Muscle & Shovel”: In Conclusion

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel. And we are at the end (unless I change my mind).

What’s Missing?

Shank’s theology has several flaws.

1. It greatly de-emphasizes Jesus in order to emphasize baptism. You can’t make both most important.

In fact, there are far, far more lessons here on baptism than on Jesus. He even denies as heretical the possibility of having a personal relationship with Jesus. And he concludes that the Plan of Salvation requires us to believe the Bible, rather than believe in Jesus.

And he declares that the Plan of Salvation — including baptism — is “faith” as “faith” is used in the New Testament.

He says we should believe in Jesus elsewhere, and Shank confessed Jesus in order to be baptized, but faith in Jesus is peripheral to his theology. It’s a step toward obtaining a proper baptism.

This is not for a second to reject or dismiss water baptism or the importance of the scriptures, but to set baptism in its correct place as pointing to Jesus — the proper object of our faith.

That’s the centerpiece of Christianity — and we cannot afford to forget it.

2. Shank’s teaching makes baptism a divider, so that those who fail to believe that baptism saves are damned.

3. The insistence on a specific understanding of baptism is expanded to include many other teachings, such as rejection of instrumental music. Hence, he rejects the salvation of all others — even those denominations with baptismal theology identical to our own. In fact, this aggressive damnation of those we disagree with would have damned the founders of the Restoration Movement, who had differing views on baptism than Randall and Shank.

4. Grace is barely discussed. The grace we receive in baptism is mentioned, but the grace of God for those who’ve been baptized is hardly mentioned at all. We are treated to lessons against “faith only” and “irresistible grace” and about how grace leads us to practice baptism, but nothing about our freedom in Christ.

5. His doctrine of the Spirit is Deistic, that is, Shank believes that the Spirit has had no “direct operation” on the hearts of Christians since the apostolic age. Thus, contrary to the Prophets and the New Testament, the Spirit does not help the Christian remain faithful and gives no gifts to equip us to better serve God. We’re on our own.

6. He adopts the 16th Century Regulative Principle and Command, Example, Necessary Inference hermeneutics — so that those things not authorized are not only sinful, they damn. (Where is this found in the Bible? And what kind of God would hide salvation-essential teachings in the silences of the text?)

Thus, he has bought into the positions of the most conservative segment of the Churches of Christ. He thinks it’s wrong to give to the church on any day other than a Sunday, and he says the “gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38 is eternal life, not the personal indwelling.

And, of course, he considers it damnable to teach a personal relationship with Jesus and redefines “believe” in the Five Step Plan of Salvation to mean “believe in the Bible.”

Even most conservative Churches of Christ would find much of this horrifying. This is not even mainstream conservative Church of Christ thought — and yet many congregations are buying this book and passing it around as though it’s all just excellent teaching.

7. Those outside the Churches of Christ are treated as having wicked motives, even believers in Jesus in other denominations. Members of denominations are stereotyped and caricatured as bad people — and this helps justify why God is sending them to hell. It’s false and it’s slander.

8. Shank has a particular mad on for Baptist clergy and Baptist practices. They are all damned in their willful ignorance of the Bible.

9. However, when it suits his needs, he treats C. S. Lewis (Anglican) and John Wesley (Methodist) and several other great Christian authors as authorities whom we should follow — despite being denominational, apostate, and damned in their sins. Thus, he quotes Lewis for his opposition to the Sinner’s Prayer and Wesley for his opposition to instruments in worship — as though the thoughts of the damned should be persuasive.

10. There is just not much here that gives the reader the sense that Shank truly comprehends the heart of Jesus. His crucifixion is mentioned here and there to make other points, but Shank seems not to appreciate that grace is infinitely expensive, that his salvation cost God his Son, and that this means that God’s grace is not tightfisted and withheld from all but the most strictly obedient. That was the view of the Pharisees that Jesus so roundly condemned.

(Luk 11:52 NET) “Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in.”

It was Jesus who forgave people who didn’t even ask for forgiveness (Luke 5)! He was generous with forgiveness, overflowing with grace for all with faith. He looked for opportunities to forgive, not for mistakes that would allow him to damn. Regardless of one’s dispensational theories, he forgave a thief as he died. That’s the nature of the person who hung on the cross for Shank — and Shank’s theology does not reflect that character.

He’s missed the biggest of the big pictures, being deceived by proof texting and 10-page tracts, when he should have poured himself into the scriptures themselves, book at a time, with commentaries by the greatest scholars in history — even the ones from “the denominations.” (We study best when we study with others, especially with those who might disagree with us. Otherwise, if we only study with those we agree with, we’ve predetermined our conclusions.)

