“Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 12, 13, 14 & 15 (A Personal Relationship with Jesus?)

muscleshovelWe are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel.

Chapter 12

Shank describes a family gathering at which his aunt tried to pray for him to receive the gift of tongues. She prayed in tongues as part of the process, and yet she failed to summon the “gift of the Holy Ghost,” which she understands to mean the gift of tongues. Shank was not impressed with her understanding of the Spirit.

The rest of the chapter deals with Shank asking family members where the Sinner’s Prayer is found in the Bible. No one knew.

Chapter 13

Shank ruminates on the ignorance of his family as to the doctrine and history of their various denominations. He considers whether we can trust our subjective feelings.

I considered the emotional feelings that my Aunt Nancy displayed during her prayers and the feelings I experienced when I attended church. The feeling that I had after my salvation experience had to be the Holy Spirit moving upon me and I was sure that I was right. At this point I didn’t need to find the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible because the feelings that I’d experienced was an adequate confirmation of my own salvation.

(Kindle Locations 2254-2261).

Chapter 14

A personal relationship with Jesus

The topic soon shifts to having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Randall says,

“Mr. Mike, having a personal relationship with Jesus is a hoax. It’s one of the greatest false teachings of modern-day religion. You know why? Because it’s not taught anywhere in God’s Word. No one was ever told to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, nor is the principle taught in the Bible. A personal relationship with Jesus mocks God because it infers that God is a respecter of persons and He is not.

(Kindle Locations 2439-2443).

Even as a 12-year old, I would have found this absurd. I mean, “Holy Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Does that make it false? And, obviously, “not a respecter of persons” does not prevent God from saving some and damning others.

So what does the Bible say?

(1Jo 4:7 ESV)  7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

If I’m “born of God” (more literally, conceived by God), he’s my Father and I get to call him Abba. And I “know God.”

(Rom 8:15 ESV)  15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

We’ve been adopted as God’s own children! We cry “Abba! Father!” If that’s not a “personal relationship,” then I don’t know what is.

God has chosen to describe his relationship with the saved as a father-child relationship, which plainly denotes a personal relationship (or why else use a personal metaphor?)

And Abba is a familial term. The premier dictionary of biblical Greek, the Bauer-Danker Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (hereinafter “BDAG”), says it’s a “term of endearment.”

And why is it something we “cry”? “Cry” here does not mean to weep tears but to cry out. When the Spirit enters us, normatively at water baptism, our relationship with God changes.

Perfect love begins to drive out fear, and just as a child calls for his beloved father, we find ourselves calling out for God as Father — not in some religious, ceremonial, hierarchical sense but as the person who conceived us, the being who transformed us from a shadow of what we should be toward becoming, over time, someone without the brokenness of sin and transformed into the image of God himself, our Father. After all, children should look very much like the person who conceived them.

And, of course, Jesus is now our big brother who intercedes for us. Indeed, we’ve been baptized into Jesus. We are in mystical union with him. And we have been crucified with him when we were saved. We follow him. We’re his disciples and he’s our Rabbi.

And all this cries “personal relationship” (even if a Baptist said it first).

Chapter 15

It turns out that Randall and Larry, Shank’s best friend, have also been studying the Bible together. Larry showed up at Shank’s house to announce that he’d been baptized!

They discuss the thief on the cross (I’ll not bore you with the very familiar arguments). And then they discuss the possibility of being on one’s death bed, being converted, and not having time to be baptized (again, very familiar ground here). But Larry quotes Randall making an argument I’d not heard before —

“But,” Larry countered, “the guy didn’t get the chance to believe. Your God wouldn’t do that argument demands that God allow the man into Heaven because the man didn’t get the chance to believe, just as your argument demands that God allow the man into Heaven because he didn’t get the chance to get baptized.”

Larry was right.

“Mike, not getting the chance to be baptized is just like not getting the chance to believe. Both hypotheticals describe a man on his death bed. In both cases the man dies before an opportunity. In one case he dies before the opportunity to be baptized, but in the other case he dies before the opportunity to believe.”

(Kindle Locations 2706-2719). Not so fast, my friend! This argument ignores the dozens and dozens of verses that promise salvation to all who believe in Jesus. There is no such overwhelming evidence for those who never heard the gospel.

By the way, I reject the “Available Light” argument that those who’ve never heard the gospel, if they’re good people, will be saved. I debated that topic here with my friend Al Maxey some time ago and then later exegeted Rom 2 to show that it just doesn’t support that theory.

Available Light: Will God Save Some Who’ve Never Heard the Gospel?

Available Light: The case from scripture

Available Light: Consideration of Romans 1 – 2

Available Light: A note on Rom 2:8-13

Available Light: Consideration of additional passages

Available Light: A solution

Available Light: The work of the missionary

Available Light: Response by Al Maxey

Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 1

Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 1.5

Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 2

Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 3

Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 4

That’s a lot of reading, but you’ll find a consideration of the arguments of Al Maxey and Leroy Garrett (for whom I also have the greatest of respect) in favor of Available Light, my responses to those arguments, and a rebuttal by Al.

