April 23, 2018

The Saturday Monks Brunch: April 7, 2018

MICHAEL SPENCER MEMORIAL EDITION

Michael Spencer left us eight years ago, on April 5, 2010. We miss him greatly, and want to honor his legacy today. So, we devote this week’s Brunch to Michael, the original Internet Monk.

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THE VOICE OF THE INTERNET MONK…

Let’s start by hearing the voice of the master himself. This is an excerpt from Michael’s 100th podcast, June 14, 2008, nearly ten years ago. You’ll get a sense of Michael’s love for playing with sound and the computer, and you’ll certainly get a taste of his sense of humor.

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MICHAEL SPENCER 101…

Every so often, it seems like a good idea to get the basic facts about your Internet Monk straight. I do this mainly for the sake of commenters and others who sometimes make factual errors. I’m often stunned at the weird things people believe and say about me, what I do and what is my real-life ministry.

My name is Dennis Michael Spencer. I go by Michael. I prefer not to be called Mike. I have gone by Dennis occasionally, such as in college.

I’m 52, born in 1956.

I’m the campus minister and Bible teacher for a large Christian school in southeastern Kentucky, I’ve been here for almost 17 years. Most of my students are not Christians. Many are internationals.

I preach 9-12x a month to approximately 300+ students and staff, sometimes in daily chapel and sometimes on Sundays. I teach 4 classes of Bible and one section of AP English IV every weekday. I teach English III in the summer.

Speaking publicly is easy for me, but it’s harder as I get older. It’s odd that I make my living talking, because for the first 14 years of my life I was a tremendous stutterer.

Before this job, I was a pastor for 4 years and a full time youth ministry specialist for 13 years. I worked for 5 SBC different churches in various staff positions and for one as a pastor.

I graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan College with majors in Philosophy and Psychology, and a minor in English.

I graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an M.Div. I did 34 hours of a D. Min, but didn’t finish the thesis or get the degree.

Denise and I have been married for 30 years. We have two children- a married daughter and a son who will be married in May ’09.

We have two cats and one dog. The dog is half Cairn terrier/half Scottish terrier. She’s called Maize.

I’m a member of a Southern Baptist Church. I worship each week (morning and evening) at the worship gatherings our school provides for our students. I’ve taught an adult Bible study for 16 years. Once a month I worship with St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Lexington.

I’ve always lived in Kentucky. I’m originally from Owensboro, Kentucky and I graduated from public school there. I became a Christian at age 15 and was a member of a large fundamentalist SBC church where my uncle was a prominent pastor.

I was ordained into the Gospel ministry by my church in 1980.

I did a lot of youth ministry consulting back in the day. For 12 years, I was the preaching supply minister for a PCUSA church in Manchester, Ky. I really enjoyed that experience and miss it a lot.

I was awarded a pastoral sabbatical in the summer of ’08 by the Louisville Institute.

I’m not a Calvinist. I am a Reformation-appreciating Christian. I’m more about the solas than I am the TULIP. I have a great deal of respect for Calvinists and would be part of a “Founders” church if I had the option. I like the way they do church, worship and missions.

I sing pretty well. I play guitar better than average, but haven’t in a while. I’m passionate about baseball, particularly the Cincinnati Reds and the minor league Louisville Bats and Lexington Legends.

I think I’m a good communicator in words or in person, but I’m also deeply aware of my failures to communicate and all the sins that relate to my use/abuse of words.

I’m something of an amateur Shakespeare scholar. I know a lot about Kentucky monastic writer Thomas Merton.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I’m always looking for an experience of Christian community that I’ll never find. I call that the “evangelical wilderness,” and call myself a “post-evangelical.” A “post-evangelical” wants to combine the best of evangelicalism with the broader, deeper, more ancient Christian tradition.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I plan to keep teaching, preaching and writing as long as I’m able.

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WISDOM FROM CLASSIC IMONK POSTS…

From Wretched Urgency: The Grace of God, or Hamsters on a Wheel?

Here. Quote me. There is no urgent concern for converting people in the New Testament. Did you get that down? There is also no urgent concern for the numerical growth of churches by the efforts of members to convert others. There are no burgeoning church programs. There are no plans to train everyone to door knock and sell Jesus. There is an urgent concern for doctrinal and personal Christ-likeness. There is a concern for leadership, integrity, honesty and obedience to Christ in our personal lives. The idea that we are here to “win souls” and not to know and show God is bogus.

