Thursday, February 11, 2016

Second thoughts on the great governance cake off


Image result for school governance
To recap. Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors' Association (no less) has argued that whatever strategic powers remain in the hands of Local Governing Bodies should be handed over to MAT trustees. That will free up longsuffering local govs from the irksome bother of strategic leadership so their LGBs can be turned into. Wait for it, focus groups. They will then be in the privileged position of having 'influence without responsibility'. Good, eh? I mean, whoever wanted to do all that vision and strategy, challenge and support stuff anyway? Apart from people who were all fired up about being school governors. And how sad is that?

According to EK, being transmogrified into focus groups will enable LGBs to 'have their cake and eat it'. Fancy, Victoria Sponges all round. I wasn't convinced, however, saying that it was more like 'having a cake and giving it to someone else to eat'. Where's the fun in that?

But there is more to this spat than a storm in a cup cake. The controversy sparked by EK's 'cake off' blog calls for a considered response and I've been having second thoughts about the whole thing. After reflecting on the matter very carefully I have to tell you that my second thoughts are much gloomer than the first ones. If they were't bad enough.

This 'give all the strategic powers to MAT boards' lark spells the total destruction of school governance as we know it. Think I'm being alarmist? Let's take a look at an actual example of what EK is proposing in action. Have a shufti at Ofsted's focused inspection letter for E-ACT. Go on, I know you want to. Focused inspections concentrate on the effectiveness of trustees in improving the outcomes of member schools. In other words, they are a judgement on a MAT's governance arrangements. But the inspection letter bears little resemblance to a judgement on governance you'd get in a standard Ofsted report.

Alright, I know, the letter covers the governance of a MAT, not a single school. Bound to be differences. And yes, there's some traditional gov stuff in there. Mention is made of vision and strategy etc, but the rest of it is like reading a cross between an Ofsted judgement on a dysfunctional Senior Management Team that has been spliced with a poorly performing LA. Yep, it's E-ACT alright. And their response to this criticism from Ofsted? You've got it, they unilaterally abolished their LGBs. They'll be sorted now, then.

Hold local governance cheap and that's what you'll get. Virtually no governance at all. Much of the work the E-ACT trustees are described as doing in the Ofsted letter barely relates to governance as defined in the DfE's Governance Handbook, or the Ofsted Inspection Handbook, or the NGA's own Framework for Governance for that matter. It's more like another tier of senior management with some old style LA work thrown in for good measure. Directors for this, that and other other. Ambassadors for whatever else. What's that all about? Local stakeholders giving their schools strong strategic leadership and robust accountability barely comes into it. Now not at all.

Seems passing strange to me that the chief executive of the NGA could regard this state of affairs as a consummation devoutly to be wished, with local GBs reduced to having 'influence without responsibility'. Or worse, 'disappeared'. It's a bit like the President of the BMA wondering out loud whether or not GPs are a good thing. Or imagine the Gen Sec of ASCL putting it out there that maybe Headteachers should be stripped of their powers of operational school leadership. Heads would be up in arms. If that doesn't paint a slightly odd picture.

The advent of MATs needn't spell the end of local governance. For example, the Harris MAT operates on a federated system, 'with powerful and authoritative local governing bodies able to hold principals to account'. That's a far healthier model than the one proposed by EK. 

After all, the NGA is meant to be 'the independent organisation for school governors and trustees.' Not just trustees. Sticking up for local governance should be its raison d'etre. The enduring value of School Governing Boards should certainly be an article of faith for the organisation's chief exec. For it's the article upon which the NGA stands or falls. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

School governance as we know it is about to be swept under the MAT

I've been reading Improving School Governance, by Nigel Gann (Routledge, Second edition 2016). I'll post a review when I'm done, but this isn't it. Gann traces the history of school governance from the Victorian era until the present day and deals with some of the key aspects of modern governance; strategic leadership, roles and responsibilities, stakeholder engagement, self-evaluation and so on. 

It's good stuff and the historical chapters are a reminder that governance nowadays is quite different from earlier models. Today's skilled-up stakeholders are a far cry from the ill-equipped old duffers of yesteryear. Not to mention the local Councillor dominated political cliques of the early 1980's. But as the book hints, it looks as though governance in its contemporary guise is destined to become yet another historical curio.

