November 29, 2020

iMonk Authors Week: Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk)

Reaching for the Sky, Photo by David Cornwell

Reaching for the Sky, Photo by David Cornwell

iMonk Authors Week

Since my books were released last week, I thought it might be a good time to highlight some of the authors who write for us here at Internet Monk. I am blessed to partner with many fine, gifted, and faithful writers, who have written books. For those of you still getting familiar with the site, you can always find some of these books listed on the right sidebar of the page, under “iMonk Authors.” The books pictured there are linked to sites where you can purchase them and support these folks in their craft.

Pictures this week will be from our friend, David Cornwell. Visit his Flickr page to see more.

We start today with reminding everyone that Michael Spencer, the founder of Internet Monk, completed a book just before his untimely death. It is called Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality. Today, we feature an excerpt from this encouraging and helpful book, written for those who find themselves in the “wilderness” of churchianity.

• • •

From the chapter, “Jesus, the Bible, and the Free-Range Believer”

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Peter’s vision of ritually unclean animals being lowered from heaven on a huge sheet. The animals were mentioned in the Old Testament book of Leviticus as absolutely forbidden for any Jew to eat. But Jesus declared all foods clean. Peter, of course, was invested in reading the Bible the way his mama and his pastor had taught him to read it. So the Holy Spirit gave Peter a vision — a repeated vision, in fact — during a nap. Peter saw a sheet covered with unclean animals, such as pigs and lobsters. They were being lowered from heaven. Then the Holy Spirit told Peter to eat!

Imagine this. God’s Spirit was commanding a follower of Jesus to do something that, according to everything Peter had been taught, was forbidden to the children of God. You talk about a dilemma.

If Peter had run down to his local church and asked for assistance in understanding what God was saying, he almost certainly would have been told that he was mistaken. He must have heard God wrong, or maybe he simply mistook a nightmare for a vision from God. The preacher would have insisted that the Leviticus passages had to be taken as God’s settled and uncompromised command to ensure that his people are different from other nations. The Jews do not eat unclean animals, and under no circumstances would God ever contradict Scripture.

Peter wasn’t a man without strong biases and prejudices in this area. He felt a lot more comfortable supporting the Jewish bias against Gentiles — the “unclean people” — than he did considering Paul’s insistence in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile. Jesus had told Peter and the other apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth. Jesus had told Peter that there were “other sheep” who needed to come to the great Shepherd. So the dream involving unclean animals was not the first time Peter had encountered a bold challenge to the old idea of uncleanness.

Peter had learned from Jesus to listen for what the Spirit of God might do that was very different from what Peter and the other disciples had already been taught. Peter, after seeing the vision of the unclean animals and being commanded to eat, got the message. He preached the gospel to a Roman soldier’s household and baptized the entire family. As you think about that, realize that the soldier and his family were completely outside the circle of acceptability to a practicing Jew. They were Gentiles, the “unclean people” whom Peter had always been taught to avoid.

But Jesus changed everything. The Holy Spirit applying the truth of Scripture to one person, in this case Peter, is what made the message clear for the whole church.

The impact of Peter’s vision and his subsequent obedience to God is still felt today. The vast majority of people around the world who will ever believe in Jesus owe it partially to Peter’s vision of the sheet full of animals. It was an inexplicable encounter with the Holy Spirit totally outside the bounds of safe church teaching. It was an experience with God that got through to Peter and helped form his Jesus-shaped life.

I’m not suggesting God will send visions to everyone or that every vision is as revolutionary or as world changing as Peter’s. The apostles were in a unique position, but over and over again, I hear about God’s Spirit lifting the Word of God out of our safe, church-regulated venues and using it to change and empower people. God shakes off the dusty interpretations and applies his Word in fresh, new ways to unreached places and people. How desperately we need that kind of prayerful, expectant Bible hearing today!

Even with all the risks that are involved in giving one brand-new Christian a Bible, the risks are worth it. So go ahead, all you free-range Christians. Open up the ammo. Let’s blow something up. Like the safe, expected idea of the Christian life.


  1. Coming from a “Pente” background I could see how this episode could & probably is used to support anyone deemed to be , “led by the Spirit”. Thus you could use it to back up all those “progressive practises” ripping out the heart of the Faith. However, this is a classic example of the allegorical use of the scriptures which carried through to the post-Apostolic Fathers. Something given specifically to Israel can be used for a different application for the purpose of following Christ. So the hyperbole of the genocidal episodes in the OT can be used to provde a lesson for us now.

    I didnt realise that Peter started off this allegorical method of interpreting scripture. So s ripture does need interpretation after all…

  2. Dana Ames says


    I know you are beyond busy. Perhaps your son or one of your friends could help you with this, for a modest share of the profit…

    I think your photos would sell. Is there a coffee house or art cooperative/gallery in your neck of the woods that would display some of them, matted and ready for purchase? I hope you will give this a try sometime. I’d buy one, and I bet other iMonkers would, too.


    • Robert F says

      Arc of green, and gold
      flowering heads that defy
      gravity and sky.

    • David Cornwell says

      Dana, sorry I missed your comment earlier. I’ve thought about this from time to time, but have never followed through. Now that you have encouraged me to give it a try, I’ll think on it see what happens. I can probably find a place or two that would let me show them. For several years I donated several to a large local charity dinner-dance and auction, and they sold well and the prices were good.

      Thanks for thinking of me.

  3. The incident with Peter and Cornelius ties in with our study of James. It was James, presiding over the first church council in Jerusalem, who gave official approval to Paul’s policy of not requiring Jewish religious adherence from non-Jews. This was done on the basis of Peter’s prior directive from God with corroboration from the Holy Spirit. Thanks, Peter, Paul, and James, not to be confused with Peter, Paul, and Mary.

  4. Robert F says

    Peter saw the whole of the moon.