Posted by: gcarkner | August 24, 2020

Quality of the Will Series: Post 11.

Key Sources of the Good: the Goodness of a Triune God

Can we carry the good as a society, a community, a communion with diversity? If we are to move towards a communal understanding of the good, we need strong sources outside ourselves, even outside culture, to make this work for us. We need inspiration, vision and empowerment to boost a positive identity with stronger meaning. We need the motivation to cross Kant’s great divide between knowing what is right and good (the moral law/communal trust) and doing/practicing it well. We need moral courage, not passivity or retreat. This Kantian gap is part of our existential struggle, the reason for current angst, shame, discouragement and cynicism. The lack of inspiration towards, imagination for the good, belief in the possibility of the good, is part of social deterioration and decline identified by French philosopher Chantal Delsol (Icarus Fallen).

But with George Steiner (Real Presences), we want to wager on transcendence of the good. Charles Taylor calls this motivation to pursue higher ideals the constitutive good (The Language Animal). He is not afraid to promote the good, even amidst the confusion of such ideologies as scientism within what he calls the “immanent frame.” The good, as he sees it, is a key aspect of what makes us human beings and what gives us meaning in life, energy for life and flow or momentum. Agape has pointed the way forward as we have seen in Post 10 of this series. But beyond a mere ideal or badge, the good is meant to be carried practically and lived out in community, incarnated. This is a direction of life-giving hope; it moves our lives to a new level. In this pursuit, we sense the need for a larger and more powerful moral horizon. This horizon takes us beyond even the hypergood, one that makes sense of the drive of the hypergood. We are looking for a way out of violence, exploitation, mere sensuality, despair and nihilism, towards a creative, constructive restoration of human moral agency, mutual trust and cultural transformation. In today’s world of hyper-debt and irresponsible leadership, we are a house needing renovation, an upgrade in our values. Many today are burnt out on atheism or agnosticism and starved for transcendence. The individual cannot do this alone, even the heroic superhero.

Along this line of inquiry, we explore a frame of personal trinitarian, transcendent goodness as a foundation for moral self-constitution and profound freedom. That’s a mouthful. Let me explain. This direction was suggested by Charles Taylor in his “Turn to Agapic Transcendence” late in Sources of the Self. In this pursuit of the deeper life, we mine the potential benefits of a Judeo-Christian epiphany or revelation regarding the moral self. The moral world, moral experience and action looks quite different from this perspective, this stance toward self, the other and the world.  Taylor strongly suggests that there is an alternative to the Dionysian “moral/spiritual lobotomy” adopted by Foucault and many other late modern thinkers.

We argue that transcendent trinitarian goodness operates as the condition for the very notion and possibility of human goodness, thereby expanding our moral horizon in significant ways. This is towards the expansion of the self. We discover in the process goodness-freedom. It is God in relation to human creatures, although it is rooted in the intense intimacy and perichoresis within the relationships of the Trinity. Self–constitution is rethought, under these conditions, according to the constitutive goodness of God. God is goodness as integrated trinitarian, communitarian being. The narrative and grammar of divine goodness rethinks morality as a relational kind of realism. There is so much more than the text of self, the individualistic interpretation of self.

For the purpose of our argument, it seems appropriate to provide a preliminary definition or short elaboration of transcendent trinitarian goodness before discussing its implications for the moral self, for meaning and identity, safety and security of the planet, hope and vision for the future of society. This provides the broader, richer, deeper moral horizon for self-constitution that seems urgent today for Millennials and others. We are definitely not on our own to survive in the world. That is the route of death. and death-dealing. We are talking about the power of presence as a radical added dimension to human life.

First, it will be helpful for clarity to begin by explaining this horizon in its negative aspect. Goodness is not an absolute principle like the rationally structured Good of Plato’s divine idea, or Oxford ethicist Iris Murdoch’s concept of the cosmic Good, an impersonal good, devoid of God—that is, a transcendent absolute value, or abstract norm to which we can aspire or admire. Goodness enters the world in agents: both divine and human. One must also go beyond, or at least elaborate Taylor’s less-developed definition of the transcendent good. For this purpose, brilliant theologians D. Stephen Long Christof Schwoebel and Alastair McFadyen provide helpful characterization of the divine good or goodness:

No being is co-eternal with God…. Only God is. Good, then, cannot be a function of a category called being more encompassing than God. Ethics cannot be the province of a philosophical discourse that brackets out theological consideration, unless philosophers assume a being greater than God giving access to goodness….We realize that any discourse about the good must also entail discourse about God. (D. S. Long, 2009, 300)

Importantly, the good is not an independent criterion by which one judges God. Instead, God is goodness at its highest, most intense and purest, the highest possible standard of the good. Many people today question whether God is good. The biblical books of Ecclesiastes and Job struggled intensely with this issue. Long replies frankly: “God is good in the most excellent way” (D. S. Long, 2009, 21). He is the ultimate gold standard of all goodness, and the ultimate position of critique for human claims to be good or to inherent goodness. There exists no more transcendent, transparent, no higher, no more secure standard of pure goodness. God’s goodness is infinite. This insight is deeply significant.