In years to come governors will look back on things as they are today with a degree of astonishment. 'Imagine, in 2016 many individual schools had their own Governing Boards comprised of local stakeholders. Big decisions such as setting a school's vision, ethos and strategy, hiring a new Headteacher, site development, budget setting and the like were entrusted to a bunch of well-meaning randomers; mums and dads, school staff, members of the local community and the like. How quaint.' Or will future members of Local Governing Bodies, shorn of their key strategic powers, feel rather envious of the way we do things now?

We are soon to witness the decline of schools governed by their own individual GBs and the rise of groups of schools governed under the auspices of Multi Academy Trusts. Cometh the hour, cometh the MAT. Yes, schools in a MAT will have their own Local Governing Bodies, but the MAT board will have the power to direct, sideline, or even abolish LGBs if it likes. And in the case of  E-ACT they did exactly that (see here). 

Current government policy is that all schools should become academies by 2020, preferably through the MAT route. As the MAT programme is rolled out many of the key functions and responsibilities of governance as described by Gann will no longer be in the hands of a school's own GB. MAT trustees will call the shots. LGBs may be delegated with the nitty gritty work of data scrutiny and some other bits and pieces, but they will have surrendered the strategic leadership of their schools to the MAT board. Once-autonomous GBs will be treated as little more than glorified focus groups, required to serve up stakeholder views spiced with a bit of data for MAT trustees to chew on.

In a recent blog post Emma Knights of  the NGA seemed to welcome this development. That looks like a self-defeating counsel of despair on the part of the estimable Ms Knights. The usefulness of the NGA lies in the fact that it exists to offer advice and guidance to governing stakeholders, many of whom are not educationalists by background. In the shiny new world of MATs, boards will be comprised not of 'have-a-go-stakeholders', but professionals; education experts, accountants, lawyers, and business people. In large part, anyway. Not the types to ring the NGA Gold Helpline seeking advice on best practice, or pay an awful lot of attention to the latest NGA briefing paper/mag article. They already know it all, right? Well, perhaps not, but at least they may think they do. (See Nigel Gann on Do school governing boards do the business?) Once virtually all schools are grouped in MATs and governance proper is carried out by MAT trustees, I foresee a diminishing role for the NGA. The pros won't be interested. And will it be needed to advise your common or garden LGB on its focus group activities? Can't see it.

Rather than acquiescing to this situation, the NGA should be using its influence to campaign for the re-empowerment of local governance before it's too late. It should alert governors to the danger of signing up to any MAT Scheme of Delegation that would deprive them of their core strategic powers, or even of their very existence. LA  Federations, the NGA's favoured model of school led system aren't the answer. Why would a Foundation school (like ours) want to return its hard won freedom and autonomy, together with the keys to the school site back to the LA? No thanks. 

To be clear, I'm far from opposed to MATs. I get it that schools in an area can achieve more together than they can apart. Informal alliances lack the strong accountability to make things happen. But the move to deprive local school governance of its strategic power is profoundly misguided. Consider the evidence. The Ofsted Annual Report 2014/15 makes it clear that the vast majority of primary schools are at least Good. It is also the case that the vast majority of primary schools are governed by their own individual GB's. The situation in the secondary sector is altogether more challenging and, strangely enough, most secondaries are either stand-alone Academies or belong to a MAT. The report makes the point that some large MATs are as bad as the old LAs when it comes to holding schools back. Several are proving pretty hopeless at turning around failing schools. Just recently the largest chain of all, AET was heavily criticised by Ofsted on this front, see here. So, the evidence hardly stacks up in favour of a wholesale transfer of the powers of strategic leadership from GBs to MAT boards. Does it?

Let's get down to specifics. One area in which there seems to be confusion in MAT-land is the extent to which the strategic power to performance manage Headteachers should be in the hands of LGBs or executive Headteachers/CEOs (see this NGA report on the role of Executive Headteachers). In her blog Emma Knights suggested 'it makes perfect sense for an executive head to [performance] manage the school’s head teacher'. Doesn't to me. A clear distinction needs to be made between operational line management and strategic performance management. An exec HT/CEO should line manage individual Headteachers to ensure that their operational actions are having the desired strategic outcomes. But Headteacher performance management panels should be drawn from LGBs. 

