Additional Reviews of Muscle & a Shovel

muscleshovelMuscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank is a self-published book relating the story of his conversion from being a Baptist to a member of the Churches of Christ.

It’s gained immense popularity among the more conservative Church of Christ congregations. Some churches are buying copies by the box and distributing to their members. It’s a popular Bible class study.

I posted a series of articles reviewing the book beginning last year. In just the last few days, a number of further reviews have been published.

John Mark Hicks has published a 64-page review in the form of a short book, available at Amazon as a $2.99 Kindle ebook. He has also posted his review at his blog as a free .pdf download. As is true of everything he writes, this is well worth your time. Hicks concludes,

The fundamental problem with Muscle and a Shovel is that it exalts sacrifice over mercy. It assumes that humanity was made for rituals (baptism, church patterns, etc.) rather than rituals made for humanity. It prioritizes “sacrifice” (ritual patterns) over “mercy” (transformation), and thus condemns the guiltless (to use the words of Jesus). In other words, Muscle and a Shovel makes the same mistake that the Pharisees made. It does not understand that God desires mercy over sacrifice, that is, God embraces the heart that seeks mercy over the heart that exalts rituals—even prescribed ones—over seeking, trusting hearts.

May God have mercy!


At Wineskins, Jim Woodell has just posted an insightful review. His is much briefer than mine and John Mark’s, and he puts his finger on what, to me, seem to be some of the key problems of the book. In particular, Woodell explains,

Muscle and a Shovel places the emphasis for salvation on the sinner and the sinner’s obligation to God. I admit I have been there and done that (I tell my story of redemption in a little book entitled, Heaven’s Star) however scripture places the emphasis on Jesus Christ and the provision of salvation through him (Romans 5:6-10). We are saved by his life! Salvation is about what God, through Christ, has done for us, not about what we do for God.

But, the teaching of this book leads one to put their trust in themselves rather than Jesus Christ. Human pride. Self-dependence. Self-sufficiency. It is all about a person lining up with the right steps. In the past, going through these steps, has been illustrated with a ladder that one must climb one step at a time until the top is reached. That is provided you don’t miss a step! And the right words have to be spoken on that 5th step, “for the remission of sins” or your baptism is not valid. And then there is the right practice that must follow also or you are damned, even if you followed the right steps initially.

Again, amen.

Tim Archer has posted a brief summary of his thoughts at his blog, the Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts. Tim adds this important observation:

I should point out, though, that we’re seeing an amazing disconnect in our brotherhood. There are many who think Muscle and a Shovel deserves a place on their bookshelf right next to the New Testament. There’s another group that thinks it deserves a place at the county landfill. Interestingly enough, many times those two groups co-exist within a single congregation.

And that’s exactly right. And it’s sad that, as Tim points out, it’s hard to find much about Jesus in Muscle & a Shovel.

Jesus is a minor character, at best, in this book. If I want to talk to people about the gospel and don’t center that talk around Jesus, something is seriously wrong. This book isn’t about bringing people to Jesus. It’s about bringing them to a certain church.


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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29 Responses to Additional Reviews of Muscle & a Shovel

  1. Joe B says:

    Exactly! These three aseesmenrs aren’t only congruent with the book but it is true! The institutional loyalists are praising it and the exasperateds are throwing it away and both go the same church!

  2. Ray Downen says:

    I think it odd that some disparage obeying the gospel. The apostles made clear that God has done what needed to be done to make salvation available. It’s already all one. But in order for any individual to be saved, the INDIVIDUAL has a part to play in conversion. And anyone who figures all the person has to do is change his/her mind is ignorant of Bible truth. When asked what they could do about having sinned, the seekers on Pentecost when the church was born were told clearly that there is indeed something they MUST DO in order to be saved and to receive the Spirit of Jesus and the Father.

    Many now presume they know more than did the apostles about conversion. Before God does His part, the seeker is REQUIRED to do his/her part. It’s not done FOR the seeker. Conversion is one BY the seeker. What a shame it is that some are now saying the apostles were simply ignorant of what NOW can be seen, that God does it all. And if it’s convenient, we can accept baptism later, but only if everyone involved realizes the baptism really means nothing at all since we were gloriously saved already.

