Review of Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank (Part 3)

[Michael Shank, Muscle and a Shovel: A raw, gritty, true story about finding the Truth in a world drowning in religious confusion (5th edition, 2013; Kindle version). I have cited the book with chapter number first, then the Kindle location. For example, Chapter 1, location 245 is cited as 1:245.]

[My first and second blogs in this series are here and here. I have expanded my three-blog review into a 21,000-word review, which is available here.]

Have You Not Read the Scriptures?

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  Matthew 12:7

Shank reads Scripture with the goal of getting it “right” in order to be saved. One must be baptized for the “right reason,” and one must be faithful to the “true [right] church.” We have to get it “right” because God does not accept anyone who doesn’t get it right. So, if you don’t get it absolutely and precisely “right”—in teaching and practice—then one is lost and “headed for eternal destruction.”

The Right Baptism and Right Church

What must we get right? Here is Shank’s list, at least as it appears in the book:

  • Baptism is absolutely necessary
  • Baptism for the right reason is absolutely necessary
  • Faithful to the true church of Christ
  • A right name
  • The right organization (autonomous congregationalism)
  • Right leadership (when qualified: elders, deacons, and evangelists)
  • The right “articles of worship” in the assembly
  • Weekly Lord’s Supper and only on Sunday
  • Weekly free will offerings and only on Sunday (no tithing)
  • A cappella singing
  • Teaches the biblical plan of salvation, that is, how to obey the gospel through hearing, believing, repenting, confessing and being baptized.

These are teachings and practices within churches of Christ that have a long history of discussion. I will not take the time to deal with each one in the list in this short blog, though they are important and deserve attention (and I have done some of that in the ebook). Rather, I am more concerned about what lies underneath, that is, the assumptions that shape this way of reading the Bible.

But, first, there are at least two problems with the list itself. Notice (1) what is missing from this list. When Randall seeks to identify the “true church of Christ,” there is nothing about the ministry and mission of the church but only the form and procedures of the church. The list says nothing about what the church does outside the building, how it ministers to the poor, or what the mission of the church is. That is not to say that Shank does not have opinions about these points—I would assume he does and sometimes they come out in marginal ways in the book, but his book defines the nature of what it means to talk about the church in an evangelistic tract. His purpose is polemical—to convince denominationalists that their denominations are wrong. Consequently, it is not ultimately about the fullness of the church of God and its mission in the world, but rather about specific items that, in effect, defend the teaching and practice of the “churches of Christ” (the ones with that name on their signs) in contrast to the denominations.

(2) I also have a problem with the function of this list. Is every one of these necessary in order to have a faithful church? Must one be a member of a group of Jesus-followers who practice Christianity in precise conformity to this list in order to be “faithful to the church”?

If we answer “Yes,” then it is rather strange that the New Testament does not have this list somewhere present within its pages as a list? If this is a prescribed list, then where is the list of prescriptions within the pages of the New Testament?

If we answer “Yes,” then are we an unfaithful church if we are missing any one of these items or fail to do them perfectly? Is this also true if a congregation does not minister to the poor, fails to speak out against injustice in the world, refuses to fully integrate, etc., etc. How perfect does a congregation need to be in order to be “faithful,” and how well must a congregation comply with this list in order to be “faithful”?

Such a list does not appear in the New Testament, and Paul, for example, does not engage congregations through his letters in ways that assume a kind of perfectionism or an assumption of prescribed list of forms that identify the true church of Christ. Instead, he calls us to transformed living, encouraging assemblies that conform to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, living together in love, and a missional orientation to the world. Paul points us to the heart of Jesus rather than to the forms of a legal code.

Consequently, Shank’s evangelistic tract reads quite differently from the New Testament itself. While Shank’s book is filled with prescribed, perfectionistic legal technical lists about how to “do church,” there are no such lists in the New Testament, and what lists there are encourage transformed living (e.g., Galatians 5:22; 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Legal Approach to Scripture

Shank, in effect, uses the Bible to discover the law codes embedded within the story and finds them even where there are no codified prescriptions in the text. Narratives are turned into legal prescriptions. This seems reasonable to Shank because his primary question is, “What does the Bible require us to do?” So, he searches for the requirements and finds them in narratives and letters in order to construct a pattern for the church. And, surprisingly (if indeed the Bible is intended to provide such a pattern), this pattern is nowhere simply and/or fully stated. It has to be pieced together like a puzzle, and we have to find the pieces scattered throughout the Bible. We must connect the dots through inference, assumptions, and expectations of what we think the Bible is supposed to tell us.

