negated, nor is it the lens through which the light of a (Platonic) God is filtered. Rather, it is a relation with God in a covenant, a God who created the world and who wants the world to be lived in—according to his intention. It is not the world that must be overcome or negated, but rather it is a sinful alienation from the will of the Creator that is to be overcome by the saving action of God [in Jesus]. (Raymond Gawronski, Word and Silence, 62) 

–Since the resurrection, the choice for man is ultimately one between myth and revelation.– The one who became flesh brought the fullness of heaven to earth and by so doing showed that the Unity of God need not be destroyed when expressed in the multiplicity of the world, including statements and concepts and images and judgments. The good news for Balthasar is the Evangelium of a God who speaks, a Trinitarian God of three persons, who wants to share his Being, who wants to engage in dialogue with others, with free beings, and who will communicate His speech in a Word which becomes flesh and in a Spirit which gathers together all the scattered syllables of creation to return them to the divine speech. (Raymond Granowski, Word & Silence, 134)–

Creation is the First Speech of God—Ignatius of Antioch

Scripture is His Word Written–Martin Luther

Jesus is the Final/Ultimate Speech of God–Hans Urs von Balthasar

–The triune God is a living—and lively—relation of persons. My I is a Thou for God; I can only be an I because God wants to become my Thou. This is at the heart of Balthasar’s theology. Human and divine reality is dialogical. It is God’s calling of the individual that gives each one his unique worth.  One only becomes an I as awakened by the love of a Thou. The I-Thou of the Trinity finds its epiphany in the I-Thou between God and man. –– In the relation of God and man, it is the unlimited “I” of God that calls the limited “I’ of man into existence, and this is His Word: to be human means to be addressed by God in the word and to be so created in the image of God, that one can receive the word and answer the word. (Raymond Gawronski, Word & Silence, 142) This is where deep identity is located.

The Call of the Divine Word Made Flesh

–Jesus Christ addresses each human being individually: each must decide if he will bear the Name of Christ and accept the unique mission that God has for each one, within the mission of His Son. It is only by identifying with this mission that we become persons in the deepest, theological sense. (Gawronski, Word & Silence, 144)––. Person for Balthasar means uniqueness.  An eternal dignity is bestowed upon individual being, not to be dissolved. To dissolve the individual would be to remove the possibility of love. Therefore divine-human distance from the other is important. We are first sought by God, and then become seekers of God. In Christ, we have both immanence and transcendence, physical and spiritual, earth and heaven, human and divine together. Anthony Thiselton says that the mystery of the Incarnation is too profound for human discovery by reason alone. It requires divine revelation. But, the right posture and intellectual virtues can help us fathom the implications.

–God’s self-communication to man then develops  in a level of conscious address and response…. God’s speech in and through the prophets was a mission given to selected individuals which yet was different than the core of their beings: they performed a role, or bore tidings, but in no case was the role, or the news identical with their person. The words which they spoke bore witness to the Word in whose Spirit they spoke, and yet… they were not the Word.” (Gawronski, Word & Silence, 157-8)––.

Jesus is the Superword (Überwort), the Word above all words, the very speech of God, the full expression of God. Word means something like the full expression of abundance, the word abundantly expressing the abundance from which it is uttered, from the beginning of creation. The word is also deed; it is grace-imparting deed-word. All the fragments of reality, all the words, are drawn to him as metal shavings are to a magnet. He is the primordial Word before all words—the Urwort—who as sharing in the divine essence is also an Überwort, the alpha and omega…. In the flesh he speaks words, fragments themselves which are cast out like a net to gather the original fragments, turned away from their telos by misused human freedom, leading them not to destruction, but to fullness. (Gawronski, Word & Silence, 188).

I have argued that there is a different foundation for reality and thus a different kind of binding commitment symbolized most powerfully in the incarnation. The incarnation represents an alternative way by which word and world come together. It is in the incarnation and the particular way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ that we find the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution and difference. If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with  whom  we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. This is the heart of the theology of faithful presence. (James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. OUP, 2010)

Incarnation makes a whole world of difference in how we see ourselves and others.

