I recently did a quick read of the book Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank. Am I allowed to say that it is what I thought it was? Written in an autobiographical style, it’s intended to be an apologetic for traditional Church of Christ beliefs. As such, it functions pretty well.
I’m not really prepared to write a review. I may do so in the future. John Mark Hicks has written an excellent review which is available in electronic format for the Kindle. He also posted a summary of that review on his personal blog, presenting it in three parts:
I’d highly recommend John Mark’s review to anyone who has read the book and even to those who haven’t.
In lieu of a review, let me share some thoughts:
- I’ll start with the biggest issue I have: 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.
- The most shocking thing I read was the part where Randal rejected the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus. “It’s one of the greatest false teachings of modern-day religion.” (p.108) That’s when I realized that any gospel presented would not be the gospel of Jesus. I recognize that was a way of attacking a commonly held evangelical idea, but Randal’s reasoning was really sad. “A personal relationship implies that Jesus is not in Heaven because He would have to be here, in the flesh, for you to have a personal relationship with Him.” (ibid) Really? So all that “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” was just a ruse? Talk of where two or more are gathered, I am there? Jesus lives in the believer, not just in Heaven. He is inside of us… how much more personal can you get?
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) That’s the part that Randal missed, that he never mentioned. Know God. Know Jesus. Have a personal relationship with them. That’s eternal life.
- I’m thrilled with the reports of people coming to the Lord after reading this book. I don’t want my opinions of this book to take away from that in any way.
- I’m glad for Michael that he found the Lord and desires to help others do the same.
- In the book itself, I love the example of Randal, his willingness to speak about his faith to others. Some of his attitudes seem less than ideal, but I can say that about just about anyone.
- The book itself is fairly readable. Some disagree, but I think the story flows fairly naturally. Much of what is written is hard to believe, but it’s not easy to argue with someone’s personal story.
- Those reading the book need to recognize that Shank’s description of believers in Christ outside of the Church of Christ is not typical of such believers. You would be hard pressed to find a trained Baptist minister that asserts that the Baptist church began with John the Baptist, for example.
- The book is filled with proof texts to support Randal’s arguments and accusations toward other groups that their beliefs are based on proof texts. I agree with many things that Randal says; others just can’t be supported from Scripture.
There’s a lot more to be said. 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.
If you read Shank’s book, I hope you’ll read Hicks’ review as well, just to have a better understanding of what you’ve read.