Shank expects a pattern and therefore searches till he finds one even if he has to piece it together with examples and inferences. He has to fill in the blanks with more than explicit statements. And where the pieces (specific commands) are missing, we infer their presence (by example or inference). In effect, he finds it because Randall followed an interpretative model (coupled with assumptions) that constructed the pattern for him without questioning the exegesis (interpretation) of the texts utilized and without recognizing his assumptions about how he is reading the Bible.

This is a major concern with Muscle and A Shovel. It reads the Bible with a central concern to discover something it expects to find, and the book assumes that the way to find it is to piece together scattered prescriptions (and non-explicit [even unstated] prescriptions like examples and inferences) in order to construct a pattern that is not explicitly there.

There is a better way to read the story of God in Scripture.

Here lies a fundamental difference between how Shank reads the Bible and how I read it. For Shank, the fundamental question the Bible answers is, “What does God require of me?” For me, the fundamental question is, “What is the story into which God invites me?” The former is a legal question, but the latter is a missional one. The former wants to know what is legal or illegal. The latter wants to know the divine mission and how we might participate in it.

Muscle and a Shovel misses the central story of Scripture. Shank reads the Bible with a legal concern operating at the heart of his hermeneutic. This obscures the missional nature of Scripture itself. There is little to nothing in Muscle and a Shovel that gives us much hint about the grand narrative of Scripture—a loving God who created and nurtured the world for the sake of loving fellowship, who chose Israel as a light among the nations, who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth to redeem the sin, pain, and hurt of this world, and who poured out the Holy Spirit to sanctify and empower a community that they might be dedicated to good works. As an evangelistic tract, it does not tell the story of the gospel. Rather, it converts people to a church pattern, the data for which is mined out of Scripture, abstracted from its original historical context, and then used to construct something that does not exist in Scripture, that is, a specific legal blueprint for how to do church. It converts people to a plan (a church pattern) rather than to Jesus.

When Paul called Titus to teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), that healthy teaching included an ethical life, an understanding of what God has done in Christ, the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of eternal life (Titus 2:2-3:8). It did not include the specifics of a church pattern as outlined in Shank’s book. Rather, telling the gospel story (much like Paul summarizes in Titus 3:3-8) is how one builds communities of faith who are dedicated to good works. I don’t think Muscle and A Shovel followed that pattern, that is, the book does not follow the example of Paul in teaching the great truths of the Christian faith.

The hermeneutical (how we read) shift from “shaped by a story” (regulated by the gospel story narrated in the ministry and life of Jesus, anticipated by Israel, and lived out in the early church) rather than “codified in the prescriptions” (rulebook) is a huge one for many people. The former permits contextualization while the latter is rigid replication. The latter often thrives in fear (did we get that right?) or arrogance (we got it right!) while the former stimulates incarnational, missional practice (how might we embody the story in our context?).

When we read Scripture though the lens of a legal, perfectionistic lens, we have to get it right in order to be saved. We have to be baptized for the “right reason,” and we have to be faithful to the right church. We have to get it “right” because God does not accept anyone who doesn’t get it right.

When we read Scripture through the lens of a missional God, the story unfolds as the divine pursuit of a people whom God transforms into the image of God for the sake of mission to the world. That story is more about direction than it is perfection, and God accepts and welcomes imperfect seekers.

Mercy, Not Sacrifice

When I finished reading Shank’s book, I was neither angry nor enthused. I was sad.

Over my forty-plus years of preaching and teaching I have slowly shifted from reading Scripture as a legal textbook designed to provide a specific pattern to reading Scripture as a story in we participate by imitating God. Rather than servile slaves whose obedience is rewarded and disobedience is punished based on keeping the technicalities of the law, we are God’s partners in the divine mission who are enabled by the power of God to participate in the unfolding story of God. 

