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 

We are very sad and disturbed by the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamploops recently 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

Posted by: gcarkner | September 9, 2020

Welcome to GCU at UBC

Dear Friends Old & New,

Greetings everyone. Thanks for showing interest in this community. Hope summer has been productive and that you are excited about a new fall term, however unique it might be in terms of needed adaptations. How are you doing with online teaching? Campus is still a bit of a ghost town in these unprecedented times. Our family has just moved to a new house which will be great for student and faculty gatherings someday soon we hope. I have just finished Blog Post 11 in the Quality of the Will summer series. It focuses on how we can carry the moral good in community, and how a larger, transcendent horizon for identity can make all the difference.

Our fall theme in GCU is The Fully Integrated Life: Reflective, Purposeful and Christ-centered. We want to encourage each other in our studies, effective engagement with colleagues and personal growth. Together perhaps we can map out some of the key points of discussion with colleagues from various persuasions as they seek meaning, significance and relational wholeness. We won’t have a fall reception this year for new students because of COVID, but we ask you to watch out for people in your department who might be interested in spiritual and philosophical community, connection and dialogue. Whether you are here at UBC or reading from afar, we welcome your input and questions. We have a robust sense that good ideas and relational network prospects are in the cards this academic year.

 Would you be interested in a regular FaceTime or Zoom Bible study? We want to start that in a couple weeks. Let us know soon.

Our first lecture is on October 1, a livestream with Sy Garte, Biochemist, Former Professor and Division Director National Institute of Health, Washington, DC (co-sponsored with the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation)

Topic: A Sense of Wonder: the Long Journey of a Scientist to Faith See details here

We have found that practicing gratitude/thankfulness and noticing the signs of grace in our lives has been positive. Jesus gives us hope and purpose, clarity of thought and durability. He is our rock and foundation in shaky times, our light within and at the end of the tunnel. We sense a great need to pray for wisdom as we venture forward amidst all the uncertainties. I guess that is what faith is all about. We are crossing the desert of our times with a great God ahead of us.

“The will of God will not take you where the grace of God cannot sustain you.” (unknown author) 

All the Best, Gord & Ute Carkner

Email Gord at if you are new and would like to be added to our mailing list. We will also be posting talks and discussions on YouTube this year.

We are happy to meet for coffee safely to get to know you at a place convenient for you. If you have just arrived, perhaps we can help with orienting you to Vancouver.

Recommended Reflective Thought Talk by Neil Degrassi Tyson

Ask us about free books on Apologetics and Spiritual Formation

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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