Book Review from the Calvary Messenger
Will The Theologians Please Sit Down
by Ken Miller
I think David Bercots latest book, Will the Theologians Please Sit Down, should be near the top of the reading list and should be thoughtfully evaluated by followers of Jesus everywhere. It is an important defense of what has been called The Kingdom Gospel or The Pilgrim Church. It should not be easily dismissed.
I will first mention what could be the books greatest weakness. At times, Brother David writes with a decisive, almost polemical style that could be taken as dogmatic, even strident. However, the style may well be the fearless shout of a prophet calling his people to truth.
In his assessment of those he calls theological bullies, Bercot, in my opinion does not depreciate the value of rigorous study or the development of the Christian mind. The door to the kingdom is not barred to those who have an advanced education. God is able to use such people in His kingdom, but only if theyre willing to humble themselves and come into the kingdom as a little child. (p. 34)
It seems to me the impulse and burden behind Bercots pen is similar to that of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and William Law, the English theological writer (1686-1761). They indicted the state church of their time for being marred by: (1) intellectualismthe direct mental assent to a sum of doctrines; (2) formalismbattalions upon battalions of unbelieving believers; and (3) Pharisaisma herd of hypocritical clergy that ignore the Christianity they were hired to preach. (Kierkegaard , Provocations , p. 11)
Bercot writes passionately about these same issues.
Bercot makes it clear at the beginning of the book that by the term theologian he is not speaking of Christians who desire to learn all that God has revealed to us about Himself, Jesus Christ, mankind, salvation, life after death, and a whole host of other spiritual subjects. (p. 9) Rather he targets elitist scholars, arrogant academics and ecclesiastical authorities.
Bercot asserts the following: From the time they came into power, such theologians have warred against the true children of the Kingdom. For many centuries, these theologians warred against them with fire and sword. Now they fight against the children of the Kingdom with words.
In many ways, the war of words has been more effective than the war of fire and sword. (p. 9)
In his book, Bercot names some of the theologians with whom Kingdom Christians parted ways centuries ago; Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, and their predecessor of a thousand years, Augustine. Bercot thinks it unfortunate that Kingdom Christians have turned back to the doctrine of these men who formerly persecuted them. Theyve completely adopted the theology of their former persecutors. Theyre afraid to preach or teach Sunday school without consulting the commentaries, theological textbooks and study Bibles of the theologians for fear they might say something wrong
As a result, the theologians are effectively destroying kingdom Christianity from the inside out. In fact, it wouldnt surprise me if todays Kingdom Christians would lose most of Jesus kingdom teachings within a generation or two. (p. 9, 10)
Bercot makes the point throughout the book that the essence of early Christianity was a lifestyle patterned after Christs own life and the teachings he left behind. In contrast, Bercot informs the reader that theologians through the centuries have led Christians to believe that a correct theological understanding is the essence of Christianity.
There is an eternity of difference.
In turning Christianity into Doctrianity ( a term invented by European friends of Bercot and used throughout the book), theologians developed extremely complex systems of Bible doctrine that would have been completely foreign to the early Christians uncomplicated faith. As a case in point, Bercot contrasts the Apostles Creed (the common English translation contains just 63 words) with the Westminster Confession of Faith promulgated by the Puritans in the seventeenth century (which contains 12,079 words). (p.53)
Complex systems of thought allowed prominent theologians like Augustine to explain away Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount
By the time these theologians got through with the Sermon on the Mount, the radical teachings in it had become meaningless, and Christians now had theological license for the swearing of oaths and taking vengeance on an assailant, among various other misconstructions of Jesus teachings. (p. 86-89)
About this sort of theology, Kierkegaard says rather sarcastically: Herein lies the place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Churchs prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? (Provocations , p. 201)
Significantly, Philip Schaff, the noted church historian observed, The men who, next to the apostles have exerted and still exert through their writings the greatest influence on the Christian church as leaders of theological thought are Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. (p. 168) If this is true, and if David Bercot is right, I fear a large segment of the Christian Church has been led astray by Theologians in Sheeps Clothing. (p.95)
Exposing this very unfortunate state of affairs is perhaps the major achievement of Bercots book. This is jarring, and may not be so easy to accept if one has drunk a little too deeply from the theological systems that have completely undermined the message of Jesus Kingdom. (p. 109)
But Bercot does more than simply expose a false Gospel. His book is a call for Kingdom Christians to turn all the way back to Jesus and the teachings of His Kingdom. It is a call to put ones faith in a Savior whose atonement on the cross is blessedly adequate for all our sin. It is also a call to apprentice ones entire life under the Master Teacher whose life and teachings canand mustbe followed.