    Some of OUR church leaders are teaching that people are saved by hearing about Jesus and believing in Him, and that already-saved people can be baptized when that’s convenient. They know more than the apostles knew, they think. I’m sure they are mistaken.

  3. Kevin says:

    Just read the review. JMH touches upon one of my biggest concerns about our fellowship. If God accepts the baptism of a person who is immersed “in order to obey God” rather than “for the remission of sins,” then it follows that those who insist upon the latter as the only valid reason for baptism embrace a false doctrine. According to many in our fellowship, possessing and teaching a false doctrine makes one a false teacher and thus said false teacher cannot go to heaven unless he repents. Furthermore, the false teacher cannot be fellowshipped because that would be sinful and damning too. On the other hand, many in our fellowship cannot agree to disagree on the “reason for baptism” issue while simultaneously remaining consistent with the “fellowship policy.” sigh.

  4. Price Futrell says:

    I wonder if some will ever put performance in proper perspective? Thanks for sharing these comments. I was surprised at the level of support this book received after reading your extensive review a short time ago. I’ve encouraged people to go to this web site to read the chapter by chapter review. My guess is that not many did. Most just like to read and listen to what they want to hear.

  5. Rich says:

    “Muscle and a Shovel” reflects my very similar transformation from a non-church of Christ background. I also found a lack of respect for what the Bible really says among many groups. I have never considered churches of Christ to be perfect but just a humble group striving to listen to all of God’s instructions. No matter how eloquently written, this attack on a brother in Christ in such a public way is no different than the smaller squabbles among us in the past . This reminds me that progressives are not improving our character, but just splitting us even more than in any other time of history since the late 1800’s.

  6. Kevin says:

    What do you say about the very public attacks on brothers in Christ emanating from the likes of CFTF, the Defender, Spring COC, Bellview, et al? Why are those public “attacks” okay and JMH’s not okay?

  7. Jay Guin says:


    Why do you continue to use “obey the gospel” to mean “be baptized” when the scriptures use the phrase to mean “come to faith in Jesus”?

    I don’t mean to nitpick. It matters that we use Bible terms to mean their biblical usage. When we begin inserting our preferred definitions contrary to scripture, we lose touch with the words of the text as a meaningful check on our teachings.

    My biggest complaint with M&S is not that it teaches baptism. I teach baptism. I practice baptism. My complaint is that it overlooks Jesus and faith in him — putting baptism in the place of our Savior. And I do object to that.

    Believing. God’s Word must be believed with the entirety of the heart and mind.

    (Kindle Locations 7817-7818).

    In laying out the 5 Steps in the climactic closing chapters of the book, where most of us would teach “believe in Jesus” Shank offers us “believe in the Bible.” There’s a difference. And the Bible did not die on a Roman cross for me. I confessed Jesus, not the Bible. My faith is in Jesus, not the Bible. And Jesus will save me, not the Bible.

    And isn’t this the very definition of “legalism” — replacing the gracious work of Jesus on the cross with obedience to laws?

    Obviously, no one is arguing against obedience!! But obedience without Jesus is hopelessness and futility. And very, very sad.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    In M&S the problem is not just about requiring immersion for a specific reason, using a specific ritual (in reference to the words said during, and the knowledge of its purpose) but the exclusion of any others who followed the pattern but through another organization (more easily understood as another denomination).

  9. Rich says:


    Thank you for your question. I read about half of a CFTF several years ago and decided that was all I could take. I’m not knowledgeable of the other publications you mentioned. I have a strong disdain for publications that call out people by name with intent of condemning rather than encouraging. It was very concerning to me to first learn of John Mark Hicks’ review when it showed up in my Kindle recommended reading list. I looked at the comments and there is our family squabble front and center on such a large stage. It reminded me of the CFTF. I’m about half way through his book and must admit John Marks Hicks attempts to present his side in a much more respectful way than I have seen in some of our brotherhood publications.

