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Review: Niringiye’s “The Church: God’s Pilgrim People”

The Church: God’s Pilgrim People Review

Author: David Zac Niringiye

Published: 2015

Publisher: IVP Academic

The Church CoverLiving in a globalized world in this new millennium, one of the great benefits is being able to hear the voices of many from far places that might have been unheard before. In picking up Bishop David Zac Niringiye’s recent work The Church: God’s Pilgrim People, the reader is given a text that holds one of these important voices. Previously serving as the Assistant Bishop of the Anglican Diocese in Kampala, Uganda until 2012, Niringiye is currently a Fellow in the Faculty of the Social Science at Uganda Christian University working in the fields of religion, culture, and public life. Holding a PhD from Edinburgh (1997,) his dissertation was a ecclesiological-historical study on the Anglican Church of Uganda. Bishop Niringiye provides both a practioneer’s experience of being in the midst of the churches and a scholar’s engagement with a larger breadth of conversations.

In his recent work, The Church: God’s Pilgrim People, Niringiye provides a text to engage ecclesiology from both the New Testament and the Old Testament vantage points. His approach seeks to integrate Israel’s story and the Church from the New Testament and explore applications for ministry and theology in this present era. This is the primary goal of his text. As part of this approach, Niringiye also intends to keep the global church in perspective instead of isolating to the Western expressions of ecclesial life. As the subtitle indicates, Niringiye hopes to show how the biblical Church is a pilgrim people, operating across the two testaments while bringing the Kingdom of God to be in this world. Niringiye presents is a biblical ecclesiology for the reader.

To accomplish this, Niringiye’s approach is to accomplish this over eight chapters after beginning with an introduction. The text also has an acknowledgements section and bibliography; footnotes are found in each chapter. As he sets into the introduction, one gets the sense of the book immediately. Niringiye’s style is not formal, but uses a causal linguistic approach to set out his text. In terms of structure, the first chapter frames his aims for the text while also setting Hebrews 11-12 as the New Testament basis for his ecclesiological project. Chapter two traces the pattern of God’s work in the Old Testament in order to draw comparisons to the Church as revealed in the New Testament. Chapter three continues this pattern, with the post-exilic period, completing the Old Testament correlations. Across chapters four and five, Niringiye turns to the New Testament texts and specifically how Jesus instantiates the Church. The sixth chapter moves into the Acts of the Apostles as described by Luke and discusses the initial moments of the Church, focusing on its missionary activity. Chapter seven walks the reader through some of the high points of the rest of the book of Acts, before chapter eight closes the text. In this final chapter, Niringiye moves into less of a recitation of the biblical ecclesial movement, as he sees it, and more into projecting his ecclesiological vision. The eighth chapter serves as the concluding chapter for the text.

In evaluating the text, the first point worth making is that Niringiye does a good job with his task and has crafted a worthwhile text for his readers. This is a unique contribution, a biblical ecclesiology, but a contribution that is exactly that and is not to be seen as a systematic theology. One of the most important contributions this text makes to the growing ecclesiological conversation is how mindful it is of the global Church. Too often ecclesiologies will tend to favor the first world, Western expression and seem almost devoid of any interest in second or third world expressions of ecclesial community. Niringiye does not suffer from this horizon and his work accomplishes an expansion of inclusion not often seen in texts on the Church. He also makes use of life illustrations helpfully while also tying his entire effort to the text of Scripture. This is one of the most biblical ecclesiologies this reviewer has encountered. To these ends the text accomplishes its goals and presents a provocative picture of the Church that is rooted in both testaments. Because of these qualities, it is easy to commend the text, though with some noted caveats.

