Tuesday, March 5, 2013

BLOG TOUR: Where are the Christians Book Tour

Ponder if you will the state of our world; and in particular the condition of America. Although one can easily argue the United States is still the greatest nation in the world and a country so many desire to come to—even risk their lives to enter into—there is no denying America’s social, moral and spiritual fabric continues to deteriorate at an accelerated pace. For many this is an alarming and discouraging trend.

Now consider the fact that 76% of Americans claim to be Christian, making the United States one of the highest per-capita Christian nations in the world. A nation full of Christians in a deteriorating society? If this indeed be the case then WHERE ARE THE CHRISTIANS? To solve this conundrum author Eric Shuster gives us a book that bears this question as its title with the promise of answers and unique journey for readers.

Where are the Christians? uses the classic format of who, what, where and how to explore Christianity and the dynamics that unite and divide the religion into the unrealized potential it suffers from today (thus the subtitle of the book—the Unrealized Potential of a Divided Religion). The book enlightens readers as to who the Christians are from a historical perspective; what a Christian is from a spiritual perspective; where the Christians are from a behavioral perspective; and how Christianity can be strengthened and more united from a societal perspective. Where are the Christians? examines hundreds of Biblical and scholarly sources, analyzing data from a multitude of studies leading to unique perspectives and solutions to the challenges facing Christianity in the modern era.

Where are the Christians? contains 17 chapters arranged into four sections:

·         SECTION 1:  WHO ARE THE CHRISTIANS?—a history4 chapters providing a concise history of Christianity spread across four distinct periods:  Evangelization and Formation, Legitimacy and Codification, Corruption and Division, and Reform and Denominational Proliferation.

·         SECTION 2:  WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN?—a definition4 chapters examining the definition of a Christian from the perspectives of the world, the Bible, landmark religious studies, and what Shuster refers to as Modern Day Pharisees.  

·         SECTION 3:  WHERE ARE THE CHRISTIANS?—a categorization5 chapters profiling the five types of modern Christians including a unique and enlightening exercise to help readers understand what type of Christian they are among the five. 

·         SECTION 4 – HOW IS CHRISTIANITY TO UNITE?—a vision:  4 chapters describing the ways Christians in America can unite into a force for good by focusing on individuals, families, churches and communities. 

For the next 4 weeks author Eric Shuster will take us on a tour through each of the four sections of Where are the Christians? providing a glimpse of what the book is all about—the questions it will answer in each chapter, the insights it will provide, and the vision it lays out in bringing together a deeply divided religion into realizing its true potential for America. This is one tour you won’t want to miss!

Albert Schweitzer once said "One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history.” Section one of Where are the Christians? takes on the daunting task of providing a concise and compelling history of Christianity to give readers a background of where it all began as a foundation moving forward. To help the reader navigate an otherwise complicated history Shuster divides the 2000 year period into four segments, one for each of the four chapters in section 1.

Chapter 1:  They Were Evangelizers and Builders (up to AD 299)
While some might think Christianity began the day Christ was born, Christianity was long prophesied in the Old Testament. The over two centuries that followed during the Evangelization and Formation Period were defined by seven major categories of events:  persecution of the church, martyrdom of its early leaders, the spreading of the gospel outside of Palestine, the conversion of Paul, the formation of the church, early heresies, and the writing of the New Testament.

Chapter 2:  They were Legitimized and Codified (AD 300-999)
The Legitimacy and Codification Period from AD 300 to 999 was a time for Christianity to continue its global proliferation, while codifying its doctrines and legitimizing its place in religion and politics. This period of Christianity was defined by seven categories of events:  the continuation of persecution and evangelization, increased heresies, doctrinal codification, hierarchy and politics, validation, and the seeds of corruption.

Chapter 3:  They were Corrupted and Divided (1000-1499)
As the Christian Church neared the millennial landmark it began to be faced with significant issues of leadership that would rupture its unity. Although Christianity was still spreading throughout the world, the organization of the Church would be challenged by its integration with the political structure and an increasingly corrupt leadership.  The Corruption and Division period (1000-1499) is marked by four categories of events including doctrinal evolution, church and state integration, corruption and division.

