Mercy Over Sacrifice: The Missing Principle in Muscle & a Shovel

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10 Responses to “Mercy Over Sacrifice: The Missing Principle in Muscle & a Shovel”

  1.   Bruce Morton Says:

    John Mark:
    As I have waded into your review of Muscle & a Shovel, I have wondered if you are suggesting that Paul is focused on sacrifice over mercy when he challenges Gentile religion and ethics in Ephesians 4:17-5:21. Similarly, was Jesus missing mercy when he challenged pervasive Gentile religion in Matthew 6:7?

    I am assuming you realize that your “mercy over sacrifice” critique has the danger of leading exactly where Gretta Vosper lands in her With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe. Note: She eventually reaches “Christian atheism,” a comfortable position in which to dismiss Christian teaching she does not like.

    In Christ,
    Bruce Morton
    Montgomery, AL

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    Thanks for reading, my friend.

    I have suggested nothing about Paul since I was only seeking to understand and apply Jesus’ own statement about how Hosea 6:6 applied in his circumstance. Jesus addressed Pharisees who exalted sacrifice over mercy in their approach to obedience. In Matthew 12, Jesus critiqued the leaders of Israel. Jesus applied a “mercy over sacrifice” critique, according to Matthew, on several occasions, and each of them were aimed at Pharisees (not Gentiles). In other words, Jesus was critiquing how some believers took God’s commands (including the commands to sacrifice, keep the Sabbath, etc.) and practiced them in a way that denied mercy.

    Clearly, Jesus and Paul challenge pagan religion and ethics, as do I. So, I don’t think I’m in any danger of affirming Vosper’s perspective.

    My point affirms obedience and faith (trusting in the God of Israel revealed by Jesus), and it affirms that for God “mercy” is more important than “sacrifice,” just as loving God and loving neighbor “is far more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).

    Blessings, my brother.

  3.   David Roach Says:

    Dr. Hicks,

    In your review of Muscle and Shovel in chapter 9; p.57; entitled Reading the Bible, you described Shank’s hermeneutical approach as follows-

    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.

    Do you not do precisely the same thing when it comes to the question of, “What must I do to be saved”? Allow me to use your paragraph to illustrate.

    Narratives are turned into legal prescriptions. This seems reasonable to you because your primary question is, “What must I do to be saved?” So, you search for the requirements and find them in narratives (like Acts) and letters (like Romans, etc.) in order to construct a pattern/plan of salvation. And surprisingly (if the Bible is intended to provide such a pattern/plan), this pattern is nowhere simply and/or fully stated (at least not in any one single passage). It has to be pieced together like a puzzle, and we have to find the pieces scattered throughout the Bible.

    I do not see the difference. If there is a difference please share with me what that might be.

    Thank you,

    David Roach

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks for raising the question, David.

    Actually, I don’t think I do the same thing when it comes to the question “What must I do to be saved” since I don’t approach that question as a legal one but as a participatory one. So, I don’t search for a list of requirements as if in a legal brief. Rather, I seek to participate in the story, and I read Luke-Acts as the narrative that it is which invites readers into that story as participants in the mission of God as part of restored Israel, and I also read Romans through Paul’s rehearsal of Israel’s story.

    So, the difference is real–one reads Scripture as a legal text, seeking answers to legal questions, but the other reads Scripture within the framework of its own genre functions as an expression of the mission of God in the world into which we are invited.

    My recent book “Enter the Water, Come to the Table” is where I make such an attempt regarding baptism, soteriology, and eschatology if you want to see it played out.

    Blessings, my brother.

    John Mark

  5.   rich constant Says:

    found… Myself,


    51:15 O Lord, give me the words!

    Then my mouth will praise you.

    51:16 Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it;

    you do not desire a burnt sacrifice.44

    51:17 The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit–

    O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject.

    51:18 Because you favor Zion, do what is good for her!

    Fortify the walls of Jerusalem!50

    51:19 Then you will accept the proper sacrifices, burnt sacrifices and whole offerings;

    then bulls will be sacrificed on your altar.

    blessings friend,
    what a journey !
    these last 5 years have been.

  6.   David Roach Says:

    Dr. Hicks,

    Please permit some questions based on your reply to my last inquiry.

