Straight off, this book will challenge you in your thinking and quite possibly in your practice and outworking of life as a Christian—especially if you are from an evangelical/Baptist/non-denominational background.
The book starts of taking you carefully through some of the practices and beliefs of the early church and those who knew the Apostles personally. It all feels very hopeful and like you're being led onward in a journey towards a certain goal, much of which I'm sure you'll find agreeable in what Bercot points out as discrepancies between early Christianity and today.
Then we get to a few points about the Reformation. Some of the critique I think was a little harsh and not necessarily accurate, painting a fairly negative picture of Martin Luther. Some of the points raised were a fair statement against some of the doctrine and theology that came out of the Reformation period (such as Luther being heavily influenced by Augustine's theology more than earlier church fathers). After the high of the first few chapters, these chapters came as a bit of a punch in the gut.
I would also recommend looking up all of Bercot's claims as there does sometimes seem like there is a strong bias of opinion coming through certain chapters, which takes away from the feel of the book trying to give an objective look at the topic at hand.
But that aside, Bercot leads you back on this journey, aiming to uplift you once again with hope as he takes you towards a positive look at the Anabaptists. I knew before reading the book that Bercot is an Anabaptist himself, so I was wary that this book might just end up being advertisement for that denominational group as the new modern answer for getting back to early Christian practices. Whilst there are positive points made for the early Anabaptist movement being as close as possible to the early second century church, Bercot isn't shy to criticise the group in its modern form as having lost their zeal and passion for the Gospel.
After trying to re-inspire you with the hope that it is somewhat possible to restore early Christianity, as the Anabaptists did, before the Church “married itself to the world” as Bercot claims (and I agree with), he finishes off by asking the reader the question of “what now?” and whether we restore the Church to its former glory. Bercot seems to believe so if only the Church would return to simplicity of holiness and pick up its cross and revolutionary banners again “from where the early martyrs left them”.
This book is definitely a call to arms in the holiest sense; a call for us all to re-examine ourselves and our churches to see if what were living, believing and practicing is still in line with the New Testament church which the early Christmas bore witness to. Well worth the read for anyone who takes their faith seriously.
Bonus: Francis Chan's "Letters to the Church"
I've also just finished reading this book by Francis Chan before starting Real Heretics. Although it's not dealing with the Early Church aspect of looking at the primitive Church, it still looks at similar questions of how can we get back to a simpler, more pure faith that the Apostles and Jesus began.
It's definitely a challenging book and had struck me right where I needed it to. It's helped verbalise some of the questions and issues I've had for the last few years myself any the current form and format of "church". Though Chan is primarily speaking to an American Evangelical audience, much of his points and criticisms still speak well to my British/UK Evangelical experience.
If you've felt disgruntled or at odds with how we "do" church in some places, this book may well inspire you to see things differently and to maybe even enact some changes yourself in your local community — even more so if you are a local church leader in some capacity. Well worth the read, and works well to read before or after Bercot's book. A solid five stars.
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