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.


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.


Luke’s Jewish-centric Ecclesiology

Combing through some research on an upcoming presentation on Second Temple clerical Lukan Jewishnessforms in early church ecclesiology, I came across two examples of existing leadership structures that caught me by surprise. As I’ve been working through the four unique ecclesiologies in the New Testament (Pauline, Lukan, Johannine, and Matthean) one of the points of differentiation between Pauline and Lukan, which are close, seems to be Luke’s abiding concern for locating the work of the burgeoning Christian communities within a Jewish context. (There are other points of difference though.)

Perhaps this is why, at the end of Acts we are left with church communities focused around rising presbyteries (though what happens after CE 70 is a mystery.) Yet I was taken aback in noting two forms of leadership structures in the Essene communities of Qumran. Specifically:

1. The necessity of having at least 120 families in a community to allow for it to have its own council which is seen in Mishnah Sanhedrin 1.6. It is peculiar that, in Acts 1:15, Luke points out that 120 people (though the Greek here, ἀδελφῶν, literally means “brothers” indicating households) were present with Peter as the first meeting of the followers of Jesus takes place. Why would Luke use this rather precise number when, only one chapter later, he approximates the number added to the Church to some 3,000?

2. Later on in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas go before the Jerusalem Council (a scene which corresponds to Paul’s retelling in Galatians 1-2.) This council is reported to have three principal leaders by Paul (who cites them as “pillars”) in Galatians 2:9. In Luke’s recording of the events he notes that Peter is present and that James, the brother of Jesus, is occupying a leadership role over the elders. Now, if the council in Jerusalem corresponds to the council regulations laid out in Qumran (1 QS 8:1f) this would indicate an additional connection with the Jewish context out of which the earliest communities arose. If Paul’s observation is correct, that James is included with the other two apostles, perhaps the three apostles were serving alongside twelve elders in a kind of early Christian Council.

It is curious, given the two examples above, that Luke’s ecclesiology wouldn’t have been embedded in a specifically Jewish context. Perhaps more than any other of the above four ecclesiologies, Luke best represents the Jewish context out of which the earliest Christian communities arose. As a result, Luke’s understanding of ecclesiology, which gives more of a leadership role to the twelve disciples, then Apostles, in his Gospel and initial portion of Acts. This describes how the earliest communities considered themselves a natural extension of the Jewish communities in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora.

Of course Luke also is the final historical discussion that places the worship patterns of the earliest communities in the Temple of Jerusalem (and also the Diaspora synagogues.)  Paul only references them as places where the Jews, or historic Israel, conduct their cultic worship.

Just a few thoughts. The developing ecclesiologies that are cast across the New Testament provide a healthy picture of the natural development which was occurring in these diverse communities. Perhaps Luke’s ecclesiology does represent more of a Jewish focus than the others. More studies to follow.

Mar 2014



Pannenberg on Listening to Preaching

As I was doing some additional dissertation work last night, I came across a wonderful paragraph by Wolfart Pannenberg in his text Theology and the Kingdom of God which concerns how we might approach listening to sermons.

When people are equipped to listen judiciously, the sermon is no longer an authoritative word Wolfhart_Pannenberg-1of God but an attempt to reformulate the substantial truth of the Christian faith. This reformulation is carried out in the context of contemporary experience and understanding of reality in all dimensions of human existence. It should be related particularly to the life of the community which is invited to participate in the reformulation. Thus the sermon offers an example and some guidance for the members of the community in their own thinking about the Christian faith and its present truth. The people should not judge blindly, and certainly they should not uncritically parrot the ideas of their preacher. Rather they are called to reflect in an educated and responsible way, taking into account not only theoretical information but also a comprehensive understanding of their won life’s experience. Preachers should make a special effort to speak to the concreteness of life experience.(emphasis mine)

He goes on to talk about how the goal is to recognize the maturity and autonomy of the individual. This is the goal of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16.) In our day of superstar, celebrity preachers who offer kind words of encouragement with little substance behind them the call for preachers to equip their congregations with critical thinking skills is rare. Yet in his wisdom, Professor Pannenberg is encouraging the orators among us to do just that.

May we endeavor to accomplish such a calling.

Feb 2014



Two Upcoming Conference Papers

At the beginning of this year I submitted two proposals for papers to be read at theology conferences for March. As I am diligently working on my dissertation, these two papers will, hopefully, provide a way to see how my methodology and research do in formal settings. Hopefully both papers will meet the expectations of the conference hosts and provide real fodder for discussion.

Here are the two papers I’ll be presenting:

First Paper: Evaluating the Healing Miracles of Vespasian and Jesus

Conference: Evangelical Theological Society Southwest Regional Meeting

Abstract:  One criticism that is often brought by those questioning the messianic status of Jesus posits that his healing miracles are not uncommon enough in his first century context to be useful for proving either his messianic status or any divine attributes. Those who bring this claim often point a bevy of figures in the pre-modern world that were reported to have performed similar miracles. By way of directly engaging this criticism, this paper finds one individual who had characteristics similar to Jesus and was sourced from a near-contemporaneous situation. Vespasian, who would become the first Flavian Emperor of Rome in AD 69, is one figure who fits a criterion of similarity for comparison to Jesus. Jesus and Vespasian have miracle healings attributed to them by their biographers which carry many common attributes. In order to both delimit the number of Jesus’ miracles and provide the most reputable healings, specific attention in this paper will be paid to those healing miracles that are generally seen as authentic. To accomplish this, scholars such as Gerd Theissen, Walter Funk, and Graham Twelftree, among others, will guide the inquiry into Jesus’ healing miracles of the leper (GMk 1:40-45); Peter’s mother-in-law (GMk 1:29ff); the paralytic (GMk 2:1-12); the hemorrhaging woman (GMk 5:24b-34); the blind man of Bethsaida (GMk 8:22-26); and Blind Bartimaeus (GMk 10:46-52.) By laying these well-attested healing miracles alongside the reported healing miracles of Vespasian, the conclusions drawn will ultimately demonstrate that there is more authenticity behind Jesus’ healing miracles than even his most viable contemporary counter-example.