Headteacher PM is one of the key ways in which governors exercise their core functions: 1. Setting the school's vision, ethos and strategy. 2 Holding the Headteacher to account. 3. Ensuring value for money. The role of an exec HT/CEO in relation to Headteacher PM should be akin to that of a School Improvement Advisor in the maintained sector. A SIA will help ensure that fair CSMART targets have been set by the PM panel and adjudicate on whether they have been met over the course of an academic year. In a MAT set up the exec HT/CEO should ensure that locally set goals are aligned with MAT targets, but not to the exclusion of individual school priorities identified by the PM panel. In any case, having Headteacher PM performed simply by an exec HT/CEO removes the necessary checks and balances that are inherent in the current panel arrangements. The system is wide open to abuse. 

We need to preserve the best elements of today's local governance model, while also embracing the need for schools to collaborate more closely. At their most effective GBs provide their schools with the strong strategic leadership and robust accountability that is needed to secure sustained improvements. But the 'me in my small corner, you in yours' approach has its limits, with schools and their GBs tending to protect their own little empires rather than facing outwards. Forming a MAT should enable schools in an area to develop collaborative strategies that will help them meet the challenges posed by their local communities head-on. Disadvantaged achievement gaps, high levels of persistent absence, dented community aspirations and so forth cannot be sorted out by individual schools acting alone, whether at primary or secondary level. All must work together to identify problems and devise strategies to solve them. The MAT board should focus on big, area-wide priorities and have in place a strong enough executive arm to make things happen. But LGBs should retain sufficient strategic powers to exercise the core functions of governance in relation to their own schools. Their very existence should not be at the say so of  MAT trustees.

The concentration of the key functions of governance almost entirely in the hands of MAT boards lacks democratic accountability. MAT Schemes of Delegation should be carefully drawn up to ensure a fair distribution of powers between trustees and LGBs. The principle of earned autonomy must be clearly set out so that trustees have the power to intervene in a member school should standards slip, but otherwise they should leave LGBs to get on with their job without too much interference. Schools connected in a MAT should not fall victim to centrally imposed uniformity, but celebrate unity in diversity. LGBs should be guardians of their school's distinctive ethos and character. The MAT board should have a super-strategic role that harnesses the collaborative energy of member schools to work together to meet shared goals, but it should not try to mirco-govern member schools in a meddlesome way. The relationship between the MAT boards and LGBs needs to be rebalanced in favour of mutual accountability. What if the trustees end up being less than the sum of the MAT's parts and are not performing effectively? Some kind of LGBs conference should have the power to hold trustees to account, and maybe even dismiss them if they are not up to the job. Perhaps if E-ACT trustees were held to account by its LGBs rather than unilaterally abolishing them, it might have made a better fist of turning around failing schools (see here)?

Reading Improving School Governance while reflecting on the implications of multi-academisation I was suddenly overwhelmed by a melancholy mood. It dawned on me that if we are not careful the power bestowed upon GBs to make a difference in their schools will soon be syphoned off to MAT boards. All we'll have left of local governance will be emasculated LGBs. I know the Bard said 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet', but there's a reason why roses are called roses and turnips, turnips. Words mean something. Reserving 'board' with its strong strategic connotations for MAT trustees, while renaming individual school governance arrangements, 'Local Governing Bodies' doesn't smell as sweet to me. In fact, it stinks. 'School Governing Boards' and 'MAT Boards', please, emphasising strategic functions at different levels.

Dynamic local governance will enhance rather than undermine the development of highly effective, locally based, school led systems. The current situation calls for the NGA to act as a strong advocate for the enduring value of local governance. I fear, however, that Emma Knights has rather sold the pass in saying, "The school level group can act as the eyes and ears of the board" and "A new advisory role with influence, rather than responsibility could be one which builds on the best of governing" (see here). Is that it, 'influence'? LGBs as little more than focus groups. In her blog Emma Knights spoke of her proposals  in terms of governors 'having our cake and eating it'. Seems more like having a cake and giving it to someone else to eat.

Governors of the world (well, of England, anyway) unite! We have nothing to lose but our strategic powers to make a difference before they are swept under a MAT, never to be seen again.

* The views expressed here are entirely my own.  

Monday, February 08, 2016

What’s the Christian faith ever done for us?

 
There have been a number of gloomy articles of late (gloomy for me, at least) on the apparent decline of Christianity in our country. Church attendance is plummeting and when the church hits the news it is often for the wrong reasons. The Christian faith no longer shapes our culture and moral outlook as it once did in this country. Yet, Richard Dawkins of all people recently commented, ‘I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.’