One of the first of these is noting that the text does suffer from a lack of depth which prohibits its use beyond a survey level introduction to some ecclesiological matters. Niringiye keeps his discussion of the Church at a basic level, so much so that it limits the scope of the text’s use in seminary or research courses. This criticism is evidenced in the eighty-two total footnotes and forty-nine sources cited in the bibliography. For this work to qualify as an academic one, which the publisher touts the text as, it would need more heft and erudition on these levels. Perhaps some of this is to blame on the relative thinness of the volume, a quick two hundred pages. Regardless, this contributes to the text’s lack of scholarly height. Secondly, Niringiye’s position that the Church finds its roots in the Old Testament expression is Israel is an ecclesiological position that many will take issue with and one that is not well defended by the author. It is difficult to see how the Church extends to Israel, even the reconstructed post-exilic Israel, as the author assumes. Perhaps investigating this topic and establishing a more credible foundation would have aided the work. Finally, the author seems to have created, for the majority of the text, simply a recitation of the biblical events he is considering, with some minor commentary, more than a self-sustaining biblical ecclesiology. There are a number of points at which non-episcopalian model ecclesiologists and parishioners will disagree with his conclusions; fleshing out this territory would certainly have benefited the text and the reader alike. Even with the biblical theology category in which the text falls, some engagement with ecclesiological concepts and discussions that are more in depth and worth exploring would certainly have aided the text. None of these issues are fatal to the text.

In all, this is a good text and the community of Christ is benefited by the work. Niringiye’s voice is one that should be included in the larger ecclesial discourse of the global church. Though some stylistic issues will inevitably challenge readers, particularly his penchant for lists, when one looks beyond these minor trivialities there is a quality text to read. Niringiye’s work is best suited for a lay, undergraduate, or as a secondary course in the seminary level.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be interacting with some points from the text and hopefully expanding on some key issues that Niringiye brings up the in text. Stay tuned.

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Professors Sharing Student Papers – a plea

Over the past several years, social media has exploded as a driving medium for communication and discourse in across our contemporary culture. This is not a surprising statement. Due to the easy access and low barriers of social media, it is rather easy to have a presence in various places. One of the great benefits is having professors who are part of various schools and institutions having accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This allows them to add insightful notes on their fields of specialization, identify new research or discoveries, and interact with current trends. As this happens, social media is being used well.

TwitterTeachingHowever, some professors and educators are using part of their social media platforms to share their students’ papers through quotes, commentary, and other incisive critiques. In instances, professors are quoting directly from student papers and offering less than charitable thoughts…usually to a handful of ‘likes’, favorites, repostings, and/or replies from those who follow their posts. While the plaudits of the masses are always enjoyable and ego building, these kinds of actions are, ultimately, dangerous and harmful to the educational process.

There are a number of pseudonymous or anonymous social media accounts that started this trend, perhaps one of the earliest to do in my discipline (theology) is the Bible Students Say twitter account. Others have arisen of the kind and the interactions caught a lot of attention. The tweets were edgy and often funny or ironic quotes from students, yet under the veneer of anonymity many seemed to be okay with that kind of posting. At some point over the past several years it became acceptable for faculty members and professors to imitate these accounts, but under their public profiles. Now, it seems, one can easily note when the high points of the semester by the quotations of student papers in various professorial social media accounts.

This trend is not a good one. Thankfully having never seen any of my own paper quotes out in social media, I have heard of some students who have had some of their papers quoted…and then read the, sadly, expected chiding and churlish interactions and replies from others on social media. Recently, over the past several months, I’ve noticed some professors who have ceased doing this, but others who have increased up their posts. A second aspect of this trend is professors complaining about the nature of student papers, without direct quotes, and the lack of educational refinement or gaps in the students’ work.laughing

My thought behind this is simple: Please stop posting student paper quotes and content, please stop commenting on the “drudgery” of grading them, and please stop chiding your students over public social media about being…well, students.

After thinking over this issue for a while, my greatest objection to this is that the behavior of professors who engage in these is, ultimately, a violation of the informal professor-student compact. Students are learners, they don’t know everything on a topic and are most assuredly in process of development. Professors are given the great task of helping forming students intellectually and relationally for the world. To take sections or sentences from their papers and post them publicly, almost always to shame them or make fun of their incomplete thoughts, violates this compact.

If professors would go back and read their undergraduate and early graduate work they would bristle and roll their eyes at things they said, conclusions they made, argumentation process laid out, and even poor methodologies. Part of being a student is the confidence and trust that your professor will graciously hear you out, offer correctives, and help move you forward as a student. If a professor were to stand up in class and read aloud of papers of students while others listened we would cringe; doing it on social media is no different.