The fundamental problem with Muscle and a Shovel is that it exalts sacrifice over mercy (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 12:7). 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).

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!

 

 



27 Responses to “Review of Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank (Part 3)”

  1.   Brennan Hughes Says:

    Thank you, brother, for tackling this unfortunate book. I was tempted to start my current blog with a series of articles dissecting Muscle and a Shovel. The heart of the matter to me is that the god of this book is nothing like the God I worship as a spirit-filled Christian. The god of this book is a god who demands people follow a detailed legal code that he mischievously hid like some deranged hide-and-seek game inside a document full of stories and letters (i.e. the New Testament), so that only advantaged people — people who had access to copies of the Bible and who put hours and hours of grunt work into decoding the Bible with their intellectual muscles and shovels — could possibly please him, and everybody else gets to suffer forever. This god is a jerk, and I want nothing to do with him. But I doubted whether I’d be able to write this series of articles in the spirit of Christ. I am happy to see that you have done what I was not sure I’d be capable of doing. You treat this book much more gently than it deserves, and, dear friend, I commend you for that. Instead of attacking the book, I’ve decided to pray for the people who were baptized as a result of reading this book, that God would enlighten their hearts and lead them through his Spirit away from judgmental legalism and into a true understanding and acceptance of God’s gift of freedom, his tender love, and his mission of universal healing and reconciliation. In the name of Jesus may it be so.

  2. Profile photo of Rick Slagle  Rick Slagle Says:

    Amen!!!

  3. Profile photo of Darryl Willis  Darryl Says:

    Thank you, Mark. I’ve not read the book. But having come from that bent many years ago as a young adult I am glad that people like you existed (even 40 years ago) to nudge me gently into a kinder mindset and world view. I can only hope that codifying his story does not codify his thoughts preventing growth and change.

    I know I’ve held similar beliefs and strongly years ago. Thank you for treating him kindly in your review.

    •   Karla M. Says:

      Amen to what Darryl said. When I first started studying the Bible for myself, my approach was very much “What does God require of me?” I was looking for the lists, I guess you could say–what did I need to do to know I was safe, I was okay. But what I am coming to believe and trying to learn to do is to stop reading the Bible for what I am expecting God to say–and instead try to listen to what God is actually saying. In my experience, this is the difference between “listening” to someone else talk while mentally reviewing your own expectations of what they’re going to say or what you’re going to say next–and really listening, where you cut off the mental chatter and try to really understand the other person. This is not something easy to do and I am not condemning Shank or his advocates by assuming that they are intentionally not listening to the Bible. Far from it! It is something I used to do a lot and I don’t think it is a simple case of “you are listening or you aren’t”. It is a process, in a sense it is a conversation, and I think it is ongoing as God continues to help you understand Him better. We all have blind spots in how we listen that need continual correction and growth.

      I think God truly does shepherd us in this process, and as frustrated as we may get with one another sometimes (sometimes rightfully, sometimes not so much), it is helpful to remember how patiently God has lead and worked with each of us–certainly with me! I really appreciated your efforts in this regard. I have not yet finished the book (read the first…third? of it) but found his assertion that we do not have a personal relationship with Jesus very frustrating and a little shocking, since to me it is plainly all through Scripture.

      Thank you so much for reviewing this book; it’s one I’ve become aware of recently and was struggling with my reactions to it. Really appreciated your thoughts, especially about the shift in how you read the Bible; that is something I’m still thinking through and I love to hear others’ thoughts about it.

  4.   Brian Humek Says:

    John Mark,

    I love your point about how a church could have the list down pat, but fail to integrate and at least to me, you, and many others, that would be a flawed congregation. It reminds me of the LaPorte Church of Christ near Ft. Collins, Colorado which my wife and I actually passed one day while on vacation and considered visiting. I later came to find out they are a white supremacist church, I think, the sort associated with British Israelism. But they got the name right and probably everything else on Shank’s list. So sad that the congregation in LaPorte is a great example of what Shank thinks is the right church, just because they abide by his “list.”