While Muscle & Shovel occasionally mentions Jesus’ crucifixion, it’s always to make another point: to explain the nature of baptism, the wrongness of division, etc. But never does Shank stop and ponder what it means that Jesus died for him. I mean, doesn’t that at least allow Jesus to be the object of faith, rather than a plan? Aren’t we in fact saved by faith in Jesus, not faith in the Bible? Isn’t this all because of the crucifixion?

And doesn’t the crucifixion tell us something about how very much both Jesus and God love us.

The crucifixion proves that God is not a cruel proctor hoping that we’ll fail his unfair tests. He gave his Son for us. And we absolutely must exegete the text with that thought in mind. (And that fact by itself destroys the Regulative Principle and Command, Example, Necessary Inference hermeneutics, a theory built on a false perception of the heart of the Living God.)

In short, Shank has missed one of the biggest lessons of all scripture — both testaments and either testament — the character and personality of God. And his teachings are pointing a segment of the Churches of Christ away from a true understanding of God’s love, painting a false picture of his nature and desires, distorting even the definition of “faith” for the sake of finding a rationale to damn everyone outside the Churches of Christ.

And it leaves me with an overwhelming sense of sadness that good people who desperately want to please their God are being denied the great joy of knowing our Abba for who he really is.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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39 Responses to Muscle & Shovel”: In Conclusion

  1. Eric says:

    Thank you again, Jay, for your excellent analysis of this book. It came at a particularly good time in my life. I mentioned on an earlier comment that I have left the conservative (non-institutional) Church of Christ way of thinking. (I haven’t left the group because of family pressure; I’d love to go to a more grace-centered, progressive Church of Christ, but it’s not really an option.)

    You sum up my change of thinking brilliantly. I’ve said it this way. The conservative Church of Christ is wrong about the character of God (they see a capricious despot instead of Jesus crucified), how to read the Bible (CENI instead of exegesis based on Jesus), and what it means to be saved (baptized and correct in doctrine instead of free in Christ).

    Perhaps my background is more conservative than most, but none of Shank’s theology surprised me. It’s what I’ve been hearing for years and I’m glad I’ve come to reject it. And even though the book was given in an attempt to win me back to that way of thinking, it only solidified in my mind that that way of thinking is destructive and wrong.

  2. Alan says:

    His doctrine of the Spirit is Deistic

    Good point. That may explain a lot of the positions in the conservative wing of the Restoration Movement.

  3. Gary says:

    Jay I of course heartily amen your points. It is sad that in 2014 this cultic version of Church-of-Christism is still being promulgated. In regard to our earlier exchange on universalism one of your rhetorical questions caught my attention. “And what kind of God would hide salvation-essential teachings in the silences of the text?” It is legitimate to argue from the nature of God. In Genesis 18:25 Abraham asks God, “Shall not the Judge of the whole world do what is right?” In that same spirit I ask what kind of God would annihilate or punish those who never have a realistic opportunity to come to faith in Jesus? A more nuanced question is what kind of God would create humankind in his own image only to annihilate the vast majority of us? Is not God at least as merciful as we are? Who among us would annihilate the majority of people who have ever lived? Considering the nature of our God caused good and conservative Christian leaders like J. D. Bales and Jimmy Allen to first question and then oppose the accepted doctrine of the time that most of the human race would burn in torment for all eternity. Edward Fudge’s teachings on that subject were at first rejected by the Church of Christ establishment but are now widely accepted. Annihilation is much better of course than eternal unending torment but does it really reflect the true nature of our God? Yes there are many passages of Scripture that speak of destruction of sinners but do any of them tell us with certainty what God will finally do with his children through Adam? God sounded very certain when he told Moses that he would destroy Israel save for Moses’ clan. Yet we know that God relented and showed mercy to Israel. As we refute the cultic teachings of those like Shank we should also consider that some of our own presuppositions just might be wrong.

  4. Grace says:

    So Jay, how is it you had as you put it “correct understanding of baptism”, when as to your understanding before you were baptized you didn’t have God’s Holy Spirit living in you?

    Romans 8:7-9 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all.

    And how do people receive God’s Holy Spirit, people who you admit haven’t been taught to believe the Holy Spirit is living in us and active in our lives?

    Acts 19:2 He asked them, When you put your faith in Jesus, were you given the Holy Spirit? No! they answered. We have never even heard of the Holy Spirit.

  5. The fact that Shank’s book is getting such wide circulation among the CoC suggests one of two things: either they are really not as open-minded as they wish to be perceived and relish the guilty pleasure of a little debate-and-be-damned from the Daniel Sommer school, OR that they have merely indiscriminately swallowed the hook attached to the bait of “Look how many baptisms we’ve had!” I really want to believe it’s the latter, but in the back of my mind I am reminded that even liberal CoC’s continue to clearly distinguish and hold themselves separate from other denominations, and that those who begin to accept other denominations as “just as saved as we are” are eventually not “Churches of Christ” at all. I fear that the popularity of Shank’s book, and the tiny chorus of those like Jay who protest it, may provide an unflattering picture of the overall progress of this denomination.