In other words the arch-atheist has to admit that Christianity is of at least some benefit to society. That is indeed the case. The Christian faith asserts the unique value and dignity of each and every human being and insists that all human beings should be loved and cared for from womb to tomb. The belief that all human beings are made in the image of God has spurned a host of causes that have let to the abolition of slavery, improved working conditions, universal education and so on. Not to mention the impact of the Bible on literature and the arts.

But all these things are by-products of the Christian faith. The big thing is that God loves human beings and that he sent his Son into the world as one of us that we may be forgiven and have hope in the face of death. That’s why Jesus came, died on the cross and rose again from the dead. Those who believe in him are called to follow him and put his teaching into practice. As they do that at home, in the workplace, in the community, in our nation and on the world’s stage, believers try and make a difference. However small that may be.

It seems to be the case that many half-hearted churchgoers have given up on things here in the UK, but all is not lost. There are still millions of people at home and abroad whose lives have been transformed by knowing Jesus. His followers continue to devote their lives to serving him by helping others.

To return to my question, ‘What’s the Christian faith ever done for us?’ Quite a bit, actually. The key factor, however, is not that Christianity may act as bulwark against negative elements in our society, but that it points us to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. That's what it's all about. 

*For February editions of News & Views and Trinity Magazine

Friday, February 05, 2016

LET IT BE


On Monday evening we were off to the Theatre Royal, Bath to see the West End Beatles show, LET IT BE that is currently touring the UK. It's playing there until Saturday evening. The show is a run through of Beatles hits in more or less chronological order. The songs are performed live by four sound and look-a-likes. They took us from the innocent simplicity of the early numbers like, I Saw Her Standing There, right through to the mature classics such as, My Guitar Gently Weeps. Fine guitar solo on that one. The backdrop and band costumes changed to suit the times. The initial batch of songs were performed in the 'Cavern Club'. It was all psychedelic light effects for the Sergeant Pepper stuff. 

The musicianship of  the tribute band really struck home when an 'unplugged' segment in the second half saw them play Blackbird, Here Comes the Sun and one of my favourites, In My Life. 

A fine show that managed to get an ageing audience on its feet and somewhat anachronistically waving their lit up smart phones around. It was nah-nah-nah-na-na-na-naaas all round for the final song of the evening, Hey Jude. An enjoyable evening out. 

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Revenant

Image result for the revenant
The other week Sarah and I went to see the much talked about film The Revenant. Star Leonardo DiCaprio is hopeful that the ordeal of filming this harrowing movie, not to mention his acting talents will bag him a Best Actor Oscar. It will make braving freezing temperatures, eating dollops of raw meat and looking rather scruffy and unkempt all worthwhile. As well as being mauled by terrifyingly real CGI Grizzly Bear. 

A 'revenant' is a mythical creature who returns from the grave to wreak vengeance upon those who have done bad stuff. And boy, does lead character Hugh Glass have some bad stuff done to him? His fur trapper pals leave him for dead in a freezing wilderness after he got mauled by said bear. And to make things worse, (spoiler) one of them (John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy) kills his son. 

The film is loosely based on a true story. True-ish anyways. The one thing that keeps the badly injured Glass going as he hauls himself through snow and ice and gets swept along by raging, chilly torrents, is revenge. That's what makes him the eponymous revenant. relentlessly tracking down Fitzgerald for a day of reckoning. 

The film switches between lingering shots of the beauty of nature; bubbling streams, shafts of sunlight through forests. snow encrusted hills and plains, and then there's the ugly reality of human heartlessness and cruelty. Pristine snow is stained by innocent blood, which, like Abel's cries out from the ground for vengeance.

When the inevitable happens and Glass and Fitzgerald get to fight it out mano a mano, we discover how sweet or sour is the dish that is best served cold. (Spoiler) Suffice to say, Glass doesn't forgive the unrepentant Fitzgerald, but he remembers the words of a Pawnee companion, "revenge is in the Creator's hands". So, rather than finishing off his enemy with his own hands, Glass lets the injured man drift downstream to meet his fate. Attempted revenge doesn't provide Glass with the existential catharsis for which he longed. All he has left is haunted memories of love and loss.