And, yes, there’s a huge difference between having faith in Jesus and not, and those who’ve never heard of Jesus are not saved — even if they’re really good — because no one’s works merit salvation.


Larry’s final argument — which Shank found most persuasive was —

“Faith is demonstrating to God that you believe enough to obey His commands. Obeying God is not a work. It is faith. Faith is the exercise of obedience toward the instructions of God.”

(Kindle Locations 2824-2825).

We’ve covered this already, of course. Yes, faith — true, saving faith in Jesus — will result in obedience. But because we aren’t required to do a particular work to be found “obedient,” obedience is not a work but a condition of the heart.

And one cannot obey what one has not been taught. If a convert[1] is taught baptism incorrectly, the convert’s genuinely obedient heart will produce a flawed baptism. And the convert is nonetheless obedient.

The sin — the error — will surely be charged to the teacher who taught baptism wrongly, but God still promises — over and over — to save all with faith in Jesus. We’re supposed to be baptized correctly, but a bad baptism instructor is not going to stand in the way of God’s salvation — because he keeps his promises and because he never requires perfection.


[1] For Hank’s sake, I should explain that I use “convert” to refer to someone who has faith and is ready to become a Christian. It’s better than “catechumen” or such like.

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.
This entry was posted in Muscle & Shovel, by Michael Shank, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to “Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 12, 13, 14 & 15 (A Personal Relationship with Jesus?)

  1. Chris says:

    Of all the passages from the book shared, I find the exchanges from chapter 14, the most disturbing. It strikes to the very heart.
    I could see these comments coming from an atheist, but a believer?

    I’m so thankful we have not been left as orphans, but He has given us His Holy Spirit, the comforter. I can’t explain the deep joy that comes from abiding in Christ. It saddens me that one of the most wonderful things about being a Christian, a follower of Christ, would be dismissed as some kind of “hoax.”

  2. Chris says:

    ..and I might add – a child of God.

  3. Gary says:

    Matthew 26:29 seems to indicate that Judas will be among those who drink the fruit of the vine anew with Jesus when the fullness of the Father’s Kingdom comes. If Judas will be saved then who will be lost? We know that “God is not willing that any should perish.” Will God’s own will finally be defeated? We also know that the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. Will hell then be full of penitent believers in Christ? To confidently limit salvation to those who come to believe in Jesus in this life is not supported by Scripture and is actually very similar to Shank’s misguided certainty in the limits he places on God’s grace.

  4. Alabama John says:


    We here on your site must understand you are a lawyer and being one, the written LAW as you see it overcomes common sense, or any reasoning from the heart.

    Your perception of God on this subject proves that more than anything you have ever written. IO started to say I’m sad you feel that way about God, but “feel” is not in your thinking on this subject.

    As I’ve said before, none of us simple humans would whip a child for not doing something we didn’t tell them about so they didn’t do it out of ignorance and neither would the God I worship.

    If He did or would, I sure would not worship him and cannot understand believing as you do how you can.

    Understanding how you really feel about God will sure tant any interpretations you have on other subjects on your blog.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Ala John,

    We’ve covered Available Light several times, and I see the fate of those without the gospel in terms of Edward Fudge’s Conditional Immortality. That is, I don’t believe they suffer a perpetual conscious torment. Rather, they are punished, for a finite time, for whatever sins they commit by a perfectly just God, and then they cease to exist. They are denied immortality.

    (Luk 12:47-48 NIV) 47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

    In short, I accept what Jesus says in this passage. Thus, for good persons not instructed in the gospel, punishment will be light, perhaps none at all in some cases. And it won’t ever be infinite torture.

    Please read what I’ve said before you judge so harshly. /2009/10/available-light-a-solution/

  6. Jay Guin says:


    I’m no universalist and find the arguments for universalism unpersuasive. Why would Paul suffer beatings and stoning to spread the gospel if, like Judas, everyone is going to heaven anyway?

    How could people in Acts be “saved” if they were already saved? Saved from what?

    Universalism makes nonsense of Acts and the missionary history of the church.

    And it is, after all, Jesus who speaks most frequently of hell. Is his sermon in Matthew 25 in which the “goats” are separated and damned fiction? Are we to take no warning from that?

    No, I don’t have to be a universalist to be unlike Shank.

    (Mat 23:33-36 ESV) 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

    So how am I to take it that Jesus is a universalist?

    But, as I just reminded Ala. John, I’m convicted that Edward Fudge is right regarding Conditional Immortality. Punishment will be just, not perpetual conscious torment. And I have no problem trusting God to be truly just.

