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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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A Few Thoughts on the CDC Births Study

Millennials are having babies. Yes, this is certainly true. Since Millennials are the primary segment in the age range that is most likely to give birth (what my grandmother called the “fertile years”…enunciating each syllable mind you) this conclusion is broad and simple.

A recent CDC study on the trends associated with Millennials births, and other age segments which mean Gen-Xers, has some preliminary conclusions which are helpful for us who are in church ministry. Their report surveys the birth rate and other factors around births for the 2013 year. Here are some quick highlights:

1. There were 3,957,577 births in the United States during 2013.

2. The birth rate was 62.9 births per 1,000 women which is slightly lower than 2012 and represents a birth rate in older womenrecord low fertility rate. This is something that statisticians and demographers have been watching carefully, western fertility rates have been steady falling for some time now. It represents a coming shift in global population growth over the next three or four generations if unchanged. Equally concerning for these experts is that the birth rate for women in their early twenties has dropped to 81.2 birth per 1,000 which is also a record low. However, birth rates for women in their thirty and forties rose again, by 1%, to 98.7 births per 1,000 women. This is a developing trend which is worth paying attention to for a number of reasons listed below.

3. The non-marital birth rate rose again to 44.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, though births to unmarried women is statistically the same from 2012.

4. The replacement rate of births within the population continued to fall below the replacement level. That means the generation being born right now will likely be smaller than Millennials, perhaps considerably smaller.

 

A couple of quick observations from this study note that the birth rate in women between 20-39 is continuing to decline the United States. This is not surprising. If one adds the filters of women who college or graduate degrees and their place in the workforce the rate likely falls off more significantly. For many women in the United States, the primary goal of their post-high school lives no longer is finding a husband and being in the home, but it is getting their degree(s) and finding their desired career. This is a generational shift that many of our Boomer church members will not entirely understand.

Likewise, with the massive increase in cohabitation among Millennials, and the ready access to contraception this is also lowering the child birth rate. Some women are waiting until their late thirties to early forties to consider beginning families, and many times having a suitable male partner is ancillary to this later life quest.

There are plenty of other conclusions one can likely draw from this data. However, we in the Church should note these trends particularly as they intersect with those we are trying to reach. The new traditional family would be considered highly un-traditional several decades ago. Yet our goal in reaching those far from Christ isn’t to scold them or require them to conform to some older relational paradigm. Instead it should be to understand where they are coming from and craft new ministries that relate and connect well with them to draw them towards faith in Christ, whether a new faith or renewed faith.

Studies like this one from the CDC only help us better configure our ministry in this way.

17
Jul 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Jesus Didn’t Need a Local Church, and other poor conclusions

One of the continuing discussions about the nature of ecclesiology and missiology concerns how various New Testament figures related to their contemporary churches often comes to the conclusion  that this figure didn’t use a local church for ministry. Usually this argument is angled towards the point of the building of the local church more particularly missing.

The point goes something like this: Jesus didn’t need a church building to do His ministry.

And sometimes looks like this: Paul doesn’t invite people to his local church to preach the Gospel to them.

Jesus ApostlesI suppose the point here is that institutional buildings are not part of the original, New Testament intent for the church(es) do go about its/their ministry. Of course, this is poor way of going about making this point historically and theologically.

To begin, we note that Jesus began His ministry, according to Luke, in the religious institution, and building, of His day: the synagogue. Luke 4:16-30 shows that, following His baptism, Jesus goes to the local synagogue in Nazareth and reads aloud from the Isaiah scroll, then performs a kind of midrash on the text. This would have been the natural step for a new rabbi in the Jewish community.  Now, the response is likely not the norm, but nevertheless, Jesus begins His ministry within the established building, and form, of the religious system He came to renew.

As a second point, we also recognize that Jesus often goes to the synagogues, and even the Temple, throughout His ministry as a starting point for ministry in a community. (cf. Matthew 13:54; Mark 3:1-5; 6:1; John 6:28-59.) This is not to say that the synagogue was to become the primary organizational centers for Christianity, though they certainly informed much of what would become the local churches. The synagogue was also, for Paul, a starting point in his travels and apostolic missionary work (Acts 17:2; 19:8; etc.)

We’d also be remiss not to point out that Pentecost is the inauguration, or beginning point, of the Church. Since Pentecost happens after Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, it would have been hard to Jesus to start His ministry in an organizational form that didn’t exist.

Of course the final, and perhaps most important point, is that these kinds of statements purely earliest communitiesmisunderstand the nature of the earliest Christian ecclesial structures. Since no formal, distinctly Christian buildings appear to have existed prior to CE 300, it is hard to say that any New Testament figure either had a church building or did not have one. As Gehring has thoroughly worked out, local homes became the primary gathering places for almost all Christians by the middle the first century. This is not because the house was the preferred method, surely not the normative method, but it arose out of necessity when the earliest Christians were forcibly removed from synagogues and Temple.

So, these house based community gathering places became the epicenter of much of early Christian worship, ministry, an fellowship. The earliest Christians frequently gathered in these places, likely at multiple points during the week, and they became their “local churches.” Though they would go out to spread the Gospel and do ministry, as well as business and life, the local churches are where they inevitably returned.

If you are going to try to make the argument that the early Church, or some New Testament figure, distanced themselves from institutional forms of religion, you’re simply missing the reality of history or knowingly distorting the truth. This is not to say that monolithic, high Church Catholicism was evident in early Christianity, but it does point out that the churches of the first several centuries had more to do with local church ministry, based in a physical community, than some contemporary commenters allow for them.

