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Interview with Rev. Eric Derksen


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/06/22


Rev. Erik Derksen is the President & CEO of Vanguard College. He discusses: origins; intelligent design; Christian belief; Christian sect; the Mennonite Brethren; Mennonite groundwork in earlier life; educational experiences building into Christian faith; philosophical arguments; probabilities and other in-between arguments; being CEO and president of Vanguard College; size of the college; Christian colleges and universities having an association or organization; appeals and concerns of students; other appeals or services at a Christian college or university not provided by secular institutions from the point of view of Christians;main certifications of Vanguard College; most popular ones; hopes for building community; international human rights including freedom of belief and freedom of religion; living in Canada and freedom to religion and freedom of belief; and respect for a person’s right to believe or not to believe.

Keywords: CEO, Christian, Erik Derksen, president, religion, Vanguard College.

Interview with Rev. Erik Derksen: President & CEO, Vanguard College[1],[2],[3]]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your origin story, to make this in line with the very prominent and popular superhero movies at the time?

Rev. Erik Derksen: I was born on the Prairies in Manitoba. My dad’s parents were first-generation Christians on their side. For my mom’s side of the family, faith has been part of their background for a long time. They were Russians who came over in the middle of the Russian Revolution.

In high school, I became a believer in the spring of 1975. I was 11 years old. Probably, the most dominant faith in my culture growing up was Christianity. I would read the Bible and we would pray as a family regularly. So, that was the air I breathed growing up.

Then I graduate high school. I went to Bible college for a year I went back to Brandon University for three years. Then I finished my CA designation in studies at the University of Manitoba. I worked as a chartered accountant for a number of years.

I had a call to vocational ministry in Winter of 1990. This call changed my life and my way of thinking. I cannot explain it in simple rational terms. I went back to Bible college for 1 year and then spent 3 years in seminary. That is my background.

2. Jacobsen: What is the particular sect of Christianity that you were, more or less, growing up into and, I assume, believe in at this time?

Derksen: I grew up in a Mennonite Brethren community. Right now, and for the last 25 years, I have been part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

3. Jacobsen: That is interesting. If you take the Mennonite Brethren context, and then you look at the Pentecostal context, and if you look at your own transition, how did you make the transition with two different sects but contained in a larger religion?

Derksen: To my perspective, Scott, 80% or more is very similar. At the core, there are incredibly strong similarities, even with many Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. I appreciate the perspective of Mere Christianity written by C.S. Lewis. Most of the peripheral differences that distinguish us in no way substantially divide the evangelical Christian community.

When it comes to the core of it, there is very little difference. There exist some ethical differences in terms of how you live this or that out in your practical, everyday life. We each have faith community culture differences as well.

We all interpret the Word of God in the community. At times we have a different hermeneutic and apply things differently. That’s true within my own immediate evangelical context, and between denominations. As you very well know, the spectrum of Christianity is very broad, historically and in the present context.

Community forms a strong sense of where you identify. When I moved to Winnipeg, I connected with a church in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. However, it was in line with anybody who talked about the Word of God in a faith-based, cogent, cohesive, and philosophically consistent manner.

That appealed to me. I did not find a huge divergence from my Mennonite background.

4. Jacobsen: How did this build on the Mennonite groundwork laid out in the earlier life?

Derksen: From a Christian perspective, I think God used experiences in my personal life to influence and shape me. In perhaps the biggest change I experienced, the Bible began to open into a more fully blossoming flower. That may have had as much to do with to do my vocational calling as anything. Suddenly the Bible became more salient, more relevant, with a sense of urgency to it.

5. Jacobsen: When looking at the educational experiences, how did these, if at all, build into that Christian faith?

Derksen: Right, I took most of my pre-medical training in the first three years of university. I took lots of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and so on. I love learning. My philosophy in life is that nature is a revelation of God Himself. Some things can be known about God by studying and understanding creation.

He created everything. So, the more that I can study the creation and see its marvelous intricacies, the more obvious God’s ownership and control become evident to me and the more I appreciate the intelligent design behind it.

6. Jacobsen: What would be some of the examples in a broader context that point to the “intelligent design”?

Derksen: If you go from the micro to the macro, even if you look at the cell and the intricacies of the cell, and the functioning parts of a single-celled organism, it seems evident to me that the sense of design is observable. I have a hard time grasping hold of the evolutionary premise that if life began with a single-celled organism, how did all those parts fall into place all at once, in a single moment to produce life?

For me personally, it was less of a leap to believe in the Creator than to believe in evolution. Then when I go to the macro, and I look at the vastness of the universe, and the physical laws holding it together, it speaks of a splendour and a majesty, and an incredibly intelligent power behind it all.

Think about the very positioning of the Earth in our galaxy and the sustenance of life on the Earth. To me, it was a marvelous example and witness of creation and of a Creator, of incredible power and intelligence, behind the cosmos.

7. Jacobsen: If you look at some of the more philosophical sides of Christian belief, what were some of the arguments that you found more convincing or powerful for the Christian worldview?

