Saturday, March 29, 2014

More from Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Mosaic of St Paul
from the book's US Cover
Back from a 10-day trip to Beijing, HK and Beijing Much un-bloggable though it was great to worship again in HK's Anglican Cathedral and to give a seminar at the top financial graduate school in Beijing. Also my HBR China Article was No1 on the HNR China website the week I arrived.

However my lent reading has been Tom Wright's wonderful book Paul and the Faithfulness of God and I'm now on p 870 so a bit more than half way through. It's a wonderful book with an important message: that (at least in Paul's view) Jesus was the promised Messiah through whom God keeps his promise to Abraham that he will become the father of many nations and that through him all humankind will be blessed.  Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile by ethnicity, are the children of Abraham and inheritors of the covenant. We are to be lights to the world and as "the body of the Messiah" and a "living temple" we are to bring God's blessing to the world and help His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  It's remarkable in a way that Tom has to argue for this, but there has been much completely wrong-headed Pauline "scholarship" over the years.  Here are a few gems:
  • Empires thrive on religious relativism; the more gods the better; since the more there are the less likely they are to challenge the ruling ideology.
  • Paul knows the very practical meaning of monotheism: allegiance to the One God will mean persecution from the surrounding world.
  • (quoting Baukham) the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity ... was central to the faith of the early church before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them.
  • In his life and death and resurrection Jesus had accomplished the new Exodus, had done in person what Israel's God had said he would do in person... Jesus' first followers found themselves not only (as it were) permitted to use God-language for Jesus, but compelled to use Jesus-language for the One God.
  • At the name of Jesus 'every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess' (the Septuagint of Isaiah 45.23 has 'shall confess God' exomologEsetai tw thew).  But what they will now confess is 'that Jesus, Messiah, is kyrios': the last word in the sentence in the first in Greek, kyrios JEsous Christos. And... when Paul writes kyrios in relation to Jesus he means his readers to understand, as anyone familiar with the Septuagint would understand, the word YHWH.
  • What marked Jesus out, what made the early Christians say 'he really was God's son' was not his death, but his resurrection...which...unveiled the identity he has possessed all along.
  • None of this seems to have been a matter of controversy within the earliest church...what we think of as a 'high' christology was thoroughly established within, at most, 20 years of Jesus' resurrection.
  • The Spirit enables God's people to keep the Shema...Shema...means 'hear and obey'
  • Neither the average ancient pagan nor the average ancient Jew was...worrying about how their sould might get to a disembodied heaven after they had died.   

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tom Wright's wonderful Paul and the Faithfulness of God Book 1

Just finished the first physical book of Tom Wright's wonderful Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  This is simply tremendous and anyone seriously interested in the New Testament should read it.

I wish I had more time to blog some gems but I'm frantically busy at the moment.  Here are just a very few of the hundreds of gems I've highlighted:
  • Paul remained a deeply Jewish thologian who had rethought and reworked every element of hisnative Jewish theology in the light of the Messiah and the spirit, resulting in his own vocational self-understanding as apostle to the pagans.
  • The second century Jews gave up their narrative because they had been defeated by Rome. The sixteenth-century protestants gave up their narrative because they believed they had escaped from Rome.
  • This is the time of the new creation; the time of the new Temple, which, I would suggest, constitutes the new Sabbath
  • It is almost as though the entire system is designed to challenge human beings to grow up in their understanding.
  • Just as the Christian worldview compels people to think in a new way... so Christian theology remains a corporate task, one in which the church as a whole has to engage. 
  • Give someone a thought and you help them for a day; teach someone to think and you transform them for life.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Three Chairs for Charles Handy

Charles holding Questions of Truth
(I'll replace this with photos of the
event when I get them).
To Cambridge on Tuesday where we had arranged for our friend Charles Handy to come and talk to the students at the Judge Institute. Charles decided to use a "three chairs" format whereby he sat with a chair either side of him. I began by sitting on his left and asking him some questions to which he responded, then the next questioner would sit in the empty chair and the previous person would leave, who would in their turn be displaced by the next questioner coming to sit in the now-empty chair etc..
The Director of the Business School came to welcome him at the beginning and point out that Charles had played a seminal role in the creation of the school.

I started by recalling his famous talk "What is a company for?" and asking how he now saw this question. He thought that the mischief stretched back to the US case of Dodge vs Ford and then Mike Jensen's 1976 article about the Management being the Agents of the shareholders. But of course Companies are their own legal entities and are not simply the collection of the shareholders. The one major result seems to Daughter, who was next up, asked him about role-playing in work and life. Charles thinks that social media and other similar developments means that the masks people wear in work are increasingly see-through. A friend of his did "take your daughter to work" and his daughter said to her father afterwards "but you aren't like that at all."  It took Charles 10 years to stop trying to be somebody else.

Charles thinks, rightly, that business schools should be challenging business models and encouraging critical thinking rather than simply teaching a load of established techniques.  People need to set time aside for critical reflection. You need people you can trust to talk to about problems. Sabbaticals are also a very good idea. One of his most successful friends in business takes 8-9 weeks a year off work to think and read.