    I can strongly relate to the gist of M&S. While in my twenties (in the late seventies) I pondered why there are so many different groups and beliefs among those who called themselves Christians. My background was mixed. My mom’s father donated the land and materials for a Baptist church in my home town. My fathers’ uncle did the same for the local Methodist church of which still goes by my family name. When attending services and asking tons of questions to many people, I observed that only people at churches of Christ could present a Biblically consistent answer to my inquiries. I also observed that a high respect for the Bible permeated throughout all Bible classes and worship services in churches of Christ. Many other places and groups seemed the opposite. I came to the conclusion that the cofC was the closest to the truth I could find and that was where I wanted to be.

    There are details in the M&S that are too simplistic and use a vocabulary that I have not heard before in cofCs. For example, Jay makes a good point that our faith is to be in Jesus. In my mind, faith in Christ also implies faith in the Bible but I agree that M&S makes a poor word choice here. I find it ironic that M&S is criticized for presenting perhaps minority Baptist beliefs and yet people choose to criticize M&S for stating minority cofC phrases. At least, I don’t ever remember seeing faith in the Bible within our famous 5 steps of salvation. I have only noticed faith in Christ.

    The main reason for my original post is that I find many ideals of the progressives quite appealing. I have often grown tired of our infighting and name calling. We desperately need to learn how to seek the truth in love. But when I see progressives (and highly learned ones) engaging in such public criticisms (of people by name) they lose their appeal for me. It just feels like the same old inside cofC stuff that happens to be wearing new clothes.

  10. Royce says:

    You are correct Jay. Not once in the Bible does the term “Obey the gospel” ever refer to baptism, not once! In the New Testament to “obey” is to believe the gospel and to disobey is to not believe the gospel.

  11. Dwight says:

    When the lost asked in Acts what must we do to be saved and they responded with baptism, there is the sense that they are doing the five steps of salvation, but there is no order set up, except they are responding, so perhaps there are six steps or just four. Whatever the case salvation is a response in obeying by faith. We can get too nitpicky about what comes where and when, but we at least must be satisfied that it all leads to salvation in Christ.

  12. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is why “Muscle and a Shovel” is so popular among some. It is trenched in institutional modernism. Most people who left other Christian groups in the middle part of the 20th century to join the churches of Christ were already Christian but because they were convinced of a damning doctrinal error in church they joined the churches of Christ. This is idea is still wildly popular among many in the churches of Christ and other groups. The modernist asks almost all their spiritual and religious questions from an institutional or legal stand point. So when they look at the bible for these answers they are sometimes starting with the wrong questions. So when they find anything that answers them even if the scripture is ripped from context they make a biblical conclusion from it.

    Here is why it is revolting to some. For those who in our fellowship that do not approach Christianity from a point of institutional modernism it is like going backwards 50 years. The idea that if you have the perfect doctrinal and ecclesiastical church forms then everything else will take if it self is exactly what they have been working to change for the last 50 years and to some how suggest that we go back to that is revolting.

  13. Monty says:

    In Romans chapter 6 Paul spells out the line of demarcation(believing sinner to baptized saint) for the believer is his baptism into Christ. He isn’t just talking about how they did something that represented what they had already done or been privy to, but he says in their baptism into Jesus Christ(which would be in order to attain the forgiveness of sins-Acts 2:38,though not a formula ) they had been in affect-crucified with Christ, that is put to death with him, in order that they could be resurrected(raised) with him. Not physically of course, so don’t go there, but spiritually speaking they had been transferred from being in bondage to sin, to bondage to righteousness. From death unto new life found in Christ. For they had obeyed that form of teaching. Certainly this is rooted in Jesus as Messiah(Son of God) , but to somehow separate putting trust in Jesus from being baptized upon that trust, is to separate something that shouldn’t be separated. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, never the less I live.” He isn’t talking(I don’t believe) about symbolism here but of something that actually occurred in the spirit realm when he was baptized into Christ. Paul’s old man(lost) died in the act of baptism(reborn)into a new life, that was powered by Christ Jesus. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me.