Therefore, the qualitative perfection of goodness is not the type that humans can control, manipulate or manufacture through personal effort. It is beyond us, transcendent, incommensurable, the goodness of the most excellent sort, an aspect of God’s infinite otherness from creation, his alterity. It is not inferred, contrived or derived from nature or the structure of the natural or social world, nor a mere human faculty. Rather, it is endemic to the very essence and character of God and thereby only the secure possession of God. The quality of goodness, at the end of the day, is only secure in God. God’s very being is his essence, an essential, superior goodness. Essence equals existence in the this case: God exists and God is good.

Humanly speaking, there is no such thing as a secure moral faculty apart from God. Goodness is firstly theological, rooted in the divine, and only secondarily or derivatively anthropological, a human possibility or potential. There is a massive qualitative distinction between human finite, and divine infinite goodness. It is human by gift and analogy only, a pale but important translation of divine goodness within the human theatre. We have a wonderful, exciting situation here: Goodness is discovered in God, not invented by humans. This is true no matter how much humans play the game of goodness in various ways, and sometime even manipulate/highjack the good for their own selfish or entitled purposes. We see this in narcissism. Leaders often want to look good to others to maintain their status in society, or to be liked, to keep their job, so they pay to have a company or individual put spin on their image and to cover up their hidden, sometimes corrupt behaviour. They want you to think/imagine they are the highest form of goodness and the future hope for society. No wonder we are so often disappointed. This is manufactured/fabricated goodness.

Participation in God is necessary for the good and for freedom. Evil arises when freedom is lost through turning towards one’s own autonomous resources for ethics. The fall does not result from people seeking to be more than they are capable of through pride but from their becoming less than they could be because they separate the knowledge of the good from its true end, God, and find themselves self-sufficient … Seeking the good through non-participation in God, through the “virtue of what was in themselves” makes disobedience possible. (D.S. Long, 2001,128)

This transcendent understanding of goodness is not conceived as an absolute value, an abstract norm, or an unreachable ideal, but as a personal goodness of the tri-personal God. It is a goodness that is ascribed to God on the basis of his actions, his engagement with the world through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We see its manifestation within creation and history. It is thoroughly endemic to the being of God, the intentions of God and the actions of God. God is good. God does the good. God celebrates the good in humans with integrity. Ecclesiastes and Job both conclude on this note after all the existential wresting with pain and suffering and human experience of failure, futility and angst. This entails a universal, relational goodness that is based in the universal creative agency of God and his will to show mercy to his creation, his grace. It is intentional and abundant. Long crisply calls it a character trait predicate of the triune God as three active Persons within a communion, actively engaged with the world in a multitude of self-giving, creative activities. His goodness has a strong interest in all aspects of human culture (including science), human identity, human meaning and purpose. In this sense, God is bullish on humans as we find in the Hebrew Psalms.

God’s inmost being is constituted by the radical mutuality of the three divine Persons, in which they both give and receive their individuality from one another. In their intersubjectivity, there is the creative intention and recognition of subjectivity, and therefore transcendence in form of the integrity of personal identity, in the giving of space to one another. This giving of space is an interpersonal event, and must not be thought of as analogous to the evacuation of physical space. It is not a form of absence, but a way of being present with others in creative recognition of their autonomy within the relationship. It is a letting-be, rather than a letting-go: a structuring of the relationship so that it includes space and time for personal discreteness and autonomous response. Thus the trinitarian life involves a circulation of the divine potentialities of being through the processes of self-giving, in the unity of which the three Persons receive their distinct personal identities. (A. McFadyen, 1995, 46-7)