  7. Gary says:

    Jay, I hope you will read at some point the issue of First Things from a number of years ago in which Richard John Neuhaus wrote at length about the possibility of universalism being true. Nuehaus, now deceased, was a conservative’s conservative and had a keen intellect. He stopped just short of concluding that universalism is a certainty but leaned heavily in that direction giving his reasoning for doing so. Universalism is not wishful thinking. There are sound reasons for believing God may well finally save all whom He has created in His own image. There is at least room for uncertainty. I find it telling that no where in Scripture was fear of hell ever combined with a presentation of the Gospel to persuade people to come to Christ. Temporary punishment can just as easily explain Paul’s urgency. Universalism does not preclude temporary punishment.

  8. Ray Downen says:

    If people who don’t hear about Jesus are going to be saved, we shouldn’t obey the commission of Jesus to take the gospel everywhere, for then those who hear and reject will be worse off than they were. But the fact is that only those who hear and accept and obey the gospel will be saved to enjoy eternal life. So we should indeed tell everyone about Jesus and His offer of eternal LIFE. Jesus is always right. He is never wrong. We do well to believe what He has said as it is recorded in apostolic writings for our edification. And we should feel urgent need to do what He calls us to do. Time is fleeting. Opportunity passes. No time for tea parties and time-consuming hobbies for personal enjoyment.

    As for how God will handle justice for unbelievers, we do well to not think we can decide for God what is right for Him to do. We need to believe what Jesus says and what His apostles teach, and not conjecture beyond the warnings they give. Hell is real. Some will go there. Many will go there. How long they stay there is entirely in God’s hands. He says nothing about “conditional.” Why do some feel justified in doing so?

  9. Alabama John says:


    I have read your post on this and disagree with you and agree with Al but that doesn’t mean I am judging harshly as I understand you as a lawyer have your opinion and that is fine as long as we both understand it is an opinion and not law.

    I din’t believe either you nor I believing one way or the other will influence God in His decisions in judging us on many subjects. They are just our opinions after all.

    I simply see the bible as a book of love, mercy, and unmerited favor and understandably as an educated, trained and practicing for many years lawyer you see it as a book of laws and can quickly point the law out. In reality, you can take the prosecuters side and quote laws we call scripture or the defense side and do equally the same with the same amount of conviction. Either way, you would beat the heck out of most of us on here, especially me.

    My point is, in either case, in our everyday lives, by law, there ultimately is a jury of 12 common folks, not lawyers, that use common sense that make the final decision on law and in our next life that will be done by the wisdom of God who loves us all.

    Sure didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and sorry if I did, but understand we common folks don’t express ourselves as well as our love is felt.

  10. Jay Guin says:


    But universalism cannot co-exist with conditional immortality. Universalism assumes the innate immortality of the soul, which is not taught in the Bible — it comes from Plato.

    Moreover, universalism cannot coexist with the destruction of body and soul, as taught repeatedly in the NT.

    (Mat 10:28 ESV) 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    (Heb 10:39 ESV) 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

    (Jam 4:12 ESV) 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

    (2Pe 2:12 ESV) 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction,

    (Mat 7:13 ESV) 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

    (Phi 1:27-28 ESV) 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

    (Phi 3:18-1 ESV) 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

    Focus especially on the last passage (and there are even more like these). The contrast is between bodily transformation vs. destruction. It’s hard to read “destruction” contrasted with the gift of immortal bodies (1 Cor 15) as consistent with universalism. “Destroy” doesn’t really mean “punish and allow to live forever.”

    There are, of course, passages that can be read as promising universalism, but these are generally passages built on God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations or else to destroy all his enemies. At the end, only those who’ve turned to Jesus will remain.

    PS — I’ve read Talbott’s article arguing for universalism in Perspectives on Election, an excellent but dense and difficult book presenting most election theories by leading thinkers. He’s a sure ’nuff universalist, but I find Jack Cottrell’s critique in the same book persuasive.

    Pinnock’s chapter, arguing that Christian election is a continuation of God’s election of Israel and hence corporate is an excellent and persuasive read — to me. Helped me fit OT and NT together.

  11. Alabama John says:


    aren’t we lucky that we were born in a place and time where the bible ws taught us correctly and we believed it and follow it in the right way whils o many others see it differently which means they see it wrong and are bound for hell.

    Wonder sometimes why we as individuals were so blessed and others, born innocent and unknowing throughout time were born to live and go to hell.

    Doesn’t make our loving God we worship and want to be with forever seem very just and loving after all does it?

    Or, could we have something wrong in our thinking about God?

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    Have you not understood this message, from Paul. God says that he is responsible and that he has given all mankind from the creation til now enough knowledge of him for man to see and obey God. All mankind is without the excuse that you are attempting to offer him.
    (Rom 1:18 KJV) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    Your concerns for your ancestors is un warranted and could be considered by God as an un acceptance of his Word, lack of faith in truth.
    Attempting to integrate into his present instruction a loophole to provide for those individuals is altering God’s Word.

