Tuesday, June 19, 2018

He also glorified

Preaching on Romans 8:30 last Sunday, I've been thinking about what it means for believers to be glorified. Glorification does not mean that that our humanity will be absorbed into the divine. That would not be the redemption of man, but his obliteration. Rather, in glorification we shall become all that we were intended to be as God’s image-bearers.

There is an analogy between the glorification of the believer and that of Jesus' own humanity. At his incarnation Jesus became a divine person with a human nature. There is an unbreakable union between the divine and human in person of Christ, yet there is no confusion between his two natures. That which was God in Jesus did not become less than God when he was made flesh. That which was human in Jesus did not become more than human when his flesh was glorified. Jesus became like us in humiliation, that we might become like him in glorification. We will be glorified together with Christ. We shall partake of his glory and so we shall become partakers of the divine nature.

I've also been reading my way through The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, by Michael Horton. He has a remarkable chapter on The Hope of Glory: "Those Whom He Justified He Also Glorified". A key theme in Horton's work is that the Christian account of the relationship between God and human beings is not that of 'overcoming estrangement' so that the finite is absorbed in the infinite. Instead the Bible teaches that finite human beings 'meet the Stranger', our infinite Creator, and in that encounter the creator/creature distinction is maintained.

It is with this in mind that Horton gives proper emphasis on the resurrection of the body in relation to glorification, as opposed to a contemplative vision of disembodied souls being infused with the divine.
Rather than sending the human soul upward, away from history and embodiment, this view [that of Calvin and the Reformed tradition] sees redemptive history moving forward to the consummation. Because of this emphasis on the historical economy of grace, Calvin and the wider tradition emphasized the the future resurrection of the dead as the place where the consummation occurs. It is the cosmic, eschatological, and redemptive-historical event of the parousia, not the allegorical, contemplative, striving ascent of the lone soul, that characterizes the Reformed expression of the beatific vision. (Zondervan, 2011, p. 697)
Glorification is the ultimate fruit of the believer's union with Christ. It is the final link in the 'Golden Chain' of salvation that Paul details in Romans 8:30. It is because we are in Christ that we will be made like him and be with him where he is in resurrection glory. Death may sever the union between the Christian's body and soul, but they remain united to Christ body and soul. Horton cites the remarkable words of the Puritan Thomas Watson in his Body of Divinity, "The bodies of the saints in the grave, though separated from their souls, are united to Christ. The dust of a believer is part of Christ's mystic body". (Emphasis added, p. 702, - from A Body of Divinity, Banner of Truth Trust, 1978, p. 309).

To be glorified is to share in the glory that God gave his own Son, "and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:17, see also John 17:4-5, 22, 24). 

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Meanwhile in LA Land

No, I haven't only just watched the blockbuster Hollywood musical. Saw that ages ago. Got to keep the wife happy with an occasional chick-flick. This is about education policy. You'll get no singing and dancing here. Anyway, that's La La Land. 

'You know what's wrong with schools?' asked Michael Gove, when he was Education Secretary, 'Local Authorities that's what. Schools need to be set free from the dead hand of council bureaucrats. Give 'em autonomy.' Yes, autonomy. Good schools could opt for it. Not so good schools would have it imposed on them by being taken over. Academisation was seen as a panacea for all educational ills. 

But, somewhat inconveniently, there is little evidence that already good schools were made any better by becoming academies. Even less that forced academisation was a force for good. For a panicky moment a couple of years back, it seemed like we were all going to have to embrace academised autonomy. Not singly, but in Multi Academy Trusts. Thankfully the Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper died the death, and the moment passed. Tidy, that, as while some MATs have done well, more than a few have failed, only to be taken over by other, er, MATs. 

Such has been the impact of the National and Regional School Commissioners who oversee the academy sector, that the DfE has deprived them of some key  powers. Not exactly a vote of confidence. Forced academisation has been dropped. NSC Sir David Carter announced his retirement a couple of weeks before Damian Hinds revealed these measures in a speech to the ASCL Conference. 

Many schools didn't see the advantage in becoming a stand-alone academy when that option was flavour of the month.. Maintained Foundation Schools enjoy a good deal of autonomy in relation to the LA, anyway. Why opt to join a big academy chain, and risk losing what makes your school distinctive? There is often little enthusiasm for forming local Community MATs, either. 

