We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.
Shank describes a family gathering at which his aunt tried to pray for him to receive the gift of tongues. She prayed in tongues as part of the process, and yet she failed to summon the “gift of the Holy Ghost,” which she understands to mean the gift of tongues. Shank was not impressed with her understanding of the Spirit.
The rest of the chapter deals with Shank asking family members where the Sinner’s Prayer is found in the Bible. No one knew.
Shank ruminates on the ignorance of his family as to the doctrine and history of their various denominations. He considers whether we can trust our subjective feelings.
I considered the emotional feelings that my Aunt Nancy displayed during her prayers and the feelings I experienced when I attended church. The feeling that I had after my salvation experience had to be the Holy Spirit moving upon me and I was sure that I was right. At this point I didn’t need to find the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible because the feelings that I’d experienced was an adequate confirmation of my own salvation.
(Kindle Locations 2254-2261).
A personal relationship with Jesus
The topic soon shifts to having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Randall says,
“Mr. Mike, having a personal relationship with Jesus is a hoax. It’s one of the greatest false teachings of modern-day religion. You know why? Because it’s not taught anywhere in God’s Word. No one was ever told to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, nor is the principle taught in the Bible. A personal relationship with Jesus mocks God because it infers that God is a respecter of persons and He is not.
(Kindle Locations 2439-2443).
Even as a 12-year old, I would have found this absurd. I mean, “Holy Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Does that make it false? And, obviously, “not a respecter of persons” does not prevent God from saving some and damning others.
So what does the Bible say?
(1Jo 4:7 ESV) 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
If I’m “born of God” (more literally, conceived by God), he’s my Father and I get to call him Abba. And I “know God.”
(Rom 8:15 ESV) 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
We’ve been adopted as God’s own children! We cry “Abba! Father!” If that’s not a “personal relationship,” then I don’t know what is.
God has chosen to describe his relationship with the saved as a father-child relationship, which plainly denotes a personal relationship (or why else use a personal metaphor?)
And Abba is a familial term. The premier dictionary of biblical Greek, the Bauer-Danker Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (hereinafter “BDAG”), says it’s a “term of endearment.”
And why is it something we “cry”? “Cry” here does not mean to weep tears but to cry out. When the Spirit enters us, normatively at water baptism, our relationship with God changes.
Perfect love begins to drive out fear, and just as a child calls for his beloved father, we find ourselves calling out for God as Father — not in some religious, ceremonial, hierarchical sense but as the person who conceived us, the being who transformed us from a shadow of what we should be toward becoming, over time, someone without the brokenness of sin and transformed into the image of God himself, our Father. After all, children should look very much like the person who conceived them.
And, of course, Jesus is now our big brother who intercedes for us. Indeed, we’ve been baptized into Jesus. We are in mystical union with him. And we have been crucified with him when we were saved. We follow him. We’re his disciples and he’s our Rabbi.
And all this cries “personal relationship” (even if a Baptist said it first).
It turns out that Randall and Larry, Shank’s best friend, have also been studying the Bible together. Larry showed up at Shank’s house to announce that he’d been baptized!
They discuss the thief on the cross (I’ll not bore you with the very familiar arguments). And then they discuss the possibility of being on one’s death bed, being converted, and not having time to be baptized (again, very familiar ground here). But Larry quotes Randall making an argument I’d not heard before —
“But,” Larry countered, “the guy didn’t get the chance to believe. Your God wouldn’t do that argument demands that God allow the man into Heaven because the man didn’t get the chance to believe, just as your argument demands that God allow the man into Heaven because he didn’t get the chance to get baptized.”
Larry was right.
“Mike, not getting the chance to be baptized is just like not getting the chance to believe. Both hypotheticals describe a man on his death bed. In both cases the man dies before an opportunity. In one case he dies before the opportunity to be baptized, but in the other case he dies before the opportunity to believe.”
(Kindle Locations 2706-2719). Not so fast, my friend! This argument ignores the dozens and dozens of verses that promise salvation to all who believe in Jesus. There is no such overwhelming evidence for those who never heard the gospel.
By the way, I reject the “Available Light” argument that those who’ve never heard the gospel, if they’re good people, will be saved. I debated that topic here with my friend Al Maxey some time ago and then later exegeted Rom 2 to show that it just doesn’t support that theory.
That’s a lot of reading, but you’ll find a consideration of the arguments of Al Maxey and Leroy Garrett (for whom I also have the greatest of respect) in favor of Available Light, my responses to those arguments, and a rebuttal by Al.
And, yes, there’s a huge difference between having faith in Jesus and not, and those who’ve never heard of Jesus are not saved — even if they’re really good — because no one’s works merit salvation.
Larry’s final argument — which Shank found most persuasive was —
“Faith is demonstrating to God that you believe enough to obey His commands. Obeying God is not a work. It is faith. Faith is the exercise of obedience toward the instructions of God.”
(Kindle Locations 2824-2825).
We’ve covered this already, of course. Yes, faith — true, saving faith in Jesus — will result in obedience. But because we aren’t required to do a particular work to be found “obedient,” obedience is not a work but a condition of the heart.
And one cannot obey what one has not been taught. If a convert is taught baptism incorrectly, the convert’s genuinely obedient heart will produce a flawed baptism. And the convert is nonetheless obedient.
The sin — the error — will surely be charged to the teacher who taught baptism wrongly, but God still promises — over and over — to save all with faith in Jesus. We’re supposed to be baptized correctly, but a bad baptism instructor is not going to stand in the way of God’s salvation — because he keeps his promises and because he never requires perfection.
 For Hank’s sake, I should explain that I use “convert” to refer to someone who has faith and is ready to become a Christian. It’s better than “catechumen” or such like.