This is a beautiful statement by theologian Alasdair McFadyen. Thus, this type of goodness is a relational attribute.  It is rooted in the very relational, inter-personal, mutually supportive, perichoretic relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. It exists as immanent love and good will between members of the divine Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is goodness in communion, carried in divine community. Intense good will towards one another is of the fundamental spirit of intra-relations between the persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It exists as a super-abundant goodness and supportive mutuality rooted in love. Thus, it is not a static first principle, but an active dynamic relationship that is the precedent for, the forerunner of, human finite creaturely goodness. We are fortunate to capture even a glimpse of it in our lives. It is an infinite source of goodness, and inspiration/motivation to cross the Kantian divide from thinking to doing. Goodness is relational in that it starts with immanent agape love between divine Persons. Good will towards one another is part of the fundamental spirit of trinitarian life, and a major inspiration for building human culture and cleaning up the neighbourhood. If we can believe this, trust this claim, it changes everything. We don’t have to give up on humanity or civilization, because there is a powerful transcendent source of the good available to us corporately.

God’s love is one active contemporary source of the good, the love of which has empowered people to do the good and exemplify the good in their character, social life and politics. Taylor suggests that to avoid nihilism, we need a transcendent turn to avoid the extremes of self-hatred, guilt and shame; or alternatively the extremity of hating morality itself—spiritual lobotomy. The transcendent turn to agape becomes vital: “The only way to escape fully the draw toward violence”, Taylor writes, “lies somewhere in the turn to transcendence—that is, through the full-hearted love of some good beyond life” (C. Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?, 1999, 28).

The Incarnation of the divine Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, is a key revelation of this relationship (John 14-17). Jesus entered human space and time to provide a personal revelation of such goodness. In fact, God is the source of, and condition for, human or created goodness. God is the only guarantee of goodness, while humans discover it by grace, as a gift through a relationship with God. This is truly amazing. The goodness connection between heaven and earth is a transcendent relationship that God has with creation, transcendence in immanence: Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” There is an important categorical and qualitative difference between the goodness of the infinite tri-personal God and the goodness of finite persons, but this does not make it unreachable or incommensurable. We can actually access this goodness in real time and embody it in human community. We can carry it forward, pay it forward. This creates a positive wake.

The goodness of God the creator would therefore have to be interpreted as the condition for the possibility of all created goodness. The self-disclosure of God in revelation would have to be seen as the condition of the possibility of finite knowledge of goodness, and the inspiration of the Spirit as the motivation for the realization of goodness by finite agents. (C. Schwoebel, 1995, 72)

Incarnationed/Embodied Goodness: This perspective helps us avoid much of the debilitating cynicism about the moral good and goodness in general. Of course, there is brokenness and moral failure in our world. But again, one does not judge goodness by human standards or presentations of the good, but by God as the gold standard. Otherwise, goodness could become merely tribal and self-righteous, a source of hatred for others. God remains the standard of goodness within creation. Moral currency is not secure without him. The goodness of God is also the ultimate critique of human claims to goodness, human positing of the good or written moral standards for society, such as codes or laws of the land. God establishes a standard of goodness in his relationship with creation, in the very act of creation, and in his covenant with creation (Steven Bouma-Prediger, 2001). This covenant offers a deep, built-in calling to humans.

Without God’s high standard of goodness, morality is vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation and thereby can become the source of much human inter-relational conflict and even violence (Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind). This allows for better, more fruitful human dialogue about the good or goodness, and it allows for renewal and reform within societal institutions and government. Human standards of goodness are always insecure, transient, historically relative, subject to will to power, and self-interest, the so-called “conflict of interpretations”. Why else do the rich and powerful always keep getting richer? Big bank CEOs think they deserve a million dollar bonus even in the midst of a financial crisis like 2008. Late moderns are right on this point. They have shown the emperor’s nakedness. Foucault agrees that, following Nietzsche, if God is not in the equation, morality is contingent, fragile and a mere mobile metaphor, like floating currencies in the global economy.

Without the gold standard, we are very vulnerable indeed. A key assumption to this new paradigm/frame is that God is the Creator of the world in toto. Creation is the “ecosystem”, relational and natural, where God sets up the playing field or drama of morality, a secure order of moral relationships and moral possibilities. This makes moral realism viable, palpable and exciting, not at all stifling. We always have something higher than ourselves to appeal to, a Supreme Court of the universe.