    This link speaks about the racist church which marks off all the items on Shank’s list.

    http://archive.adl.org/learn/ext_us/peters.html?LEARN_Cat=Extremism&LEARN_SubCat=Extremism_in_America&xpicked=2&item=8

    •   John S. Says:

      Brian, is that the same “Church of Christ” as the one everyone’s been discussing? More than one Christian religious group uses that name, for instance “United Church of Christ”, a different group altogether from the church of which Mr. Shanks is a member.

    •   John S. Says:

      Brian, please disregard my question. I responded before reading about the link.

      •   Clark Coleman Says:

        It appears from the linked article that this congregation is part of the Christian Identity white supremacist group, not any Stone-Campbell group.

  5.   Warren Baldwin Says:

    One of the sad things about the “list” mentality of Christianity is there is no real room for gratitude. Since I got it “right” where is the need for gratitude to the God who accepts us as and where we are? Fear drives us to the list; the list drives us to pride. Gratitude, which is the heart of our response to God in obedience, worship and a life of service, is given scant recognition. Good review.

  6.   tommy holland Says:

    Blind spot? Almost unbelievably, there are now hundreds (thousands?) of struggling congregations (esp. rural) who no longer have a key/essential, absolutely “commanded” component of this list: “Right leadership (w/ qualified: elders, deacons, and evangelists)”. But as long as they say “they’re working on getting elders” they are still considered “sound” (by the other churches who ascribe to all of the list), [and they just continue to substitute an unauthorized “men’s monthly business meeting”, often for decades now…], provided that the preacher (of their autonomous body?) affiliates himself with other “sound” preachers, and attends lectureship programs that have been deemed “sound.” I can’t even start to wrap my brain around such glaring inconsistency. Lord have mercy, indeed.

  7.   Terrell Lee Says:

    It’s sad, dangerous, and harmful when someone writes a book that dishonors our loving, compassionate, God in this kind of way. Thanks for writing this review.

  8.   Scott Mayfield Says:

    Shank’s condescending and arrogant views are wrong. Our view is right!!!

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      I would rather say that we should read Scripture to follow Jesus and image his life and ministry as closely as possible. I would not say I have it right, but I am seeking Jesus and looking to embody his life in my own.

  9.   Julie Lavender Says:

    Intentional worship isn’t about trying to please God, but rather the joyous awareness of all He does to please us.

  10.   Randy Doyle Says:

    John the Baptist and Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God is near. After the day of Pentecost, the language moves to talking about the king — Jesus. So, the conclusion must be that the coming one and his kingdom were the aim of history. The constituency of the kingdom was not left to “joyous awareness” (sorry about my tone but this type of language frequently is only about showing off whose faith is deeper, richer, etc..– meaningless when trying to have a religious discussion). He left apostles who were guided into all truth — if it were only about the mission of the church — evangelizing, benevolence — there are way too many books in the NT. These apostles and their entrusted prophets and teachers instructed the church about doctrine of the Christ, hierarchy, order of worship, and a host of other things. Over time, things got really blurred in all these areas as well as the ones Dr. Hicks is concerned about. The Baptists don’t have your definition of the mission of the church (love, benevolence, peace, etc.) wrong — those of us on this side value that these things they have quite right (as do Buddhists, Hindus, etc), but fundamental of doctrine, hierarchy, salvation, etc. they and the other denominationalists have very wrong. I would love to see you show one of your own “brothers” as much understanding and compassion as you do the Baptists and others.

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Randy, I thought I was understanding and compassionate in my response to brother Michael. But everyone will have to judge that for themselves. The mission of Jesus is the mission of the church, and that defines the church more than the patternism Shank advocates.

  11.   Nelda Harle Says:

    If our salvation is dependent upon us getting everything “right”, then why would there have been a need for the cross? What would be the purpose of grace? But isn’t that the story of the old law of Moses? That when given a list of laws & requirements, we can never get it all right, even if we try really hard. That’s what I understand from the book of Romans. Thank God that through Christ I have been set free from a law of sin and death!

