The reader is enthralled with the struggles of Michael and John, the two main characters of the story, their downward spiral, discouragement, and depression. Mr. Shank sets forth the hard facts of how sin enters and the horrifying danger it brings. One can sense the utter hopelessness and despair as John's life spins out of control. Further one can sense the dichotomy of personalities as these two characters tread the road of shame caused by sin and rebellion. From extreme zeal to discouragement and disappointment because of fellow Christians lack of zeal, to drinking, marital unfaithfulness, drugs and greed until at the end of his rope Michael comes to himself.
The final section is not really in story form. Rather it seems to be Mr. Shanks preaching offering to fallen Christians hope. I think this section is very beneficial for brothers and sisters who have fallen away. It is chock full of encouragement to acknowledge sin, the role the individual plays in falling away, and a call for the church to abstain from the destructiveness of gossip. Here is my first criticism; Mr. Shank seems to indicate that the idea of biblical dis-fellowship should be avoided. The plain truth is that the New Testament clearly instructs that certain people are to be marked and avoided. (Philippians 3:17, 2 Timithoy 3:6) Of course when this type of action is taken the same document (New Testament) also teaches that the purpose of such discipline is to cause repentance (1 Corinthians 5:5), this eliminates the reason that is behind the evil of gossip, which appears to destroy the character of the one who is dis-fellowshiped.
The middle section, (this has been saved till last because it is the most dangerous part) is why it is unwise to recommend too highly, or to have many read the book. This part is very small, about 40 pages. This is where Mr. Shank learns about the divisions that has plagued the Lord's church due to human innovation. On the one hand in these chapters he denounces the ecumenical mindset of our modern society. On the other hand he categorically encourages it among those who are part of the Lord's church. It simply can't be both ways. Mr. Shank in this section slams the scriptural position of correct Biblical worship. He derides those who do not use the Lord's treasury to support institutions. He calls differences in interpretation ambiguous. He deplores those who dare stand only on a thus saith the Lord.
Thereare many good lessons to be learned from this WHEN SHOVELS BREAK. The fact of sin and its high cost, the truth that when a Christian falls away he can be restored. We rejoice in these things. But in all I have to urge extreme caution when reading Mr. Shank's WHEN SHOVELS BREAK. His plea for unity without regard to the plain teachings of the Bible and its examples are dangerous.