From On Christless Preaching

The most distressing reason for the disappearing Jesus is the pragmatism of the current church growth culture. If the church growth gurus were telling their flocks of ministerial admirers that the way to grow a megachurch was to preach Jesus and to focus sermons on Christ, it would be happening. In large measure, it’s not happening because the church growth experts don’t believe it works. It isn’t seeker sensitive. This is why some preachers are purposely avoiding Jesus, and instead talking about life issues like “success” and parenting. They are hoping to “hook ’em” with the church program before they “cook ’em” in the frying pan of commitment to Jesus. This bass ackwards approach is remarkably successful, and it apparently a hard habit to break. Jesus increasingly isn’t showing up except at the Easter and Christmas pageants.

What works is life principles, low content and plenty of entertaining anecdotes. Preaching Christ, God’s primary ordained means of growing a church and developing disciples, is held in suspicion among the seeker-sensitive crowd. When Jesus makes it to the big show it’s going to be either as a “life coach” or because a cultural discussion of The Passion of the Christ makes it acceptable to preach about Jesus. I read with amazement Rick Warren’s enthusiasm for using the Gibson movie as a suddenly ripe opportunity to talk about Jesus. Does anyone else find that notion bizarre?

What else are we supposed to be talking about in the church?

From Our Problem with Grace

I’ve thought a lot about grace as I’ve gotten older and lived the Christian life longer. I see and hear young, fired up, Pentecostal preacher boys, full of sermons about what will happen if we will pray more, live holy lives, get extreme, go the distance and all that fizz. It doesn’t get to me anymore. I am slowly living past the point of being affected by all the rah-rah Christianity around me.

I know I am not very obedient. I know my sinful patterns and my perennial laziness. I know where I fall short. I am well acquainted with my lusts, my pettiness and my stupid pride. I may make more progress on these things, but honestly, I doubt it. My efforts at obedience have about run their course. Most of what I am going to be as a human being living as a Christian on this planet, I’ve probably already achieved. I want all the years God has for me, and I want to honor and glorify him, but if I am going to learn about grace, now is the time. I need it now.

…Here’s where I am. When it comes time for me to die, I’ll only have one work to do. All the options will be gone. We don’t like to think about that, because we like to see our lives as full of all the options of youth, vigor, work, opportunity to change and the results of effort. We’re going to do better, we say. But in the end, the only “work” we can do will be to trust ourselves to God. Simple. Beautiful, in its way.

From Dancing at the Fundamentalist Ball

Among, fundamentalists, however, my departure has been noticed for some time, both theologically and culturally. I hold no place for young earth creationism. I do not read the King James Version, and I do not want others to do so. My description of scripture does not choose to use the word, “inerrant.” I do not believe in the rapture. I abhor revivalism and its shallow, manipulative techniques. The four Spiritual laws are not the Gospel. Aisle walking is just plain wrong. I strongly suspect that most of what is on the shelves of Christian bookstores is somewhere between shallow and heretical. Women in ministry is good Bible as far as I am concerned. I avoid TBN like a fundamentalist avoids MTV. I like a whole bunch of Roman Catholics. Sometimes, I don’t pray over my food. (Actually, I pray one prayer on January 1st for the whole year, but that’s another column.)

On the cultural front, I consider the temperate use of alcohol to be harmless, if not mildly virtuous. (Alert Baptists: Psalms 4:7, 104:15. Read it first before you do anything rash.) I wish I danced and intend for my children to do so. I read a variety of books that fundamentalists consider occultic, worldly and dangerous. I listen to music ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to Dave Mathews. I find Contemporary Christian music to be, in the main, embarrassing. (With a few significant exceptions.)Â I love movies and the language doesn’t bother me, though I certainly don’t want to talk that way. I have raised my children in the Christian faith, but I have not sheltered them from bad culture, bad language or flawed people. I have not taught my children that it impresses God if you dress nicely for church, wear a WWJD bracelet or listen to the Christian radio station. I’ve actually told them God is great and loving enough to speak through any medium he desires. I bought my son three Harry Potter books. I love Halloween. I think Landover Baptist Church is stone cold funny.