Second Paper: The Influence of Second Temple Clerical Structures on Pauline Ecclesiology

Conference: Houston Baptist University Theology Conference

Abstract: There is much to be said about the development and formation of the various New Testament churches between Pentecost and the Council of Nicaea. Given that many of the first Christians were Jewish believers, it is possible they would utilize familiar forms of religious structures in establishing their primitive communities while worshipping in local synagogues and at the Temple. How much, then, does early church ecclesiology owe to Second Temple Jewish clerical structures?

In the field of New Testament ecclesiological studies, there appears to be a gap in the research literature concerning the developing ecclesial structures of the earliest Christian communities and their relationship to Second Temple Judaism. With the Apostle Paul’s writings providing the great New Testament contribution about the form and nature ecclesiologies of this period, and given his background as a Jewish religious leader, how Paul leveraged existing Jewish clerical structures from both the Temple and the local synagogue are key to understanding his overall approach to the offices and authority in the New Testament church.

It is the proposal of this paper to study late Second Temple leadership structures and apply them against the Pauline ecclesiological model of leadership as provided in Paul’s Hauptbriefen. Though primary attention shall be paid to the leadership patterns from among the national Temple and local synagogues, additional forms from other, loosely affiliated, Jewish groups will also be in focus. As aspects of Second Temple clerical structures informed the developing Pauline ecclesiology, there continue to be influences seen in present day church method and theology.


The first paper is a from a previous PhD seminar in Miracles with Dr Gary Habermas. I’ve fine tuned the argument and broadened the discussion of Jesus’ healings to compare to my engagement with Vespasian. In the second paper, I will be taking a section from one of my dissertation chapters and modifying it a bit to fit the topic of the conference. I am looking forward to these two opportunities and am deeply grateful to the conference organizers for their diligent work. After the papers are presented I will attempt to post them here for public dissemination. Prayerfully, these will not lead to my ruin.

Feb 2014



Is Genesis 1 Poetry?

Last night Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with posts and reflections, or reactions, to the Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate about creation and evolution. Since I follow a rather diverse crowd on my Twitter feed, I saw a litany of these reactions. One point that came up several times was that Genesis 1 is just poetry and not meant to be taken literally. Matthew Paul Turner made this point in this post:

I entirely agree that Genesis 1 isn’t meant to be scientific. Being written in a pre-scientific, pre-modern era the text and author simply lacked any scientific framework. Though we can say the text is observational it is not scientific. Nevertheless…Genesis1

Now, I did give this idea of the text being poetry some pushback. Genesis 1 (well 1:1-2:3 is the proper citation) is not poetic. It has aspects of poetry in it, but the text itself lacks common poetic features. So, how do I come to this conclusion?

When I was taking my second semester of Hebrew at seminary, we translated Genesis 1-4 as part of our classwork. Part of this translation was consulting multiple technical commentaries to aid our translations. So I read most of the technical commentaries written by Hebrew scholars as I translated Genesis 1:1-2:3. Most of the scholars I consulted pointed out that the entire text lacks a poetic structure though there are elements of poetry in the text.

In listening to these scholars (both Jewish and Christian voices here), we see that there are a number of key features about the Hebrew text that draw it away from being poetry:

  • The first of these is that the literary form of the Hebrew is the same as Genesis 12 – 50 and other historical narrative passages in later texts like Exodus, Judges, 1 & 2 Kings, etc.
  • A second point concerns the lack of parallelism in the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3. If the text was going to poetic, it should contain examples of this. However, they are lacking in this complete passage.
  • Another, third, point is that the verbs conform more to recounting a narrative than forming a poetic stanza. For more information about this read Andrew Witt’s thesis on verbal forms in Hebrew poetry, he has some great points.
  • Fourth, the text just doesn’t read like poetry. It lacks rhyme, meter, and other examples of poetic devices. Now, verse 27 does reflect these, much like the Song of Adam in 2:23. Yet this isn’t present elsewhere in the passage of 1:1-2:3. For more information see this excellent post.
  • Finally, in considering the literary structure of the passage it is likely more chiastic than poetic. There are various ways into this, but the structure seems to indicate an ABC – X -C’B’A’ chiasm between 1:1-2:3. This doesn’t entirely remove the poetic possibility, but it does constrain that interpretation.

My takeaway is that just because the text isn’t poetry doesn’t mean it isn’t allegorical, it also doesn’t mean that it must be read literally. Once we’ve arrived at the nature of the literary genre that a text has we then must make the move, via interpretive method, to understand how to read the text. That is, ultimately, a theological decision.

creationLikewise, just because someone might read this, or any other text, as poetic doesn’t mean that it is, by default, allegorical. The book of Job is a great example of a Hebrew epic poem. Almost all Old Testament prophetic passages are poetic, including some about Jesus’ ministry on earth. That certainly wasn’t an allegorical event.

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a preface to the rest of the book given the literary arrangement of Genesis.

So, when it comes to reading Genesis 1, we can see that it isn’t entirely Hebrew poetry and that even where it is does not mean we can dismiss the text as, by default either literal or allegorical. We can’t leverage the text inappropriately to support our personal theological position on the nature of creation. Theology and hermeneutics are still valuable disciplines.

What we should be left with is that the focus of the text isn’t so much on the process, but the Person who is creating. (and yes, I am leveraging the text to support my read…)

Feb 2014