Chapter 4:  They were Reformed and Scattered (1500 to the Present)
The final segment of Christian history covers the year1500 to the present and is called the Reform and Denominational Proliferation Period. During this period individuals came forward to challenge the established Christian Church to reform itself from corruption. This period is marked by five major activities including the carryover of corruption, the emergence of refiners, reformers and restorers, Christian movements and influencers, the propagation of published scripture and the proliferation of denominations.

Modern-day Christians are influenced by the past and are products of their own history. It is a history that produced the best and worst of humanity over a 2,000 year period. Our faith walk today is affected by and reflects these four periods of Christian history. Having a better understanding of where we came from as a Christian people we are now ready for the next leg of our journey to answers the question:  “What is a Christian?”  

The next leg of the journey will define what a “Christian” is. A simple task, right? Think again. There are hundreds of definitions of a Christian that have been generated by individuals and institutions over the centuries. Not all of them can be right as the variations are sometimes mind numbing. In the next four chapters Shuster digs deeply into the definition from multiple angles to reveal the confusion, clarity, illumination and complication of coming up with a practical and meaningful definition of a Christian.

Chapter 5:  It’s Confusing According to the World
The first stop is to research the definitions of a Christian offered by respected secular publications, religious organizations, America’s ten largest Christian Churches and the internet at large. The result is a convoluted set of definitions with little commonality and plenty of confusion. 

Chapter 6:  It’s Clear According to the Bible
The title of the chapter suggests one need only proceed to Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, or 1 Peter. 4:16 (the three places in the New Testament where the word “Christian” appears) and read a sentence that begins with “a Christian is…” Unfortunately it is not that easy. Jesus taught that we must “search the scriptures” (John 5:39). After finding little satisfaction in the previous chapter’s effort Shuster searches the Bible and uniquely segments the words attributed directly to Jesus Christ in the New Testament and those attributed to the New Testament authors starting in Acts. The effort leads to a clear two-part definition of a Believing Christian and a Practicing Christian.     

Chapter 7:  It’s Revealing According to the Data
The definition of a Christian developed in chapter 6 is put to the test in Chapter 7 using data from a number of landmark quantitative studies conducted in the United States from 2000 to 2012. Analysis from the studies reveals how the major Christian denominations in the United States today are performing in inspiring their members to be Believing and Practicing Christians. The results are nothing short of astounding.

Chapter 8:  It’s Complicated According to the Critics
Complicating matters in defining a Christian is the existence of Modern-day Pharisees—the “critics” among the Christian community. Jesus Christ during his public ministry was often confronted by the Pharisees who challenged his authority and spiritual legitimacy. The Pharisees viewed themselves as defenders of the Mosaic Law and the oral Torah just as Modern-day Pharisees view themselves as defenders of “true Biblical doctrine” as they interpret it. A review of America’s Founding Fathers and other historical figures helps demonstrate the dangers of reckless spiritual profiling.    

After completing the first two sections of the book readers are armed with a knowledge of Christian history (the “who”) and a comprehensive understanding of the profile of a Christian (the “what”) preparing them for the next leg of the journey to answer the question “where are the Christians?” While readers may have some inkling as to the answer, nothing could prepare them for what is offered by the author in Section 3.

The five chapters of Section 3 answer the question of “where are the Christians?” by revealing the five major types of Christians in America today:  Departing, Adequate, Hesitant, Laboring and Latent—and how the reader can complete an exercise to identify themselves among these five.    

Chapter 9:  They’re leaving—Losing Their Belief as Departing Christians
The first Christian type to be explored is the Departing Christian. These are Christians who are literally or psychologically losing their faith. These are Christians that don’t believe as they once did (or perhaps never did), who are living watered down doctrines of Christianity, and losing their testimony of the Savior through inactivity and prolonged sin without repentance. Simply put, these are Christians who have one foot in and one foot out.

