I was reading a blog post a few weeks ago, I can't remember whose blog. But I do remember the author was defending "dispensationalism". Among the comments were several by people of the Reformed persuasion, who were quite adamant that there are really no "dispensationalist" theologians. By which I suppose they mean "no true theologian is a dispensationalist".
There are indeed formal theologians who hold to "dispensationalism". But the accusation that "dispensationalism" is a populist movement has a great deal of merit. I suppose the real question is, is that bad?
I'm not a theologian by any stretch, but I have read the Scriptures many times. And what I find when I read the Scriptures is that they were written to some pretty ordinary people. It's true that there were remarkable people like Paul (who was a theologian). But there were a lot more people like Peter, whom the religious leaders dismissed as uneducated (Acts 4:13–16).
It's interesting that Paul didn't seem to consider his formal training to be an asset in the Christian life (Philippians 3:3–11). In fact, it was Paul who said that the path to Christ-likeness is the path of abnegation. Paul wrote, "we ourselves had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (2 Corinthians 1:9). The more I read Paul's epistles, the more I learn that God is not interested in what I have to offer: talent, intelligence, education, training – God is not interested in any of these things, He is interested in new creation (Galatians 6:15).
Of course, when someone points out one's lack of formal theological training, what they're really saying is that one is not in any position to understand the Scriptures. This is really nothing more than poisoning the well. If the person without the formal theological training appeals to Scripture, then he or she can be dismissed: after all, without formal theological training, how can one actually understand what the Scripture says?
When Peter was questioned by the high priest, the audience noted that he was "unlettered" (Acts 4:13). But they also recognized that a miracle had occurred, and they couldn't deny that a man who was widely known to have been incurably lame could now walk (Acts 4:14).
Ultimately, this is the only true test of our faith: what is the result? Is there evidence that the power of God is working in me? Do my neighbors and co-workers and friends see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11)? If they don't, formal theological training (or lack thereof) is irrelevant. If they do, formal theological training (or lack thereof) adds nothing.
If we believe that the Scriptures are God's own words, then we believe that God has spoken. Call it populist, but a child of God doing his or her best to hear and understand what God has said is nothing more than the inevitable conclusion of the sincere belief that God has spoken.
I think about this frequently. I work in a very competitive company, surrounded by smart people. They don't need to see my intelligence (or lack of it). They don't need to see my mad skillz. They sure don't need to see I have a grasp of the intricacies of Hebrew grammar or the subtleties of Augustine's arguments. They need to see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11). They need to see the power of resurrection, and I ought to be showing it (Philippians 3:9–10).