  12.   Stan Johnson Says:

    It is impossible for us as humans to get everything “right”. In fact, we can’t get anything right. GOD is the only one who gets it right. Even our belief is flawed without the FATHER’s divine grace and election, anticipated through HIS foreknowledge and enacted by HIS omnipotent will. Thus there is no need to strive to be “right,” but only the awareness of divine Presence and abiding in HIS arms of love.

  13.   Jason Ridgeway Says:

    I know that you will not publish my response. But here it goes; Shank’s book is a true story of how one man went on a spiritual journey to find the truth. This was a book about a debate/bible study with a man named Randall. You misrepresent him. Why is it wrong to say baptism is absolutely essential? Christ taught that it was in Mark 16:16; Matthew 28:19. Peter said it was in 1 Peter 3:21. Paul said it was in Romans 6:2-4. Luke wrote that baptism is essential in Acts 2:38; 22:16. What biblical basis do you have to disagree? Your opinion?

  14.   Stephanie Vlahos Says:

    I’m not completely finished with the book yet, but Shank stated that God doesn’t want a relationship with us is when I shook my head and almost cried. The God I pray to *wants* a relationship with me.

  15.   Jodie Says:

    Exactly Stephanie! Shank’s audience will never truly know the God who *wants* us and pursues us and welcomes us with open arms. It’s an intentional, communal relationship with no place for criticism or judgement.

  16.   Adam Jones Says:

    The perspectives from our brothers Michael and John Mark are both predictable. Michael comes from a conservative background and his interpretation of scripture clearly reflects the disposition and teaching associated with this strand of the Church of Christ, which John Mark knows was also reflected in the teaching of David Lipscomb. (It seems to me that John Mark is selective in his use of Lipscomb’s views. When Lipscomb expresses his views on Christian nonviolence or care for the poor, then Hicks holds him up as a model for contemporary Christians in the Churches of Christ to emulate. But, John Mark dismisses Lipscomb’s opposition to instrumental music. In other words, when Lipscomb agrees with what John Mark already believes, then Lipscomb is a great model. But, for Hicks, there is no need to follow Lipscomb’s opposition to instrumental music since, in this case, Lipscomb is just a naive conservative who needs to be enlightened. But, back to Shank.) Michael reads the NT as a rule book. God gives us rules to follow. If we violate one rule, we are lost eternally. There is very little room for the grace of God. Michael is condescending, arrogant, and unmerciful to the denominations who get everything wrong (in his opinion). Thankfully, we in the Churches of Christ get everything right; we are the true people of God on the narrow way to heaven while all the other denominations follow the wide way to hell. I think John Mark does an excellent job capturing the spirit of Shank’s book and attitude. It is a fair portrait of the conservative perspective. Would we really expect Shank to say anything different given the strand of the church he represents. Now, John Marks response is equally predictable since he represents the ACU/Lipscomb, “progressive” strand in Churches of Christ. Would we really expect John Mark to review Shank’s book any differently? His review is equally conditioned by his “progressive” context. Of course, for instance, he is going to minimize the connection between baptism and remission of sins because that is what people in his community (the universities he is affiliated with, the churches where he works and teaches, the books he reads, etc.) believe. He is no different thank Shank. Both of them represent the rather predictable views of the communities they inhabit. Much of what Hicks says about Shank is accurate, and I agreed with many of his insightful comments. I would say, though, that some of the criticisms of Shank equally apply to Hicks. Both of them are absolutely confident that they are right. Both of them dismiss the views of the other. Both demonstrate a lack of humility (even though John Mark peppers his review with the phrase “Lord have mercy” as though that somehow demonstrates his radical humility in contradistinction to Shank). It seems to me that real humility is acknowledging that I be might be wrong. Shank needs a healthy dose of humility. It would do our brother well to listen to John Marks helpful corrections and comments. But, I think real humility for Hicks would be to acknowledge that he could be wrong too.

    • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

      Adam,

      Thanks for reading, brother.