    I would like to thank Jay for acting as a true elder of the church by standing up against this popular heresy, and his willingness to engage it and correct it in detail. A couple hundred more CoC elders across the country doing the same thing might just be enough to tamp down this toxic tome and limit the damage it is doing. But a few thousand statements of “Well, OUR congregation isn’t like that,” will accomplish nothing except to embolden such heresies.

  6. Skip says:

    Grace, I understood baptism before I was baptized and before I had fully repented. Since I had not yet repented I had certainly not received the Holy Spirit. Thus, I didn’t need or have the Holy Spirit in order for me to understand that in the future I would need to repent and be baptized.

  7. ellis says:

    I left the One Cup, no class, no IM group a few years ago. CENI is nothing more than a man-made doctrine that was used as a control mechanism to keep congregations in-line. True autonomy does not exist in the One Cup or anti groups of the CofC. May God help the brethren see the light and turn from the CENI approach to the Scriptures.

  8. Grace says:

    How do you understand what pleases God to be obedient to Him when you are not in a relationship with Him having His Spirit living in you? The Bible says you can’t and won’t.

    Romans 8:7-9 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all.

  9. Monty says:


    The Calvinistic idea that we can’t believe the good news as alien sinners is just wrong. Peter preached, “save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Save yourselves by being obedient to the good news(trust Jesus to be the Messiah,repent and be immersed, receiving the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit). That was something they could understand, even though lost. Their immersion into Christ is where the old man was buried(put to death)and what arose was a new man created to be like Jesus. The battle of living the Christian life, the war between the flesh and the Spirit, doesn’t begin until then.

    What is your opinion of when the Samaritans(Acts 8) were saved? The moment the light switch came on in their hearts( belief only)? Or maybe upon their baptism at the time of their believing? Or was it after their having believed and been baptized and upon the Apostles laying their hands on them(and the Holy Spirit giving them the gift of speaking in tongues)? I know, it’s complicated when you force “And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all” on salvation passages concerning obeying(believing the gospel).

  10. susan says:

    Thank you, Jay! Great job!

  11. Grace says:

    I’m not Calvin and I never said we can’t believe the good news as alien sinners.

    It’s not about our strength, it is about Him. Christians are to tell the gospel of Jesus to others, Christians don’t drag people kicking and screaming to Him so He will save them. It is God who convicts their heart from unbelief. If He did not do what He does, we would never be convicted and drawn to Him.

    John 6:37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

    John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

    John 6:65 And He said, Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.

    John 16:8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.

    I don’t believe people can do any act to obey God that pleases Him without His Spirit living in us.

    John 10:27-28 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

    Romans 8:7-9 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all.

  12. Monty says:


    You totally dodged the question about the Samaritans. But I thought you would.

    You said,
    “Christians don’t drag people kicking and screaming to Him so He will save them.”

    Who said anything about kicking and screaming? Is that directed at someone else’s comments? Is that what you think Peter did on Pentecost? We try our best to “persuade” others of the good news. Paul tried “reasoning” with the Jews in the synagogues. Not sure of your point. God opens our hearts by the preaching and teaching of the gospel(typically). When people respond, it is said, “he opened their hearts”, when they don’t respond it is said that “they are blinded by Satan.” No argument there, but it seems to me in spite of your denial of believing the teachings of Calvin you lean toward irresistible grace. I mean you do believe one cannot fall from grace, correct?

    You said,

    “I don’t believe people can do any act to obey God that pleases Him without His Spirit living in us.” Calvin taught that same thing.

    Did Cornelius please God with his giving of alms and prayers before his salvation? If not, then why was he chosen? We can do nothing as a “meritorious work” to earn salvation but that doesn’t mean we can’t possibly live righteously or ever do anything that pleases God. I believe God is pleased when lost people live and do righteous acts, although they still need Jesus’ atonement. The context of Romans 8:7-9 is about trying to meet the requirements of the Law. No man can fully meet those requirements in order to please God as to take hold of salvation. It doesn’t mean a devout Jew can’t ever do anything good that pleases God, or a devout Gentile(Cornelius) for that matter.

    You are still (I believe) trying to say that baptism is some kind of meritorious work. It is not. Baptism is not about “our strength.” Believing and being baptized is about surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, not about our strength, it’s about our weakness and our need for (sins) being remitted, our cleansing and rebirth.