  13. R.J. says:

    How does Larry assume that the thief on the cross did not have faith? Just because the term “pistos” is not in the narrative does not mean it doesn’t reveal he demonstrated his faith in King Jesus(“Remember me when you come into your Kingdom”)!

    On a side note, I’ve read of some who reject Universalism but hold a theory of a second-chance salvation(and no not all of them believe 1 Peter supports it). Some believe that because there is precedent on God showing mercy and recanting on his warned punishments, that he might save many by faith at his second coming(recanting his warning on closing the Door) while consuming his enemies. Since scripture declares his mercy unfathomable, could this be a possibility?

    Other theologians say he will only give a second chance to those who never heard of Jesus(Thus not by works but by grace through Genuine faith in him are they saved).

    But like others on this thread have said, only God is qualified to be judge as he alone created us and knows our hearts.

  14. hist0ryguy says:

    In reaction to charismatics modern COC have frowned upon emotion. Then, in reaction to the reaction, some COC are so full of emotion that the roof is going to blow off. There the folks saying, “if you ain’t feeling the Spirit you ain’t living with Jesus.” Granted, Rational Baconian thought was a little dry, but emotion was present and appreciated in the early SCM. Shank’s work seems to frown on emotion, which then leads into a dry “unfriendly” (excuse the pun) relationship with God. Is there any wonder many COC I visit while traveling seem cold and unfriendly? I am pleased that some COC are trying to recover a healthy balance of emotion. You spent much time on the issue, so I hope we all pause and ponder the notion of adoption into Gods’ family and being called a “friend of God,” since we are, indeed.

    I am not putting my brother (the author) down, nor picking on him, but the book seems overly simplistic and seriously lacks theological cohesion. As the book progresses the problem gets worse. It is like the person makes some so many claims against a topic that there is insufficient time to address them all. What is the author’s purpose, and to what audience was the book written?

  15. Gary says:

    Jay the universalism that I heavily lean towards is not conditioned on the “innate immortality of the soul.” Of course God can destroy both body and soul but where does Scripture say that he definitely will do so? Just because God can do something does not mean that he will in fact do it. You and I both believe in temporary punishment so I’m not sure what all the passages you cite prove. I believe them just as much as you but none of them prove that God will in fact eventually annihilate those who are temporarily punished. Destruction does not always mean total annihilation of body and soul. In Mark 3:6, for example, the Pharisees are trying to destroy Jesus but I don’t think they thought they could annihilate him body and soul. You seem to believe that God has bound himself to annihilate all those who do not come to have faith in Jesus in this life including those who never even have that opportunity. God of course can do that. I believe, however, that God has left the eventual fate of unbelievers in this life within his own sovereign will and that he may well allow them the opportunity to come to a saving faith in the coming world. I’m not adamant about it but that outcome seems to me to be more consistent with the nature of our God. I believe it is highly probable that God’s will will be accomplished in the end and that no one will perish.

    As far as universalism removing any reason to evangelize where in Scripture is evangelism ever linked with helping unbelievers to avoid hell? Maybe it’s there but I can’t think what passage it would be. Knowing Jesus is the goal of evangelism not avoiding hell.

  16. Larry Cheek says:

    Can you read all three accounts written Two of which were Apostles and base the salvation of the Thief only on an historian reporter? Read real carefully the communications of all three and pay special attention to Jesus’s response to the Thief. Jesus set a time frame concerning his promise. Would you expect him to do that to a promise expected to last through eternity? I cannot see a repentant attitude in the Thief’s communication. Not a single word of inspired scripture (even the Apostles) reflects back to that event as a soul saving experience. If that was an actual salvation wouldn’t it have been a very important message for the Apostles to convey to mankind? For instance (those of you who have not obeyed the Gospel, be very careful to commit to Christ in the finality of your life just like the Thief did otherwise you will be lost). Odd, inspired writers missed the opportunity to instruct mankind of the escape from damnation.
    I know many will reject this concept, that is alright, but accept my challenge and prove from the scriptures that this Thief received what many today accredit to him the day after the crucifixion.

  17. Alabama John says:

    Using scripture too, Romans 4:14-15. says what we read on here many times: “For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 9: 15-16 “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

    As we all realize, there are two separate camps in considering how God will make his judgment. (1) God is going to only let a few into heaven who are born of this Earth, and the vast majority are to be given to the devil and burn in hell forever, or (2) God loves us, caused us to be born and live in a time and part of this world where he designated us to be and have available the amount of light he designates. God will do one or the other, but until we are judged by God face to face I will continue to be No. (2), which the majority of Christians believe, or I will believe No. (1), which the minority of Christians believe. Your belief in No. (1) or (2) certainly affects your life here on Earth and how you feel toward your fellow man as well as how you see or feel toward God: with fear or love. It is an individual’s choice.