    Does Christ come to live in a man before baptism? Is a man crucified with Christ before his baptism? Is a man a new creature before the very act that Paul says puts to death the old man who is enslaved to sin? When we separate the timing of faith in Jesus to baptism, we have to start interpreting Romans 6 and other scriptures where baptism is commanded as just a symbolic expression( a re-enactment) of something that’s already occurred whenever, however long previously doesn’t matter. When baptism is performed in an immediate time frame as possible upon a penitent believer then Paul’s writings in Romans 6 can be seen and understood as being in real time. It’s the best way IMO to interpret the Eunuch being so excited to find water on his journey and why he rejoiced in the timeline of his faith journey after his baptism, and not before, and it’s why Philip was carried away by the Spirit upon it’s completion.

    Obeying the gospel(IMO)would not have been separated from the act of baptism upon penitent believers. It might not of been restricted to just baptism(as some would make it today), but it certainly included it. Any interpretation of “form of teaching” that would seek to leave out the baptism command is suspect at best.

  14. Joe Baggett says:

    Monty if a person is immersed and believes, is that person saved or converted? Obeying the gospel is a modernistic term. Conversion and transformation are biblical terms. In fact the word gospel in Greek just means good news. Good news is not a command. It is a proclamation. If we relegate conversion and transformation to a set religious rituals instead of spiritual changes then we have a problem. Believe me there have been many who have been immersed in water but never under go any significant spiritual change. The thrust of this contextual conversation is this. How do we live out the Gospel “good news”, not what are the steps to obeying it. There is a significant theme of obedience in the New Testament but more than a set of religious rituals it is a spiritual transformation process. What Jay and others are suggesting is that we live out the entire Gospel not just focus on the religious sacraments one should follow to be saved. The entire organization, structure, practice, and assembly format of a church should be to redeem, transform, live out, serve, love etcetera, not just learn and follow a set of religious rituals.
    I am an engineer. I like to think of God as an engineer sometimes. Everything that has a “design” has a purpose or an intended output. The design is never equal to output itself. We confuse them in religious and spiritual matters sometimes. I’ll give you an example. In Hebrews when it speaks of the assembly it says that we are to “provoke one another to good works”. Paul also says to “confess your sins one to another that you may be healed”. In these instances good works and healing are the product or the output, the provocation and confession are the design. In dealing with how a person comes to faith, goes through spiritual transformation as an on going life process it is analogous to the design vs. output. God doesn’t just want people to be saved! He wants the Kingdom to come now not just when his son returns.
    The book Michael Shank wrote is mostly concerned with how we specify the right forms and religious rituals. And also suggests that if we have those then that is basis for unity and “just being Christians”. What Jay an others are suggesting is that the output of spiritual transformation is the problem. Don’t want to put words in their mouth.

  15. Kevin says:

    “Obeying the gospel is a modernistic term. Conversion and transformation are biblical terms.”
    Obeying the gospel IS a biblical term…Rom 10:16; 2 Thess 1:8; 1 Pet 4:17, and I think baptism, as taught in Rom 6 by Paul, is exactly what he had in mind when he refers to obeying the gospel. In fact, I think one can make a VERY strong argument that “form of doctrine” in Rom 6:17 is a synonym for “obey the gospel.”

    “If we relegate conversion and transformation to a set religious rituals instead of spiritual changes then we have a problem. Believe me there have been many who have been immersed in water but never under go any significant spiritual change.”
    That would be baptismal regeneration, not biblical baptism as laid out by Monty from Rom 6.

    My problem with M&S is that the author mandates that one must possess near perfect knowledge of baptism in order for the baptism to be valid. Being baptized “to obey God” just doesn’t cut it with Shank. That’s a problem in my view. That is a problem with many congregation within the Church of Christ, and I dare say with a fairly significant percentage of preachers and elders. Based on our tendency to severe fellowship over what we perceive to be doctrinal error, I am somewhat surprised that this issue (baptismal knowledge) hasn’t caused a larger rift over the last few decades as it did many years ago. I suspect many preachers and leaders with the Church would disagree with Shank on this point, but they will not speak out or have a conversation because they KNOW that doing so will create a controversy. Too often, we can’t have a conversation within Churches of Christ because it inevitable leads to the lens of 2 John 1:9, an erroneous application in my view.

