July 16, 2018

A Monk in Time

timecover.jpgThomas Merton, my hero and mentor, often mused about the irony of being a famous monk. Living in a monastery in the farmland of central Kentucky, Merton had the famous coming out to see him, reporters at the fences and his name in the papers and magazines of the sixties. True to form, the Internet Monk has followed in Merton’s footsteps and also found fame while here in the hills of the Bluegrass state. Well….kinda…not really fame exactly. Ok….one sentence in a magazine.

As many of you know, I’ve been quoted in the current issue of Time Magazine. I thought the regular readers of this site would like to know a little of the background of this and a few of my thoughts about it.

I’ve been blogging for almost 5 years (November will be the 5th anniversary of IM). In that time, I’ve developed a philosophy of blogging, mainly by paying attention to excellence in the blogosphere and considering how my own gifts and abilities can be used through this incredible tool. I believe I’ve learned a few things, and I hope my blogging has been a good example to other writers of how an ordinary person can blog usefully.

One of those lessons has been persistence. I have a commitment to keep content coming on a regular basis on this site. I don’t like two days to go by without some update to the content, even if it’s rerunning a previous piece (which, with this site, is a good thing to do since much of the older content is unknown.)

In the process, I’ve learned that you gain more readers each month that you are persistent and interesting. I’ve also learned that a blog should have a niche, and mine has become a post-evangelical view of Christianity, in cultural, personal and corporate spheres. As I’ve stayed with my vision of blogging, kept the content coming, honed the audience and attempted to be a writer worth reading, I’ve gained an audience. Almost a quarter million unique visitors access this site every year.

That has given me the opportunity to speak on blogging, to travel some, to meet people I respect, to write for other blogs and publications, to be sought out by readers for all kinds of reasons and to see God use my writing in ways that appear to be helpful to some people. For all of this I’m grateful.

At the same time, I’ve been called the anti-Christ, informed repeatedly that I am not a Christian, been autopsied by “Dr.” James White, become the obsession of one Truly Reformed blogmeister, had my life and job threatened and been told about a thousand times that I’m just dead wrong. I am vilified for not believing in limited atonement and occasionally harassed for being a Calvinist when I’m not one. I get plenty of rocks from both sides of the road.

To me, this is all a good sign. I’m being read, and I’m being read enough for someone to care what I write, if I write and to even try to stop me from writing. For a writer, this is part of what success- even on a small scale- looks like, and I’m enjoying it. I haven’t made a dollar yet from this gig, but its brought me a treasure trove of friends, several free books, a cadre of loyal enemies and the assurance that no day will go by without someone taking note that I’m out here in the woods, typing away on my Powerbook for the Kingdom of Jesus.

Still, I was quite surprised a few weeks ago when I received an email from Jeff Chu at Time Magazine, asking for a phone interview. I actually thought the mail was a con from one of my enemies, and I answered it fairly curtly. Jeff remained in touch, and soon we had a phone conversation of about 30 minutes, discussing the issue of evangelicals and wealth in America.

My famous Joel Osteen post has fairly high Google recognition, and Jeff had read those posts as he was researching a piece on Osteen that had now become a discussion of evangelicals, wealth and the Prosperity gospel in general. In our conversation, I attempted to help Jeff see that the Prosperity Gospel was a result of a historical evangelical failure to come to terms with the words of Jesus on economics, and the failure of evangelicals to develop communities and institutions that “form” a more Biblically sacrificial lifestyle. It was, in my view, the Puritan vision of divine blessing running amuck in an idolatrous, gnostic American church.

I also emphasized that both right and left-leaning evangelicals were opposed to the Prosperity Gospel, and ministries like Osteen’s were misrepresenting not only Jesus, but the heart of what the church is meant to be, do and represent. I gave Jeff the names of other sources on the subject. He had already consulted several. I was very impressed with Jeff, whose background with evangelicals was obviously helpful in decoding what was going on.

My goal in all of this was simple: I had a moment to influence a major mainstream media publication in a story that evangelical publications and media are afraid to touch. Time’s cover story has turned out to be, according to wide reviews in the blogosphere, one of its best religion pieces ever, and one that is devastating to the role of the prosperity gospel in evangelicalism. I applaud Jeff Chu, Time Magazine’s editors and all those who contributed to the articles. (I particularly appreciate Rick Warren’s outstanding contribution in making it clear that the PDL is not the prosperity gospel.)

I’m getting a lot of teasing about the quote, and the photographer that visited me last week made me the focus of many welcome attempts to keep my ego in check and my humility intact. I’m certainly proud of this moment, but I also know that I had nothing to do with it, and there are hundreds of bloggers with more to say, better blogs, better posts, and more to offer on any subject. It simply turned out to be my day, and I’ve enjoyed it. (My wife and kids have been really excited, and I’m happy they can say I’m in Time, but I’ve had no trouble knowing that Justin Taylor, Tim Challies, Dan Edelen, Mark Roberts or a thousand other guys have worked harder and deserve attention more than me.)

When God sends an opportunity my way, I hope it will remind me of his sovereignty, graciousness and kindness. If opportunity begats opportunity, then I hope I am more prepared next time. For all of you sending me emails, remember that your persistence in whatever God has called you to do will sometime yield an opportunity to say a word to a larger audience than you imagined. Be ready, be useful and know that tomorrow, you’ll be just another unknown guy blogging in gym shorts and baggy socks.

Comments

  1. I am thankful that the Time article lead me to your blog. You’ll probably go big time now. The prosperity preachers are driving me buggy. I am particularly fascinated by Mike Murdock. What will be their answer on judgement day? I would be scared if I were them.