Chapter 10:  They’re Hiding—Not Practicing Their Faith as Adequate Christians
The second Christian type identified is the Adequate Christian. These are Christians that are not leaving but rather “in hiding,” concealing themselves in the shadows unseen, ducking any and all spiritual responsibility in a desire to be left alone. 

Chapter 11:  They’re Vacillating—Living Under Their Potential as Hesitant Christians
The third Christian type profiled is the Hesitant Christian. These are Christians who are not departing or hiding, but are instead dithering and vacillating with great faith waiting to be cut loose! These Christians have enormous potential but are sitting on the sidelines indecisive about entering the game of true discipleship.

Chapter 12:  They’re Endeavoring—Living Discipleship in Christ as Laboring Christians
The forth major Christian type is the Laboring Christian. In the ideal Christian world the disciples of Christ continually embrace all of the values discussed in chapter 6 and live lives exemplary of the Savior; such is the journey of the Laboring Christian. The fifth Christian type is extremely rare as one exercising abundant works, but with little faith to support those works—this is the Latent Christian which is only briefly discussed.

Chapter 13:  What Kind of Christian are You? Complete the Exercise
Christians in America are spread out among those who are departing, feeling adequate, hesitating, and laboring (understanding there are very few who are latent). These Christians—meaning all Christians—move along a continuum based upon the exercising of faith unto works in an often erratic and volatile way. The book offers an exercise to help the reader identify their Christian type on the day the exercise is completed. Come back a year later and perhaps that type has shifted up or down the Christian Continuum.

The question of “are you a Christian?” now becomes irrelevant and is replaced by “what kind of Christian are you?”The Christian community can eliminate the judgmental spirit of deciding who is a Christian and who is not by moving to a more useful and productive dialogue of where believers are along the Christian Continuum. With readers understanding where the Christians are it is finally time to chart a course to greater unity among these hundreds of millions of people, the vision of Section 4.

Christianity has been in a state of increasing division since its inception. The four chapters of Section 4 answer the question posed by examining the unification process from the smallest to the largest units of Christianity including the individual, family, church and community. This is a concept Shuster calls the Model of Christian Unity. As each unit is strengthened spiritually the impact on society is not merely cumulative, but rather exponential as a result of spiritual synergy.

Chapter 14:  Strengthen the Individual
The first and most basic unit in the kingdom of God is the individual. The Savior said “I am the vine, ye are the branches,” and as branches nourished from the same vine we are to “bringeth forth much fruit: for without me [Jesus Christ] ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus told Peter “…when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Because conversion is a continual process those who are more mature in their conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ (along the Christian Continuum) should lift up and help those who are not as far along.

Chapter 15:  Strengthen the Family
The second rung in the Model of Christian Unity is the family. Family reaches beyond genetics or a physical home. The family is under constant attack from the adversary seeking to destroy is goodness and influence in a multitude of ways leading to disastrous results. Whatever the configuration, strengthening the family is of critical importance in the spiritual unification process on the road to Christian Unity.

Chapter 16:  Strengthen the Church
The third rung of the Model of Christian Unity is the church. Strong individuals and strong families should make for a strong church; however, that is not always the case. Bringing together two or more strong families full of righteous individuals does not always guarantee church unification where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a challenge to achieve spiritual synergy. Strengthening the church is an important aspect on the journey to unifying disparate Christians toward a stronger society.

Chapter 17:  Strengthen the Community
The fourth and final rung in the Model of Christian Unity is the community. The ideal scenario is for a community to be made up of strong individuals, families and churches. There is a phrase “think global, act local,” a phrase which has great applicability to the concept of the church community. There are hundreds of community building efforts among diverse Christian congregations operating and changing lives of individuals, families, churches and communities around the United States.

Unifying Christianity is not just a utopian pipe dream. The Model of Christian Unity is already hard at work.

Our 5 week journey has briefly summarized who the Christians are from a historical perspective; what a Christian is from a spiritual perspective; where the Christians are from a behavioral perspective; and how Christianity can be strengthened and more united from a societal perspective. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

Go to www.findyourchristianity.com to watch the book trailer, find out what type of Christian you are, and to order the book. 

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