  13. steven says:

    A while ago you, around the time you did a very short, initial review of Muscle and a Shovel, you also did a very short review of the book Conviction versus Mercy by Gardner Hall. This book takes on very different tone than Muscle and a Shovel, in that instead of being explicit sectarianism, it is instead a much nicer sounding implicit sectarianism. You’ve done a great job here of exposing the fallacies of explicit sectarianism. And there are less and less churches (I hope) that are comfortable with brazenly proclaiming the views of Shank. However, in my experience in non-institutional Churches of Christ, I see a much more widespread problem of implicit sectarianism that has the exact same effect of isolating us from all other Christians, and has the exact same attitude of Shank at it’s core. Brethren like Gardner Hall will say that they do not condemn others, that God will do that or the scriptures will do that, and yet they will gladly affirm that their fellow members of their congregation, or all who are correctly baptized, are saved. But when it comes to anyone else they say, “I don’t judge anyone’s final destiny” and they will never dare call a Baptist a brother. So Conviction versus Mercy is being hailed in my corner of the CoC as an important book and even a breath of fresh air as it points out such mistakes of the past as Church of Christ brothers condemning each other over absurd things, and yet it doesn’t actually solve the problem or the effects of Shank’s teaching. It appears to want to change the status quo of legalism and sectarianism, and yet somehow manages to keep it firmly in place at the same time, and basically just tells us to be nicer about it. For example Hall tells us not to assume damnation of everyone who uses instruments in worship, and then goes on to insist that it leads to idolatry and spends page upon page defending his own view about how we shouldn’t even clap in church, not even at a baptism, because it might lead to idolatry. And this after admitting there is a problem in the church of Phariseeism (adding rules to keep us from coming too close to breaking the actual rules)! It really made my head spin.

    Jay, it would be wonderful if you could do what you did with Muscle and a Shovel with Conviction vs. Mercy. I see it as a book that is just as damaging because the sectarianism it’s promoting is so much more subtle than the really obvious kind, and it tricks people into thinking they are so much more gracious than the Michael Shanks, and yet they live the exact same way and think the same way, just on a deeper level. An expose, or public dialogue with the author, would go a long way towards eradicating this kind of thinking on a much broader scale among the non-insititutional, Florida College portion of the Churches of Christ (the portion I’ve been blessed and burdened with working on).

    It’s still available for $00.99 for Kindle on Amazon.

  14. laymond says:

    Gary asked the question, “In that same spirit I ask what kind of God would annihilate or punish those who never have a realistic opportunity to come to faith in Jesus? A more nuanced question is what kind of God would create humankind in his own image only to annihilate the vast majority of us? ”

    Gary, do you mean to say that it is hard to accept that God made all these people in his own image, then destroyed all but “EIGHT”. or were you talking about a different God.
    Do you find it reprehensive that God would destroy whole communities, communities who never had the chance to come to faith in Jesus. I don’t know maybe if you asked Job , he could tell you what God told him. except there is that thing about no man ever seeing God except Jesus, so maybe you will just have to wait until you see him.
    There is a reason that the words “Fear God’s wrath” is many times written in the bible. The CoC did not make up those stories in order to get people to knuckle under to their collection plate. Either they are true and we should teach them in class, or they are not true and we should teach nothing we find in the pages of the old testament. We have taught for to many years that God is a kindly old Grandpa with lots of riches just panting to give them to his disobedient offspring. The old testament tells the story that if you cross him you will pay, I believe that God remains on his throne, and he is still GOD.

  15. Grace says:

    I don’t belive a person who doesn’t have God’s Spirit can do any act to appease God against our sins. People can do things that God can say are good things, though we need His Spirit to be seen righteous before Him in anything we do.

    I don’t believe baptism is salvic. I believe baptism is a symbolic act we do that points to Jesus our only Savior, who sacrificed His righteous blood on the cross, who declares me innocent. His act of taking the punishment I deserved declares me righteous. It is by God’s grace through faith in His perfect act of sacrifice that I can stand before my God as innocent.

  16. Gary says:

    The parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 shows emphatically that God is not content to lose even one out of a hundred. He continues to look for the one who is lost until he finds him. By the way the word lost in that parable is from the same Greek word that is often translated as destroyed. Obviously Jesus did not come for those who were already annihilated but for those who were lost and still able to be found. God’s power to save does not end at death. God will take as long as is needed to find and save all those who are his and is not every person created in God’s own image a child of God? What human parent among us would stop searching for our lost child as long as there was an iota of power in us to keep searching? Isn’t God at least as good a father as we are? For our God ninety-nine is not enough. We have Jesus’ own word for that.

  17. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I hear where you’re coming from, but I need a break from bad theology. I have to go find some books that push me in a positive direction before I sink into a depressed oblivion. Hence, I’m starting a series on N. T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms. Nothing could be further from Muscle & Shovel.

    (Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God is just too dense to cover in a series. Great book but the points are largely aimed at disagreements among scholars of Paul. So every once in a while I bump into something worth sharing, but it’s not going to make into a great series. But the Psalms is perfect for a series — and would be great for a small group study.)

