Reflections on UBC Comagape Conference

Gordon Carkner
March 11 2020


Students from various Christian clubs at UBC emerged this academic year with a brilliant idea: Comagape. It included the Saturday Comagape Conference with over 550 student participants (including preceding outreach lectures).

This was a multi-club, multi-agency effort to build confidence in students about their faith, how to share it and answer the hard questions. Iain Provan and David Robinson from Regent College presented workshops. Andy Steiger from Apologetics Canada and Josh Dool, missions pastor from Westside Church, brought additional vision. Ravi Zacharias Ministries (RZIM) offered a whole team of speakers and workshop leaders; they had been doing outreach talks earlier in the week at UBC in six events.

The conference included a great mix of Apologetics topics for discussion. They will be posted on the Comagape Website in the weeks ahead.

Ute and I were so inspired by the profundity of the day, its radical relevance and the enthusiasm of the students. The Comagape student organizing team handled things efficiently and gracefully. Full marks. Five new believers were reported from the conference, the outreach lectures and the concurrent Alpha Course.

Our part in the conference was to display the classic Ten Myths about Christianity poster series (born in Ontario) as part of an afternoon multi-agency vision casting in the Lower Atrium. We had some of the most profound discussions around the book table and display. The students were very discursive and alive spiritually. We set it up the display early and people came by from the UBC campus to check it out.

A Conversation with a Jewish Professor

Before the formal time when attendees were due to browse and visit the various booths, a Jewish postdoc in economics came by to chat, or rather debate, with us.

James* is on his way to teach economics in Israel. He showed us just how important it is to listen and understand the secular voice of hard skepticism, as well as to spar and probe and invest good ideas and angles of thought from a Christian philosophical/theological perspective. It reminded me of several points that Charles Taylor makes in A Secular Age.

The problem of evil poster was the one that got under James’ skin, a top apologetic concern today. * He contested every quote on the poster. He was not so open spiritually, but nevertheless stayed for almost an hour talking to both Ute and myself.

Just to show how skeptical he was, he even contested the merits of Mother Teresa, quoting a couple Bengali economists. I tried using Emmanuel Lévinas (a Holocaust-surviving Jewish intellectual who promotes the philosophy of responsibility for the other) and Charles Taylor. His toughness and level of skepticism reminded me of my first university roommate at Queen’s.

James would not follow a thought very long before he jumped ship to distract and obfuscate the point that I was attempting to offer.

It reminded me that in Yeshiva, Jewish children are taught to disagree, disagree, disagree with one another as a regular modus operandum. He would have nothing of this idea of a Messianic Jew or the concept of a Judeo-Christian religion.

“Impossible for a Jew to convert to Christianity”, he vociferously claimed.

He did respect the top economist in Israel who is an Orthodox Jew. That was a start. His worldview/hermeneutic was economics all the way down. I hope that I run into James on campus before he leaves and have another chance to probe and challenge his strong bias against the transcendent (a hermetic seal on his mind). Taylor calls it the Closed World System bias within the immanent frame (chapter 15 of A Secular Age). It is, at the end of the day, a faith stance, not a logical move from evidence.

James was a gift to us to remind us just how secular UBC really is as a campus and academic culture.

More Conversations

The conference-going students came by later and were delightfully teachable and curious (quite the opposite of James). It was clear that we were on the same page with them in attempting to understand culture and speak into campus skepticism.

“These are definitely the questions we face day to day on campus.”  claimed a number of students.

A whole generation of them have never seen or heard of the Ten Myths project prior to this event; many found it quite intriguing. It makes me think that I should rewrite and republish the small book responding to the myths/misunderstandings/stereotypes as a resource to help students. Conversations were quite fruitful and mature because the display was in sync with the issues presented during the week prior and at the conference.

We had multiple deep and thoughtful conversations—an ode to joy. An MBA student, kindly helped me set up the complex display early in the day, and joined in the discussion at the open house. He enjoyed a number of workshops as well. I was moved at a deep level by the courage and energy of these students to face the tough issues head on. Ute discovered a fourth year student on her way back to God and invited her to church.

Closing Thoughts

I Peter 3: 15 “Always be ready to give an answer to those who ask, but do it with gentleness and respect.

It does seem that students are given new energy and boldness from having a university president like Dr. Santa Ono who is open and public about his faith. Pray for these young visionaries to keep going forward in thought and action. This effort was a great church-campus-parachurch interface. Inspiring!


*Some names have been changed out of consideration for the privacy of individuals.


Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, the Director of Graduate & Faculty Campus Ministries, along with his wife Ute love connecting with future global leaders within the graduate student university community. Through hospitality, biblical investigation, prayer and discussions of faith and academic studies, these students are drawn into kingdom concerns and introduced to God's powerful agape love. This is a transformational experience that builds community at the crux of high achievement passion, loneliness and stress. With a team of faculty, the ministry mines the wisdom of the ages, employing excellent Christian scholarship.

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