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Sermon: Live for a Change

On May 25, I was thankful to asked to preach for the Edge service at Sugar Creek Baptist Church. The current message series at Sugar Creek has been on the Hall of Fame of the Faithful in Hebrews 11. Faithfulness is a central concern of this portion of Hebrews and I wanted to discuss how the author of Hebrews was dealing with this topic just prior to, and immediately following the eleventh chapter.

Sermon5.25

One of my life verses is Hebrews 10:39, “For we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who believe and are saved.”

As the writer of Hebrews, likely using a popular sermon from the time and adding epistolary openings and closings to the text. As they move from describing the lives of who have lived faithfully in the history of God’s people, the next move is to discuss how we are to not be held back. In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author reminds us of the many witnesses around us and our need to move forward an not be held back by that sin that “so easily ensnares us.”

This idea of an ensuring sin, that sin which plagues us and doesn’t let us move forward, is a reality we all must deal with in our lives. One way that this sin is exampled is found in Numbers 14:1-10 where Israel, upon hearing the poor report of the spies, falls into disbelief and unfaithfulness. In the midst of their despair they desire to go back to Egypt, back to the thing that had held them back in their slavery.

Ultimately we all want to be free from our sin and live in faithfulness. The hope of faith in Jesus is that he delivers us from that sin and moves us to new life. Our hope is found in that freedom from the slavery of our ensnaring sin, and not in fear and despair.

I hope this is a blessing for you today.

04
Jun 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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J Dwight Pentecost’s Passing

Apologies again for the delay in posting anything, but I wanted to break into this bit of a posting hiatus to cobble together a quick post about the passing of a significant theological voice.

J Dwight Pentecost has passed away at the age of 99. I never knew Dr Pentecost personally, Pentecostthough only a briefest of greetings while at seminary. However, one cannot deny the influence that Dr Pentecost has had on eschatology in the past half century.

His writings have changed the orientation of modern day “prophecy” schools and refined the theological formulations that they proposed. Dr Pentecost helped craft the image of Dallas Theological Seminary into one of the premiere evangelical theological institutions in the United States.

Many of us have read him, found our disagreements, but also found many things to be thankful for in his works. Dr Pentecost contributed greatly to evangelical eschatology. The Kingdom of God is better for his life and legacy.

Be sure to check out the DTS memorial page

28
Apr 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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Millennials and Marriage: pt 3, some hope

In the continuing conversation about Millennials and Marriage, too often the soundtrack is one of negativity and diminishing expectations. This leads older generations to think poorly of the succeeding generations. Of course this seems to always be the case.

However, with Millennials there is some hope in how they are approaching the topic of marriage. Though the data is thin on some of these points there are some positive takeaways for churches and ministry leaders that will hopefully be of encouragement.

As we’ve previously discussed, finding the data behind on Millennials is a difficult task. We also must acknowledge that there is a changing cultural landscape taking place underneath Millennials Marriage Hopeour feet. For Millennials, marriage will be approached differently, but that doesn’t mean they devalue marriage or will never be married. It simply means it will look different.

In fact, and this is the most important statistic available, 70% of Millennials want to get married.

Though that might be lower historically than other generations it is still an important statistic. For a generation that is the largest, most diverse, and most affected by divorce rates, Millennials are still, largely, optimistic about some key life issues.

Maybe they don’t care much for compartmentalization of politics, or for justifying class warfare, or even seeking out “traditional” forms of anything. Millennials do still care for some basic life issues. Notice that poll from Pew, Millennials still desire, by and large, to get married and, even more, to have children (74%.) Perhaps this is a good starting point.

Also, the delay of marriage signals that Millennials are careful about their commitment to another person for marriage.

marriage educationIt is often seen, by older generations, that delaying marriage is a bad thing, however for many Millennials it is due, in part, to a desire to find a suitable mate. Coupling this will continuing education, indebtedness, unemployment or underemployment, and the desire to fulfill some life goals (hiking Europe, digging water wells in Africa, seeing the world) before marriage add to this delay. Cohabitation is also part of this, though I would still argue the negatives outweigh the benefits long term. Yet all these factors

Millennials desire a truly egalitarian relationship between spouses.

While older generations still idealize June and Ward Cleaver, even though they didn’t exist for the vast majority of Americans, Millennials desire equality between the spouses. This means that decision making is not autocratic but communal. Both spouses are valued in the marriage and have a voice. Now, how Millennials work out spiritual leadership or even final decisions is not data that is available. The initial indications are that while both spouses are fairly independent, they do have more desire to come together and collaborate in decision making for many family issues.

With a growing egalitarianism, regardless of your view, there is something which needs to be egalitarian marriagepointed out about education. Right now female Millennials are 33% more likely to graduate college than their male peers. We are seeing a social shift where women are more finishing school on time and entering the workforce at a higher rate than men. Soon enough “Fair Pay” issues won’t be discussed because the women with the degrees and credential will be running the place more than men. (Surely there are other factors here but allow me this point.) It also means that women are now “marrying down” and having trouble finding suitable men. This is a significant moment of opportunity for churches and ministries with the guts, and credibility, to do something about it.

The Pew poll which is adding much of these conclusions does provide a helpful comparisons to Gen Xers. Between these two groups there are some noticeable trends that should be carefully weighed. If we were to compare these trends to Boomers and Busters, then we would certainly see wider gaps.

Our hope in working with Millennials and Marriage still should be something that sparks us towards innovation and re-engagement rather than distance. For our next, and final discussion, we’ll take a look at some ways we can do both of these in light of the data, the changing landscape, and the hope that exists. 

03
Apr 2014
POSTED BY Garet
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