December 17, 2017

So Long!

mikeNewToday is my last regular post at Internet Monk. I have some pressing family matters that are going to take much of my attention for the foreseeable future and after much thought it seemed it was an appropriate time to end my regular contribution at Internet Monk. I am very grateful for all the opportunities given to me by Michael Spencer, Jeff Dunn, and Chaplain Mike. Lest there be any doubt, I am completely supportive of Chaplain Mike and think that he has been absolutely amazing in his role assuming the mantle of the late Michael Spencer.

I wanted to give a little back story about how I came to be involved with Internet Monk, and how it now seems like an appropriate time to leave. Some of this I have felt constrained to not discuss before.

Nearly nine years ago I had the rather distasteful task of closing a church. After a search of some months we found a new church. It very quickly felt like home. After a year at the church we started to look at membership. Much to my dismay my wife was not eligible for membership as this particular church required that members be baptized as adults by immersion. My wife had been baptized as an adult, but not by immersion. I strongly did not believe in adult rebaptism, and so started scouring the internet for sources to make my case to the Pastor and potentially the Elders.

I stumbled upon an excellent series on the topic written by Darrell Pursiful. I started reading Darrell’s blog, “Dr. Platypus”, on a regular basis. Darrell kept referring to articles written at “Internet Monk” by Michael Spencer. I was totally blown away by Michael’s writing and became a regular reader.

In the meantime, I wrote a thirty-five page paper on Baptism that I submitted to the Pastor. He responded to me with a 17 page paper of his own. We really wanted to become members of this congregation, but the Pastor said that if it ever came to a vote, and the elders voted in favor of my wife becoming a member without being rebaptized, that he would resign. An Elder that we confided in encouraged us to “call his bluff.” I have never wanted to cause division within a church, and proceeding down this path certainly would have done just that. Eventually our desire to be part of this congregation was greater than our desire to be “right”, and my wife agreed to be rebaptized so that we could become members. Most of the Elders board and congregation never even found out that those discussions went on. I think though that paradoxically our move to join the church was also the first step towards leaving it. My kids were all baptized the same day, and what should have been a day of joy ended up with me feeling much internal conflict. I think that is when I put my first toe into the desert of the post-evangelical wilderness.

I had been reading and commenting at Internet Monk for over a year when Michael wrote his opinion piece on the “Coming Evangelical Collapse“. I realized the piece for what it was, an opinion piece. The recent statements by Tony Campolo reminded me of this article. There may have been a lot of evidence to back up what Tony and Michael were saying (on two different topics), but they didn’t provide a lot of that evidence! So in March of 2009 I offered to write a couple of articles for Michael giving statistical support for what he was saying and he graciously agreed. My first article was “The Coming Evangelical Collapse: A Statistical Review” and part II followed a week later.

I have really enjoyed writing for Internet Monk. It was an outlet for me to talk about things that I couldn’t talk about at church, for fear of being censured or removed from my leadership position. Even then, I stayed clear of topics like Baptism or Inerrancy, where my views were contrary to those of the church. Like Michael Spencer, I always felt like I had to look over my shoulder when writing.

Three months ago I wrote about how I had finally taken the step of leaving my church. It has been rather freeing in many ways. I finally feel like that I have other ways and places, other than Internet Monk, where I can talk about what is important to me. I still do a fair bit of self regulating so as to not hurt people that I care about. “Really, do you have to post that article on Facebook about creationism?”

Somewhat ironically, the thing that brought me Internet Monk in the first place (conflict in my church), is now gone from my life, and I feel at peace about moving on (for the most part) from Internet Monk as well. In a sort of unusual inclusio (a Hebrew poetical construct where the beginning of the poem matches the end) my first articles at Internet Monk and my last articles at Internet Monk were on related topics, the statistical analysis of the state of Christianity (and Evangelicalism in particular) in the United States.

So I wanted to leave you with a final thought about the “Coming Evangelical Collapse”. I have read a number of writers who have stated that Evangelicals are doing fine and that Michael Spencer was wrong in his predictions. I would like to remind our readers that Michael Spencer wrote in his original piece that the decline would begin within 10 years and that a decline of 50% decline would take two generations. I would like to draw people’s attention to the following graphic showing the age distribution of evangelicals between 2007 and 2014.

Age_Distribution_among_Evangelical_Protestants (2)

In just seven years the proportion of evangelicals under the age of 50 has declined nearly six percent. That is what I was expecting to see when I wrote my first piece six years ago. The jury may still be out on which of Michael Spencer’s predictions ultimately come true, but I wouldn’t count many of them out just yet.