A book Charles commends called The Puritan Gift about the history of US Business makes the point that historically US businesses were run by people who really knew their businesses. The idea of the generalist manager is dangerous. Learn your business. He once asked a great actor what the key was to great acting and he said paying attention - to people, the audience and what you are doing.

I wish I had time to blog more about this fascinating dialogue (but the fact that this post is 5 days after the event tells its own story). The Judge then hosted a small dinner where we and a few students also had the benefit of a serious and deep discussion with Charles and Liz, touching on roles, gender issues, purpose in careers and many other things besides.

A great privilege and a great evening.

PS my piece about strategic leadership in Harvard Business Review China has been published and is now also on their website.  It is currently the No 1 article in their "column" section and seems to be the 5th most read article on their website.  And FWIW Questions of Truth is No 28 on Amazon.co.uk Nature and Existence of God and #71 in Science and Religion.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Quinn Kelsey in Rigoletto and Alyson Cambridge in La Boheme

Quinn with Barry Banks, Anna Christie and Spriafuclie
To the ENO Friday night to see Quinn Kelsey sing Rigoletto.  The cast was generally excellent and Quinn's voice is truly outstanding. Barry Banks was also very good as the Duke.  Sadly the production was somewhat bonkers - with the "concept" that that action all takes place in a Gentlemen's Club which makes a nonsense of much of the action including the death seen where Gilda just walks away leaving Rigoletto lying on the ground. (Perhaps the concept is that she isn't dead at all but has gone on to a free and easy life??) Admittedly the idea that someone stabbed by a professional assassin can sing for so long isn't exactly naturalistic but really...

It was great to see Quinn and as I say he has an astounding voice. We had a drink afterwards with some of his many friends, but I had to get back. Catch him if you can in any show - he's really excellent.

Zulimar, Zhengzhong, Alyson and Rame
On Saturday we went to La Boheme at the Albert Hall where Alyson Cambridge was singing Mimi. The excellent Director Francesca Zambello (with whom Alyson has worked on several occasions) bright the action to post-WW2 Paris but didn't mess with the opera and it all worked very well. Because it was staged in the round they were miked and I think the excellent singers would have sounded even better if the amplification was a bit lower. I hadn't heard Alyson sing before and she was terrific - singing and acting beautifully. She had a very strong cast: Rame Lahaj as Rodolfo, Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez as Musetta, and the outstanding Chinese Baritone Zhengzhong Zhou as Marcello.

Since it was a matinee we were able to go out for a bite afterwards and still get to bed in reasonable time.  We also met Alyson's friend the delightful Kate Lindsey.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tom Wright at Westminster Abbey

To the Gore Lecture at Westminster Abbey on Tues which was given by Tom Wright. It was great to see Tom again and to thank him for his wonderful book on Paul which I am reading with great profit.

Tom argued that misinterpretation of Paul goes back to the linguistic shift between dikiazwne which if often translated as righteousness but it really means primarily covenant-loyalty in Paul's thought. By this time this had gone into Latin as justicia  the concept seemed to be about judgement in a legal sense, and how you could get acquited before God and life after death. Then the Reformers basically said "no you have a different way of achieving justification" and this confusion was further amplified by the Enlightenment trying to push God and Religion into a purely "spiritual" matter that had no connection with the normal world.

Paul says that God has proven to be faithful to His covenant and to His creation. Through Abraham God has initiated his plan to rescue creation from the sin of Adam.  To be God's image is to be an actor: to reflect God into the world and the world before God. The destiny of Israel is to be the Royal Priesthood and we need to recover the idea that humanity's destiny is to be God's agents, and to be stewards of His creation.

Tom believes that God made us in His image against the day of the incarnation. The incarnation was not Plan B - although no doubt if Adam hadn't sinned the incarnation would have looked very different. The Kingdom of God is not just about God and His people. We are rescued so that we can be rescuers.  Image bearers are an angled mirror, connecting the "horizontal" to the "vertical".

He also speculated that if the Reformers had taken Ephesians as their key text rather than Romans the history of Western Europe would have been very different.  He points out for example that Paul is very concerned with church unity - Paul speaks of unity 10x for every time he speaks of justificiation. The splits in the church remain a global scandal.

Tom is of course very critical of the ideology of the "Enlightenment". He conceded that this was not an unmitigated disaster, but the myth of the inevitability of "progress" is deeply misleading. He was very emphatic about the right and duty of the Church to get deeply involved in "political" matters such as the letter from the Bishops on the benefit system.

Afterwards there was a small reception in the Jerusalem Chamber and it was great to see Tom again, meet the Dean of Westminster, and Claire Foster-Gilbert who runs the Westminster Abbey Institute but who I knew when she was supporting the Science Medicine and Technology Committee of the CofE which John Polkinghorne chaired and on which I served in the 1990s.