    But I’ll try to remember to come back to Conviction vs. Mercy, and you are welcome to remind in a few months after I’ve been spiritually refreshed.

  18. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Are you arguing for Universalism (everyone goes to heaven) or Available Light (good people who’ve not heard the gospel go to heaven)?

  19. Eric says:


    I agree that I’d like to read Jay’s analysis of “Conviction vs. Mercy”. I also understand, appreciate, and agree with Jay’s need to go a different direction right now.

    You point out very well why Conviction vs. Mercy is so bad. It makes people think it’s okay to believe everyone else is going to hell as long as you don’t say it clearly and as long as you’re nice about it. Nice and subtle condemnation. I guess that’s more palatable than mean and direct condemnation, but it’s still condemnation. And it’s probably more dangerous because it is palatable.

    The ironic thing to me is that all of the people I know who like “Conviction vs. Mercy” which encourages subtle condemnation also like “Muscle and a Shovel” which couldn’t be more overt in its condemnation.

  20. Gary says:

    Jay I think either is possible but I lean heavily towards universalism. If missing hell is a primary consequence of faith in Jesus why is that motivation never used (to my knowledge) in any account in Scripture of the Gospel being shared with the lost? It seems like threats of punishment after this life are usually (always?) made to those who already claim to be God’s people. Also I don’t find persuasive the argument that destruction must mean annihilation of body and soul. Destroy in Scripture seems to have a variety of meanings.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    If missing hell is a primary consequence of faith in Jesus why is that motivation never used (to my knowledge) in any account in Scripture of the Gospel being shared with the lost?

    Peter wrapped up the first gospel sermon ever with —

    (Act 2:40 ESV) 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

    This is an allusion to —

    (Deu 32:5 ESV) 5 They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.

    Peter’s sermon in Acts 3 wraps up with —

    (Act 3:22-23 ESV) 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’

    “Destroyed” does not mean “live eternally in heaven.”

    A recurring theme in the preaching recording in Acts is that the result of faith would be to be “saved.” Saved from what? Clearly, rejection by God. For a Gentile, why does that matter, since they were already not his children. They had nothing to lose but Paul promised them salvation (Acts 16:31). From what?

    (Act 17:30-31 ESV) 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

    If there is only a happy ending, then there is nothing to be saved from. Of course, there are earthly blessings that come with serving God, but that is not the theme of Acts. The book is written in plainly eschatological terms — and salvation is salvation from righteous judgment — which is obviously not heaven.

  22. Gary says:

    Jay I think you raise more questions than you answer. “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” is a long ways from “Save yourselves from hell.” Peter’s words in Acts 2 and 3 were made to Jews already in a covenant relationship with God. I don’t believe they suddenly became alien sinners on Pentecost. They were invited into a deeper and far more meaningful relationship with God through Christ. Notice that hell never comes up. I do agree with you that destroyed does not mean “live eternally in heaven” but neither does it mean “annihilated and beyond God’s power to save.” Those who are destroyed at one point in time are not beyond the reach of God’s mercy and power to save. Remember that the same Greek word in Luke 15 is translated as “lost” not “destroyed.” Those who are lost may still be found- and saved. As long as one person does not know God through Christ there is something to be saved from and saved for. When all things, things in heaven and things on earth, are reconciled to God through Christ then there will indeed be only a “happy ending.” A lot of pain and tribulation and suffering and death and punishment may lie between the present time and that happy ending but, yes, in the end it will be only an eternal happy ending. I think God has hidden much of the interim from our present understanding but I have no doubt that God will triumph in the end and that his will will be done. We do know that God is not willing that any should perish. Somehow God’s justice and mercy will finally be reconciled.

  23. steven says:


    I hear where you’re coming from, but I need a break from bad theology. I have to go find some books that push me in a positive direction before I sink into a depressed oblivion. Hence, I’m starting a series on N. T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms. Nothing could be further from Muscle & Shovel.

    (Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God is just too dense to cover in a series. Great book but the points are largely aimed at disagreements among scholars of Paul. So every once in a while I bump into something worth sharing, but it’s not going to make into a great series. But the Psalms is perfect for a series — and would be great for a small group study.)

    But I’ll try to remember to come back to Conviction vs. Mercy, and you are welcome to remind in a few months after I’ve been spiritually refreshed.”

    No problem, Jay. Looking forward to the next series 🙂

  24. Perhaps it’s time for another dedicated elder to take on the more subtle exclusivism and isolationism that others in his brotherhood are teaching. I confess I find it perhaps MORE distressing than Shank’s variety, and perhaps more widespread. Shank says outright that only his clan is going to avoid hell. At least he’s honest. These other folks deny the message, then give the excuses that Steven points out mean exactly the same thing. Yes, we are the only ones going to heaven, but it would be so tacky to say it out loud. We will make sure our own people get the message by the fact that we treat other believers like lepers and would not set foot in a Baptist church if we had to put out a fire.