Evil deeds call for a recompense. But the blood of Jesus speaks better things than that of Abel. His sacrifice speaks forgiveness to guilty sinners. Through faith in him our sins, though red like scarlet, are made as white as snow. The believer is to forgive as they were forgiven. When people who have wronged us reject our offer of forgiveness, still, it is not for us to take revenge. The Pawnee was right, "revenge is in the Creator's hands", Romans 12:19. And the Creator has committed all judgement into the hands of his Son whom he raised from the dead that he might put the world to rights, Acts 17:30-31. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Preaching with Spiritual Power by Ralph Cunnington

Preaching with Spiritual Power: 
Calvin's Understanding of Word and Spirit in Preaching,
Ralph Cunnington, Mentor, 2015, 126pp

In the last decade or so something of a controversy has been rumbling on in the Evangelical and Reformed world on the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching. On the one side some are so concerned to guard against Charismatic excesses that they almost go so far as to identify Word and Spirit. At least functionally, if not ontologically. When the Word is preached it is held that the Spirit is active in a virtually unvarying manner. We could call it (slightly unfairly) the 'Moore College view'. On the other side some are so concerned to safeguard the sovereignty of the Spirit that they hold that the Word may be preached as a 'bare Word', apart from the Spirit's activity. We could call it (with some justification) the 'London Theological Seminary view'. 

In pitting Moore against LTS I am oversimplifying rather. I should also point out that Cunnington's book isn't framed at an attempt to adjudicate a battle of the bible colleges. But it was former LTS Principal Philip Eveson's critique of 'Moore Theology' in Foundations (2006) that helped to bring the controversy to public attention. Current LTS Principal Robert Strivens added his two penn'orth in his 2008 Westminster Conference paper on 'Preaching - 'Ex Opere Operato?'' Strivens attempted to align the 'Moore view' with Martin Luther's alleged changed stance on the relationship between Word and Spirit as he reacted against the views of certain radical reformers. They tended to exalt the Spirit to the denigration of the Word. Stuart Olyott also weighed in against the Reformer in his Banner of Truth Magazine article on 'Why Luther Got It Wrong - And Why We Need to Know About It', (December 2009). Over and against Luther and his explanation of the Reformation in terms of 'the Word of God did it', Olyott  was at pains to argue that the Spirit brings sinners to new life apart from even the instrumentality of the Word. (It was a poorly argued piece, see here). In addition, Cunnington takes into account the views of ex-LTS man Hywel Jones in his 2011 Foundations article on 'Preaching the Word in the Power of the Holy Spirit'.

You might be forgiven for wondering why this controversy, carried out in the pages of magazines and theological journals, should be of interest to anyone beyond the the honourable guild of ministerial theology geeks? But it is important, because the view we take on the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching will have a significant impact on how we view the preaching of the Word, both in terms of its manner and intended impact. Those who tend towards binding the Spirit to the Word  may veer towards seeing preaching as little more than a well-delivered exposition of Scripture. We can trust that the Spirit will without variation be present and active whenever the Word is proclaimed. Others who emphasise the Spirit's sovereignty in relation to the Word may be more inclined to see preaching as an event where the Spirit's activity may be more intense and evident on some occasions than others. That may stimulate a longing to pray for 'more'. 

Cunnington's contribution brings a detailed study of historical theology to bear upon the debate in hand. He questions the contention of Robert Striven that Luther shifted his position on the relationship between Word and Spirit in reaction to the extreme views of certain radical reformers. In fact, Luther had a nuanced view of the Spirit's work in relation to the Word, and the same basic stance is is evident throughout his ministry. The Spirit's work may be viewed as distinct from the Word and therefore subject to variation in its effects, but Word and Spirit are never separated. However, as Charles Hodge pointed out in his Systematic Theology (Volume III p. 482) and as Cunnington acknowledges, in later Lutheran theology there was a tendency to blur the distinction between Word and Spirit. In Reformed thought however,  it was held that the Spirit works not only in and by, but also with the Word. Thus making due allowance for sovereign variation in the Spirit's work. As Herman Bavinck comments,
[The Holy Spirit] always works through the word but not always in the same way…Hence the subjective activity of the Spirit has to be added to the objective word. In the nature of the case it cannot be enclosed in the word; it is another activity, an additional activity, a subjective activity, not through but along with the word. (Reformed Dogmatics,Volume Four: Holy Spirit, Church, And New Creation. (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2008), 459-460). 
The idea of Word and Spirit as 'distinct yet inseparable', borrowed from the filed of Chalcedonian Christology, is key to understanding Cunnington's thought. It preserves him from a tendency to functionally merge Word and Spirit and also from saying that the Word may sometimes come to us totally bereft of  the Spirit's presence and action. He draws upon Calvin's theology of the Lord's Supper to show that according to the Reformer the Spirit is distinct from the symbols of bread and wine in the Supper, but never separate from them. Whenever the sacraments are received by faith the Spirit is at work enabling believers to feed upon Christ. But even if they are not received by faith, the Spirit is nevertheless present with the bread and wine, although in that case only the sign is received, not the grace signified by it. 