I doubt many LA schools have had to fend off any zombie-fingered interfering jobsworths from the council for a while. If at all. LAs monitor and support their schools, but don't try to run them. It's a myth to say that they do. But why shouldn't schools be held accountable to locally elected representatives?

Not so long ago it was in doubt whether LAs had a future at all in the world of education. But the DfE has signaled that statutory responsibility for improving outcomes in all schools and academies continues to rest with Local Authorities. LAs also remain responsible for safeguarding and provide valuable services such as payroll, HR and governor services.

In the maintained sector, governors are still governing their schools, not simply doing a bit of stakeholder engagement on behalf of a MAT board. Their Headteachers are busy making the board's vision for the school a reality, not having to look over his or her shoulder to see what a richly enumerated CEO wants them to do. 

The point about governors still governing in maintained schools (and stand alone academies) is worth reiterating. In MATs all powers of governance rest with the overarching board of trustees. Individual schools may have what is sometimes called 'Local Governing Boards', but they don't actually have any powers of governance. Whatever low level decision-making is delegated to LGBs by the MAT board may also be unilaterally withdrawn. As may their right to exist at all. Remember that, if your school is currently being courted by a MAT. Joining could be the last big strategic decision you make. 

A recent report by the London School of Economics revealed that LA schools have more freedom than academies. So much for autonomy. With apologies to Rousseau, "Schools were born free, but in MATs they are in chains". 

I'll admit that one advantage of MATs is collaboration across schools, but a joint effort to raise standards is not the preserve of Multi Academy Trusts. Collaboration in local clusters could be better, but it is happening and outcomes are improving. Around here, anyway. In the LA secondary school where I serve as a governor, our Progress 8 score is in the top 5% when 'contextual value added' factors are taken into account. 

We now have what is called a 'mixed educational ecosystem'. Around 70% of secondaries are academies, with 30% LA maintained, and the other way around for the primary sector. Academy oversight isn't going too well and the LAs ability to support their schools is hampered by budget cuts. 
The big idea now is developing school-led systems in which schools in the maintained and academy sectors support each other to ensure all pupils achieve well. New county-wide bodies are being set up to oversee the system. The Wiltshire Education Standards Board is due to be launched soon, with a view to starting work in September. Let's hope these boards can help bring some coherence to a badly fragmented educational system. 
I shudder to think how much taxpayers' money has been spent on removing schools from LAs and making them into academies. Or the funds used on new Free Schools, some which have failed miserably. Look at this example of £9m down the drain. Countless millions of pounds could have been better spent on increasing teacher pay, maintaining a broad curriculum, improving crumbling school buildings, etc.  Thankfully, the emphasis these days is on raising standards, not changing the status of schools, or fiddling around with the structures in which they sit.
Meanwhile in LA Land... 

Let's just say, some of us are in no great rush to leave. We have nothing to lose but our freedom. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018


I’m probably showing my age, but I remember the days of the TV test card. It featured a girl playing Noughts and Crosses surrounded by an assortment of soft toys. People used to sit and watch the test card while they waited for programmes to start. It beat watching paint dry, but only marginally. Now we have countless TV channels broadcasting 24/7. Schedules have been made more or less redundant by various catch up services. ‘Total TV’ means you can pretty much avoid being alone with your own thoughts.

Then there’s mobile phones. Another device that was meant to be our servant, but ended up gaining mastery over us. A recent report suggested we switch off our phones after 10pm. Some users are so addicted to the things that they can’t get through the night without checking for emails, or glancing at Facebook. Smart phone induced sleep deprivation is making people depressed.

We have become over-stimulated by the multi-media delights of the modern world. It’s difficult to switch off. Yes, we have leisure time, but leisure is different to rest. The American novelist Marilynne Robinson reflected, “Leisure…is highly commercialised. But leisure is seldom more than a bit of time ransomed from habitual stress.” An occasional day out an amusement park is quite different to having a regular rhythm of work and rest built into our lives.

I wonder whether the craving for constant stimulation is an attempt to fill an aching void in our lives. A void that technology and leisure can never satisfy. The great Christian thinker Augustine of Hippo confessed to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you’. Finding this rest is not a matter of frantically trying to please God by our own efforts. Jesus said, “Come to me all who labour and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

* For various local publications.