Author of this article/free download: Dr. Gordon E. Carkner

[M]y discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation, but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internal, with others. We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live. (C. Taylor, The Language Animal)

The New Testament can also act as such a parental discourse. It makes the amazing claim that Jesus is, in the flesh, the wisdom of God and the power of God (I Corinthians 1: 24), the nexus and integral relationship of faith and reason. As divine logos (John 1: 1-4), he is the transcendent word made flesh, the underwriter of all human thought and language. Truth is ultimately found embodied in a person, a presence, it is not a mere idea. Jesus is reason personified, the raison d’être of it all. He helps us make sense of life’s essence. We are still haunted by transcendence in our secular age. The narrative is clear and profound. He is and has the answer to our deepest questions:

Why are we here?

What is our calling or purpose? 

Quo Vadis: Where are we going?

Who are we working for?

What or whom do we love? 

God’s speech is embodied, full-blooded, not flat, lifeless or atomistic. The incarnation is a most powerful communicative action (Kevin Vanhoozer, 2009), so much more than mere letters, words or sentences. It contributes unusual levels of energy to human creativity and culture and affirms the physicality of our world and our bodies. It is loaded with spiritual vitality and meaning.

N.T. Wright on Incarnation

It rings with the poignancy of the poetic, prophetic, and pedagogical. Bonhoeffer scholar Jens Zimmermann’s stunning summary insight on this point represents a fresh re-articulation of incarnational reality—the opposite of ghostly Gnosticism. It shows that there is something deeply meaningful about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who is both Son of man and Son of God. God has acted vulnerably in and through the form of a human individual, by uniting the divine freedom of self-giving agape love with the agency of a free human being, acting in a community, within a historical-cultural context, within a tradition. In the Christ event, one is confronted with the intensely personal, which consequently has impact through forms of interpersonal communication and personal presence. Individuals are identified a loved, valued, nurtured, embraced and included. The incarnation has phenomenal explanatory range for late moderns.

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ, this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012, 264-5)

This incarnational posture moves us from Gnostic self-assertion to humble servant leadership, mutuality, community and hospitality, into the virtuous society. It takes us away from pure self-interest and prideful, god-like superiority, and leads us toward a welcomed responsibility for others. Our mandate is to let God be God. We escape our isolation, aloofness and indifference, and re-enter courageously into embedded vulnerability and mutual trust. Goodness is embodied in Jesus Christ and his teaching. One sees God communicating and relating, not as a tyrannical, coercive, absolute sovereign, but as a vulnerable human individual, a humble suffering servant, as someone who was one of us and knows our pain.

[By] incarnation in the body of the crucified one implies that God’s freedom does not, after all, entail a transcendent aloofness from the world, but a form of involvement with it in which the divine being and freedom are staked. God subjects Godself to the risks, vulnerabilities and ambiguities of historical existence, including the risk of rejection, suffering and death, as well as of misinterpretation. God’s freedom and sovereignty must be of a radical kind: the freedom to give oneself in relation; to be with and in creation in ways that are costly to God, but which do not abrogate God’s sovereignty, freedom and transcendence. (A. McFadyen, 1995, 42)

It leads us out of our sensuality and sloth into an adventure that is grounded and hopeful. We have been rumbling with reality and we are not afraid, because we have discovered just how important the incarnation is for everyday life and discipleship, for basic human flourishing. The worthwhile pursuit and practice of virtues builds a solid ground for freedom with depth, freedom in the long run, freedom informed by love, freedom connected to the good–moral freedom committed to the common good. Jens Zimmermann notes that a proper focus on the incarnation heads off a host of early and late modern philosophical dead ends, all while stimulating a vision for the recovery of a robust humanism. Oxford literary scholar C.S. Lewis at one point in his journey came to the end of modernity’s game. He mourned that it did not give him the meaning for which he longed: rationalism and materialism left him feeling dead inside.

