John B. Wallace’s Starting at the Finish Line is intended, per the author, as a defense of orthodox Christianity against the claims of Mormonism. The intention is that, rather than taking down Mormonism, Wallace will highlight the areas where Mormonism claims to be right and Christianity wrong, and defend Christian teaching.
This is a different approach than most books delving into the divide of Mormonism and Christianity. Typically, authors highlight the problems either with Mormon history or Mormon theology, and express why Christianity fills that hole. Wallace sees a difficulty here, though, in that many of those he has seen leave Mormonism as a faith do not come to Christianity. Taking down the one faith does not replace it with another. I like the attitude behind his approach: Joseph Smith preached Mormonism as a replacement for failing Christianity, and Wallace demonstrates why Christianity needs no replacement.
Does Wallace know what he’s talking about? Yes and no. Wallace grew up an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—he was a Mormon. One thing I am certain of about the LDS Church is that they are passionate about keeping their members well-versed in their doctrine, so his background is there. His background in Christian theology is there, but he is not a Christian academic. That makes him easier to understand, but also sometimes less clear on the finer points of Christian doctrine. His big picture is great, but a few of the zoom-ins aren’t quite dead on.
Overall, though, Wallace does well in presenting his case for Christianity. His method is generally to cite theologians and pastors, and this provides valuable additional resources to consider for the reader.
Is it persuasive? I can’t speak directly to that, as I’ve never been a Mormon. I do know that, if you removed the comparison points and only read Wallace’s description of Christianity, he does an excellent job of presenting the grace of God. That’s good enough for me to be positive about this book.
Certainly it’s difficult to work through a book that takes sides in a debate, and I can understand that despite Wallace’s efforts at gentleness, some will still take offense at his words. Even so, he speaks clearly and gently and points to Jesus throughout.
Free book received in exchange for the review.