  18. R.J. says:

    @Larry Cheek At first he cursed Jesus along with the other criminal(as first recorded in Matthew). Then Luke later reveals that the revolutionary later repents and rebukes the other guy on the opposite side of Jesus(who still persisted in rebellion). Finally, he knowledges his faith by implying Jesus to be The King(as alluded to previously). And so Christ promises the penitent thief to be with him in Paradise.

    Many translates erroneously make him appear to be promising Paradise right after he dies. But in reality it can also be translated as “Today I tell you the truth. You will be with me in Paradise”. Paradise is not the good compartment of the netherworld(Hades), but is the restoration of all things at his second coming(Heaven itself). Right now, the thief is in the dust of the Earth still awaiting his promise which is certain!

    BTW my quip was with Larry in Shank’s novel. Not with you lol.

  19. Eric says:

    The denial of a personal relationship was, in my opinion, the most destructive false doctrine in Muscle and a Shovel.

    You did a very good job of pointing out the absurdity of that claim by pointing out that God desires a Father/child relationship with us. Also, I believe that Ephesians 5, where the church is described as the wife of Christ, emphasizes the personal nature of our relationship with Jesus. I sure wouldn’t let my wife hear me say that our relationship is not personal! Besides that, if I am a person and Jesus is a Person, how can my relationship with Him be anything but personal?

    I’ve asked Shank directly to explain to me this impersonal love that God who revealed Himself as a Person has for his people, but he has not answered.

    Thank you for exposing the errors and dangers in Muscle and a Shovel.

  20. Shank is preaching to the conservative CoC choir. He reprises the tale they have been trying to tell since Daniel Sommer. The popularity of Shank’s porous reasoning and torturous manipulation of scripture speaks sad volumes about the level of reasoning currently employed in that clan.

  21. Grace says:

    I can’t believe there is even an argument about the thief on the cross salvation. The thief’s plea to Jesus to remember him in His Kingdom and Jesus’ compassion telling the thief that he will be with Him, is obviously something God thought important to be written in His Word. I think Jesus would be saddened seeing people trying to dismiss as nothing a man that He saved.

  22. Larry Cheek says:

    Many people see the Thief’s statement as a plea for his future, but in order for that to be true it would be necessary for the Thief to have believed that Jesus was not going to die or that he was positive that he would be resurrected to have a kingdom. There were only a few men in the world at that time who Jesus had tried to explain about a resurrection and they mocked him, no one had ever risen from the dead. Even the Apostles who were participants with him in performing many miracles and saw him raise dead back to life, did not comprehend that Christ would have a kingdom after death. Not a single one of them had faith enough to project a communication that they would ever see him again. O but this Thief actually had more faith that Christ and he would exist after death then all of his disciples whom he had personally instructed. You see we can look back with a knowledge that he did raise from the dead and assume that the Thief really was able to understand because we do. It is sometimes very hard for us to look at scripture through (you might say through the eyes and understanding of those that day) , but until you can there will be many places in scripture that our thoughts will not match the events displayed.
    It appears to me that the Thief was just administering another slur at Jesus and of course amplifying it by including the his knowledge of the other Thief’s attitude. Jesus understood fully the man’s intentions therefore the message with a limited time with no promise beyond death, both died that day.

  23. Alabama John says:

    Believing you will live again after death is as old as we have knowledge of man. How many graves of civilizations we have dug up to find tools, knives, sacred things, to be used by the dead person in their next life.

    God puts His spirit in every human and has from the beginning. Called by many names and woshipped in many different ways, belief in many different after life stories but still God as there is only one whatever you call him.

  24. Grace says:

    Jesus came from His Kingdom to earth to suffer and die to save us from our sins. From the Hebrew Scriptures Jewish people knew there would be a Redeemer.

    Job 19:25-26 For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God.

    Isaiah 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

    The thief on the cross didn’t know about the church after the resurrection, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t know that there is a Paradise that already existed, Revelation 2:7 To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.

    By the thief’s own admission he deserved the death penalty. The thief called Jesus Lord and asked Him to remember him in His Kingdom and Jesus gave him compassion telling him that he will be with Him in paradise.

  25. Randall says:

    I do not find the doctrine of universal salvation convincing, but God can do whatever God wants to do. If/if God would save all apart from faith then why present the gospel? Because one is blessed by hearing and receiving the gospel. Life is much better with it than w/o it.

  26. Logan Cowart says:

    Muscle and a shovel’s statement that the very idea of a “personal relationship” with God or Jesus Christ does not exist is scripture is wrong. What is the difference between “relationship” and “fellowship”? 1 Cor. 1:9 speaks about our fellowship with God’s Son. Philip. 2:1 speaks of the fellowship of the Spirit. And 1 John 1:3 says our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. Twisting the Bible to prove this point borders on lying.

  27. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for the “fellowship” point. Most excellent.