Calvin deploys a similar approach to the issue of the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching. The Spirit is distinct from the Word as a sovereign divine person, yet the Word cannot be separated from the Spirit. It is his Word and the Spirit is invariably present and active together with the Word he has given. But that does not mean the Spirit is unvaryingly present and active whenever the Word is proclaimed. Where the Word is not received in faith, he may be present and active in judgement. Where the Word is received in faith it is because the Spirit is present and active in saving power. 

Cunnington makes fleeting reference to the findings of speech-act theory to elucidate his point. This theory of how words work is a fruitful resource for formulating the relationship between Word and Spirit. Words at their most elemental are basic units of speech, or locutions. But words are uttered with a view to their illocutionary intent; they are meant to do something, like issue a command or make a promise. When a command is obeyed or a promise believed, words have had a perlocutionary effect upon those who heard them. The Spirit is the author of the biblical locutions and illocutions and is ever present, 'speaking in the Scripture' whenever the Word of God is communicated, but it takes a distinct action of the Spirit to ensure that the Word has the intended perlocutionary effect. That helps to account for texts such as 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5. The gospel did not come in 'word only', but the Holy Spirit was present in saving power. 

The main insight that Cunniungton draws from Calvin's teaching, that Word and Spirit are distinct and yet inseparable helps bridge the divide between the 'Moore College view' and the 'LTS view'. It has the advantage of reassuring the preacher that the Spirit will always accompany his Word and accomplish what he desires through it. And yet, I wonder whether Cunnington has gone far enough in recognising what Bavinck called 'the subjective activity [of the Spirit], not through but along with the word'. The 'distinct and yet inseparable' formula, while valid, should not be taken to mean that the Spirit is without variation present and active with the Word. The Spirit is sovereign in his use of the Word as an instrument of his perlocutionay actions, whether they be saving, sanctifying, or hardening. 

Also, the Spirit is sovereign when it comes to the extent to which he makes the preacher aware of his empowering presence when in the act of preaching. Paul makes reference to this element in both 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5. The Spirit works in the preacher's subjective experience, granting a sense of his being clothed with authority, and granted liberty and boldness in preaching. The congregation may also be given an awareness that the Spirit is present and acting along with the Word in an evidently striking manner. This is hinted at in Acts 4:31. Paul requested prayer for this, Ephesians 6:18-20. 

I believe this this is the dimension that the 'LTS men' were keen to safeguard over and against the view Philip Eveson identified with the Moore College tendency. They may have been ill-advised to suggest that the Word ever comes to us as 'bare Word', totally bereft of the presence and power of the Spirit. That is to deny the 'distinct yet inseparable' principle. But we should not lose sight of the biblically sanctioned subjective element of the Spirit's work in preaching. Neither should preachers and congregations be discouraged from seeking an intensification of the Spirit's work when the Word is proclaimed. As Calvin wrote, preaching is 'dead and powerless, if the Lord does not make it efficacious by his Spirit'. Preaching is meant to be more than an well-delivered exposition and application of the Word. The Spirit's empowering presence enables preachers to proclaim the Lord Jesus with boldness, liberty and life-transforming effectiveness. His communicative action makes preaching an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in all the fullness of his grace and power.

Ralph Cunnington's work has made an important contribution to the development of a constructive theology of Word and Spirit in preaching. He has provided a helpful corrective to a tendency to overstate the extent to which the Spirit is either tied to the Word or acts separately from it. But more attention needs to be given to the subjective dimension of the Spirit's work in the preaching of the Word in so far as that affects both the act of preaching and the way in which the preached Word is received by those who hear it. The Spirit works in, by, with and upon the preaching of the Word. That is what makes preaching 'theology on fire'.

In the interests of full disclosure it it should be said that I trained for the Ministry at the London Theological Seminary (1988-90). Not that this makes me biased, of course.

Oh, and this blog gets a footnote on p. 26, n 69. Can't be bad, eh?