  2. Nah, see, this is just like Job. You’ve had your period of suffering, but now, God is going to give you greater blessings than you could imagine, because of your faithfulness! Just imagine, a new car, a huge house, lucrative writing contracts with numerous, big-name media outlets, even an appearance on whatever talk show is big now, and a book deal! All you have to do is claim it in Jebus’ name! Oh, and send a good-sized donation to my ministry, of course…

    Seriously, though, that’s pretty cool news. I may have to pick up this issue (I don’t normally read print publications) and see what the author ends up having to say. It’s good to hear you have people keeping you humble, as well. 😉

  3. Two great books I highly recommend,WHAT JESUS MEANT by Gary Willis and THE MYTH OF A CHRISTIAN NATION by Greg Boyd.
    These 2 books speak deeply on the “TRUE” Christian life and
    alot of the thoughts discussed here on MONKS website.

  4. Congrats! I haven’t seen the Time article yet, but I’m anxious to read their take on this issue. I’m thankful that there are Christians who are affirming for the world that this is not how things are supposed to be done.

  5. I found the iMonk blog during a time in my life where I began to question everything. I was reading a copy of Relevant magizine while stone drunk in my backyard (sounds wierd, I know). I was not doing so well back then, and was ready to pretty much walk away from everything of value. In the article I was reading, it mentioned the Boars head tavern as one of its recommneded blogs. I started reading and lurking. It helped me focus a lot of my questions and begin the process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Thaks for your site, thanks for BHT, and thatnks for helping me through a tough time. A blog isn’t a cure all for life’s probelms…but it sure helps in knowing that you ‘aren’t the only crazy one’.

  6. We were sitting on the porch listening to the Mets vs Florida and my friend is reading Time and says “Hey a guy named Michael Spencer is called a ‘respected blogger’ in here…isn’t that the name of that Monk guy you were telling me about?”

    Billy Wagner pitching in the 11th. Throws a real nice pitch here, slider inside for a strike. K. Put it in the books! Mets win.

    “Huh? Oh yeah. He’s in there?? Oh, that’s Internet Monk alright.”

    So that was cool seeing you mentioned in Time! Plus of course the important thing, that we won the game.

  7. Hey Monk! I’m a Merton fan also, and can honestly say that I’ve been Merton-mentored to some extent. Big difference: married with kids! We have something else in common: I use a powerbook. I also don’t like prosperity doctrine because it doesn’t work (for me). I like the way you think, which is probably an indication that you think like I do, which probably means that I like how I think. So you probably will like the way I think, I think. In fact, the motto of my blog, churchpundit.com, is “thinking, unthinking & rethinking the church”! What do YOU think? Keep up the good work! churchpundit

  8. Thanks a lot for your thoughts, ideas, writing, and this site. I also found the BHT and IM through Relevant Magazine and have found a lot of thought-provoking essays and ideas about church similar to my own. Although I have only read excerpts, I also recommend Greg Boyd’s book “The Myth of a Christian Nation.” I’ve always thought that if the Pharisees were around today, they’d be the staunch Republicans and SBC church members. Yet I still attend an SBC church…

  9. Your writing has resonated with me from the first blog of your’s that I read several years ago and quite honestly, I’m remiss in not writing to express my appreciation to you sooner. Congratulations on becoming visible in the secular press. It might just be what is needed to jerk the chains of this crop of boomer and genXer pastors and “Worship,” leaders who have, in my opinion, defiled the sanctuary. They listen to no one – certainly not a 63 year old fossil, because of course, history doesn’t inform them. Nor does much else, because for the most part they don’t read and I would postulate that many of them can’t. My only confidence is that Christ will preserve his Church. I truely believe that the gates of hell have been prevailing against it in these post-modern days, however the interaction on your Blog is encouraging – great insights coupled with responsible, thoughtful dialog. Continued Blessings…

    Paul

  10. Brother Michael,

    Wow, congratulations to you! These are the small moments that the believers can be proud of, even in the midst of such uncertainty and spiritual confusion. Since the first post I read at this blog, you have been instrumental at mentoring me in clarifying and sharpening my own blogging. In journeying within the blogosphere, I’ve looked at various sites, and among a select few others, yours has been a model for me in being consistent in posting, and coming across in a thoughtful way. Keep up the great work, and stay in the fight. Looking forward to whats next for you!

    Grace and peace,

    Gina R. Johnson

  11. One great thing about appearing in a national magazine – exposure. I had no idea who you were or had ever heard of you. I saw your mention in the article and thought I would check it out. Very glad I did. I have been searching for my own “mission statement” as it relates to my Christianity. Reading you might just help me get there….Yea Time.

  12. Hey, Michael…

    A mention and quote in Time magazine…Congrats! What a great way to celebrate a significant date. Happy Birthday!

  13. iMonk – did you see/hear Rick Warren’s talk at the 2006 TED conference? Speaking to a primarily secular audience, he talks about his own “crisis of success”, where the money and fame from PDL was so huge that he had to rethink his own purpose – – and what it means to be a steward of influence and affluence. Good stuff:
    http://tedblog.typepad.com/tedblog/2006/07/rick_warren_on_.html#

  14. Guess I’m going to have to go back and read the ‘whole’ article. Like you I was actually taken back by the tone of the piece given the magazine that it’s written in.
    Congrats, and while I know you’re not looking for your 15 minutes of fame, I do hope that this opens up new avenues for you.
    I’m not a 100% spencerite in that I don’t agree with everything you say, but you always articulate your position in a way that makes me re-think my positions on issues – and that’s always a good thing.
    May God continue to bless this ministry of yours.

  15. >…a 100% spencerite

    Uh…..I’m just curious….

    Does it strike you that “100%” agreement with someone is extremely rare? I can’t think of a person on earth I aqree 100% with.

  16. Found ure blog after the reference in the Time magazine article. This site could definitely be one of the ones on my hitlist of sites to read anytime, anywhere.