Therefore, one’s concept of, and relationship to  God is key to one’s understanding of the dynamic, powerful play of morality. As Stephen Long writes so well, if one sets up a moral system or knowledge of good and evil outside of a relationship with God, it automatically creates dysfunction through rebellion against creation and creational intent. It flies in the face of covenant and there are dire consequences. It always trends towards corruption and self-dealing, moral insider trading. This would constitute humans asserting themselves as the origin of their own moral faculty and moral life (D.S. Long, 2001, 122-28). God the Holy Spirit is the source of empowerment, inspiration and accountability of human morality and moral self-constitution through his empowering love.  To use Charles Taylor’s language, God the Spirit is the ultimate source of the good, the richest source of the self. We learn about the good, about the creativity and wow of goodness by our participation with God. It is a spiritual journey into the heart of goodness, into the light.

This insight has profound implications for the church whose calling is to be a conduit, an incarnation, of God’s goodness in the world, to practice such presence.

The church’s vision—a journey towards the vision of the Triune God, a journey that still holds forth the possibility of the beatific vision. Goodness cannot be adequately thought outside this journey. To think goodness within this journey and vision is to think it as a gift. Goodness as a gift is difficult to think…. Goodness is not predicated upon any secure possession of the human subject. The good is a transcendental predicate of being, but being here does not describe a secure creaturely existence. Good is theological. It makes sense when we adhere to orthodox Christian claims that God creates ex nihilo and that God’s essence is God’s existence. A real distinction exists between God’s being and creaturely being such that goodness as a transcendental predicate of being says something first about God and only derivatively about us. Goodness is not first of all anthropological; it is theological. Then, because of God’s goodness, it can also be anthropological. We do not know it in its fullness. Only God is the full intensity of goodness. But because God is this, we know it analogically. (D. S. Long, 2001, 302)

If in fact Jesus is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the reason, the Logos of John 1:1-18, the telos or goal of everything (Colossians 1), it would be wrong to keep this a secret. If we are able to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ with respect to our studies, our engagement with society, and our relationships (Romans 8), that will begin to transform them and give us fresh motivation, creativity and energy. Hear what Christof Schwoebel says about such freedom and creativity.

The true measure of freedom is love as the relationship which makes the flourishing of the other the condition of self-fulfilment. Human freedom becomes the icon of divine freedom where the freedom of divine grace constitutes the grace of human freedom … That most poignant image of hope, the Kingdom of God, expresses the relation of free divine love and loving human freedom together in depicting the ultimate purpose of God’s action as the perfected community of love with his creation. The fulfilment of God’s reign and the salvation of creation are actualized together in the community of the love of God. (C. Schwöbel, 1995, 80-81)

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright pushes us to realize the possibility of our calling, to move beyond selfishness, narcissism, entitlement, self-pity and mediocrity. He sets out a new trajectory.

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our full human role as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us. (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian)

What are the implications of the incarnation (God with us), one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith, for postgraduate students.  What of their identity, their posture and their voice on campus? Incarnation is “where God’s eternity and creation’s temporality meet” (D. Stephen Long, Speaking of God, 86). There is no simple answer, but it is great territory to explore, good soil to turn over in our minds. There is embedded here in this idea of carrying the good in community a whole language to recover and a new experience of self to be discovered. It is so relevant to our COVID-19 pandemic.

In speaking with a friend who is a UBC literature professor, he suggested that it is best that we let ourselves be known as a Christian believer among our colleagues right at the outset, that we believe that God Is. We should be graciously straight with professors and the students that we teach at the earliest possible opportunity. He is fully aware of some of the possible alienation worries. As a Christian academic in English, he confessed that he wants to know who the Christian students are in his classes. He also helps undergrads address any unacceptable prejudice or bias by professors who might be hostile to a Christian-oriented paper. The code of silence doesn’t work for the common good, and it causes the incognito Christian to feel unnecessary shame. The professor suggested that it is also pertinent for non-Christians to know who the Christian students are in their program. I discovered this in my first year at Queen’s University: while silent for the first month, I was miserable. Then I quickly discovered the joy of debate and dialogue about issues of meaning and philosophy very quickly once I revealed my faith. If I remained silent, who would these roommates or colleagues go to if they had a spiritual question? It is exhilarating to open the God conversation about morality, faith and sources of the good. Students of faith can help colleagues unpack some of their existential longings.

The Virtuous Community: Agape trumps Nihilism in the Halls of the Academy

What kind of people form a virtuous community on campus? Is it possible for a university, or part of it, to become such a community? Based on the discussion above and over the past ten blog posts, we posit that it can.

How do we locate ourselves with respect to the good, carry the good in community?

What do wisdom, courage and hope, benevolence and love have to do with good scholarship?

What do moderation, self-restraint and frugality, patience and gratitude have to do with academic excellence, business acumen or scientific brilliance?