  28. Jay Guin says:


    I’m guessing that Shank came up in the Landmark Baptist tradition. He also attended Southern Christian University, formerly Ala. Christian School of Religion and now Amridge. This was founded by Rex Turner, Sr. Someone once gave me a subscription to Turner’s monthly publication. I was astounded at his claims on all sorts of things. For example, in Acts 2, we see the first congregation engaging in all Five Acts of Worship. Where are the contributions, you might ask? Well, in the word “fellowship,” which can mean “sharing” when ripped horribly out of context. I mean, it was one absurdity after another.

    Anyway, it appears that Shank didn’t have to go far theologically to move from a Landmark Baptist church to an “ultra-conservative” Church of Christ. They are theological fraternal twins. Even more mainstream conservative Churches would find some of Shank’s teachings a bit odd — such as the requirement to give to the church ONLY on a Sunday and a few other things we’ve not yet gotten to – such as changing “believe” in the Five Step Plan of Salvation to “believe in the Bible.” Yes, really.

    When he denies the need for a personal relationship with Jesus, he is not kidding one little bit.

  29. Gil Torres says:

    Jay, the simple profoundness of the truth that we are saved by faith (think: the righteous shall live by faith) is muddled and obscured by the understanding of some who take this to mean they can toss away anything which which strikes them as a work. This may be as well intended as this: “obedience is not a work but a condition of the heart.” Yet, as you yourself acknowledge in the next paragraph, “one cannot obey what one has not been taught.”

    The truth is obedience from the heart, Paul stated, came from a “form of teaching.” Presumably, and again as you have stated, Paul as an instructor, as are all who would be teachers, was expected to be clear and correct in his teaching.

  30. R.J. says:

    That word “tupon” should be understood as a molding or fashioning. Like a potter who designs a masterpiece from the image in his mind or chisels a statue into an icon of the emperor. Thus the passage that you allude to in Romans should be translated…

    “But now that you’ve obeyed that mold of teaching in which you were cast”.

    That teaching is all about Jesus. Not some rigorous dissertation on the 5 acts of worship or what not. I believe the rendering “form” does injustice to the Greek word “tupon”.

  31. Larry Cheek says:

    Do you see the Thief being victorious? What was he a victor over? Did Jesus really accredit him as being victorious, or did Jesus say he was saved? Can we really read that into the communication?
    Revelation 2:7 To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.
    Since both Jesus and the Thief were to be in paradise that day, can you truly assume that he was there the next day, after Jesus had left? The Bible states that he was teaching in a place not called paradise.
    The Thief’s actions are never used by a writer of scripture as an example that anyone can utilize as a saving action for their lives..

  32. Grace says:

    Jesus said “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Jesus was telling the thief that day he had been accepted by God, Jesus would be seen three days later ascending to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The thief being accepted that day will be in paradise with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t lying to him.

  33. Grace says:

    This is not that hard. The simplicity of a promise that any of us will be with Jesus in Paradise, that we defeated the accuser of the brethren by the blood of the Lamb, Christ our Lord and Savior, should make us rejoice! But instead people want to pick apart a man dying on the cross next to our Lord and Savior, and by the man’s own admission knew he deserved the death penalty, and pleads to the Lord to remember him in His Kingdom. Some would rather see Jesus looking at this man saying you’re going to hell. That’s not Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins, He had compassion on the man’s plea, and said he would be in Paradise with Him.

    I really think Jesus would be saddened seeing people trying to dismiss as nothing a man that He saved.

  34. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    I noticed your statement,”Believing you will live again after death is as old as we have knowledge of man. How many graves of civilizations we have dug up to find tools, knives, sacred things, to be used by the dead person in their next life.”
    Ad really wonder why it was comprehended by the Thief and there is no evidence that anyone including his closest friends could expect that they would see him after death. All of the Jewish Nation was expecting a physical king who was alive and well, what happened was beyond their imagination. I am not finding a reference in the OT promising man to be be a participant in being in heaven with God or promising a life after death. Enlighten me where that concept existed that men understood there would be life after death before Christ came to earth.

  35. Grace says:

    Job 19:25-26 For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God.

    Isaiah 26:19 Yet we have this assurance: Those who belong to God shall live again. Their bodies shall rise again! Those who dwell in the dust shall awake and sing for joy! For God’s light of life will fall like dew upon them!

    Daniel 12:2 Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace.

  36. Alabama John says:

    There is a spirit of God in every child that is and has been born. All civilizations have thought there would be an after life and looked up in the heavens for it. Don’t need a bible to know this.

    Check out your local library and look up the most common one, and the one from the area and people written about in the bible, the Egyptian Pharaohs, and what was found in their tombs to help them in their next life after their death here on earth.

    Simular signs of their believing as I stated have been found all over the world and are even being found today in places we didn’t know existed a few years ago.