This could go on, but I would belabor, bore and give my critics ammunition. I left the Fundamentalist ranch a long time ago. Every so often, I look back from my new view up in the hills and think of the good times, the good friends and the good truth, but I am not raising my kids there, and I am not going back.

And here is the main reason I have decided to move on. (There are many, for you e-mailers.) I don’t think Jesus was a mean, negative person who viewed life as a conspiracy. I think Jesus was a positive, gracious person who thought God was into everything, which was a matter of great rejoicing. I have decided Jesus was not a fundamentalist, and so I am not going to be either.

From I Have My Doubts

I have my doubts. About it all. God. Jesus. Life after death. Heaven. The Bible. Prayer. Miracles. Morality. Everything.

“But you are a pastor. A Christian leader.” That’s right, and I am an encyclopedia of doubts. Sometimes it scares me to death.

I’m terrified by the possibility that I might have wasted my entire life on the proposition that Christianity was true, when in fact it wasn’t even close. I wonder if I have been mentally honest with myself or with others, or have I compromised my own integrity in order to collect a paycheck and have a roof over my head? Have I acted as if the case for faith was clear when it was a muddled mess in my own mind?

What’s really frightening is that these doubts persist and get stronger the longer I live. They aren’t childish doubts; they are serious, grown-up fears. I don’t have the kind of faith that looks forward to death. The prospect terrifies me, sometimes to the point I am afraid to close my eyes at night. I have more questions about the Bible and Christianity than ever, even as I am more skilled at giving answers to the questions of others. I can proclaim the truth with zeal and fervor, but I can be riddled with doubts at the same time.

When I meet Christians whose Christian experience is apparently so full of divine revelation and miraculous evidence that they are beyond doubts, I am tempted to either resent them or conclude that they are fakes or simpletons. The power of self-delusion in the face of a Godless, meaningless life is undeniable. If there is no God, can I really blame someone for “taking the pill” to remain in his unquestioning certainties?

There is sometimes nothing worse than being able to comprehend both all my doubts and all the accepted, expected answers. It tears at the soul, and declares war on the mind. I feel remarkably alone in my moments of doubt, and wonder, “Do other Christians feel this yawning abyss of doubt, or am I just a bad Christian?”

From Michael’s Book: Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality

The decision to pursue a Jesus-shaped spirituality won’t take you to a building with a sign out front. You may have to look hard to see the overgrown path of the “road less traveled by…that has made all the difference.”

You will be cutting against the grain and swimming against the current. You may find yourself far outside the doors of many churches and thrown in with whomever the scapegoats of the hour happen to be. You should expect to be called liberal, emerging, naive, rebellious, and unsaved. Heads will shake and fingers will wag. But you’re in good company. Jesus’ own family raised questions about his stability.

…trust me you are not alone. There are millions like you, coming from every possible church, experience, school, ministry, and family in Christendom. I believe your presence is changing the landscape of the Western Christian world (p. 211).

From Michael’s Final Post: Real Apologetics (2/10/10)

The ultimate apologetic is to a dying man.

That is what all those “Where is God?” statements in the Psalms are all about. They are, at least partially, invitations to Christians to speak up for the dying.

All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than you argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.

What is your apologetic? Make it the full and complete announcement of the Life Giving news about Jesus.

Comments

  1. Rick Ro. says:

    Holy wow. Reading these – Michael’s words again – leaves me almost speechless. Such depth in honesty and humility. What a wonderful Saturday brunch.

  2. I miss him.

  3. Steve Newell says:

    I first starting reading Michael when he was writing the series on “The Evangelical Liturgy”. As one raised in SBC churches but now Lutheran (LCMS), I found this series to be close to my heart.

    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-evangelical-liturgy

  4. Burro (Mule) says:

    Im glad you didn’t include anything from The Great Evangelical Collapse series, which garnered Michael his fifteen minutes of fame. Most likely Michael would rather be remembered for what you have reproduced here, rather than that.

    He had a great soul, he had. As I have said before, he was a fractal guy in an asymptotic world.

  5. I miss Michael.

  6. Looking back at these reminds me how far I’ve ‘slipped’.. he really pulled my out of a very dark place and timein my life thank youlll

    aka recovering church leader,,,

  7. Thank you Chaplain Mike for reminding me why I started tuning in here. Michael was the same age of my oldest child…and such a breath of fresh air..I wish he could have stayed longer. I laughed to hear the voice of that old rascal Dr. Gene Scott, who, believe it or not, actually made the Old Testament come alive for me those many years ago.
    RIP Michael Spencer

    • Mike – Thanks also to you for keeping the conversation going and very much alive.