    I don’t blame Jay for leaving the topic. It’s like mucking out the horse stall– it needs to be done, but nobody wants to do it all the time.

  25. Ray Downen says:

    Grace doesn’t want to believe that Jesus MEANT His command that we are to baptize each new believer. She writes:

    And how do people receive God’s Holy Spirit, people who you admit haven’t been taught to believe the Holy Spirit is living in us and active in our lives?

    She chooses to ignore the apostolic teaching that the Spirit is God’s gift to seeking believers in Jesus who have repented and HAVE BEEN baptized accord to His command. So she wants the Spirit to do the believing for the seekers, it seems. So her idea is that the Spirit is given to each new believer prior to when the apostles taught the Spirit is given. Some are determined to disagree with the apostles as their teaching is revealed in Acts 2:38. Peter spoke for Jesus and for all the apostles. And no later writing disagrees with the sequence clearly taught there.

    Shank was converted to legalism. What a pity! Jay learned that the Way is NOT legalism. Good for Jay and his many friends who have thought with him about God’s love and offer of grace. But no one who loves Jesus is going to despise the baptism HE COMMANDS. If some despise the baptism Jesus commands, that says something about the person who says he loves Jesus but who is not willing to be obedient to Him. Those who think baptism is not important think little about the Lord who thought it important enough to be made part of His marching orders for the church.

    It’s good that Monty believes the Bible and unfortunate that Gary does not believe it when it’s pointed out that salvation is in Christ alone. And Paul in Galatians 3:26,27 points out how we get INTO CHRIST. What a pity that some claim salvation is by faith alone.

  26. Ray Downen says:

    Jay suggests, “Shank’s teaching makes baptism a divider, so that those who fail to believe that baptism saves are damned.” I’m not qualified to judge what Shank taught since I’ve not read the book being reviewed.

    But I’m sure that it’s JESUS who commands that we are to baptize every new believer. I’m positive that John is truthful when he states that Jesus says NEW BIRTH of water and spirit is essential for entry into the kingdom.

    I have no reason to doubt that Luke accurately reports on the apostolic teaching from the very first day the gospel of the Kingdom was preached that those who seek salvation in JESUS MUST repent AND BE BAPTIZED. How could Shank over-emphasize what Jesus says is essential and some now are saying is optional?

  27. Cris says:

    Muscle and a Shovel sure does prick the ears of many! Wow! I do not agree with EVERYTHING in the book, yet it is compelling and speaks the truth about water baptism for (in order to obtain) forgiveness of sins. It is a death, burial, and resurrection – and washes away former sins. It points directly to Jesus’ blood. Baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21). A congregation can get too strict on some items such as instrumental music in church, or one cup use in the Lord’s Supper – if you can by-pass those things – it should be a loving church that practices immersion for forgiveness of sins. Take it easy, and love.

  28. Alabama John says:

    I think some of us have seen folks believe and then die before being baptized and we do not want to believe they went to hell.
    We love God and believe he loves us too much to allow the devil to get anyone that believes but missed something for a good reason.
    All of us must believe that grace an mercy exist because somehow any of us might of missed something ourselves and we pray if we do or did, God will understand at our judgment.

  29. Alabama John says:

    In conclusion: After a lifetime of hearing and even participating in the arguing and debating with both sides using just as much scripture as the other on a multitude of subjects, it come down to how do you want to live your life.

    Attending a church where belief in God having mercy or God sending all but a few to hell?

    Looking back, I would change my thinking at a burial when the casket is lowered from thinking and seeing others crying thinking their loved one is right now suffering and burning in hell to those happy, rejoicing at the thought their loved one is in heaven seeing unbelievable things with loved ones gone on before and Jesus.

  30. Lynn says:

    I am Pentecostal raised but not a hardliner on denomination. I recently attended a Church of Christ for a number of months with the thought of joining. I went to the Bible study, and this was the book they were using. The book itself wasn’t such a shock to me because I had heard of this kind of ‘we are the only ones going to heaven’, etc before. What shocked me was the way no one in the group seemed to be bothered -or even notice- how he just insulted everyone that might think differently. I am not Baptist and I was so angry when I read those things. But no one else cared. They thought it wasn’t a big deal to call everyone outside the Church of Christ lying/lazy/stupid and going to hell. And when I tried to put what he said in logical premise-premise-conclusion, they said it is just his experience…except that in the beginning he literally says it is not his experience but the Word of God. (Yeah wouldn’t that make you a false prophet if you say something false then?). And I even bought in for a moment and was scared that maybe I didn’t have my theology perfect (I don’t) and was therefore damned. It is a serious thing to call into question someone’s relationship with God and whether they are going to heaven or hell. I think this is something that shouldn’t be taken so lightly. So thank you for this. It was really helped me.