  16. Jay Guin says:


    I entirely agree with you regarding the peer pressure many on the CoC feel. Some can be brutal in their willingness to damn and disfellowship over the least perceived variance from their form of orthodoxy.

    And I appreciate your agreement that baptism to obey God produces an acceptable baptism, as taught by the Campbells, David Lipscomb, and most 19th Century Restoration Movement leaders.

    On the other hand, I don’t follow your argument that “form of doctrine” in Rom 6:17 is about baptism. The immediately preceding verses are about grace and how grace, received by Christians, should lead to obedience.

    (Rom 6:9-16 ESV) 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

    He can’t be referencing baptism because he’s referencing the behavior of those already baptized. His point is that, for a Christian, grace cannot lead to rebellion but to submission to Jesus.

    Baptism, which is several verses above, is not the point. Paul uses baptism to illustrate how grace produces obedient submission — which is his theme.

    Therefore, in 6:17, the “form of doctrine” or “standard of teaching” is that grace does not lead to license or sin but to obedience.

    (Rom 6:17-18 ESV) 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

    V. 18 wraps up the thought — the standard of teaching is that, having been set free from sin, we’ve become slaves of righteousness.

  17. I have begun to steer away from remote discussions using the word “saved”, as there is no single unified usage of that term in the scripture, but we don’t really bother to differentiate among the uses. Makes for more heat than light. But I would note that having eternal life is not the end result of living in Christ; rather, it is the beginning point. Jesus tells us that the one who believes already has eternal life and has crossed over from death to life, and will not be condemned. Shank’s book holds this truth as a carrot at the end of a long performance stick, teaching that we are working toward life as opposed to living out an eternal life we have already received.

  18. Royce says:

    Did you “die with Christ” in baptism? The Romans 6 text must be taken as a whole in my view. Included is this in verses 5-8. “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him”.

    In vs 5 we learn that our burial in the watery grave is “in the likeness of His death”. It is not a real death in any way but a symbolic death. The “likeness of His death” looks to our crucifixion “with Him”.When then did the death happen? Vs 6 says “knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him…” We are not crucified in baptism but rather we were crucified in the representative death of Christ. When He died we died “with Him”. Then in vs 7 Paul makes the case that the reason we are free is that we have died in Christ’s crucifixion. Paul explains this beautifully in Romans 7:1-6. Here are verses 1-4. ” Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 4 Likewise, my brothers, YOU ALSO HAVE DIED TO THE LAW THROUGH THE BODY OF CHRIST, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

    As you can see, we don’t die in baptism, we died “through the body of Christ..”. Those who miss these truths will miss the basis of our salvation. Christ literally “died for us”, thus we are dead to the penalty of the law as the above passage explains.

    The evident clue that “the old man” does not actually die in baptism is given in Romans 6. In baptism we are united with him in the “likeness” of His death. It is symbolic looking toward the real death that He died on the cross “for” us. To clearly show that we are not dead after the old man is buried in baptism, Paul says in reality “Live as if you are dead”. In Romans 6:11 Paul says, ” So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” He then tells us how we must participate by yielding ourselves to God while denying the flesh.

    In the phrase “Repent and be baptized…” “repent” comes first. It is that change of heart from our way of the flesh to God’s way, it is those “who receive the Word” by believing on Christ that are candidates for baptism.

    “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14

    “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?” Galatians 2:2-6

    Those who hear the gospel with faith are those who receive the Spirit. It is they who reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in baptism. That symbolic event is in “the likeness of His death”, it represents His actual death (and ours). When we participate in the Lord’s Supper perhaps none who read this believe that the grape juice actually becomes the blood of Christ, and neither do we believe the cracker actually becomes his flesh (as our Catholic friends do). But we do that symbolic eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood to remember Him and His passion for us. Some of us have a sacramental view of baptism but not the Lord’s Supper. In my view both are gospel symbols pointing to Christ’s work for us sinners. Just as we commune with Him and believers the world over when we take the elements on the Lord’s day just so we enter into His death in baptism and are raised with Him in His resurrection in the waters of baptism.