  8. Matthew says:

    Thank you for this (it also inspired to post my first comment ever). I don’t remember how I found Michael Spencer and this blogsite, but it was while he was still alive, and I remember what a unique, fresh voice he was and remains. I have returned to his articles many times and I keep learning from him, and from this site. I too, miss him.

  9. Stephen says:

    I am sorry never to have known him. It looks like he was at Southern Seminary at the same time I was. My stint wasn’t as successful as his. I could have used a friend like that in those days.

  10. There’s a little corner full of Merton books in a Orthodox parish library ninja-dedicated to Michael. =)

    Michael sort of “showed up” (in reality, I discovered HIM) just when I started to seriously explore the possibility again of being someone who attended church, and is also the reason I later learned Orthodoxy was still a thing, so he gets a lot of credit for my of my journey in this millenium.

    • Burro (Mule) says:

      Joyous Pascha to you and your parish, Tokah

      • To you as well, Mule!

        It is snowing tonight, so the procession will be quite pretty and awkward, I guess! Might given some of our Siberians ?fond? memories.

  11. Thank you so much for this, Mike. And thank you to all who still miss Michael, as we do.

  12. Robert F says:

    I only discovered iMonk after Michael Spencer’s death. What strikes me most in reading his old posts is how transparent and vulnerable he seems to make himself; it bespeaks a man possessed of tremendous courage, which is no small thing in the often vicious religious world he lived in.

    birds fly
    by surrendering
    to the wind

  13. We have Mere Churchianity out and available – has there been any thought of taking Michael’s best essays and printing them in anthology form?

  14. Thanks, Chaplain Mike. Miss Michael, but I believe his legacy has continued well with iMonk going forward these past 8 years.

  15. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    I remember the day I got the news. I was work. I broke down. Told my manager who understood. Michael was dear to me. I had one phone call with him in the depths of darkness. That struggle has been resolved, long after his death. But one honours the ones who gave you succour along the way.

  16. Nelson T says:

    This reminds me why I, a moderate to progressive Presbyterian, kept visiting Michael’s post-evangelical outpost in the evangelical wilderness. I grew up in a sea of Fundamentalists in another part of Appalachia. And I was often given very detailed reasons why I, a mainline Protestant Christian, was going to hell because I didn’t believe the right things, read from the right version of the Bible, or behave the right ways. He wrote of faith, of doubt, and, above all, grace. I saw Christ in his musings. I appreciate all that you folks have done to keep the internetmonk going… and I thank you for this reminder of Michael Spencer’s grace-filled spirit.

  17. That Other Jean says:

    I miss Michael. He shared so much of his life on this blog–not just the joyous and good and his thoughts about God, but his doubts and fears and mistakes. He was so honest that he was sometimes painful to read. I have never found anything else quite like this place when he was here, and I miss him.

  18. Michael was the real deal, and though I never knew him in person I’ll always be indebted to him. This blog helped keep my faith intact during some very ugly final years in evangelicalism and afterwards in the wilderness that followed.

    I miss him, his wisdom and honestly and spirit of truth.

  19. Readings these excerpts makes me dearly miss Michael’s voice both on the blog and on his podcast. It is a significant loss for sure for me. I wonder what he’d be saying if he were still on the planet. He’s entirely irreplaceable…

  20. I don’t post very often, but I’ve been here for many years. I think about and miss Michael very much, still. And I thank Chaplain Mike and the regulars for keeping the monastery open and vital.

    Like many I-Monkers, I’ve had a rough ride through church life and church leadership. In the darkest days, this site was one of the things that kept me going. These days I find I appreciate Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, each for its contributions to the faith. But I hold each at arms length, given my first 50ish years in the church. This place of all alliegance/no alliegance seems to be the right place for me, right now.

    Thanks be to God, and thank you, all of you.

  21. Dana Ames says:

    Echoing those above, Michael’s writing was an island of sanity issuing from his honest heart turned toward Jesus Christ. May the Lord grant him rest with all the saints, in a place of verdure and light – where he now sees Everything. Memory eternal.

    Christ is risen!
    Dana