Another point is that complaining about the grading process is not enduring to anyone else. As a professor grading is a necessary and expected part of your role in the lives of your institution and student body. They need your feedback. As someone who has little desire to enter the academic world, I also see it as trite and unbecoming of a seasoned academic professional. You have a career that many aspire to, yet it is treated with disdain. My encouragement would be to refrain from letting us know how badly your students are doing, because they are a reflection of an increasingly broken higher education system and your teaching style.

There are some wonderful discussions about how to use social media to interact with and help your student, advice and tips to add to this engagement, and also helpful points about the limitations of what can be shared on social media. Many good things can be accomplished through social media. Students are benefited by access to discussions with professors and even seeing how their educators are actually normal people. Yet in all of this there is a darker side that can lead us to harm relationship between professors and students. Just as a pastor would be negligent in posting the detailed counseling conversations with others, or a priest the sins heard in the confessional, a doctor in discussing a patient’s lifestyle or health, professors need to be reticent in posting harmful or hurtful information about their students. You have a wonderful and amazing task: to shape and develop the next generation. Steward that task well and we are all beneficiaries.

So, what do you say?

23
Jun 2016
POSTED BY Garet
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Education

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Blogging Sabbatical Over

After a bit of a lay off…well, a long lay off. I’m returning to updating this blog. I’ll provide some occasional, and with no regular pattern, posts covering topics related to church ministry, historical theology, and apologetic discussions among others. As before the focus here is on ministry and theology.First_Sabbatical_Art

Just a personal update, since my last post I’ve been enjoying plenty of transition. Following the completion of my PhD in 2014, I took a new position at University Baptist Church in Houston as the Adult Pastor. My wife and I also welcomed our first child, our son, in May of 2015. We moved across the city and have been enjoying learning about our new ministry and area. During my time off from public blogging, I’ve been enjoying a season of rest after some busy ministry and academic growth. At one point I took an extended social media sabbatical as well and this has been supremely helpful. We are, as a society, far too driven by our self-obsessions and distractions. My time away has been good, but it is also time to re-engage in meaningful discussions.

This blog will still be used for vocational and academic reasons and will stay away from popular click-bait topics. Hopefully I’ll be able to engage in some helpful discussions that benefit the local church and strengthen ministries. Keeping the same title, Pro Ecclesia, is intentional…this blog exists for the Church.

18
May 2016
POSTED BY Garet
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Why I Don’t Believe in Time Travel – a Christian historiography

Have you seen the movie, Interstellar? I had the chance to see it in our local theater the other day and really enjoyed the movie. Christopher Nolan has done a great thing for cinema over the past several years, reintroducing textures of live action and set design alongside wonderful cinematography. Interstellar is no different, though one gets the feeling it is Nolan’s take on 2001: A Space Odyssey in some ways.

Part of the movie (and I’m attempting not to reveal anything in its conclusion) has to with the theory of relativity and, specifically, the nature of time. In watching the movie, the plight of humanity serves only as a backdrop, or perhaps a pretext, for engaging in a discussion of these major issues. Time travel is introduced…though I am not going to say how. So, this morning, I thought it might be good to use this movie as a means of explaining why I find time travel quite impossible.

One of the essential philosophical conversations one needs to have, at some age, concerns the nature of history and how we understand the way history works. There any number of critical engagements, and some very intriguing writing on all sides. To make a major engagement shorter, there are many views of historiography that include historicism, Marxism, cyclical views, dialetic, and Christian. Sub-categories proliferate, though they generally stay within these major categories.

Historicism, a concept that was developed heavily among the German schools of the late 18th century, posits that all cultures are the result of their mutual historical participation and are moulded  by the past. All cultures are participants in the larger historical narrative and is a process of natural development. (See Kant, Wilhelm Dithey, and Giambattista Vico, etc.)

Marxist views of historiography are, predictably, centered around understanding how individuals work and produce their means of subsistence. For the Marxist historian, the struggle of history is broadly seen and understood through the experience of production. (See Marx, Hegel, Engels, and Greorgy Plekhanov, etc.)

