You’ve probably heard the polls that Mormonism is a fast growing religion in the United States (although the polls don’t say how many are leaving the Mormon ranks). You’ve probably seen and/or talked to those well dressed, polite Mormon missionaries. But you may not have read an account by a man who was a “by-the-book” Mormon for 20 years only to leave Mormonism because of its inconsistencies and because of its emphasis on good works for salvation. This book, Starting at the Finish Line, was written by a man who has that story: John B. Wallace. He was in many ways a devout Mormon who ended up getting “burned out” by Mormon doctrine and practice.
Wallace wrote this book mostly for Mormons who are questioning the religion, those who are leaving the Mormon ranks, or those who have already left. He is quite blunt in the book, but in my reading he truly cares for Mormons who are trapped on a “grace plus works” religious treadmill. Wallace clearly has a passion for the gospel of grace alone and a passion to share that gospel with Mormons who obscure, deny, and twist it. Even though Wallace is blunt, I don’t think it is offensive because his care and concern also shine through. I’ve read much of the Book of Mormon, discussed Mormonism with some of their missionaries, and read other Mormon writings; Wallace’s book rang true with what I’ve read and heard.
Starting at the Finish Line does not talk about all the ways Mormon doctrine differs from Christian doctrine (i.e. the doctrines of creation, theology proper, the Trinity, the church, and the end times, just to name a few). Instead, Wallace focuses on two main points: The Bible and the gospel of grace. In the first section, he defends the historicity and reliability of the Old and New Testaments in light of the Mormon denying those things and adding more books to their religion. I appreciated this section since it did show how Mormons do not really hold closely to Scripture alone and Scripture itself.
The bulk of the book really talks about grace – the fact that Jesus came into the world to die for wicked sinners and give them the gift of eternal salvation by faith alone (not by works). Time and time again Wallace explains how he was very works oriented in the Mormon religion. He shows many quotes and examples of how the Mormon understanding of the gospel is very much at odds with the historic, biblical Christian teaching of free and full forgiveness in Christ alone by God’s grace alone through faith alone. The gospel of free grace is a stumbling block for Mormons, and Wallace wrestles with that point in an excellent way throughout the book.
At times, the book did seem a bit repetitive. However, that might be a good thing for someone who believes their works play a part in their justification and salvation. Also, there are a few places I wished Wallace would have been clearer on a few issues, but he was very clear on imputation, faith alone, the sufficiency of the atonement, and justification by grace. The historic Christian gospel shines through in this book – Jesus is truly front and center here.
I very much recommend this book to those who are in Mormon circles, who were in them, or who know people in Mormon circles. Actually, I recommend this book for anyone who 1) wants to know more about Mormonism and 2) who wants a great reminder of the “amazing grace” of salvation through faith alone in Christ’s finished work alone. I’m thankful Wallace took the time and energy to tackle this tough subject. And I’m thankful he did it in a way that showed Christ is all we have, and all we need!
(Note: the Kindle version of this book is just $3.99 at the time of the post.)
John Wallace, Starting at the Finish Line (n.l., Pomona House Publishing, 2014).
*I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews for the purpose of giving an honest review.*
rev shane lems