What about truthfulness, integrity, trust, honesty and humility? Can we truly flourish if we live, work and love virtuously?

Can virtue inform our academic vision which in turn shapes our goals and actions in the real world?

Are virtuous people suckers for those who would exploit them or are they the real leaders of tomorrow (David Brooks, The Road to Character; The Second Mountain)?

Many of us know of virtue philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s landmark After Virtue which attempts to recover the cultural loss of this ancient language of virtue. There is a robust academic recovery of the discourse of virtue today (Cambridge Companion on Virtue). One UBC professor of philosophy was given a major grant to develop scholarship and research around virtue ethics. But in place of virtue, late moderns have often unfortunately substituted Weber’s (Nietzschean) language of values, a much weaker term, values which are invented and chosen/controlled by us. MacIntyre questions this move at a profound level. Virtue ethics has thankfully made a strong recent come back with many books on the topic.

We believe it is terribly relevant to today’s academic atmosphere and the purpose of higher education. Climbing the first mountain of career and financial success is not enough. There is also an important second mountain of character and virtue, writes David Brooks. It is a strong characteristic of a person or institution. Virtue disposes one to act in such a reasonable way to avoid extremes, to act in short as a sage (wise one) would act. Virtues are heuristic and creative: they teach us about new dimensions of life as we embrace them and embody them. It is a great gift to be trained and mentored in the virtues. We should seek out people who offer this. Environmental theologian Steven Bouma-Prediger (For the Beauty of the Earth) from Hope College in Michigan shared his concern for environmental stewardship virtues with the UBC community a few years ago. He articulates the language this way:

A virtue is a state of praiseworthy character—with the attendant desires, attitudes and emotions. Formed by choices over time, a virtue disposes us to act in certain excellent ways. Knowing which way is the truly excellent way involves avoiding the extremes of vice by looking to people of virtue as role models. As certain virtues shape our character they influence how we see the world. And the entire process of forming virtues is shaped by a particular narrative and community. The settled disposition to act well, which makes us who we are, is nurtured by the stories we imbibe and the communities of which we are a part. (S. Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth, 140)

Download my Free Book: The Great Escape from Nihilism.

There is an art, a finesse, a personal strength and creativity to virtue as an expression and exploration of divine goodness. It enhances one’s leadership resilience and emotional intelligence. Virtues orient us toward both individual and group flourishing and flourishing of the biosphere (creation care). It assumes trustworthy social relationships characteristic of a moral community–we relax because we know what to expect of each other. It takes into consideration an individual and common good. There are academic and research virtues (Linda Zagzebski’s Virtues of the Mind) which help the university keep its integrity as a holistic knowledge center. Oxford’s famous philosopher Iris Murdoch (Murdoch, I. (1997). On ‘God’ and the ‘Good’. In P. Conradi (Ed.) Iris Murdoch on Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on philosophy and literature. London: Chatto & Windus) speaks to the issue. Although an agnostic, she had a high view of the transcendent moral good, influencing great thinkers such as Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and many other emerging scholars in her day. She knew the cash out value of the classic virtues. She rejected cynicism and did not accept the end of ideals, simply to be replaced by human desires or appetites (our Dionysian drivers). Stephen Long has one final important insight here

Virtue epistemology is where knowledge is not a collection of propositions based primarily on justified beliefs; instead knowledge is the cultivation of the virtue of wisdom, which always entails a relationship between the intellectual and moral virtues. (S. J. Long, 2009, 216)

Turning Point in Status of Virtue

Early Modern European historian Brad Gregory of Notre Dame University in his brilliant tome The Unintended Reformation in a chapter called “Subjectivizing Morality” traces important changes in morality in the West over 500 years. He makes note of a time when the virtuous community was in fact a common social and political consciousness in Europe, part of people’s normal identity. Today, he claims that this has been exchanged for a self-interested, utilitarian language of rights. Gregory notes the following trend change: 

A transformation from a substantive morality of the good to a formal morality of rights constitutes the central change in Western ethics over the past half millennium, in terms of theory, practice, laws and institutions. Moreover, there is a historical relationship between the creation of ethics of rights and the antecedent ethics of the good that it displaced, a shift that involves much more than the institutionalized triumph of putatively superior ethical and political ideas…. Once the metaphysical basis of an ethics of the good has been jettisoned, nothing remains in principle but the human will and its desires protected by the state…. An ethics of rights displaced and marginalized a substantive Christian ethics of the good even as it continued to draw on it, and thus fostered the subjectivization of morality. (B. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation, 2012, 184, 189)

Some scholars refer to modern secular Western culture as a cut flower society, dependent upon its Christian heritage but cut off from its sources of the good.

