Those of you who follow evangelical blogs probably know that one of the most famous evangelical bloggers out there was Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. It's been about two months since Michael died from a short battle with cancer. I had wanted to do a tribute post for him shortly after he died but never did as I haven't been blogging much. But today I have a few moments and thought I would offer a few thoughts.
It may be that it is better this way. The sad fact is that life goes on and people and events are quickly forgotten. Michael will not be forgotten any time soon by his family and friends and those who loved his writings, but many others will go on, and I thought I would do my part just to remind folks of why he is worth remembering and maybe even introducing some to his writings who may never have read them.
Ironically, I said in the first paragraph that Michael was a well-known evangelical blogger. I am not sure he would like that title as he described himself as a post-evangelical, but the fact is that he became well known to evangelicals, largely for tweaking their noses, and to post-evangelicals and others who were disaffected with evangelicals for being their spokesman.
I would be disingenuous if I did not confess up front that there is a fair amount of stuff that Michael was about that I disagreed with. I'm not very turned on by the whole "post-evangelical" thing, I abhorred his views on Scripture and frankly disagreed with many things he wrote. When he found himself in one of his famous arguments with Phil Johnson and the Pyros I almost always would agree with Phil and the gang. I also found him to be a bit of conundrum. He seemed to appreciate the reformed tradition where I myself have laid down roots, yet he was very critical of many of the modern children of the reformation, all the while seeming to love and be loved by Mike Horton and the modern reformation guys.
Yet for all of this, Michael "got" the gospel like few I have read or met. He understood grace. For every disagreement and annoyance he more than multiplied grace in giving the gospel to his friends, foes and gneral readers.
I first met Michael online way back in the dark ages when the internet was full of these static things called "web pages." This was back in days before blogs and the social media explosion. Michael had a website called the Internet Monk where he would post various writings. This evolved into the Boars Head Tavern and Internet Monk. I don't remember the dates but it had to be in the early 2000's or maybe even late 90's when I came across some articles Michael had written on evangelism under the title "Wretched Urgency," which is republished here.
I have to confess that I have been a failed evangelist throughout my Christian life. You name the evangelism program and I have done it and unfortunately I can't point to a single person who has followed Christ as a result of my witness within the confines of an evangelism program. I know others have and so I don't offer my experience as normative, but my experience in evangelical churches has always been one where our guilt and urgency is the prime motivation to witness. I always carried the burden that numerous people would end up in hell and it would be my fault because of a failure to witness or to properly witness. Michael must have felt that and his article(s) on "wretched urgency" courageously exposed the flaws in this guilt orientation toward witness which drove his own and my former Southern Baptist denomination. For me personally it was great to find a kindred spirit who longed to break free from the guilt orientation of evangelicalism into a free, grace driven form of witness.
Another of my favorite articles from Michael was one called "The Little Brothers of St. Archie Bunker," which can be summarized in this paragraph:
I've decided that Archie Bunker is the patron saint of Christians who can't stop making their point. Christians who love to argue. Christians who can't stand it that someone somewhere disagrees with them. Christians who are caught up in theological controversy like University of Kentucky basketball fans are caught up in defending their team. Christians who have to correct everyone the way obsessed Lord of the Rings fans must correct any deviation from the Holy Canons of Tolkien. Christians who can't rest easy if someone somewhere is not understanding, reading, or getting "it," whatever "it" happens to be.
The truth is that I was Archie Bunker. I one time lost a ministry "job" because of my Archie Bunker-ness. I went through a long period of life where I always had to say something. I always had to make a point, I always had to correct people.
There are times when we must speak, where there is clear sin or heresy in the life of a friend we ought to speak up. And there are things worth blogging about. But for the most part I think Michael is right - the world won't end if we fail to make a point or raise an objection in most situations. He describes my own experience perfectly in these paragraphs:
A few years ago, I started to figure something out. There were people who didn't want to be around me. Not many, but some. Now it wasn't hard to engage in all the usual justifications and criticisms to deal with that, and I could easily blow it all off. It wasn't that I was being rejected, just avoided. At some point, through an offhand comment made by a much older friend, I realized something clearly. I was always making these people listen to my opinions, my arguments, and my insights about everything. They were uncomfortable. I thought it was all important and insightful. They wanted a pleasant lunch.
These were some of the people we'd had in our home for meals who had never reciprocated, and I was starting to suspect why. I was too much. I came on too strong. My opinions. My insights. My own horn being played loudly and too long in your ear.
Could it be that that if your religion has turned you into a neurotic, others might not want to join it? They might turn out like you.
Those are good questions and Michael was one of the few who would dare to ask such things and this is an example of where his nose tweaking did some of it's best work.
In short Michael was a polemicist. Sometimes I thought he missed the mark but more often than not he hit it and when he hit it he hit right where it needed to be hit. He was one of the first and earliest to sound the alarm about the dangers that Joel Osteen is doing to the church. He pointed out our captivity to the "Christian industrial complex" and culture war scams. He kindly and graciously addressed some of the biggest problems within pentecostalism/charismaticism. He was not afraid to say that many of the most popular evangelical emperors had no clothes.
But for all of that curmudgeonliness, Michael understood grace and the gospel. He could clearly see the many replacements for the gospel that are prevalent.
Michael's final post on the Internet Monk was a short one worth repeating in full here:
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.
This is why I feel such a kinship with Michael and a desire to make sure he is not forgotten. I have the same disease that killed Michael. His cancer was more widespread than mine and he succumbed to it sooner than I have, but I wake up each day knowing that I am a dying man and will probably be in heaven sooner than a lot of you. But you are also dying, even if you don't realize it now, and you need this dying word of the gospel as surely as Michael and I need it. I hope you can hear it. And I hope you won't forget Michael. Though dead, he still speaks. Chaplain Mike and Jeff Dunn and maybe some others are continuing his work through the Internet Monk, adding their own voices to Michael's but also republishing some of Michael's best work, so I hope that you will avail yourself of it.