Saturday, November 21, 2015

Book Write-Up: The Church, by David Zac Niringiye

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:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/decemberweb-only/151-42.0.html

http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2013/02/16/ugandan-bishop-attacked-by-anti-gay-makere-university-students/

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.

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