Derksen: For me, the first chapters of the Book of Genesis in the Bible are very meaningful as I understand life, the meaning of life, and the purpose of Creation. The Bible is both historical and theological, but it is not primarily a history book. To my understanding, God has revealed much about Himself and His purpose in the Bible. The first chapters of the Bible are essential for me in this discovery.

The Bible contains what I believe to be God’s evident, revealed story in this creation as it relates to me, as it relates to people, as it relates to our relationship with creation and the Creator. Of course, the Bible begins with the assumption of God, not with a defense of His existence.

One of the realities of the Christian faith is that you simply assume God. Perhaps that is faith – moving to an assumption of God for who He is. But it is more than this. It is the understanding of God’s bigger story, understanding His bigger purpose, revealed to us in His Word. These things substantiated an appreciation in me that brought meaning to the world, and to me.

This bringing of meaning to the cosmos, bringing meaning to my own existence, to relationship, to a sense of purpose in my life, is that what you’re asking me about?

8. Jacobsen: It does point to one facet of it. I was thinking of philosophical arguments that people tend to bring forward for the existence of God in a Christian context. The one you pointed to: a literary argument.

So, the Bible assumes the premise of God’s existence. Then works within that context to provide narratives – history, metaphor, and allegory – to point to God in a literary sense. In other words, a poetic truth as opposed to a philosophical and logical truth.

Within philosophical and logical argumentation, what arguments stand out to you?

Derksen: For me, intelligence in the design is really significant to me. You have heard some other people talk about a watch needing a watchmaker. That is a very common and somewhat over-used illustration. For me, these are not simply literary arguments because they are also rooted in historical events. I think they are also rooted in science, in observable outcomes.

When I look at Creation and the cosmos, and the furthest reaches of the cosmos, the overwhelming physical, philosophical, and rational evidence is that of a Creator. To me, the flip side is rather unappealing; the potential for randomness in all of existence. The latter leaves me with more questions than with the assumption of purpose or design.

9. Jacobsen: Do other third or fourth options land in-between those two options, as probabilities as well, for you?

Derksen: I do not doubt that there is a spectrum of belief. There is a spectrum of appropriation of design, and we find people at one end of the spectrum or the other. I do not know if those things influence me, in particular. But I recognize their existence, certainly.

10. Jacobsen: Now, you are president and CEO of Vanguard College. How did you find out about the college? How did you become president? What are some of the task and responsibilities of the position?

Derksen: I was working in an inner-city mission in Winnipeg. We were looking after homeless, full-service organization with healthcare, dental, and transition services – finding homes and providing meals, job searching and preparation. It was a significant social organization.

I felt an inclination to return to something more akin to what I sensed in my initial calling in ministry. I was on a website of an Ontario church district, where Vanguard College had posted the ad for the position.

One thing led to another. We started conversing at about January 2015 and we ended up moving here early July 2015.

11. Jacobsen: How large is the college?

Derksen: The college has about 220 students on campus and about 70 students online.

12. Jacobsen: If you look at some of the demographics of other institutions in the country – of course, they tend to be much bigger, they are part of larger associations, of student unions for example?

Do Christian colleges and universities in Canada have such an association or organization with student unions or executives not on the student side?

Derksen: We do not have anything for student unions, other than student council. We are part of the Association for Biblical Higher Education, which is an accrediting body out of the United States. They accredit about 200 Christian colleges and universities. That is our accrediting body.

We are owned by and led by our own denomination. Our denomination in Canada has 4 Bible colleges for English and 1 for French. We are not part of any association outside of faith-based ministry.

13. Jacobsen: If you survey students online and offline, what tends to be the appeal of a Christian college to them? What tend to be some of the concerns for those students?

Derksen: A number of things. At times, simple geography is relevant because we operate close to where they live. For others, it is a sense of calling in their life and this becomes a reasonable step to fulfill that calling, immersing themselves in the study of God and His Word. They come here to immerse themselves in a Christian community.

Students come to Vanguard and find people to invest in them personally to invest in them, to help them grow as people, to teach them, and mentor them. We approach the education mandate very holistically in terms of who they are as people.

They will probably get more attention and personal interest at a college like ours, which is a smaller college. It tends to be much more personal than if they would go to a larger institution.

14. Jacobsen: What are some other of the appeals or services in a Christian college or university that students might not get if they go to a more mainstream, secular institution? Not only those that tend to be much larger.

Derksen: They will find a commonness in purpose. They will be reintroduced or have reinforced for them the concept of the metanarrative which post-modernism has probably taken away from them or, at least influenced them negatively.

What I mean by that, we believe in God. We believe in God’s purposes. We believe that he has revealed Himself and those purposes to us. There is a real sense of regaining a sense of mission in their life.

The ability to find a purpose for themselves – not only in a global and corporate perspective, but from an individual perspective. That they are meaningful in this larger story. They find a purpose beyond themselves in this journey. “It is not all about me.”

15. Jacobsen: What is the main certification at Vanguard College?

Derksen: We grant degrees and certificates and diplomas – 1-year, 3-year, and 4-year. They are accredited. We are accredited with the ABHE, The Association for Biblical Higher Education. We are a degree-granting institution by a Charter of the province of Alberta.