Gordon Carkner Reading from his book The Great Escape from Nihilism on the theme of the Incarnation: The Imago Dei

This series has helped us step back from the abyss of nihilistic despair and cynicism, the end game of Gnosticism. In the end, we are not hard-wired to be gods or to retreat to nothingness. We can discover in the incarnation a new transcendent-immanent horizon of vast meaning. God has invested deeply in this physical-spiritual world, this soulish-body which is his temple. We are thereby deeply connected to this world and yet also deeply connected to the kingdom of heaven. Many people today sense God calling them to be something more than they presently are, calling them upwards out of their self-interest, consumerism and sullenness. These intimations may lead to a life-changing quest–community builders, peacemakers, truth-defenders.

In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness. (D.S. Long, 2001, 106-7)

An incarnation posture helps us recover an empirically honest human anthropology, which is also more hopeful in its potential for individual and social change. This positioning of the individual self within community makes possible the ability to love self, the world, the other and God, and to recognize hopeful signs of progress, while recognizing corruption and the pain it causes. It is a creative and joyful way of being present to others that creates space for more being, more potential in life, more joie de vivre. Individual identity is strengthened and thickened, becomes more resilient, through generosity, gratitude and mutuality. Incarnation is this and much more.


–Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation.

Gordon Carkner, The Great Escape from Nihilism, Chapter 10. “Transcending Nihilism: Incarnational Humanism Offers a Recovery of Our Passion.”

Warren Brown & Brad Strawn, The Physical Nature of the Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology and the Church.–

Jim Belcher (2009). Deep Church: a Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional. IVP

Kevin Mongrain (2002). The Systematic Thought of Hans urs von Balthasar: an Irenaean Retrieval.– New York: Herder & Herder.

Raymond Gawronski, Word and Silence: Hans ursvon Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West

Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience.

James Davison Hunter (2010). To Change the World: the Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Oxford University Press.

Jens Zimmermann (2012). Incarnational Humanism: a Philosophy of Culture for the Church in the World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic

We recommend the Netflix movie Social Dilemma on a deep structure problem in today’s society worldwide, on the loss of freedom.

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Jesus as the Wisdom & Truth of God
Posted by: gcarkner | September 17, 2020

Sy Garte @ UBC

GFCF  Special UBC Presentation

Thursday, October 1, @ 4:00 p.m., 2020 on Zoom

Sy Garte, Biochemist, Former Professor and Division Director National Institute of Health, Washington, DC

A Sense of Wonder: the Long Journey of a Scientist to Faith


Raised as an enthusiastic atheist and trained as a top biochemist, Dr. Garte began to question materialistic naturalism at one point in his career. This was sparked by his study of quantum physics and molecular biology: for example, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the observer effect, and quantum entanglement, the complexity of biochemical systems such as protein synthesis, photosynthesis and abiogenesis. These scientific findings made him question the pure materialism outlook: he began to wonder about the God question, and it was science itself that guided him forward. 


Sy (Seymour) Garte, PhD in biochemistry, has been a tenured professor at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh, Division Director at the Center for Scientific Review of the National Institutes of Health, and interim vice president for research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He has published over two hundred peer-reviewed scientific papers and four books. He has also published articles in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith and is the editor-in-chief of God and Nature. His faith journey is published in The Works of His Hands (2019, Kregel).

Co-sponsored with Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation

Other Big Guns in Science & Faith, Science & Theology,

Science & Religion (hear some of their talks at

John Polkinghorne

Francis Collins

Denis Alexander

Alvin Plantinga

Tom McLeish

David Bentley Hart

Alister McGrath

William Newsome

Deborah Haarsma

Simon Conway Morris

Owen Gingerich

John Lennox

Katharine Hayhoe

See other UBC GFCF speakers on science & faith, science and theology, theology of science at

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