    We all reject infant baptism on it’s face because we know infants are neither guilty of sin nor do they have faith in Christ. So we expect to baptize those who repent and have faith in Christ. In fact we ask for a good confession of one’s faith in Jesus from those we are about to immerse. Over and over again the Bible says those who have faith in Jesus are forgiven and made his children, and receive the Spirit as quoted above in Ephesians 1 and Galatians 3. And so we joyfully baptize those who have believed in obedience to the command of Jesus and rejoice with the newly baptized one who has formally united with Christ and His church in the water grave.

    We must not loose sight of who the Savior is. It is Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else.

  19. Kevin says:

    Thanks for responding. I wrote the previous post in somewhat of a rush, so I probably didn’t lay out my thinking very well.

    First, I don’t think we can separate Rom 6:17-18 from the context of the beginning of the chapter. I concur with your statement about verses 9-16, but Paul is going back further than that. In fact, Paul is going all the way back to verse 2 when he begins addressing our death to sin and baptism into both Christ and his death. Notice the following phrases in verses 17-18: “…were once slaves of sin…have become obedient from the heart…to the standard of teaching…having been set free from sin…have become slaves of righteousness.” So how does all this correspond to the earlier part of the chapter?

    “slaves of sin” reflects back to several passages: v14 & 16 of course, but notice Paul’s reference to “enslavement” all the way back in verse 6 (“…so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin”). Our baptism is certainly in view here.

    “have been set free from sin” reflects back to v7 and baptism (For one who has died has been set free from sin).

    “slaves of righteousness” reflects back to v9-11 and baptism. In this passage, Paul notes that just as death no longer has dominion over Christ, sin should not have dominion (i.e. enslavement) over us. As a new creature, we are

    “become slaves of righteousness” reflects back to Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and our resurrection from the watery grave in v4. Whereas our old “body of sin” was once enslaved to sin, we have broken the chains of bondage and are now walking in newness of life as servants of righteousness.

    Now, what about “standard of teaching” (or “pattern of teaching” in the HCSB and “form of teaching” in the NASB)? Whatever “form of teaching” is, it is intimately connected with “setting us free from sin.” And what is the basis upon which our sins are forgiven? The gospel.
    (Rom 1:16 ESV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
    The gospel is the power of God for salvation. Remember, back to chapter 1: Paul eagerly desired to preach the gospel to the Romans. The gospel and salvation were most assuredly still in his mind.

    What is the gospel? We know from I Cor 15:1-3 that the gospel is Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Those are the facts of the gospel, and in Rom 6:2-11, Paul expounds on how baptism mirrors the Gospel. He ties them together such that the Christian’s DBR in baptism is a type of Christ’s DBR. Baptism is the type and Christ’s DBR is the anti-type.

    So again, whatever “form of teaching” is, the Romans obeyed it from the heart and it played a part in setting them free from sin. Again, we know that the Gospel is what frees us from sin (meaning the work of Christ provides the efficacy not our action or obedience). But, how do we obey a set of facts…death, burial, and resurrection. Paul just told us in Rom 6:2-11…Baptism. If “obeying the gospel” or “obeying that form of doctrine” were actually “believing the gospel,” why not just say that? Why us the Greek word “typos”? Of “typos,” BDAG states, “a kind, class, or thing that suggests a model or pattern, form, figure, pattern.” Is Paul really trying to tell us to obey the model by believing the model? Or…after going through a significant amount of detail and effort in explaining how the Romans’ baptism modeled Christ’s DBR, is Paul saying that they obeyed the Gospel by being baptized from the heart, which resulted in their being set free from sin? As Boyd notes, “What “form” of that doctrine is more appropriate or precise in the representation of it than what Paul had just reminded the Romans that they had obeyed, namely baptism?” I can’t possibly see how it is anything but the latter.

