Both books are self-published from within the Churches of Christ. Today, we consider the first —
Muscle and a Shovel
This one is from within the “mainstream” or institutional/conservative Churches of Christ.
In fact, a number of readers have asked me to post something on Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank. Frankly, I’d not heard of it until I began receiving reader emails about it in the last few weeks.
It’s the author’s story of being converted from being a Southern Baptist to a Church of Christ member. The chapters are built on doctrinal discussions between various persons, taking the reader through the litany of Church of Christ arguments and answers.
It’s a best seller, as Church of Christ literature goes — selling remarkably well for a self-published title.
The doctrinal discussions are all based on the King James Version, and the discussions follow along the lines of very familiar 20th Century Church of Christ rhetoric.
Consider this excerpt posted at Shank’s official website —
“Randall, just give me a straight answer. Am I going to Heaven or Hell?” Randall was in a metaphorical corner and he knew that I wasn’t letting him out without an answer.
He conceded, “Friend, it’s not what I think that’s important. It’s what the Bible says that’s important. The bible clearly teaches that everyone who’s not a part of the church that Jesus purchased with His blood, Acts 20:28, will not be saved.”
“Ah Randall!” I raised my voice and felt as though the top of my head was going to blow off! “Look, if I’m a Baptist is it Heaven or Hell? Answer me straight!”
“Mr. Mike,” he said meekly, “from my understanding of God’s Word, if you’re a member of a denomination, whether it be Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Mormon, any church that Jesus Christ did not establish and buy with His blood, there’s no question that you’re headed toward eternal destruction.”
(The capitalization and punctuation errors are from the original. The editor in me struggles not to make corrections as I read.)
The logical flaws should be plain to the readers. For example, who says that the “church” is defined by denominational boundaries? Why do we assume that the Baptist Church and the Churches of Christ are two different “churches” as that term is used in the New Testament? Just where in the Bible does membership in a denomination (or a denomination claiming not to be a denomination) define who is and isn’t saved?
If the test is “hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized,” then why aren’t the members of other immersionist denominations saved? Why just the Churches of Christ? Why do our baptisms for the remission of sins take, while the baptisms of other denominations that immerse for remission of sins not take? (And there are indeed several denominations that baptize (or sometimes baptize) for remission of sins by immersion. We are not as unique as we like to pretend.)
What is it about being in a “denomination” that the New Testament damns? I’m struggling to find that passage.
Why on earth does the author speak in 20th Century categories (membership in “denominations”; multiple churches) rather than First Century categories (“faith in Jesus”; there is but one church)?
In short, my take on the book is that it’s a nicely written, poorly edited novelization of a conservative Church of Christ tract rack.
It’s tempting to write a series that refutes the many arguments contained in the book, but I’ve already done this in The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. This book was published nearly 20 years ago, and with the publisher’s permission, HSRG is posted as a free download. And it anticipates and answers most of the arguments in Muscle and a Shovel.
NOTE TO READERS: I’ve since posted two replies to defenders of the book, including the author, as well as a series reviewing the teachings of the book chapter by chapter. The link will take you a table of contents for the series, in reverse chronological order.