    How is it a “legal” approach to answer an inquiry about being saved by teaching the person how God wants them to respond to such a gracious offer? Is this not what occurred at the beginning of Christ’s commission in Acts 2 and throughout Acts?

    Was the jailor asking a “legal” question in Acts 16? I do not believe so. He was offered the gift of salvation and decided to accept it on God’s terms.

    What in Luke-Acts invites you, John Mark Hicks, to “participate in the story”? How & when does such “participation” occur?

    For someone who has not yet “participated in the story”; how would you answer the question “what must I do to be saved”?

    Thanks again,

    David Roach

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:


      I am happy to respond though I don’t think blog comments are the best way to dialogue. Nevertheless, I welcome your input.

      The question, “What must I do to be saved?,” is not a legal question per se. It becomes a legal question when one uses a postivistic (or legal) hermeneutic to answer it. The way one approaches the question renders it a legal one.

      To answer the question through the narrative of Luke-Acts by reading it as a narrative is my own hermeneutical approach. Luke-Acts is a narrative that invites us to follow Jesus and participate in the community of Jesus. This is what I attempt to do in my book “Enter the Water, Come to the Table.” John the Baptist called Israel to repentance, and this repentance was embodied in baptism. Jesus joined Israel in the water, and calls us to enter the story of God through following him into the water. We see this played out in Acts where new believers are immersed and thus participate in the restored community of Israel.

      Within that narrative framework, I would have no problem responding to the question, “Repent and be baptized, and enjoy the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, and consequently become part of the people to whom the Abrahamic promise belongs.” That is essentially Acts 2:38, which functions within the narrative of Acts as functionally paradigmatic. You can see this my book. At the same time, the narrative also reflects that God is not bound to that paradigm.

      What I think is problematic is to inductively collect data from texts within Scripture irrespective of their context or genre and then create a list of requirements deduced from that collection that becomes as absolute as Scripture itself is.

      Blessings, my brother.

      John Mark

  7.   David Roach Says:

    Dr. Hicks,

    I agree that blog comments have limitations in these matters. However I have a couple more questions; after which I will bother you no more.

    When you write; “At the same time, the narrative also reflects that God is not bound to that paradigm”; are you saying that there were individuals in Acts that “enjoyed the forgiveness of sins…and consequently became part of the people to whom the Abrahamic promise belongs” in a way (or through a response) that differs from those on Pentecost in Acts 2?

    In case you overlooked this question here it is again- What in Luke-Acts invites you, John Mark Hicks, to “participate in the story”? Does the text imply something you have inferred that “invites” you personally?

    Again thanks,

    D. Roach

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Brother David,

      It appears, by the language of the text, that Cornelius and the Samaritans do not cohere precisely with Acts 2. Cornelius received the “gift of the Holy Spirit” before baptism whereas Acts 2:38 promises it after baptism, and the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized as Acts 2:38 promises. This is the explicit language of the text. The narrative does not lay out a strict legal pattern but offers a way of life, which includes faith, baptism, forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit. One might also note that Jesus himself promised life and forgiveness of sins through faith without any explicit mention of baptism though baptism–as seen in the ministry of John–is not rendered meaningless.

      Luke-Acts is addressed to “Theophilus,” which is probably a metaphor for readers who are seekers (or, it may be metaphor for the church as a whole, or young followers of the way), that is, those wanting to learn more about “the way” of Jesus. Theophilus means “friend of God.” As a narratival catechism, it invites all readers into the story of God in Jesus and invites them to follow Jesus, and thus to become part of the story. We are all included as potential readers who want to learn more about Jesus and his way.

      What I attempt to do is read Luke-Acts within the framework of its genre–a narrative. Rather than looking for a legal pattern within the narrative, I seek to know the “story” the narrative tells and how that story invites its readers to participate in it. At bottom, the story calls us to follow Jesus and in Acts we see the church doing what Jesus did as it follows him.

      Blessings, brother.

      John Mark

  8.   rich constant Says:

    NET Bible
    2:37 Now when they heard this,80 they were acutely distressed 81

    81 translation note Grk
    “they were pierced to the heart”
    (an idiom for acute emotional distress).

    acute emotional distress?
    A good teacher knows why and draws their listener into the story with “the common ‘acute emotional distress’that anyone would HAVE if they BELIEVED EXACTLY like the Jews” knew” on that day.


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