The bigger piece that we give to students is the ability to be credentialed for ministry in a variety of denominations, and for a variety of different ministry roles.

16. Jacobsen: What is the most popular one?

Derksen: Probably, it is our own, because we draw students from our churches across the country. This year, I think we have about 13 different denominations represented at the college.

17. Jacobsen: Oh wow. Looking forward, what are the hopes for growth, building connections with local communities, and so on, of Vanguard College?

Derksen: Part of what we believe is that, we also need to be good citizens in our world. That is a very vast and diverse application. That we take very seriously. We believe that we need to be good neighbours, good environmental stewards: ultimately a good and redemptive presence for the gospel in the world.

We believe that we need to be good personal and corporate citizens. We believe that we need to be good political citizens. So, we do not simply train people for ministry. We want to train somebody to make a meaningful difference in whatever trajectory of life on which they embark.

Whether they become an IT professional, a journeymen carpenter, or a physician, we want to add value from a Christian perspective. We want to pay attention to our traditions. We want people to be very meaningful citizens in the world today.

We want people to be connected to the community. We are always looking for people to be better connected to our community. For instance, we have an inner city school close to the college. There are many first-generation Canadians in the school, and many of them are around poverty line. They do not have Christmas in the home. They do not do birthday parties. So we do Christmas events. We bring gifts for the kids in the school. That is one example where we care about the community and the people in our community.

We do not want to be thinkers alone. We want to be practitioners of the gospel. To quote Jesus, we want to be salt and light in our world.

18. Jacobsen: International human rights point to a freedom of belief and freedom of religion. As well, the implication being freedom from religion from the non-religious, e.g. atheists, agnostics, humanists, and so on.

Derksen: Certainly.

19. Jacobsen: For those religious and non-religious communities via formal definitions, what is the benefit of living in Canada where the freedom to religion and freedom of belief are for the most part respected? How does this become a core value that most Canadians value and should value going into the future?

Derksen: I think it is easy to define when we look at places where that is not a value. There are places, certainly, where freedom of (or from) religion is not a value. Having the ability to think the way that we would like to think, and to conduct ourselves according to whatever our standard of behaviour is or isn’t, is also always tempered by laws defined for the good of the whole.

There is always a tension between individual rights and the rights of the larger group. Canada, so far – though I think this is changing a little bit, has walked that balance fairly well in the past. The country had a much stronger Christian influence at its founding and in its early years, probably up to the end of the Second World War.

The Christian framework was more normative than it is right now. It is quite clear that we have moved from a Christian country to a secular country.

People, deep down, want the right of individual to believe what they want and to live the life that they want. That is something that has been engrained in us since our European ancestry. I am not sure if I answered the question.

20. Jacobsen: You are nudging to a full answer. We have a country with a Christian culture, which transitioned to a secular culture. But in that transition, there has been a respect for one person’s right to believe a faith and another person’s right to not believe a faith. Then there is a tension.

Derksen: There is a tension there. I think that will increase in the future, in the years to come. I think we will continue to transition to a more thoroughly secular country. So, from a Biblical historical point of view, Scott, as Christians we will inevitably move towards the social environment and political context of what the first century church looked like.

Rome determined the dominant culture at the birth of the Christian church. It swallowed up everyone around it. Christianity was formed and birthed in that context. It really found its phenomenal initial impetus in an environment quite hostile to it. That is still a reality in many parts of the world.

My perception, Scott, is that while we are secularizing. I see a growing volume of antagonism to Christianity. It doesn’t really matter if it should or shouldn’t be. I think that is the reality of it.

As a Christian, I am interested to know why. I do not want my faith to be offensive to people. I don’t want the way I live my life to portray my faith as an offensive faith. Now sometimes people are simply offended by ideas and values in and of themselves.

We as Christians cannot really help that at all. But with Christianity as a whole dismissed by a culture, I am always curious as to why that trend is happening. What am I not seeing that I need to be seeing? Have we as a church, as a Christian community, not done a very good job communicating what we are and where we are going, and why we think this way? Perhaps people around us truly do not know what we are all about.

Is this marginalization based on perceptions of Christianity that aren’t substantiated by anything within the Christian community, but are simply the perceptions of people? Are things done, said, and advanced by segments of the church that have been bad advertising for the church?

I suspect all of those things, to a degree, have happened, but I also think that being a Christian, today, is not something to be ashamed about. It is not something that we need to hide from, to be defensive about.

The Christian faith has had a tremendous impact on the world starting hospitals, starting schools, advocating for the abolition of slavery, for the rights of women, serving prisoners incarcerated, advancing education, and even being a check on rampant capitalism and consumerism.

Christianity has been a very strong influence in some admirable developments in our culture and in our society. That is our actual historical record. I think Christianity continues to want to be that kind of an influence in our world, but I think we have our work cut out for us. Christianity is not just a religion for the soul. It is an influence and voice for the poor, the outcast, the marginalized.

21. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Rev. Derksen.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1President & CEO, Vanguard College; Former Chartered Accountant, KPMG (Winnipeg).

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 22, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at

[3] Certificate, Theological Studies, Columbia Bible College; B.G.S., Brandon University; M. Div., Providence Theology Seminary.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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