Finally, a video that I think is somewhat appropriate.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

Comments

  1. Wuh…? NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙁

    Best wishes to you Michael Bell. I have greatly enjoyed your writing over the years and will miss your Friday posts. I hope all your family matters go well.

    • Thank you srs. I realized that today was post #100. Seems like a nice round number to me and maybe further confirmation that this is the right time.

  2. That song was the best part of that movie.

    MB, may the blessing of Elves, Men and all the Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!

  3. Damaris says:

    Blessing, Mike. We’ll miss you!

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Fare thee well! I have very much enjoyed your pieces.

    My parting shot would be in response to – “begin within 10 years and that a decline of 50% decline would take two generations” Does that describe the “collapse” of a movement itself [arguably] not more than a few generations old? If this is “collapse” then in the story of Christianity Evangelicalism will later be described as ‘a flash in the pan’. It took a couple of generation to reach its zenith, managed to hang there for maybe two, and apparently will be declined in as many.

    I think it looks more like a sputtering descent; and one not all that dissimilar from many other social movements or political parties. In the modern age, comparatively, something like ~5 generations can fairly be considered ‘a pretty good run’.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Rags to Riches to Rags in three generations.”
      — Folk proverb you find in both English and Chinese

      • HUG, thank you for your unique perspective. I just finished rereading 1984 to help my daughter through English. A whole lot of light bulbs came on in understanding of many of your previous comments!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Adam. Michael’s perspective was very much American. I believe the world wide evangelical movement will fare quite differently.

  5. i wasn’t going to post. I haven’t got to read that much of what you wrote. I went to write my poem this morning as I have been doing for going on nine years and well somehow you got in it. Just thought you should know. I don’t ever plan these things they just end up somewhere and I have no time to edit this is the raw form.

    How huge you are my God
    I was in your thoughts from first
    Love is in creation’s rod
    In the wonder of this thirst

    You give joys in your commands
    You roll out a carpet below my feet
    I am nudged forward in loving hands
    Always the place where we first meet

    It is with me even now
    A treasure lasts forever
    Love the why, when and how
    In the bringing of together

    So I know when paths do cross
    It was by no means a mistake
    I considered it never a loss
    For the ties that never break

    I bless you Mike as you go
    May water get firm under your feet
    I just thought you should know
    God surely thinks you’re neat

    Many blessings……..

  6. DennisB says:

    Hi Mike,

    I liked your posts & found them relevant to me most of the time. Sad to hear you are going, also sad to hear your past experience. May His face continue to shine on you & yours.

    Cheers

    BTW, I also had to split from a “Word of Faith” type church, when I was young in the faith. Not a fun thing.

  7. Mike Bell, I’ve always appreciated your contributions at iMonk. I will miss you.

    Blessings to you and your family.

    Tom

  8. Mike: I will certainly miss your articles. I hope you mean you are done as a regular writer, not as a particpant in the conversation. Here’s my little muciscal send-off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy9_lfjQopU

    • Thanks Mike. My daughters have that musical pretty much committed to memory! I have appreciated reading some of your own writings over the years. So cool to know you know my next door neighbour!

  9. Good bye you good hearted, sincere, musically good tasted man.
    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    The Lord make His face shine upon you,
    And be gracious to you;
    The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
    And give you peace.

  10. I’m glad you are in a place of peace, in your church life if not in the rest of it. I pray that the situations you are dealing with will also grow into peaceful resolution. You have been a blessing here and I hope you come back to check in from time to time.

    Maybe we need a homecoming meeting? We should bring back Jeff and yourself, and find Martha wherever she is, and the others whose names I don’t mean to leave out…. I love homecomings…

  11. David Cornwell says:

    Mike, thanks. You are a gifted writer. Find ways to keep the flame burning. I’ve always appreciated your attempts to be considerate of the positions of others. May you and your’s be held in the peace of Jesus.

  12. Blessings on your journey! If I’ve learned one thing as I’ve aged, it’s that you keep on keeping on and seeking. There aren’t any simple answers and there never were. Just lots of people who think there should be.

    Peace!

  13. Going to miss you, Mike. Blessings on you, your family, and on your journey!

    Like Michael Spencer, I always felt like I had to look over my shoulder when writing.

    I know the feeling…that’s been my life for the past 10-15 years, and it has only gotten worse.