Cyclical, considers the movement of history across the ages through periods of birth, growth, renewal, decline, and death before the cycle begins again. Not surprisingly this view is popularized in eastern cultures (Chinese, Indian, etc.) as well as in agrarian societies where the natural order is seen in the season. (See Stoicism, Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, and Arnold Toynbee, etc.)

Dialetic, advanced most critically by Hegel, the world-spirit (Geist) is progressively developing the world towards a final synthesis. Broadly speaking, it is the historical outworking of “its turtles all the way down” but progressively so. This leads to progressive stages of increasing self-awareness among humanity.

Within this discussion, Christians have offered a philosophy of history that has been, largely, adopted by most culturally though it likely no longer holds sway among intellectuals. Christian historiography begins with the presupposition that God is a creator and has created the world and wishes to be known by His creation. Taking a linear approach to the study of history, creation has a specific beginning, a timeline of existence, and then an end.

As a result, what has happened historically is done, there isn’t access back to it in the realm of creation. There is no ability, nor reason, to access historical events because the point of history is the display of the God’s story (His-Story) across the scope of humanity’s existence. What has been done is done, yet the future is what awaits. Just as we cannot fast-forward into the future (other than sleeping…or a comatose state) by leaps and bounds, we also are not able to go backwards. Nor are we intended.

To be honest, I love time travel movies. Ever since Michael J Scott jumped in a DeLorean in Back to the FutureI’ve been hooked on them. But ultimately, they’reTime Machine just good stories. While theoretical physicists and cosmologists (who are entirely dealing in theory) can postulate any number of instances where this kind of thing is possible, the simple philosophical reality is that it is not. Indeed, for the Christian the simple theological truth is that God has provided no system whereby mankind can be part of time travel in this temporal creation.

And that is entirely okay. Our goal in history is, indeed, crafting the grand story of God’s glory as worked out and redeemed among humanity. We are part of God’s story, and our hope is found in looking forward to the promise that awaits, not behind at that which holds us back.

Time travel stories are great departures and wonderful ways to dream about something beyond us. For Christian historiography, they are just that…stories. Left there we can enjoy them and have moments of release. Ironically, what undergirds so much of time travel stories is the same thing that binds the Christian historiography together…hope.

We cannot travel back in time, nor leap far ahead either. Instead we can believe with hope that God is accomplishing something great in our world and creation that, ultimately, displays His glory and with which we can partner for a greater Kingdom that is to come.

 

Addendum: Now, There is something to be said about God’s atemporality, as well as His omnipresence, at this point. Omnipresence is, usually, understood as God having causal access to all places at all times. It does not necessarily denote being able to move up and down a historical timeline. Atemporality speaks to the relationship of God and time. God stands outside of time, though having access to it, and sees all points of time. Mankind does not have this access. Perhaps this is echoed in Luke 14 and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that once one has died and is in Heaven, they are unable to re-enter the temporal sphere of creation. But I digress.

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An Ecclesiological Thought on Mars Hill’s Dissolving

Mars Hill LogoMany things have been changing in Seattle over the past several months with the challenges presented to Mars Hill Church. With the resignation of Pastor Mark Driscoll, it has been an important time to pay attention to what is going on ecclesiologically with their church. Since Mars Hill was such a significant model for many churches inside and outside the Acts 29 network, particularly with details about eldership and polity, any shift in this mega-ministry will have reverberations throughout evangelicalism.

Today, the leadership board of Mars Hill made the decision to dissolve the church and allow the various multi-sites to create either regional units or autonomous local congregations. You can read about this decision over at the ChristianPost.com site.

This decision is significant and historic. Having just completed my dissertation on the role of local church autonomy in the first two centuries, seeing this kind of shift, as sudden as it has happened, is poignant. As the leadership board of Mars Hill Church has made this move to dissolution and approved a plan to create autonomous churches, they are opting to reinforce a more mindful New Testament model of church that values the nature of the church in the first century. It is an important and helpful moment.

Mars Hill has been a major influencer, on the level of Saddleback, Willow Creek, Northpoint, and some others, on the contemporary ecclesial environment of evangelicalism. It can be said the Pastor Mark Driscoll has been as much an ecclesiological influence as other aspects of his theological ministry. With Mars Hill deciding to dissolve corporately and allow the remaining campuses to take on their own, independent identities, this marks one answer to a lingering question about the multi-site model in contemporary evangelicalism.