This chapter in Gregory’s overview of Western history is a profound insight into ‘how the West was lost’ from a moral perspective. At one time, rights were articulated within values of the communal good, within the discourse of the virtuous community. Now they have morphed into rights, a consumeristic commodity to fulfill my subjective desires, opinions, or consumer choices (an unchecked wish list of conflicting subjective wants). This is nihilism and it does not lead to greater personal fulfilment or freedom. Not to trash the value of human rights discourse at its best in the UN Charter on Human Rights. But, today, our individual good seems to be in tension with the common good (within a discourse of individualism, self-interest and personal entitlements). This is very true of the Millennial profile according to Reginald Bibby. As a result, we are struggling to find the social glue or the common purpose to hold society together. We have lost that center of high values like agape love, the vision for a virtuous community, and we are terribly divided (Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen) at odds with one another. 

How do we recover/retrieve the power of virtues and the power of agape, the supreme virtue of caritas for the university and society? The apostle Paul believed that agape and the fruits of the Spirit were the hub from which all other virtues radiated. The imitation of Christ provides the standard for living a certain kind of life with accountable relationships within community, revealing the joy of taking responsibility for the one another. For late moderns, it seems not only possible but urgent and necessary for our future well-being within a civil, democratic society. Senior statesmen can still pass on these virtues to Millennials and Gen Z but it will need to be intentional (see James Houston, The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood) as some of our senior icons indicate.


With redeemed freedom, we are quite capable of carrying the good in community. It flourishes within a transcendent trinitarian horizon. It restores our confidence and trust once again. Trinitarian divine goodness proves to be a fruitful plausibility structure within which to think differently about freedom, agency and the moral good.  Trinitarian goodness-freedom answers some of the concerns in the late modern self and the angst of Millennials by providing a transcendent and relational horizon for identity. It reveals new opportunities for personal discovery, transformation and exploration of the good life. It also adds sophistication and meaning to some of Charles Taylor’s categories of the good and its sources. It is in the life of Jesus as a member of the Trinity that one can visualize this goodness-freedom dynamic most dramatically in play.

Theologian Christof Schwöbel (1995, 80) captures this prospect well:

 [It is in the] Image of Christ, where freedom is exercised as rooted in the will of the Father and mediated in the power of the Spirit that the true character of the image of God is disclosed to us, both as the divine freedom for grace and as the human freedom of obedience … Christ is … both the revelation of the divine freedom of grace and the disclosure of the human freedom of obedience, where obedience to the will of God the father is not the abrogation of human freedom but the form of its exercise.

In Jesus, it is never a contest between God the Father’s freedom and his own. It entails an intimate cooperation rooted in loving communion. Jesus reveals that freedom can be liberated from the weighty obligation to live self-reflexively out of one’s own power and resources. He also reveals a creative divine-human relationship filled with freedom, wisdom and grace. The life committed to this goodness-freedom can constitute a great, and yet accessible, work of art, a beautiful, a creative and free life. This is part of an ongoing debate and fruitful discussion that has many implications for Westerners and others worldwide as they engage late modern culture, and struggle to find answers and hope amidst our current global moral and economic crises–to discover a more solid grounding of self and society.

Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in Philosophical Theology, Mentor to UBC Graduate Students

See also GFCF Forum on The Future of Liberal Arts Education  


Bouma-Prediger, S. (2001). For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision of Creation Care. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Cloud, H. (2006).Integrity: the Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. Harper.

Gregory, B. (2012). The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Grenz, S.J. (2001). The Social God and the Relational Self: a Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Long, D. S. (2001). The Goodness of God: theology, the church and social formations. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos.

Long, D.S. (2009). Speaking of God: theology, language and culture. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

McFadyen, A.I. (1995). Sins of Praise: the Assault on God’s Freedom. In C. Gunton (Ed.). God & Freedom: Essays in historical and systematic theology  (pp. 36-56). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. 

Schwöbel, C. (1995). Imago Libertatis: Human and Divine Freedom.  In C. Gunton (Ed.) God & Freedom: Essays in historical and systematic theology  (pp. 57-81). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Wright, N.T. (2005). Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Harper Collins.

Zagzebski, L. (1996). Virtues of the Mind: An Inquiry into the Nature of Virtues and the Ethical Foundations of Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Zizioulas, J.D. (1997). Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

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