In “Where Are the Christians: the Unrealized Potential of a Divided Religion” (Plain Sight Publishing, 2103) Shuster starts out by writing that every culture and civilization is shaped by its history, and Christianity is no exception. Accordingly he starts with a history of Christianity, divided into four distinct epochs, starting with the evangelizers of the first 300 years, and finishing with a chapter which studies the period since the reformation.
The book is divided into 4 parts: a history of Christianity; an attempt to define Christianity from several viewpoints; an attempt to categorize Christians according to their behaviors; and finally a vision for uniting Christians to be the force that Jesus imagined.
Granted the multiple denominations, para-church organizations, not to mention the non-denominational mega-churches lead to interesting discussions about Christianity, but there have been some constants throughout the years as to the basics of the faith. non-negotiable tenets of the faith concerning the Trinity, concerning Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.
As I started reading, I thought that finally I had found a brief concise history of the Christian church that I could live with. Schuster has researched and presented the growing pains, the councils, the abuses, the reformation, and some of the movers and shakers. But then, for me it comes to a grinding halt. Among his characterizations of the Christian timeline he includes a group he calls “restorers” and includes the LDS Church and Jehovah Witnesses, two groups which are widely regarded as cults rather than Christian denominations.
I went back and read about the author, who says he has been a Christian all his life, many years as a Roman Catholic, and now a Mormon. This book becomes less about Christianity and more about proving that the Mormon (LDS) Church is indeed Christian. I don’t profess to be able to tell what’s on a person’s heart, but Mormonism, except recently by the LDS church, is not widely acknowledged as a Christian denomination. Other denominations may differ on many things: how to administer the eucharist, at what age should one be baptized, the role of women in the church, the hierarchy. But the attributes of God, the triune God: one in essence, three in purpose (or person, as preached by Sproul) is not open to debate.
Schuster uses data available from the Pew Research Center and the Barna group, widely respected organizations, including a Pew US Religious Knowledge Survey from 2010 (erroneously cited in the end notes as being from Sept 2012). Interestingly enough the various tables and charts that he uses all show members of the LDS church at the top of the list among many denominations as far as religious knowledge and even certain “Christian” behaviors. What is noticeably missing is that in the Pew Forum report it does not say among Christians, in fact in one place the descriptor reads as follows: “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.”
Schuster has done his homework, and there is a lot of good information presented, but there is just enough emphasis on LDS theology to make the entire book suspect. Little things like talking about scripture and including in parentheses “for example bible” cause great alarm. Christianity holds a closed canon, when Christians discuss scripture, they mean the Bible.
Even in his assessment of where the Christians are to be found (departing, adequate, hesitating or laboring) seems to focus on faith as a result of works, rather than works as a result of faith.
Obviously since the LDS church is less than 200 years old, there isn’t a lot of discussion in the parts of the book that deal with the Christian church before 1830. The last portion of the book however does include many references to this rapidly growing religion, culture or cult. Quoting from the book of Mormon in a book about Christianity does not validate it as scripture.
There are a lot of good ideas presented in section 4, a vision for the uniting of the Christian church. Everyone can identify with his basic themes, of strengthening the individual, the family, the church and ultimately the community. Other groups are ‘preaching’ that concept too, so it’s nothing new.
Overall the book is well thought out, well researched, and well written, but I have to disagree with the author’s basic premise which seems to be geared towards including the LDS church as the forerunner and model for the future of the Christian church in America. For me this book was useful in seeing how there are many similarities between the churches of Christendom and the Mormon Church, but there are still many differences, and the differences tend to be in the things that form the bedrock of the Christian faith.