Book Review: The Kingdom That Turned The World Upside Down By David W. Bercot

The emerging church movement made news a few years back, with many of our brethren subscribing to the idea that there are true Christians who are in a saved state within every denomination. The idea is that while a particular denomination may teach and practice things that are sinful, the individual members of that religious body may not adhere to those things and might be practicing true Christianity within the larger group despite its errors.

In my recent dealings with the large Mennonite population in our area, I have been introduced to the idea of “Kingdom Christians,” which is basically the idea of the emerging church. Their standards of true Christianity and fellowship are different than those of the “mainstream emerging church,” but the principle is very much the same. This book has been loaned to me and now gifted to me by two different Mennonites in what seems to be an evangelistic effort.

From The Back Cover

“If Someone were to ask you what was the theme of Jesus’ preaching, what would be your answer … The theme of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God. Wherever He went, Jesus preached about the kingdom. The irony is that the message of the kingdom is almost totally missing from the gospel that’s preached today … The Kingdom that Turned the World Upside Down will challenge you to the core in your Christian walk.”

Contents and Summary

The book is divided into five main sections:

  1. The Kingdom with Upside-Down Values
  2. The Big Stumbling Block
  3. What Is The Gospel of the Kingdom?
  4. A Hybrid Is Born
  5. When It Was Illegal To Be a Kingdom Christian

The first section

is designed to demonstrate the stark contrast between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdoms of this world. Chapter one is in narrative form and has a definite objective of showing the evils of the Crusades and militarized Christianity. Chapter two presents the Nation of Israel as a conventional Kingdom, one with land and armies, but established by God. Chapter Three sets out the basic idea of the Kingdom of God. The author asserts that every kingdom has:

  1. A ruler
  2. Subjects
  3. A territory
  4. Laws

He lays out the Kingdom of God as being ruled by Christ from Heaven. Its subjects are defined as “all of us who belong to Christ – all of us who are genuinely born again” (p.13). The territory is not observable because it is “within you.” “The citizens of God’s kingdom are interspersed among all nations of the world … its citizens always live under two different kingdoms – a kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God” (p.14). One interesting note here is that while the author does not explain what it means to be “genuinely born again” he does say that “what makes God’s people the subjects of this kingdom is something within them – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” (p.16). he does not elaborate on that, but it seems that there is a slightly charismatic undertone throughout the book.

Chapters four thru seven begin to lay out some of the fundamental laws of the kingdom. He places a priority on the direct sayings of Christ, and in particular the text of the Sermon on the Mount. One point that he makes accurately here is found in chapter four: “His [Jesus’] view is the only one that counts. Where there are no laws and no commandments – there is no kingdom. And where there is no kingdom, there is no Jesus. Any theology or any hermeneutic system that nullifies the plain words of Jesus is not of Christ” (p. 20). Chapter Five talks about the importance of being poor in spirit. While the author allows for wealth, he definitely takes a view that the accumulation of wealth is a sign of a heart problem. Chapter six deals with the standards of honesty, and in particular advocates against the taking of any oaths. Chapter seven deals with marriage and divorce. Within this discussion he does not specifically address remarriage at all, however, in another of his books, he condemns remarriage entirely. Here, he allows divorce only for the cause of adultery, and most notably, he also only allows divorce by the husband. If the husband is unfaithful to his wife, she has no recourse but to remain in that marriage according to the author.

The second section

Is entirely devoted to what seems to be the author’s primary test of faithfulness: passivism. Here he advocates that true Christians should never offer physical resistance to evil in any form, should never serve in the military, and should never hold any office in government. Doing these things, he says, either come from or creates an entanglement with the things of this world, and demonstrates a lack of devotion to and faith in Jesus Christ.

