December 3, 2020

Michael Spencer 101

Note from CM: It occurred to me that some of our newer readers and folks who are passing by might not know that this blog was the brain-child of Michael Spencer, who became known as “The Internet Monk.” As you’ll see below, the site is so named because of his affection for Thomas Merton of Gethsemani Abbey near Bardstown, KY. Michael built something special in this site, and that’s why we determined to carry it on when Michael died after a four-month struggle with cancer, April 5, 2010.

We try to return to the archives and pull out gems from his writings regularly. Today, I thought it might be beneficial for some to learn/recall some of his biography. Michael wrote this in 2009.

• • •

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.


  1. 7 years already 🙁

    RIP Michael, what you did, what you left us, and what Jeff & Mike have continued to make it are very important to me.

  2. Thank you, CM, this is helpful. Here are some weirdities that caught my eye:

    1) “Most of my students are not Christians. Many are internationals.” Is that normal? I have no experience with Christian schools. Why would non-Christians want to go there? Why would foreign students apply or even know about it? I’m assuming this school is not well known but that may be my prejudice showing.

    2) “I graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan College . . . .” Why would a Baptist boy even think about going to a Methodist college? Aren’t they bitter enemies, or at least rivals? See remark above about prejudice.

    3) “Once a month I worship with St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Lexington.” Once a month I worship with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cadillac. Episcopal does not equal Anglican, see remark above, but it’s a start.

    4) ” . . . would be part of a “Founders” church if I had the option.” Had to look this one up. Very glad that this sentiment is not currently expressed here, see above.

    5) “I did 34 hours of a D. Min, but didn’t finish the thesis or get the degree.” If this might be considered a failing, I have a lot of sympathy and empathy with it.

    6) “We believe that the biblical faith is inherently doctrinal . . . .” This is where I get off the bus. This is the one quote that really stuck in my mind and quivered. This is where I think Christianity went off the rails, and when I went back up to copy this quote from Michael’s post it had disappeared. Really weird. Finally I figured out that I had read it in the “About” section of the Founders Ministries website. Still want off the bus, see above.

    However it is obvious that if Michael had not been who he was, I would not be here. His writings do not read like a fundamentally fundamentalist, whatever his philosophical underpinnings. I did not arrive until after his departure, perhaps due to his guardian angel watching over him. While the Founders Ministries makes me shudder, I would say that Michael founding the Monastery may turn out to be one of the key events of the Millennium. Hats off!

    • Kentucky Wesleyan is located in Owensboro. I suspect that alone was the primary reason for his attending.

      Basketball fans may recall UK’s star Rex Chapman in the 1980s. His father coached KWU, itself a basketball powerhouse in its division.

    • I can’t answer all your items, but here’s a few things I saw and sensed in reading this blog before Michael died that might mitigate some of your points.

      I went to a Christian boarding school and found that kids ended up there for a lot of reasons, To get misbehavior straightened out. Because it’s perceived as a good school. To experience a different culture. To get them out of their parents hair. Because parents saw it as the only viable option for whatever reason.

      Micheal was a lot more broad-minded than the stereotypical baptist. Hard to put him in a box for worship or anything else.

      The Calvinists weren’t quite as restless, reformed or extreme back then. And even then Michael had criticisms of them.

      My impression was that Michael talked a lot more about practice and how we actually behave toward others than he did about doctrines. It’s part of what made and continues to make this site so refreshing.

    • –> “I have no experience with Christian schools. Why would non-Christians want to go there? Why would foreign students apply or even know about it?”

      Our daughter attends a Christian school and we have several foreign students and even non-believers. Here’s how I see it:

      1) Foreign students. The reason they would attend a Christian school? It’s simple. Fear. Fear of what they’ve heard (rightly or wrongly) about American public schools. So for foreigners, it’s not so much about attending a “Christian” school as it is about attending a private aka “non-public” school. We have people of different faiths attend my daughter’s school – Sikhs and such – and it’s purely so their child doesn’t have to navigate the large public schools in my area.

