In this recent book, David Bercot, argues that, "Its time for the children of the kingdom to stand up for Jesus and the gospel he preached - and for the theologians to sit down." (pg 188) But who are the children of the kingdom, and who are the theologians that he is asking to sit down? And why exactly do the theologians need to sit down?
Children of the kingdom are defined as: "Those Christians who focus on the lifestyle teachings of Jesus, recognizing that God's kingdom is in no way connected to the kingdoms of this world. Such Christians realize that the kingdom of God is a present reality, and they recognize that the essence of Christianity is an obedient love-faith relationship with Jesus Christ." (pg 9)
In this provocative book Bercot's defines theologians as: "The elite class of scholars and their disciples who have set themselves up as the official interpreters of Scripture." (pg 8) He states that his, "criticism is aimed at those elitists who claim for themselves the right to interpret scripture, but deny that right to others." (pg 9) He also claims to aim his criticism at "the arrogant academics and ecclesiastical authorities who imagine that they understand the New Testament better than the very Christians who lived close to the time of the apostles." (pg 9)
With the definitions provided by the author early in the book, I can agree that theologians of this sort should sit down and that the children of the kingdom should stand up for the gospel of Jesus. Unfortunately, Bercot's definition of theologian is more narrow than the way he seems to use the word in the rest of the book and more narrow than the commonly understood and accepted definition which is: "A person versed in or engaged in the study of theology, especially Christian theology." A commonly accepted definition of theology according to Merriam Webster being: "The study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God's relation to the world." By these more broad definitions, all Christians, and especially so called "children of the kingdom" should be theologians and they most certainly should not sit down.
Bercot carefully traces the history of the theologians that he calls the "elite class of scholars and arrogant ecclesiastical authorities" from the time of the Pharisees and the early church, through the middle ages, the reformation period, and into the present day. In the process Bercot makes many broad and sweeping statements such as the following:
"There are no famous theologians connected to kingdom Christianity, and there never will be." (pg 172)
"Jesus didn't talk much about theology because that wasn't particularly important to Him." (pg 38)
"Theologians will inevitably end up corrupting God's message. They will always place head knowledge above fruit." (pg 29)
"Theological schooling is of no help in matters pertaining to the kingdom. If anything, it's a hindrance." (pg 30)
Speaking of those who write doctrinal textbooks and works of systematic theology, Bercot writes: "The theologians of today still imagine that theology is the essence of Christianity rather than relationship and the fruit it produces." (pg 112)
By these statements and others, Bercot seems to go beyond his own stated definitions. He paints with a very broad brush and ends up sounding like he opposes the serious study of God's word and the development of the Christian mind. In the process Bercot seems to contradict himself.
One example of this would be Bercot's criticism of the study of the original languages of scripture. He insinuates that it is not necessary or helpful to study the original languages in order to better understand the scripture, rather all we need to do is follow Jesus. He even accuses theologians of using linguistics to bully the children of the kingdom, yet in this book, Bercot himself explains the meanings of certain Hebrew and Greek words in an effort to help the reader better understand the meaning of scripture (pg 23 and 43). He also states that, "Whatever Jesus' words meant to His original hearers is exactly what they mean today." (pg 47) Yet how are we to know what Jesus words meant to the original hearers, unless we understand the context of the language in which they were spoken? And how are we to follow Jesus unless we understand what he said and meant? Certainly, linguistics has been misused throughout the history of the church and Bercot gives many illustrations of that. However, in my opinion, the answer is not to do away with the serious study of the original languages, but rather to raise up kingdom Christians who know and understand the text of scripture well enough to refute the errors and misuses of scripture.
Another example would be the sense I get from the book, that Christianity is better suited for the ignorant and uneducated than for the thinking and educated. In fact, Bercot himself is highly educated and an accomplished historian. He has used that education and knowledge of history to write this book and many others. He quotes many obviously educated authors and early church writers in order to make his points. He also uses his superior knowledge of early church history and his own perspectives and interpretations of scripture to criticize and condemn many people. By writing this book and using the techniques that he does, Bercot potentially puts himself in the categories he criticizes in this book. Quote: "The people who have done the most harm to Christianity have invariably been people who were actually trying to help the cause of Christ." (pg 58)
This book does provide some very legitimate and worthwhile instruction especially to those who would put their trust in men and education rather than trusting God. Indeed there are many dangers inherent in the pursuit of education and knowledge. But there are also many dangers in ignorance and the lack of knowledge especially when it comes to the knowledge of God or theology - by the dictionary definition. Hosea 4:6a says "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me." Colossians 1:9-10 "And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." In this book, Bercot is quick to point out the deficiency of Godly fruit in the lives of some famous theologians. I would argue that the reason for lack of fruit wasn't that they were theologians, but that they didn't yet truly know God well enough. I believe the right response is not, will the theologians please sit down, but rather, will the kingdom Christians please stand up as true theologians.