The third section

Lays out the author’s teachings about salvation and how to enter the kingdom. Here he is very close to the truth. He insists that “The kingdom gospel takes the totality of what Jesus and His apostles say on every subject. It’s not built on proof-texts, and it doesn’t depend on anything outside Scripture” (p. 131). He teaches strongly against the “Romans Road of Salvation,” and also against Calvinism. In Chapter seventeen he lays out three tests that God uses to weed out those who are unfit for the kingdom: faith, commitment, and obedience. He concludes that “Jesus will have left in His kingdom only those who truly believe His promises and accept His conditions” (p. 137). He also talks about “fake obedience.” He says that “His real commandments are the ones written in the New Testament … What really counts, according to this popular gospel [what he calls éasy-believism’] are the subjective impulses that com3e into our minds” (p.139). So, he places an emphasis on written authority, however in the next paragraph he says, “To be sure, Jesus does give personal direction to prophets and to those who are close to Him…”

In Chapter eighteen he lays out the steps of salvation: Faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Spirit. In this book, he does not elaborate on what baptism is, nor on what he means by receiving the Holy Spirit. In some of his other writings, he advocates that sprinkling, not immersion is the proper mode of baptism, and he seems to take a rather charismatic view of the work of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, he gets a lot right here. He insists that baptism is essential and that it is at the point of baptism that an individual is saved, is born again, and is added to the kingdom. He also spends some time talking about the fact that while baptism saves a soul and adds them as a branch to the vine, and if a soul were to die at that moment they would be saved, faithfulness I still required. He explains at length that those branches (Christians) that are not faithful are cut off and will not stand in judgment.

In Chapters nineteen and twenty he explains that while obedience is essential to maintain salvation, we must be careful not to develop a pharisaical attitude, and also that true followers of Jesus will be busy sharing the good news.

Part Four

Lays out a brief study of church history. In these chapters the author speaks of the departures from New Testament Christianity, focusing on Emperor Constantine, and the merging of the sacred and secular realms that took place in Europe as the official persecution of the church ended and how the church eventually became the persecutors through the inquisition. As he does this, he tends to re-emphasize the importance of being a pacifist. He does point out that the formation of creeds and confessions created a test of fellowship that turned around words and phrases that are nowhere found in the Bible, which effectively meant that the Scriptures were no longer sufficient to produce faithful Christians. He also points out that doctrine rather than lifestyle became the sole test of faithfulness.

Part Five

Reads very much like Traces of The Kingdom by Keith Sisman. The basic theory is that there has always been a faithful remnant of true kingdom Christians and that they have tended to be the persecuted minority. The author latches on to the same historical groups that brother Sisman does and that the Baptist church does, but he sets them forth as the ancestors, not of the Baptist church or the church of Christ, but of the Mennonites and other kingdom Christians. He talks about the Donatists, the Novationists, the Waldensians, the Poor in Spirit, the Lollards, the Dunkards, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Brethren, and the Apostolic Christian Church.

One interesting note comes at the close of chapter thirty-three. “Most people who read the Scriptures unfettered by prior indoctrination generally come to a knowledge of the kingdom gospel … Some examples are the Church of Christ, the Christian Church, the Morovians, and some of the Wesleyan holiness and Pentecostal churches. However, as those movements grew, they established seminaries, acquired respectability, and usually lost most of their kingdom teachings” (p. 261).

Key Ideas

  1. Christianity is more about lifestyle than doctrine.
  2. Being a pacifist is really, really, important.
  3. Catholicism, Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and “easy-believism” are all wrong.
  4. Strict adherence to the New Testament is essential to Christianity.

Value of The Book

I was rather surprised by what I found within the pages of this volume. In many ways, the theology set forth by the Mennonites is not far from the truth. I find it interesting that this group wants to trace their unbroken lineage through the same path that some of our brethren do. Ultimately, the seed principle is true, and that concept is of little consequence to us today. The Charismatic element seems to play a role in the theology and thinking of this group, as evidenced by the few mentions of the Holy Spirit, and also by their inclusion of some Pentecostals in their lists of the faithful. This book provides insight into the thinking of a group that is largely marginalized, and therefore, a mystery. It also provides some helpful touchstones for reaching out to them

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