16 October 2015

What hath Carver wrought?

In our society few organizations are entirely self-governing. Managers generally must answer to an independent board, whose members are either appointed by the previous board or elected by the organization’s stakeholders. The board may appoint a chief executive officer, who is responsible for his or her conduct to that board. But how exactly should a board and management relate to each other? And how should both relate to the other stakeholders? Each organization must find its own path here, and there is no single right way.

In 1990 Dr. John Carver published a book, Boards That Make a Difference, which set forth a seemingly fresh model for board governance, known as the Policy Governance® model or, more popularly, the Carver model. Traditionally members of a board would meet on a regular basis and, during these meetings, would have to wade through massive amounts of documentation related to the conduct of the organization’s business since the previous meeting. Despite the best of intentions, these boards would almost invariably get so bogged down in specifics that they were unable properly to move the organization forward to well-defined goals.

Carver sought to rectify these deficiencies with his own model, which he deemed particularly applicable to nonprofit and public boards, including those of schools, hospitals, chambers of commerce, local church congregations, and professional associations. While boards of business corporations are governed by the profit motive, the goals of nonprofit and public entities are not nearly so obvious and thus require more direction from their respective boards. By applying his principles, Carver believed that governing boards can indeed make a difference.

They do so primarily by being proactive and initiating policy, rather than merely responding to policies made by management. As Carver sees it, “the governing board is the guardian of organizational values.” Accordingly, “what goes on at and below the level of chief executive is completely immaterial” as far as the board is concerned. The board sets broad policies in accordance with those values and charges the chief executive with realizing them within the organization. The board governs, while the chief executive manages.

There is much to be said for the Carver model. First, it establishes what appears to be a sensible division of labour between governance and management. Second, by allowing the board to establish in advance criteria by which to measure the performance of the chief executive, it seems fairer than the older models, in which board governance is haphazard at best, the chief executive often being held to ad hoc standards thought up by individual board members on the spur of the moment. Third, it seems more efficient and businesslike, enabling governing boards to find their own voice and to articulate their expectations for the conduct of the chief executive.

Yet there are significant drawbacks to the Carver model as well, and these should make especially Christian organizations reluctant to adopt it wholesale.

First, governing boards are usually composed of volunteers, often working in fields unrelated to the organization’s mission. One expects, of course, that they will already sympathize with that mission, but it is unrealistic to expect that they will all be equally committed to it or adept at articulating it. The board chair usually functions as the voice of the board but may not necessarily be skilled at consensus building and might not represent the majority if the board should become divided.

Second, and more seriously, the Carver model places the board members at a potentially troublesome distance from the life of the organization and from the very staff who are undertaking to live out its mission. While Carver himself obviously thinks this is a good thing, one of its negative side effects is to erect an artificial barrier between board and staff, whose responsibilities and well-being are deemed “completely immaterial” to the board. In reality, of course, the welfare of the staff is of utmost importance for the organization’s success, and a board would be unwise to pretend otherwise. Furthermore, this very distance holds out the prospect of fragmenting the unity of the organization.

Third and finally, the Carver model is excessively hierarchical, concentrating too much power in the hands of the chief executive, who is, for all practical purposes, the sole link between the board and the organization. As such it places an inappropriate level of confidence in a single individual, something we would never tolerate in a political system, where authority is more properly dispersed among several offices. If the chief executive is less dedicated to the vision than the board thinks he or she is, then, in the absence of effective internal checks on that office, the organization risks losing its way sooner rather than later.

Christian organizations, especially those standing in the Reformed tradition, should be wary of adopting a form of board governance which in significant ways contradicts the principles of that tradition. While Carver may have much to offer, we would do better to adopt a governance model which (1) takes seriously the multiplicity of authoritative offices throughout an organization, (2) provides a means by which they can be heard at the highest levels, and (3) generally facilitates communication among these offices rather than artificially cutting it off.

David T. Koyzis is the author of We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (Pickwick Publications, 2014), an exploration of the central role authority plays in human life and society. He teaches politics at Redeemer University College. This post appeared as Koyzis' monthly column, "Principalities & Powers," in the 12 October issue of Christian Courier.