  31. Dwight says:

    An interesting thing is if you don’t believe in something that is heavily taught and argued for in the scriptures, then you are a divider. While I don’t think the Bible points towards baptism, but rather Jesus, baptism is strongly argued for as a part of the plan to salvation and entering into Jesus as is faith and repentance. Contention in something doesn’t make something not true, but just unsavory for those who are in contention.
    The problem with much of the writings within the coC is that they are certain they speak with the authority of truth, thus all others don’t and this often pervades much of the coC writings. There is a lack of humilty. What the writer of Muscle and Shovel must understand is that NOW he has the truth, and yet before the NOW he thought he had the truth and even then didn’t have it. So while truth is not subjective it is objective and we must lower ourselves to not argue that we are or have the truth, even while we might speak the truth and read it. The truth is what is written.

  32. Lynn says:

    I don’t know if your comment was directed at me, or was just in general for the blog, so please forgive me if it isn’t related to me. Am I damned because I am genuinely uncertain as to how baptism plays a role? I try to spend time studying and reading, but at some point I start to feel agnostic (not about God, but about doctrine). It is NOT laziness-I read more than most people I know. Growing up and even now I have spent the time I should have been playing sports, making friends, having hobbies, watching TV, serving others, serving the church, instead trying to understand the Bible. I highly doubt I am stupid-or at least the people I have had theological discussions with don’t seem to think I am. If anything I have spent an unhealthy amount of time in fear of salvation because I have never felt sure of the doctrine I was looking at to the extent of neglecting health and pursuing any kind of other happiness in life. I hope God doesn’t base my salvation on how well I understand the Bible, because I may never have the resources to become an expert in those languages or in the vast history of theology to really learn and know. I imagine even if I did, I would still be afraid.

  33. Monty says:

    It would seem that many good hearted believers in Jesus, often have doubts about their relationship with HIm, which is probably not healthy. How many Baptist invite him into their hearts for the 32nd time? I’ve heard accounts like that from them. Supposedly, the early restoration preachers taught against going to the mourners bench(over and over) and that you can know you are saved by resting in the promises of scripture(by believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized— if you do what’s asked of you , you can be sure you are saved. But sadly, in many instances that leads one to basing his salvation on either correct doctrine or performing a ritual the correct way that perhaps didn’t really involve a moving experience where one felt like something of a Spiritual nature happened and that one now “feels” saved.

    Paul Washer, a once prominent Baptist preacher, goes so far as to save that unless you have an experience where you are broken and you wait for the Holy Spirit to make you born again, you aren’t saved(as he speaks to his Baptist family, as it pertains he says to people who “attend church all their lives but were never saved”) When that happens, then you will know you are saved. So again, it about waiting for a spiritual breakthrough, it seems. And I suppose that good feeling breakthrough will last until the next time of doubting, usually brought on by doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing and then figuring the last time you had a breakthrough it wasn’t genuine. Wow! Talk about eternal security.

    I’ve seen and heard of many of my CofC brethren who on their deathbed say in all sincerity, “I hope I’ve done enough(to please God).” I’ve heard some on this blog pass judgment on that attitude, as I have questioned that myself. But maybe we shouldn’t judge unless we’ve been on our deathbeds and were spared. I know in my heart that I could never “do enough” to earn salvation. But in my heart, I also know that the Bible teaches a lot about pleasing God. Verses like, Why say unto me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say do, or, Without faith it is impossible to please God (how much faith? A lot? Or maybe the mustard seed variety? God is a rewarder of those that “diligently” seek him. What does diligently mean? Surely, not without some amount of good effort on our part, right? But how much effort is good enough?

    Peter tells us in 2 Peter that if we will make every effort to add to our faith the qualities of ,love, patience , kindness etc.. that they will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive(see parable of the talents and what happened to the 1 talent guy). And then he says “make every effort to make our calling and election sure, and that if we do these things we will never stumble.” I take that to mean that if we don’t make every effort and if we don’t do these things(enough) then we will stumble. So again, how much is enough? In some measure, it sure seems as though Peter is instructing us to do or possess something more and more-for safety sake. The implication is rather obvious. Do I believe in the grace and mercy of the cross being good enough for my salvation? 100%! Do I believe you need to pursue righteousness with all your heart? Yes! Can I know that I’m saved? John sure thought so when writing 1 John. So how do we resolve the tension between what Jesus has done and what we are called to do as his followers? 100% right doctrine isn’t the answer but neither is wrong doctrine. How much wrong doctrine is tolerated by God? How much lack of effort is tolerated by God? Thoughts?