    All the themes of the chapter involve baptism:
    -slavery = dominion = our old man of sin = enslavement
    -Christ’s death = our death to sin = crucifying our former selves = our baptism
    -Christ’s burial in the tomb = our burial in the watery grave
    -Christ’s resurrection = our resurrection from the water = no longer slaves = sin having no more dominion = now dead to sin = newness of life = alive to God in Christ = servant of righteousness = under grace = set free from sin

  20. Joe Baggett says:

    I have thought about this a lot. After reading the book and even the article the CC did on it with Jay’s opinion included. First is this book is clearly meant to bring somebody who already believes in Jesus and basic tenets of Christianity to a more “correct” understanding not a first time understanding. To some this may be conversion. But biblically it is bringing someone to a fuller understanding at best if you agree that the Theology is more “correct”. This is a modernist approach. It assumes that the person with whom you are having a dialogue already has a basic understanding and belief of the bible. The CC included an example of a young woman who was previously Lutheran who read the book then was baptized and became a member at the local church of Christ in Colorado. The problem is America has been in a trend of post modernity since the late 1970s and will continue that way it is an inevitable sociological fact. To me a person who is baptized or re-baptized that was previously Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal etcetera is not “making” a disciple it is just convincing them their way of doing church and spirituality previously was wrong. So when claims are made that this book has resulted in thousands of baptisms I suspect that most of them came from people who already had a Christian world view and background, just like Shank himself was previously Baptist. I think our real task is less of doctrinal correction, (although there is a time and place for that) and more of bringing people to faith and discipleship who come from a postmodern even antagonistically unChristian world view. Books like these are very difficult to use in dialogues with people who come from a postmodern world view because they don’t answer the deeper questions that are asking; like why should I believe the bible is true and the inspired word of God? The sheep swapping of modernism (people switching from one Christian denomination to another) is dwindling for two reasons. One is that the fastest growing religious group in America that last 10 years running is……..those who claim no faith at all. Then the birth rate of the white middle class that makes up the majority of this demographic is so low it is shrinking rapidly. I would love more books like the one Tim Keller wrote called “The reason for God” that deal with the questions that emerging demographics of postmodern skeptics are asking so we can have a dialogue with them to answer these questions. It would be more effective at creating actual first time disciples and deepening our own discipleship, than another effort at convincing other Christian denominations they are wrong.

  21. Monty says:

    “What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

    Question: When did they die, and what did they die to? Answer: Know ye not that so many of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death. Their death was in baptism, to that old way of life.

    Paul is writing to Christians who were once dead in trespasses and sins in which they used to live(Ephesians 2:1) before becoming Christians. But they had believed on the name of Jesus and had been baptized into that name. They were baptized into Christ. Dead people(not literally dead, but spiritually dead) were (upon their belief in Jesus), baptized into Christ. By faith in Christ through their baptism a change occurred. A birth happens. Paul says, “God…made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions(Eph. 2:5). Paul refers to this same instance in Romans 6:4 where he says, that baptism buried us into Jesus’ death and just like in Jesus resurrection to a new life following his death, we too should walk in newness of life. In the context of our baptism we went from a dead in our trespasses believing sinner entering the waters, to someone participating in the death of Jesus (on some level) and sharing in his resurrection (a mystery). It truly was a transformation from death to life, spiritually speaking. Colossians 2:12 “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also, ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Baptism as Paul describes is an act of faith, that a transformation by God is being enacted on us. To not believe this, is really lack of faith.

    Paul makes it clear that we receive the circumcision not done by human hands in our baptism. We have to trust that God in Christ Jesus has removed and put off of us the body of the sins of the flesh,(whatever that means). Something wonderful and marvelous of a spiritual nature actually happens when a penitent sinner (by faith in Christ) comes to the act of baptism. It’s much, much, more than symbolism of something that has already occurred in the past. It is a spiritual happening that Paul harkens his readers back to, over and over again. Why can’t we as Christians no longer participate in sins? Not because it’s physically impossible for us to do so, but because we were changed, spiritually speaking, from death to life.And Paul points them (and us)back to their(our) baptism as to the when. When did sinning become the wrong thing for us to do? When we were baptized and made alive with Christ Jesus.

  22. Dwight says:

    In I cor. 1 Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” While some use this to say that baptism means really nothing, what it really says is that in the grand scheme of things baptism is just a part of the whole…that is the gospel message. It might be a death and burial, but there is living after that that requires much more of our attention than focusing on what was done, but much more on what we can do as a saint. In Acts Peter preached Christ as the saviour and as the sacrifice and they responded and then they were baptized and then they lived in sharing with others and growing in love. So baptism may be a reflection of some things, but it doesn’t do all things. Even Paul as a saints talked to other saints about putting sin to death daily. Simon the soceror sinned immediately after conversion. Grace is there in strength all of the time in our misgivings before and after conversion.

