David Zac Niringiye. The Church: God’s Pilgrim People. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. See here to buy the book.
David Zac Niringiye is an African theologian and former bishop in the Church of Uganda. In The Church: God’s Pilgrim People,
Niringiye critiques the current state of the church (not the Church of
Uganda specifically, but the Christian church in general) and offers a
biblical history of the church in order to define what the church is and
what it is supposed to be.
Niringiye argues, understandably, that the church falls short of what
it should be. As Niringiye notes, it is a problem when many people in
Ruwanda attend church, yet hate their enemies and seek to kill them.
There is an obvious disconnect there. The Western church does not
escape Niringiye’s criticism, either, for he is critical of the
disparities in wealth in the worldwide church. For Niringiye, the
church has largely failed to be the community of love that it should be,
or to be salt and light in the world.
For Niringiye, the church itself is not the Kingdom of God, and yet
the church relates to the Kingdom of God: Christians are citizens of the
Kingdom, they pray for it to come, and they do their part to bring the
world under the rule of Christ. The church is present in the Old
Testament, Niringiye narrates, as God sought to establish a community of
worshipers through Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. The successor to
Old Testament Israel, according to Niringiye, is the Christian church.
Niringiye strikes me as supersessionist in his view, here.
Niringiye believes that the church should be a missionary church,
proclaiming the good news of what Christ has done. At the same time,
Niringiye also does not preclude the possibility that God may be
involved in non-Christian cultures and the lives of non-Christians.
Another point that Niringiye makes is that Christians from different
ethnicities can learn from one another, and that this can give them a
fuller appreciation of Jesus and God’s love. As an example, Niringiye
states that Jewish Christians in the first century considered Jesus the
Messiah, whereas Greek-speaking Christians called Jesus lord, “the
titles that Greek Christians used for their cult divinities (Acts
11:19-21)” (page 183). Both learned from one another, Niringiye states.
There were cases in which I was not entirely sure if I agreed with
Niringiye, but what he said was thought-provoking. On page 41, for
example, in talking about Moses, Niringiye contrasts the God of Israel
with the gods of Egypt. According to Niringiye, the God of Israel was
“relational, in-community, in himself and with humankind and creation”,
whereas the Egyptian gods were “distant” and “impersonal”. (This is in
terms of how they conceptualized their deities.) Was this the case?
Was the God of Israel conceptually more relational than the gods of
Egypt? Some believe that the God of Israel was different from ancient
Near Eastern deities, whereas others highlight the similarities, seeing
the God of Israel as just another ancient Near Eastern deity, not
fundamentally different from how other ancient Near Easterners
conceptualized their deities. I am skeptical when Jewish and
Christians, to support their religion, maintain that their religion was
superior to other religions in the past; at the same time, I do not rule
out completely that ancient Judaism and Christianity may have been
better, in areas, from a humanitarian perspective. Some would say it
was worse, in areas. Niringiye’s comments, and similar comments in the
book, provoked thought about this issue.
Niringiye talked about Christians helping to bring the world under
the dominion of Christ, and that frightened me, a bit. It sounded
somewhat like Christian Reconstructionism, or what elements of the
religious right want to do. I respect that Niringiye was talking about
missions, love, inclusion, and social justice, but, since he was a
religious leader in Uganda, I wondered what his stance was towards the
Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill. I will not try to define his position
myself, but I will provide two links:
The book is a bit meandering. It sometimes speaks in generalities
rather than fleshing out what it is trying to say. Still, in its own
way, it was an edifying read, and it made important points.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.