      It is difficult to defend one’s humility, is it not? 🙂 Puts one in a precarious situation. So, I will not do so, but let readers decide for themselves. However, I will offer this one perspective: I never claimed I was “right” in the sense that I could not be wrong. Indeed, I think it problematic to make being “right” the necessary condition of our relationship with God. Clearly, I could, and very well might, be wrong. I recognize that honest, studious, devout, and godly people disagree, and I do not claim that if one disagrees with me that they must lack in some virtue. So, I think your take on me that I would say that I am right (and “absolutely confident” about it) and could not be wrong is inaccurate. Perhaps my writing does not reflect my heart very well on this point, but I wanted to convey the idea that being “right” is not the point and that honest people can disagree.

      Regarding Lipscomb, I attempt to read Lipscomb on his own terms. I have expressed disagreement with him on many occasions. For example, see my article regarding the participation of women in the assembly from 1897-1907 that is available under my Academic page. I could multiply such examples. I seek to understand Lipscomb and the Nashville Bible School’s position. We all evaluate those whom we respect and honor from our past. I have never called Lipscomb naive. He was a studious, godly, and honest person, as far as I know from his writings (which is the only way I know him). Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I disagree with him, and I will reference him on both occasions.

      Your notion of “predictability” is interesting. I wonder if it is not dismissive as if conditioning (whether progressive or conservative) renders the points…., well, renders them what? I am uncertain. We are all conditioned, my friend. That is why we dialogue in community so that we might share, reflect, and even controvert questions in the process of growth.

      Blessings, and I do appreciate your input and reading of the materials.

      •   Adam Jones Says:

        I appreciate your gracious reply. After reading my original post, and your reply, I must apologize for the strong language I used. Also, I did not want to impugn anyone’s character, though clearly I did that. It is not fair or courteous to suggest that you and Michael are arrogant and condescending. (I must admit that I come across rather arrogant and condescending. It may be me that needs humility!). So, I do apologize. My strong language reflects genuine frustration, which was misdirected at you and Michael. Allow me to briefly explain.

        My explanation, here, will also help clarify what I mean by “predictability.” When we think of the “conservative” position, we can (generally) identify its basic traits and doctrinal positions. “Conservative” members of the C of C, as you rightly articulate in your review of Shank, uphold the 5-steps to salvation, the 5-acts of worship, limited roles for women in the assembly, a cappella singing, a congregational polity led by a plurality of elders and deacons, a legalistic hermeneutic, the cosmic destruction of the world at the end of the ages, strong support for Christians’ use of violence, whether militarily or in self-defense, etc. “Conservatives” do not fellowship other denominations because doing so would be partnering with people who are lost, people who are not Christians in spite of how similar their baptismal practices might be. The Church of Christ, in their view, is *the* true church whose roots go back to the pristine church of the first century. Now, people who align themselves with this “school of thought” appear to imbibe every one of these views simply because they have been shaped by this community. This is not to suggest, however, that none of these views are reflected in scripture. I am merely suggesting that if I attend a conservative congregation, read an article written by a teacher at Memphis School of Preaching, or attend the FHU lectures, I basically know what they think on the ideas listed above. In that sense, their views are predictable. (I realize I am speaking in generalities, but I think my overview is fair).

        On the other hand, I think we can (generally) identify the contours of the “progressive” perspective in the C of C. The 5-steps to salvation constitute works righteousness, baptism is important, but God will save those who are not baptized or who were baptized by a different mode, a cappella singing is a good heritage, but those who worship with instruments are fine, expanded roles for women in the assembly, a better hermeneutic based on Augustine’s notion of love or other critical approaches formed in the academy, partnership with other denominations even if their views may be radically opposed to ours, the renewal of creation at the end of the ages, and (often, though not always) non-violence and concern for the poor. Again, all of these views may be reflected in scripture, and I accept many of them. To be fair, though, like the “conservatives” people who align themselves with this “school of thought” appear to imbibe every one of these views simply because they have been shaped this community. In other words, if I read a book by ACU press, attend a “progressive” congregation, or speak with a member of the C of C who teaches at certain universities, then I can basically predict what they think on the ideas listed above. I am not always correct by any means, but in my experience my “suspicions” so to speak are often confirmed.