Mars Hill’s situation was unique; it was a church with 15 campuses across 5 states. It existed as an autonomous (or free) church ecclesiologically but did not accord that same autonomy to its multi-sites in these ranging locations. One question that seemed to always exist for Mars Hill, and that exists for other multi-site churches, is: what happens with the leader, or major figure, leaves the church? Mars Hill has provided a poignant answer.

For those who fall into a free church, or independent, model of NT ecclesiology, each local church is networksunderstood as an independent congregation that is to be free from external pressure and influence in all matters of governance, finances, and even theological decisions. While associations and networks are free to disfellowship local churches who fall out of accord with them, they are not permitted to have authority in that local congregation. Instead, the members of that local congregation are the ultimate decision makers for all these matters related to their, and only their, local church. (My particular concern is not to address all multi-site churches, indeed many are well within the NT model, but instead to point out that when a local church creates campuses outside of a natural region (where they could easily assemble as one body) they step into a dangerous area ecclesiologically.)

Many multi-site churches, specifically those with campuses outside of their local region, tread a fine line of violating local church autonomy for their extended campuses when they deny these aspects of local governance. These churches end up resembling more of an episcopal parish system than a congregational ecclesiology.

Of course it is also notable that many multi-site churches are personality driven and assemble many followers and members based on the senior pastor who is the primary communicator. Mars Hill was one of these kinds of churches. Their decision is, as a result, notable.

I am thankful that Mars Hill has made the theologically, and ecclesiologically, bold step of releasing their campuses to go off on their own. May we remember to pray for this larger corporate body of Mars Hill and then also for the, now, independent congregations that used to be part of this church. May we also continue to pray for the restoration of Pastor Mark Driscoll to ministry, surely he deserves this and we are better for it. This is a significant move that will, prayerfully, have an impact on how local congregations throughout Christianity better understand and apply the NT model of congregational (or free) church polity. We are stronger as we accurately reflect a proper NT model.

 

31
Oct 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Fish for Groups

IMG_0004This past Sunday, we held a meeting of the Young Adults Leadership teams that are part of the ministry at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. This is an annual pre-fall meeting where we discuss what’s been going on in our ministry area, what is coming, and then take some time to refine some aspect of our overall groups processes. We are incredibly blessed with strong lay leaders at Sugar Creek and, even with a few leaders missing, still have 52 in attendance for our luncheon.
One of the key parts of any healthy and growing ministry is the continued investment in leadership development through times of intentional training and a willingness to talk through basic ministry structures. As I’ve learned (often the hard way) those in ministry must remember two key principles:

1. We can never tell our people how much we love them.

2. We can never show our people how much they mean to us.

At Sugar Creek, we’ve found that many of our best leadership development times come on Sundays, often during or directly following our regular programming. So, this past Sunday, we held a lunch, catered by a wonderful vendor, that allowed our leadership to enjoy a great meal and then participate in some leadership discussions.

To facilitate the second part of this day, we used the powerful training resource called Fish! Philosophy and applied it to our groups ministry. I discovered the Fish! Philosophy while serving at a previous ministry venue and have seen the impact the four key principles can have in creating discussions to aid ministry development. The Fish! Philosophy uses a well produced video to discuss four principles that make any experience wonderful:Front Slide

1. Play

2. Make their Day

3. Be There

4. Choose Your Attitude

After showing the video, we had our groups, sitting together as a leadership team, to talk about how they could apply each in their groups. Perhaps most significant in any training time, especially with Millennials, is being sure to allow for mutual collaboration through conversation with their peers. To often we end up talking at people and not with them and this defeats the purpose of leadership training.

For any groups ministry, a consistent pattern of leadership development enables trust and provides a platform for continued health in these groups. If you are looking to start new groups, you can often find your leaders from times like these.

How we foster a culture of continued ministry leadership development is key to seeing health raised up in our churches and growth, not necessarily numerical, occur among our people. This is one example of how leadership development works well in an established church culture.

03
Sep 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Leadership

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