04 October 2015

Creatio ex nihilo: a temporal or supratemporal act?

“In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.
Genesis 1:1

I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth . . . .
Apostles' Creed

On this basic confession virtually all Christians agree. Where we disagree is over when and how God created. In the 17th century Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland famously asserted with confidence, based on the genealogies in the Old Testament, that God's initial act of creation occurred on the evening of 22 October 4004 BC, that is, slightly more than 6,000 years ago. While young-earth creationists may not necessarily accept this precise time, they nevertheless date God's initial creative act back only thousands or tens of thousands of years. Moreover, according to the modern rabbinic Jewish calendar, this year is 5776, which effectively dates the beginning of creation to 3761 BC. The Septuagint chronologies similarly date creation to 5509 BC.

Obvious difficulties abound with all of these chronologies. To begin with, we know that the light of the most distant stars visible on earth has been travelling for some 13 billion years prior to reaching us. This would appear to give us a readily discernible date for the beginning of the cosmos as we know it, often referred to as the Big Bang. Furthermore, the last of the dinosaurs died off some 65 million years ago, and the first hominid species appeared several million years ago, far too early for assigning such a late date to that initial act of creation.

Recognizing these realities has brought into being old-earth creationists who believe that that initial act of creation must be pushed back much, much further into the past. Perhaps the Big Bang marks the initial act of creation, when the universe initially exploded and began expanding outwards, as it continues to do today. Those Christians arguing for an old earth have considerable empirical support on their side, including the geological record, the length of time light takes to travel from one part of the universe to another, carbon-14 dating, and fossil and genetic evidence for the evolution of species across long stretches of time.

Which of these is correct? I strongly suspect that both are equally wrong in locating God's initial act of creation within or even at the beginning of the temporal succession of events. Could the Bible's “in the beginning” be atemporal or supratemporal? After all, if time is the creature of God, then he would have had to call time into existence as part of his initial creative act. But if we try to pinpoint a time when time was created, we are inadvertently proposing that time is not a creature at all, pre-existing or perhaps co-existing with God. This would effectively ascribe divinity to time, much as the ancient Greeks worshipped old Chronos (Χρόνος) himself. That, of course, would make God a subordinate being and less than fully God. No faithful small-o orthodox Christian could accept this possibility.

What then is the alternative? Admittedly, I am not a theologian and have no aspiration to become one. Thus what I propose here I do with due caution and modesty, and will not stake my reputation on it. I am, of course, open to correction. But could it be that that initial act of creation cannot be located at all along the temporal continuum of past, present and future? The Big Bang is not a satisfactory candidate, because the theory behind it still presupposes that matter pre-existed the Big Bang, which goes against the biblical notion of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. The Big Bang better fits into Plato's cosmology as set forth in the Timaeus than into a biblical worldview. Thus it cannot be the initial point of creation. It is often objected that six-day creationists assume that God brought everything into being a few thousand years ago and gave it the appearance of age by planting fossils and exposing the earth to starlight appearing to be billions of years old. They would thus seem to make God into a grand deceiver, tricking people into believing that the cosmos is older than it really is.

Yet what if God brought everything into being at once while giving it, not just the appearance of age, but a real history capable of being detected by his image-bearing human creatures? We may not be able to locate the temporal beginnings of matter and energy, but they nevertheless have their origins in the God who is outside history while nevertheless choosing to act within it, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus the moment before God created is a transcendental before, not to be located in the remote past but outside time itself within the nihil, or nothingness, of everything that is not God. This transcendental before is inaccessible to the human mind and experience; therefore it cannot properly be the object of theoretical thought any more than darkness can be visible to a blind eye or silence audible to the deaf.

Although a two-dimensional diagram may not be the best way to portray visually God's creative activity, the following may serve to illuminate my proposal:





If my proposal is correct, then the argument between young-earth creationists and those holding to an old earth may rest on a false dichotomy. If God's initial creative activity cannot be located along the temporal succession of events, then it may be time (!) at last to lay this verbal conflict to rest and to come up with a fresh way to articulate an ancient truth.

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can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com