        Here is my question: Why this stark dichotomy? Why are the views of “conservatives” and “progressives” often predictable? Is God this predicable? Is scripture this predictable? Is it not possible that the truth lies in a combination of these views? In a “third” way? Maybe our historic understanding of baptism is the most faithful representation of scripture, but we need to do a better job as peacemakers and non-violent witnesses to Christ. Maybe God will accept those who joyfully sing with instruments, but maybe there are times when we have to limit our interaction with denominations whose teachings/practices radically differ from our understanding of scripture. I ask all of these questions in genuine sincerity. I am certainly *NOT* suggesting that we pick and choose views from each category to arbitrarily construct a third way. I am suggesting that perhaps both “conservatives” and “progressives” have been “trained” to accept a litany of views when the Bible is, in fact, more nuanced.

        As for my comment on your use of Lipscomb, I believe your reply was absolutely correct. There are times when you agree with him and times when you disagree with him, but in all cases you treat his writings with respect. What I was trying to suggest is this: If you (or anyone else for that matter) oppose Lipscomb’s views on women in the assembly, for instance, then I can (generally) predict the other areas where you or anyone else will oppose him based on the categories I outlined above.

        I am *NOT* a model for the third way. I wrestle with scripture like everyone else. I am not suggesting that I have achieved a balance that everyone else ignores. I do believe, though, that scripture is more nuanced than the categories laid out above. I have friends on both sides who seem to fall into a trap. Once they accept one aspect of the “conservative” position, they seem to go all in. Or, once they accept the “progressive” position, they adopt all of the other features. I know I have fallen into that trap to, but I want to dig my way out. I want to dig my way out because my reading of God’s word leads me to believe that the truth does, in fact, lie between these two polarities.

        I am sure you are a humble person and I should not question that. I think we should seek the truth together in love. My apologies for the caustic tone. All the best to you, brother.

      • Profile photo of John Mark Hicks  John Mark Hicks Says:

        Thanks, Adam, for the explanation, and I appreciate your spirit. Thank you.

        Clearly, there are circles of influence which one may designate (and are commonly so designated) progressive and conservative. These circles may gravitate toward particular ideas/views that characterize them and thereby identify them, and there are also polarizing perspectives within these circles. However, I would hope that this is more of a continuum rather than polarizing communities; at least, that is something toward which I work.

        It seems to me that our unity is greater than our diversity, that is, we are united in confessing one God, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope, and one Spirit. We both tell the story of God with Israel, Jesus in the flesh, and the poured out Spirit at work within the church. I would hope we might find ways to reflect on our common ground even while we discuss our differences. So, in my review of Shanks, I attempted to identify some common ground, and I think there is greater common ground than his book evidences, that is, common ground in the story of God through Israel, Jesus and the church–the grand narrative of Scripture.

        At the same time, some disagreements need engagement, especially when they exclude people from the kingdom of God whom God has accepted, and when they deny the participation of others whom God has invited. This is the problem I see with Shanks’ book.

        I did not write the review as a self-conscious progressive. Rather, I wrote the review as a Bible-believing, gospel-committed, and Spirit-dependent person–as much as was within me. I understand that some might see my name, know the publisher of some of my books, categorize the University for which I teach and peg me in a certain way or expect to see particular ideas….we all do such things. But when it comes to what is written and how it is discussed, it is the ideas and their faithfulness to the narrative of God that are critical. And that is where I hope the dialogue focuses.

        Thank you for illuminating the dialogue, brother. May God have mercy on us all!

        John Mark

  17.   Glenn Dowling Says:

    I’ve scan several commentaries above and sense I would likely agree with most that point out flaws in Michael Shank’s book, “Muscle and a Shovel.” I had several lengthy exchanges with Mike before his book became so popular. I predicted it would unfortunately become the “Bible of the Church of Christ.” The single great problem with Mike’s “theology” is what’s missing – grace. It is the epitome of the Galatian church’s problem where Paul accused them of “falling from grace.” Ultimately, the glory falls on them rather than Christ. If Mike’s theory is correct, he should sound “911” throughout “The Church” (of Christ, that is) for all those poor souls who did not fully understand what Mike says they must to be saved. How tragic,

Leave a Reply