  14. That Other Jean says:

    Thank you, Mike, for your contributions here–they have always been informative and thought-provoking. Although you’re leaving as a regular contributor, I hope to see more of your posts when you find that you have something to say, and that you will continue to comment here. I’m glad you’re in a better place in your church life, and hope that whatever family matters that need your attention work out well for you and yours. Best wishes to you and your family.

  15. Love the video. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – second best theology book ever written (though as usual the movie doesn’t quite measure up).

  16. Rick Ro. says:

    Sad day, sad day. Mike, your take on things has been greatly appreciated, and you’ll be missed.

  17. Fare well, Mike Bell…..

    Thank you for sharing your life with us through IM. I could relate well with much of what you wrote. Hopefully you’ll drop by from time to time with a surprise post.

  18. OldProphet says:

    Mike, I wish that I had been able to read more of your stuff. I have found you to be spiritual and balanced in your writings You have a great heart. God gave me a scripture for you. Despite having been told here that any prophetic words I give are less than a average medium it is; 1 Timothy 1:18. God bless you! I’ve been in your place more than once. Goodbye.

    • Thanks for your contributions too OldProphet. I have appreciated your Evangelical voice. By the way, the church we have started attending is an Evangelical church. Probably will end up there long term.

      • OldProphet says:

        God guide you Mike. Despite many opinions, a church where you can serve and love Jesus is the place to be. The kind of church it is matters nit

  19. Take care Mike. Remember where your towel is at all times!!!

  20. Goodbye, Mike, I say sadly. I have loved your posts and your participation here. I’m glad you have found some peace with leaving your old church: “It has been rather freeing in many ways.” Good luck on your journey.

    Heather

  21. Christiane says:

    Hey, MIKE, Thanks for the good you shared with us. We will remember you well. Here’s hoping you come back some day in future. God Bless and as you continue on your journey along the Way, in the spirit of the waters we know are forever blessed, here is a farewell often spoken to them what loves the seas and the creatures who dwell therein:

    ” “Fair winds and following seas and long may your big jib draw!””

    (translated: enjoy the journey)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bw9gLjEGJrw

  22. I always enjoyed reading your posts, Mike; I will miss them. I disagreed with you quite often but I always appreciated your sincerity, wit and clarity.

    I want to make a comment on your last point, the “Coming Evangelical Collapse.” The 6% decline in 30-49 age group is problematic but typical of the decline in this age group among other traditions as well. In fact, I believe that the overall decline in Evangelicalism from 2007 to 2014 was just under 1%; by comparison is was significantly higher in Mainline Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Just sayin’…

    But that’s not my main point. Rather I find that predictions of this sort–any sort–are seldom accurate, and the only consistently accurate prediction is that those who make predictions are seldom correct in their predicting. Consider, for instance, predictions made by ABC News back in 2008 as to what things would be like in 2015. They include:

    * One carton of milk will cost $12.99. I believe the last gallon of milk I bought was just under $3 at Sam’s.
    * Gasoline will cost over $9 a gallon. I just filled up my wife’s car two days ago for $2.54/gallon.
    * Much of the coastline of New York City will be under water. I would have heard from my sister by now if this were the case (she’s not that fond of swimming).

    And the same goes for the demise of Evangelicalism–and other Christian traditions. Perhaps, perhaps not. God alone knows; God alone is in control. And in the end, the Church storms through the gates of hell. Now that one’s for sure!

    OK, Mike, God bless you, brother. I leave you with this,

    3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
    4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
    5 Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
    6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday. Psalm 37.3-6

    • Thank you. A great Psalm passage. I will have to check back in in another 7 years to see where things are heading prediction wise. I would make a wise crack about ABC news, but don’t have enough first hand experience to do so!

  23. May God hold you in the hollow of His hand, friend. Thanks for sharing your heart with us here in the IM community!

  24. Mike,
    Thank you for your ministry. May God continue to bless and guide you and your family and to minister in and through you. You are in my prayers.

  25. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    I’ll miss you Mike – the sane voice from north of the 49th 😉

    Jy moet mooi loop, ou vriend!

    • Dankie ek sê!

      For those wondering, Afrikaans is NOT an official language of Canada. We just happen to share a South African and Canadian heritage.

  26. Mike, this article is a perfect example of why you should NOT quit writing at iMonk.

    Wretched news to end the week. Hey, I’m not a violent person (yet), but if you were here—or I in Ontario—I’d be sorely tempted to grab you, shake the sense back into you, or at least dope-slap you into submission.