    If all was written in books that was done by God, the world couldn’t hold them. We just have the Good News, not a book of laws, and certainly not everything by a long shot.

  37. Logan Cowart says:

    I just now read most of your year 2009 articles on “Available Light.” It seems that the question is: Will good people who have never heard the gospel be condemned to (an eternity in) Hell? In my opinion the answer would be no. The explanation given by Paul in Romans is that “doers of the law will be justified” (Rom 2:13) whether Jew (who have the law) or Greek (who did not have the law). Those who keep the law in their hearts will be justified. But then Paul goes on to show that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, have failed to keep as much of the law as we have understood. We all deserve death; especially those of us who judge, or condemn others, as it is written in Rom 1:31-2:2, “…untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself;” And when I read this, I see it saying, “for by passing judgment (or condemning), you condemn yourself” because in doing so, you are being unloving and unmerciful.

    We all deserve death. So how can someone who has never heard of Jesus be saved? In the end, there will be no one who has not heard of Jesus, for we read in Phil 2:10, “… at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” And the phrase “under the earth” refers to Hades, the place of the dead. As it is written in 1 Peter chapters 3 and 4: “For Christ … having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,” . . . “For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.”

    I believe, based on this (and based on the testimony of Thomas Welch, who died, found himself on the shore of a lake of fire, saw Jesus and was returned to this world; who lived the rest of his life in the 1900’s preaching the gospel.) that come judgment day everyone, whether living or dead, will have heard the gospel of Jesus, and everyone will have made a choice to accept Him as Lord, or to rebel against God.

    A close study of the Bible leads me to believe that when people die, they do not instantly go to Heaven or Hell. There is a place of the dead (Sheol or Hades) which appears to have two parts. One is a place of torment, the other is Paradise (with Abraham, etc.). At the last day, there will be a judgment of the living and the dead, then the saved will be sent to heaven, and the lost will be thrown into the “lake of fire, which is the second death.” This is probably not the lake of fire which may be in Hades, because both death and Hades are said to be thrown into this lake of fire (the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, Matt 25).

    So if there is the possibility of someone being saved by God even though they had not heard the gospel of Jesus in this life; why do we bother to bring them the gospel? Because without the gospel, they have nothing but the law, or the law of their conscience, to teach them right from wrong. And as Paul teaches, the law amplifies our consciousness of sin. The more law we have, the more we know that we have sinned by not keeping it. Without God’s grace and mercy, we cannot be saved. This is why even those under the law were saved by faith (according to Hebrews). Even under the law we have to trust in God to overlook our sins. But with the gospel, the good news, we have that grace and mercy, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit within our lives. Without the gospel, we have no sure hope, and a strong possibility that we would become so hardened in our sinful ways as to totally reject God. But with the gospel, we can live in fellowship and harmony with God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

  38. Alabama John says:

    Good post Logan,
    My question is who made the first judgment to send the dead to paradise or torment? If that decision had already been made why even have a last day judgment? Makes more sense to me to only have one judgment.

  39. Jay Guin says:

    Larry wrote,

    It appears to me that the Thief was just administering another slur at Jesus and of course amplifying it by including the his knowledge of the other Thief’s attitude. Jesus understood fully the man’s intentions therefore the message with a limited time with no promise beyond death, both died that day.


    I’ve never heard that interpretation and doubt it very seriously.

    (Luk 23:39-43 ESV) 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

    Luke says that the second thief “rebuked” the first and declared Jesus innocent. There is not least hint of insincerity. I admit it’s hard to imagine the thief expecting Jesus to be resurrected, but at that moment, he could have just as easily believed that God would miraculously save his Messiah from death.

    And I find it unthinkable that Jesus would say to a dying man, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” if Jesus meant the thief was damned. That would be cruel and serve no purpose in terms of Jesus’ mission.

    And would Luke seriously expect his readers to take “with me in Paradise” to mean “you’ll pass through Paradise on your way to hell”?

  40. Jay Guin says:

    Ala. John,

    Many of the world’s religions do not have a Supreme Being. There is no “god” in Confucianism. And neither Hinduism nor Buddhism seek an afterlife of paradise with a supreme being. That’s a lot of people with no even rough equivalent of the Christian God.

    I agree that belief in some kind of afterlife is commonly found in ancient archaeological digs, but the Greeks and Romans denied the resurrection — believing the dead existed as little more than wisps or vapors — and not happily so for most. The Sadducees denied any afterlife at all — and they were Jews. It was the Pharisees who taught a bodily resurrection. (And despite that, Jesus was none too happy with that sect.)

    Obviously, Muslims believe in an after-life and worship a severely misunderstood God, and the Jews certainly worship the same God as Christians — and yet it was the Jews to whom the gospel was first sent so that they might be saved.