      2) Non-Christians. I’ve seen several non-Christian kids enter into the Christian school district mid-year. The reason? Something has happened in the public school setting to require a change of setting. Sometimes it’s because they got mixed up with unhealthy kids or got into unhealthy friendships and sometimes it’s because the kid can’t handle the class sizes. Our school tends to run class sizes of 1 teacher per 12-16 kids, where the public setting can be 1 teacher per 24-30 kids. This allows for a lot more one-on-one time, particularly with kids who need some extra help or attention. Non-Christians are sometimes willing to enter into a setting of “Christianity” for the benefits of class size or to remove their child from an unhealthy situation.

      • It could also be that the public schools had a bad scholastic reputation in that area of Kentucky (I do not know this to be true by the way). I grew up in Long Island, NY the first 11 years of my life and went to a Catholic school also attended by those of the Jewish faith because the public schools were not up to speed.

        • Yes, there’s the “better scholastic” angle, too, though I’m currently unimpressed with some of the teaching going on at my daughter’s Christian school…LOL…

      • My kids also attend a Christian school with a boarding program that attracts large numbers of international students. Unlike Rick Ro.’s situation, these kids are not part of recent immigrant families. They are here by themselves to attend boarding school. Most of them are from the Far East (China, Japan, South Korea, etc.) and come here to strengthen their English skills and enhance their prospects for getting into a good U.S. university.

        Not sure if this situation applies to Michael’s school.

        • I didn’t mean to imply all foreigners were immigrant families. Many (maybe even most?) are from the Far East, too, and I agree with your what you say.

    • One of the things that attracted me to Michael’s site was that he had an attraction to things catholic “small c” and an appreciation for that style of worship at times. He was on a journey, a journey that also took his wife into the Catholic Church and we were with him as he expressed his angst and finally his acceptance of her decision. It added a different dimension to Michael that was reflective in his writings.

      This was a place, I, as a Catholic could come and get perspectives on Christianity that were sometimes alien to me. I learned a lot, I enjoyed the perspectives and got to see the diamond of Christianity from multiple perspectives. In those days we had folks commenting from different religious and political thought and it was always quite interesting.

      Lately my work life has been taking me to London and Monticello, Kentucky… I always wonder whether I am close to his old stomping grounds.

      Miss his writings…..

    • 1) “Most of my students are not Christians. Many are internationals.” Is that normal? I have no experience with Christian schools. Why would non-Christians want to go there? Why would foreign students apply or even know about it?

      It is my recollection that many of the foreign, Christian or not, students were the children of well off foreigners who wanted their kids to have a better (and safer) education than they could get back home.

      IM when I started reading had a huge day where there were 20 comments on a post. Things have changed a bit. 🙂

  3. I’m in love with that definition of post-evangelicalism. That captures it for me.

  4. Michael doesn’t express the same strong criticism of evangelicalism, or Calvinism here that from my recollection he does in other places. I also suspect that his self-definitions are very different from how many of us the readership would choose to define ourselves.

    Has there been a ‘who are we’ conversation recently? How many of us are evangelicals, post-evangelicals, progressives, mainliners, nones, dones, (done with church)? And where are we going? does the wilderness extend for ever, and who among us has found some other ‘tradition’ or ‘home’?

    • My memory of MS on Calvinism was he was a convert back around 2000 for a while then decided the YRRs and Piper were somewhat extreme and backed off to more of a point of maybe, maybe not.

  5. A big thing missing is his relationship history with the RCC. I don’t want to stir up a hornets nest but his landing point seemed a very good place to be.

    That landing point being that they were not evil, were brothers and sisters in Christ, just didn’t see everything the same way we did.

    And yes, I’m glossing over his long difficult journey in this area.

  6. Hard to believe it’s been almost 7 yrs…

    CM and crew have done a wonderful job with the site.

  7. .Burro [Mule] says

    Michael’s boarding school also specialized in bringing the casualties of poor homeschooling experiments up to speed. I think that has been forgotten about him.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Homeschoolera Anonymous is full of horror stories of “casualties of poor homeschooling experiments”.

  8. Mind and heart!

  9. one more mike says

    Miss the original IM terribly. Showed me that the wilderness was lonely but I wasn’t alone. Thanks for the blessed memory Michael Spencer.