  34. Dwight says:

    Lynn, it was general blog. But if you were baptized by faith into Jesus with a repentant heart, you shouldn’t have much of a question or not whether you are in Jesus or not. Baptism or immersion isn’t complicted. You have faith, believe in Jesus as savior, then a change of heart leads you to baptism where you join with Christ and “recieve the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It was pretty straight forward in Acts and is pretty straight forward now. The saints in Acts 2 were converted out of knowing very little, but enough and that was that Jesus was the Son of God and is the savior of mankind. Admittedly many in the coC make it very difficult to enter the kingdom.
    When God declared the ground in front of Abram holy, it didn’t change in composition, but it did change in how Abram was to approach it. When we become saved we change not in composition, but in our approach to sin, the world and moslty to God. Monty, we are supposed to grow in faith and in love and in works and when we stumble there is grace, but even then we are supposed to grow in faith, love, etc. Doing what we can is not wrong, but not doing what we know is right is.

  35. Albert Johnson says:

    Mr. Jay Guin’s commentary was interesting, especially when “he concludes that the Plan of Salvation requires us to believe the Bible, rather than believe in Jesus.” I had to wonder where he gets his belief in Jesus, if not from the Bible.

  36. Dwight says:

    We must believe that the Bible is the way to know Jesus, but our faith is in Jesus who is the Word. If we don’t believe the Bible, then we won’t beleive in Jesus. It is amazing though how many people say, “God isn’t in the Bible”, which is true in a physical sense and yet God’s words are in the Bible, so we must read to know God’s will and to know God.
    But, Albert, if you read the post again, this is not what Jay believes, but what he gathers from the author of Muscle and Shovel to believe.

  37. Dwight says:

    But after reading Albert’s post again I still have to agree with Jay in this. While we might get our information from the Bible, it is not the only source for spreading the gopsel, after all the apostles didn’t have the bible to spread the gospel and even though they did have the Holy Spirit, they didn’t pass out pamphlets or books to read, but told them person to person. IF we told another about Jesus and what we know, without them reading the Bible, I believe they could be saved. People were converted in less than 20 verses in Acts 2 and that was enough. Our faith is in Jesus.

  38. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I’ve attended Churches of Christ all my life. We’ve always taught that the Plan of Salvation requires faith in Jesus. I’ve never heard it preached or taught that the Plan of Salvation requires faith in the Bible. The reason for this is that the Bible teaches us to have faith in Jesus, not faith in the Bible. Not once do we find in the scriptures a requirement or even a suggestion that we should have “faith” in the Bible. So if we wish to be true to the Bible, we’ll have faith in Jesus, as the Bible teaches.

    The difference should be obvious. It’s much like the difference between me and my blog. You can learn a lot about me from the blog, but the blog isn’t me. You can’t be friends with my blog. You can’t have a personal relationship with my blog.

    Jesus is not contained within the Bible, nor is he limited to its pages. When we pray for a friend’s successful surgery, do we expect the surgeon to read the Bible and so become a better surgeon? Or do we expect the Holy Trinity to somehow act outside the pages of the Bible to answer our prayer? Or should take prayer to be futility?

    When the Bible tells us,

    (Rom 1:20 ESV) 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

    (Job 12:7-10 ESV) 7 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; 8 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”

    (Psa 8:3-4 ESV) 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

    (Psa 19:1-5 ESV) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

    When the Bible tells us we can learn about God from his Creation, must we then turn to the Bible to find God? Or he is also present in the Creation? If the Bible speaks the truth (and it does), then we can find God outside the Bible.

    Isn’t obvious that God, Jesus, and the Spirit are bigger than the Bible and found wherever they may be, not just in the pages of the Scripture? Shouldn’t we be able to find Jesus in the hearts and minds of our fellow Christians? Shouldn’t our lives individually and as a community be sufficient testimony of the truth that Jesus is the Messiah?

    In Acts 2, 3,000 were saved because they believed the testimony of disciples who’d been with Jesus. It’s a shame that so few of Jesus’ disciples believe they’ve spent enough time with him to testify to his existence from personal experience. Indeed, my more conservative brothers often take the same position as my more liberal brothers — denying that Jesus has the power to act today, to have a presence today, to make a difference today. It’s as though Nietzsche was correct to declare the death of God — since so many of my brother refuse to let him be seen or perceived after 100 AD. Evidently Nietzsche was 1800 years too late and God died when the last apostle died and the NT was completed. And so we no longer have God and Jesus among us — just his last will and testament.

    I’m done with both conservative and liberal Deism. I believe in a God who is the Living God, whose Son keeps his promise to be with us until the end of the age.

    Yes, the Bible points us toward God, Jesus, and the Spirit, but our faith is in Jesus, not the Bible.

    (Rom 3:26 ESV) 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

  39. Brittany says:

    Thank you Jay for this review. Some of my extended family members have promoted “Muscle and a Shovel”. Although I haven’t taken the time to read it, I see now that I truly do not want nor need to. Your arguments seem plain as day.

    Brittany Thomas

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