    Except that you look bigger than me, and that might be counterproductive.

    Thanks for sharing with us, though, your reasons for leaving and also your reasons for leaving your church a few months ago. I’m going through a similar thing with my church—secondary matters getting elevated to the status of primary importance, and like you I don’t want to cause division in the church. Also, I think very few are even aware of what’s going on.

    In my church’s case, it’s a shift toward the new-calvinist mindset, with a systematic and relentless indoctrination to prepare us for the change. Preferences that should be minor matters, friendly disagreements among brothers, appear to be taking over the church. So, your account really strikes a chord with me. I just re-read your article of three months ago too, and I see that I didn’t comment on that one. I remember thinking that it was too close to home so I sat that one out.

    As you mentioned, try to stay open to the possibility that you are wrong (about writing for iMonk, in this case) and when you have time, or have an issue burning in your head that you have to get written down, send something our way once again. You’re a voice of sanity—or at least a fellow traveler if you’re not (lately I’ve questioned my own sanity, so it’s hard to tell what’s what)—and it’s been good to read your words that give hope that no, I’m not the only crazy one.

    I’m attracted to the possibility of being the only crazy one however, and think it would be far more efficient and certainly easier than the alternative. I mean, how could one deal with a world full of people completely off the rails? My inner martyr wants it to be me instead.

    God bless you, Mike. If we ever have that internetmonk reunion, and if any of us can afford to get there (it’ll likely be somewhere in the Midwest and coincide with a Cubs game), you’re one of the ones I’d most like to meet in person.

    Wretched news. Thanks a lot, buddy.

    • Blessings on you Ted, I have appreciated your contribution as well. I will be open to future possibilities. I still have Michael Spencer’s book to work on when time is more available.

  27. Robert F says:

    Mike, Your posts will be missed. God be with you and your family.

    • Robert F says:

      Re: Spencer’s prediction: An awful lot can change in two generations; evangelicalism itself could change in two generations. There are just so many variables, and many of them we no doubt are unable to see from our vantage.

      I’d be curious to see the age distribution for the Roman Catholic Church in the US for the same years. Is there a similar drop in members under 50? If so, then we should start talking about the coming Christian collapse.

      • Thanks for your contributions Robert F. The Catholic and Mainline churches are already well into their collapses. The question is whether or not the Evangelicals will follow. Check out the link to the Pew study. You can do all the comparisons your heart desires. They have a cool interactive as well.

  28. Mike, I feel like you’re getting ready to catch a big wave, along with maybe a lot more in the church of Jesus. Glad to have had you here holding up the good part of Evangelicalism and the saner part of North America. Blessings on your journey and on your family. Take care.

    • Thanks Charles. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I am feeling very much a peace about it. The first real peace I have had in a LONG time.

  29. Blessings.

  30. AdeptOaf says:

    On behalf of all the lurkers, you will definitely be missed. I’ve enjoyed reading your contributions to IMonk.

  31. cermak_rd says:

    Oh man, I’ll miss you! you were a big reason why I would check in with IM at least once a week. I loved the statistical analysis pieces and your occasional gentle reminder that women were people too who could also choose to just walk away from churches that don’t consider their voices important.

  32. Mike, I am SO gonna miss reading you on Fridays. I have never in my life enjoyed disagreeing with anybody so much. You always know how to do it in a way that provokes a challenging exchange and enjoyable conversation. I hope you can still contribute occasionally whenever you find yourself musing on some thoughts in a moment of inspiration.

    As you know, my sojourn through Evangelicalism was rather rough, but the people I knew there that were like you are still my friends today. You better hit me up if you come down by New York sometime!

  33. Lisa Dye says:

    May it only be a time out, Mike. It’s too sad when people leave for good. Blessings to you and your family.

  34. Hoo-rah, Mike. God bless.

  35. Dana Ames says:

    Thank you Mike – come back if you can. Stay faithful in the little things. The Lord is with you.

    Dana

  36. Michael Desanto says:

    Thank you and good luck in your future endeavors. I will certainly miss reading your scribbles.
    Also I really hope you keep the archive/website alive for future reference.

    Michael

  37. Thank you, Mike, for all your valuable input here at IM, and best wishes for this next season.

  38. Thanks for all the great articles and information. Of all the IM writers, I think you’re probably the closest to being on my particular wavelength. Good luck, and, as we say down here in West Tennessee, may the Good Lord take a liking to ya!