    You really can’t treat all religions as the same or even as having a common core of beliefs. And this is not to even mention the statist religions of the 20th Century, such as Marxism and Nazi-ism. The French Revolution of the late 18th Century was a rejection of all things Christian, with the Cathedral of Notre Dame being renamed the Temple of Reason — essentially an effort for man to worship man.

    Even what is “good” varies dramatically from religion to religion.

    My point is that elevating other religions to be somewhat like Christianity does a great disservice to Christianity.

  41. Jay Guin says:


    Contrary to much teaching, “paradise” is not a holding tank pre-judgment day. Rev 2:7 itself shows it to be the afterlife for saved people. Also —

    (2Co 12:2-4 ESV) 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows– 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

    Paul plainly considers paradise to be where Jesus dwells now — heaven.

    The Wikipedia shows how the word was used in the Septuagint —

    Later in Second Temple era Judaism “paradise” came to be associated with the Garden of Eden and prophesies of restoration of Eden, and transferred to heaven. The Septuagint uses the word around 30 times, both of Eden, (Gen.2:7 etc.) and of Eden restored (Ezek. 28:13, 36:35 etc.). In the Apocalypse of Moses, Adam and Eve are expelled from paradise (instead of Eden) after having been tricked by the serpent. Later after the death of Adam, the Archangel Michael carries the body of Adam to be buried in Paradise, which is in the Third Heaven.

    Someone issued a tract 100 years ago teaching that Paradise is a temporary holding tank for the saved, while Tartarus is a holding tank for the damned. But Tartarus is simply a Greek word for the part of Hades (realm of the dead) where bad people go — it’s their final abode.

    The only use of “Tartarus” in the NT is —

    (2Pe 2:4 ASV) For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

    And it’s always translated “hell” not “busstop on the way to hell.” BDAG says it refers to hell in Jewish idiom, borrowed from the Greeks.

    The old tract “Where are the Dead?” as I recall, had a huge impact on American Protestant thought, and has been reprinted countless times by multiple denominations. It was an effort to decide how to reconcile the various passages picturing Judgment Day at the end of time and people going to heaven/hell right away. For example, Moses appeared at the Transfiguration and is therefore not “asleep” awaiting Judgment. And there’s the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Etc.

    Besides, Matt 25 shows the wicked goats being surprised at their fates, and if someone were to wait decades, if not centuries, in the same tank as Hitler, I don’t think they’d be surprised at the verdict!

    The weakness the tract has is there’s not a single verse to support it. In context, and as the First Century Jews used those words, there is no holding tank.

    My own “solution” is to note that time is a created thing, part of the fabric of the universe created from nothing. Therefore, when we die, we all go to Judgment Day at once because we pass outside of created time. I think I’ll meet my great-grandchildren at the Pearly Gates and won’t have to wait for them.

    To those on earth, I’ll appear to sleep, but as I perceive “time,” I’ll pass straight to the general resurrection.

    Therefore, why did the thief on the cross see Jesus in Paradise that very day? Because they were both in heaven — at the moment of the general resurrection, I think, but Jesus had to return.

    Quite unprovable, of course, but the physics is pretty solid.

  42. Jay Guin says:


    I appreciate your taking the time to read my comments on Available Light. The last few posts deal with Romans 2, which I think can be shown not to be speaking of those who’ve never heard the gospel. It’s admittedly a difficult text, but I go through it in detail and the context and flow of Paul’s thought goes in a very different direction.

    I earlier posted a comment regarding Tartarus and Paradise. “Sheol” is the Hebrew equivalent of “Hades,” meaning the realm of the dead, but not meaning a temporary dwelling pending the Second Coming.

    I don’t follow your logic for teaching the gospel under Available Light. It seems to me that, under that theory, there will be good people who would be saved but for our preaching. If they reject the gospel, they’re damned. What a weight to carry — the idea that if your lessons aren’t effective, you’re sending good people to hell.

    The classic example of a “good person” who should be saved without the gospel is Gandhi, and yet he read the Gospels and chose not to follow Jesus. Therefore, I suppose he’s lost. So good people can reject the gospel and so be damned by our preaching.

  43. John says:

    Of all the things Shank was taught and now believes as outlined in his book, it is this concept that makes me the saddest.

    I think we do God, Christ and ourselves a great disservice when we believe it is not only impossible to have a “personal relationship” with Christ but that it is a false teaching and mocks God. Having bought into this teaching for years and only come around to the other viewpoint in the last several years, it makes me sad for those who still cling to the former idea.

    Sometimes I think the traditional/conservative group shies away from anything that is considered to be “denominational” because admitting it is OK means we might have to admit other things they believe are OK as well.

    And the concept of “it’s not taught anywhere in God’s word” is a) completely wrong as Logan pointed out, and b) an inconsistent argument as 99.9 percent of churches out there do things that aren’t found in the Bible – yes, even the traditional CoCers. But I imagine I am preaching to the choir on that one. Or maybe praise team. Preaching to the praise team.

Comments are closed.