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A Review of Michael R. Shank, Muscle and Shovel

Muscle and Shovel tells the story of an evangelistic conversion from the perspective of one who was taught and baptized.  The author, Michael Shank, became a Christian as the result of the efforts of a Christian co-worker who prodded and poked him into Bible study.  The title derives from the effort required by the author to study himself out of denominationalism.  The image of back-breaking, even heart-breaking mental and spiritual work is played out as Shank describes his struggle out of his Protestant traditions and into the teachings of the New Testament. 

Muscle and Shovel has been overwhelmingly received by mainstream Churches of Christ.  Many churches have bought entire boxes of the books and handed them out to members (we handed out about 40 copies last year).  These books have been used for Bible classes, men's and women's studies, special seminars, and etc. 

Muscle and Shovel has also been used as an evangelistic tool.  Reporting that Muscle and Shovel "fosters evangelistic excitement among some Churches of Christ, The Christian Chronicle described the impact of the book on congregations saying,  "It has excited our membership to a level...never seen before."  Some members here at Liberty have also given the book to their friends as part of their Bible-study efforts. 

This evenhanded review, taken from the STRONGCHURCH blogspot, is typical of the positive perspectives on Muscle and Shovel.

In my mind, the book has two great strengths and two minor weaknesses. The first strength is that it is absolutely packed with Scripture. As Shank and his new friend Randall study through the Word, hundreds of Scriptures are examined. Denominational doctrines such as Calvinism, spirit and truth worship, and the Sinner’s Prayer are put under a biblical microscope. The second strength is the readability. The author’s story is truly difficult to put down, as each chapter ends with him processing the things he has learned and developing more questions to be answered in the following chapters. Additionally, he provides a very honest look inside his own heart as one who was looking everywhere for truth in the world of religion. He details his doubts, his struggles with the teachings, his pride, and even the transformation of some of his morals.

The two weaknesses are small parts of the overall text, but shouldn’t be ignored. First, because Shank’s lifestyle is worldly through much of the book, we read of him doing things such as drinking and smoking, which aren’t as much of a problem as his language. On a few occasions throughout the book he quotes himself using cuss words (typically blanked out after the first letter). Second, as he begins to discover truth about various false denominational beliefs, Shank uses a few phrases that might come off as abrasive, such as “Do people really believe this junk?"

Although virtually all of our mainstream publications and leaders have endorsed, even applauded Muscle and Shovel, not all reviews have been positive.  The divide between the mainstream and the Liberal/Progressive fringe has opened around the book.  Those who do not like doctrinal preaching and teaching, who do not like the specifics of the plan of salvation, and who do not like it when Truth exposes denominational errors dislike Muscle and Shovel.  Calling the book "offensive, sectarian and legalistic," this opinion reveals more about our Liberals and Progressives and about their growing distance from New Testament teaching than about the book itself.

This review was prompted by another member's interest in Muscle and Shovel.  All of our members who have read the book have enjoyed it, complimented it, and even learned from it.  Is Muscle and Shovel as bad or as good as its critics and champions claim?  Read it for yourself to find out.

PS: we can get more copies.