David Bercot on "Apostle" Paul
David Bercot is a Texas evangelical attorney. He advises against reading Jesus through the lense of Paul. He advises us to begin with Jesus, and never lose sight of His teachings. Bercot was a forerunner of the Jesus' Words Only movement. In 2010, he continues to support his brave stance to elevate Christ over Paul in his book Theologians at page 51. However, it is his work from 1992 where we first see Bercot's recognition of the principle of Jesus' Words Only.
David W. Bercot, in Common Sense: A New Approach to Understanding Scripture (1992) writes at page 21 [books.google link]:
Likewise, when interpeting any single document, I always start at the beginning. I don't skip down to the middle and start reading.
The same principle applies to interpreting Scripture. When searching for the truths of Christianity, this means going back to the words of Jesus himself. This is a rather obvious principle, yet here the majority of evangelical Christians get sidetracked. They begin with Paul, not Jesus. Many evangelicals virtually ignore Jesus' teachings---claiming they apply to an earlier dispensation, or to the 'kingdom age.' Others reshape Jesus' words to fit Paul's words.
How strange. Jesus said "A disciple is not above his teacher." (Matt. 10:24.) Yet we make Paul, the disciple, greater than the teacher. We subordinate Jesus to Paul. We understand Jesus' words only in the context of Paul's writings. In sharp contrast, the early Christians understood Paul in the context of Jesus' teachings. Their gospel was above all the gospel of Jesus.
Principle #2: Start at the beginning with the teachings of Jesus.
Our upside down approach to Scripture is a fairly new tradition. It began with Martin Luther who said that the Book of Romans is "the chief part of the New Testament." We may not use his exact words, but in practice we follow in his footsteps.
However, a common sense approach to Scripture requires us to begin with the Author of Christianity, Jesus Christ---not with Paul. In our illustration of discovering what Scripture teaches about salvation, it means that we begin with the four gospels.
Bercot On Paul in Early Church
David Bercot wrote a book Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up? (1999) which was an eye-opener for me. It underscored that doctrines of Paul were rejected in the earliest church through the end of the Patristic era, ending 325 A.D. Bercot touched lightly on the problem of Paul, only saying that it was better to see the early church did not put Paul up on a pedestal in interpreting Jesus' words:
"The early Christians didn’t put Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians up on a pedestal above the teachings of Jesus and the other apostles. They read Paul’s words about grace in conjunction with...Scriptures [where Jesus requires endurance for salvation, Matt. 24:13, doing the will of God for salvation, Matt. 7:21, the resurrected will be those who have done good, John 5:28, 29, etc.]." (Bercot, Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Texas: Scroll Publishing, 1999) at 63.)
I strongly recommend every Christian spend the $9.95 to buy Bercot's Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up. Here is a link to Amazon to purchase it.
David Bercot has strains of thought that puts a lot of emphasis on interpretations of the early church commentators. Corner criticizes putting such weight on non-inspired sources. See "David Bercot," Evangelicaloutreach.
However, I must disagree with Corner -- despite my strong admiration for his work Conditional Security. Corner misses Bercot's point. Bercot is saying we should use the early church interpretations to re-examine our own interpretations. This self-examination will lead us to realize our modern Protestantism is more the product of late church history than the original inspired texts. In other words, we can see our divergence from the original inspired writings by being attune to the early church interpretation of them. This means we need to put aside our current theological perspective, and embrace the oldest interpretations to then see more clearly the original inspired words of Jesus.
Corner's rationale for criticizing Bercot is obviously due to concern that it opens the door to giving undue weight to oral tradition. We might begin to stray from Sola Scriptura. However, others who favor oral tradition as of equal weight fault Bercot for not supporting their view, which underscores that Corner's concern is unfounded. For example, some from the Orthodox faith criticize Bercot for not acknowledging an oral tradition has significant weight in knowing what is true Christianity. See "A Critique of David Bercot's Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up!," Orthodox Christian Information Center. This demonstrates that Corner's concern is unfounded. It is indeed proper to look at the early church views to see how it construed canon and correct principles from the true canon, which in turn would let us see how we have altered our own focus and emphasis off of Jesus and onto Paul.
David Bercot has a website where he offers CDs of his various teachings. See "What the Early Christians Believed, CD Series," Scroll Publishing
David Bercot's latest book is Will The Real Theologians Please Sit Down. I like the focus of this book. Here is the synopsis from the publisher's site:
When Christianity was young, the focus was on Jesus Christ and His kingdom—not theology. To be sure, there are foundational doctrines that Christians have always considered essential to the faith. But somehow the things considered essential have grown from a few sentences to a long list of theological tenets, many of which were unknown to the early Christians.
In the beginning, Christians understood that the essence of Christianity was an obedient love-faith relationship with Jesus Christ. This was not just any relationship, but a relationship that produced genuine kingdom fruit.
But then something happened: Theologians took over the church. Once they took over, the emphasis soon changed from godly fruit to “orthodox” theology. Christianity became Doctrianity. In this provocative work, Bercot argues that it’s time to let Jesus speak through the pages of the Gospels without filtering His teachings through the denials and mental gymnastics of the theologians. It’s time for the children of the kingdom to stand up for Jesus and the gospel He preached—and for the theologians to sit down.
Will The Theologians Please Sit Down will challenge you to the core in your Christian walk. (Theologians page.)