  23. Dwight says:

    Joe, I think you make a valid point. We spend much time in tryint to steal from other denominations, then to grow the whole of Christ. We don’t see the congregation of the Lord, we see our congregation of our people at our building listening to our preaching and we want others to be like ours. Much of what we don’t do is actually go to others or invite others into our house and teach them, as we expect the sermon of the week to do this. We don’t get down to the people level and ask them questions and allow our selves to be asked. We have very little real dialogue and discussion as a real person with real people. This is what Jesus did and was condemned by the Jewish leaders for not being above the people and teaching them as such. Instead of converting to our church, we ought to be converting to Christ.

  24. Joe Baggett says:

    Thanks Dwight. I hope and pray we can understand this better. Tim Keller started a church called Redeemer in NY city. It is has about 6000 folks most of whom are new Christian disciples that come from completely unchurched post modern back grounds, So I know it can be done if revise our missiology from doctrinal correction to creating real first time faith.

  25. Vick says:

    I have been following this post because I have been trying to understand my in laws legalistic view of all this but I have not fully understood the divisions among one COC over another. I pray that all bodies of believers are one in Christ.

  26. I was also raised in the C of C. I have heard us being called cults, but have never seen it in the Churches I attended.
    If we have a thing that we say, it is to speak where the bible speaks and be silent otherwise.
    The bible tells us there is one gospel. So how come there are 350+ such denominations each with their little specialties of enlightenment? The question becomes did Christ know what he was teaching? If he was (as I believe) the son of God then he not only knew, but was able to ensure that the apostles knew what was needed.
    Therefore we believe that the things taught in the first century Church are what was then necessary for salvation, as well as for now. It surprised me that we were considered a modernistic (if I understood the post) Church. We strive for a first century Church.
    We believe that the apostles made their points, and that they did not include every point at every discourse. But that does not say, for example, that baptism was not commanded just because it does not appear. I would also ask on this item, was Christ incorrect when he told them to preach and baptise. And the baptism being taught at the time was emerson. We’re the apostles mistaken when they said we were buried by baptism into his death.
    I would also like an answer to the question Was John the Baptist or John of revelatior put to death for our sins. How about Calvin, or Martin Luther. How about the biker church or cowboy church. Who’s Church will you be a part of on the day of judgment. That is why we carry the name of Christ on our signs and name.
    We know we are sinful people. And we know that we will not be the judge. But, we strive, however imperfectly, to follow all of the bible and not just an interpretation here or there.
    When there is conflict, it is because we are not looking at all scripture correctly. I

  27. Jay Guin says:


    I know of no one arguing against a single word of Jesus or his Scriptures when they criticize Muscle and a Shovel. The complaints are that M&S itself is contrary to scripture.

    If you wish to defend M&S against these charges, then you should re-read and understand what the criticisms actually are by reading the criticisms themselves. No one is arguing the things you accuse others of. No one is arguing that John the Baptist died for anyone’s sins. I have no idea what that has to do with anything mentioned here.

  28. Dwight says:

    Stephan, we are by large in the coC very self congratulatory. “It surprised me that we were are considered a modernistic (if I understood the post) Church. We strive for a first century Church.”
    Well, if you were a saint who worshipped in a house and sat around a table partaking of the Lord’s Supper and you were transported to now, then what would you think? The fact is that our assemblies are by human traditon very unexactly like the early assemblies.
    And we cannot reduce our salvation down to what we call ourselves. Many who call themselves Christians are not Christ like. There are many in the assemblies who go by the name coC who are not Christ like. There are many who assemble under other names or under no names who are more Christ like than us. The only rule is to be Christ like, not self labeling.
    And I would charge that even the most conservative coC may “strive however imperfectly, to follow all of the bible and not just an interpretation here or there.” to ther best of what they understand and yet are just as imperfect as many others we snub.

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