October 31, 2020

Wednesday with Michael Spencer: What You Can’t Say Around Other Christians

Gethsemani Impressions 9 (2017)

Note from CM: Here is an excerpt from one of Michael’s posts in 2008. I think it ends up being an excellent summary of some of the reasons this blog exists and what Michael and we in the next generation of Internet Monk try to accomplish.

• • •

Wednesday with Michael Spencer
From What You Can’t Say Around Other Christians

There are some places that Christians will allow you to stand up and say “the sermon is pop psych” or “I’m not a young earth creationist” or “why do we act like we just invented Christianity this year?” What a gift it is to be able to speak truth and be supported by a community of the one who IS the truth.

In the church I grew up in I always heard that we believed in freedom of conscience, the right of private interpretation, the priesthood of the believer, soul competency and the sacred right to differ from the majority.

I heard about all of that, and I heard that it was other denominations, with their bishops and their hierarchies, that were hung up on conformity all the way down the line.

Well….let’s just say that it’s a good thing they don’t give awards for “Ironic Reversals of Reality” anywhere. Someone would need to build a shelf. A long one.

I’ve discovered there’s a good reason you can’t speak your own convictions among many church and denominational Christians. And I’m not just talking about a crabby email or comment.

My own denomination has a population of leaders who have been openly condemning certain bloggers for several years now, as for the first time, the usual regime of assumed power-preachers and denominational power-brokers discovered there was actual, real, thoughtful, articulate dissent being published out there. And that dissent was treated as a threat to the denomination’s unity and mission of evangelism, to the point that bloggers were publicly ridiculed in many denominational speeches in the past 2-3 years.

Be clear on this: I have no problem disapproving of the blogger who uses his/her power of personal publishing to lie, insinuate, gossip and undermine. But I am stunned and saddened to see how legitimate dissent, honest questioning, personal struggle, authenticate analysis and necessary discussion or consequences have been called sinful and destructive. It’s a tragic error.

Some bloggers have been irresponsible. I may have been too honest, too vulnerable, too transparent in my blogging at times. But when we mistake the silence of pre-programmed, enforced conformity with Christian unity, we’re already the victims of our own delusions.

There are still doors in Christendom where the truth needs to be nailed, and some of them aren’t far away from where you are.

We need to talk about what is and is not happening among real Christians living real lives.

We need to hear the truth about the Christian experience, not just the scrubbed and glowing testimonials.

We need to have the assumed wisdom and answers of denominational leaders scrutinized, just like every pastor has to face his critics in every healthy church anywhere.

We need a vibrant discussion of the “whys” and the “what fors” in the things we require of one another in church, denomination and ministry.

We need courageous writers who will tell the stories that can’t be spoken among Christians who are determined to create a culture of secrecy and religious conformity.

There may be a price for honesty, asking questions and telling our stories. But there will never cease to be a need for someone who has the courage to ask tough questions and tell honest experiences in the midst of organized religion. We won’t ever get the truth of our human and Christian journeys from the official spokespersons or the press releases. We have to speak it to one another and support one another in the consequences.

We can’t speak falsehood to ourselves, one another and our children. Even if the truth is clumsy, painful, inconvenient or unwelcome, it is still the truth and we should love it for Jesus sake.


  1. Burro (Mule) says

    On one of the sidebars, there is a discussion of becoming the fastest growing church in America by thinking like a startup. It depressed me profoundly. I go to Church to flush my mind of business and advertising.

    Is this what we are? Should I just embrace the fact the the smart-talking, well-dressed people know what they’re doing?

    Oh yeah, I’m also tired of the Rebel Alliance vs Death Star motif, but I don’t know what to replace it with.Everyone nailing their own list of theses to whatever church door they find suitable seems to me a recipe for perfect chaos.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      On one of the sidebars, there is a discussion of becoming the fastest growing church in America by thinking like a startup.

      Like all those dot-com startups before Y2K?
      The ones who competed for Burn Rate — who could burn through the investors’ money the fastest?
      And who spent all that Other People’s Money on toys and luxury goodies for themselves?
      (After all, it was the INTERNET and they were 20-year-old Silicon Valley geeks!)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “””Should I just embrace the fact the the smart-talking, well-dressed people know what they’re doing? “””

      No. This middle-aged pasty white frump with stained paints can rather effortless produce the data to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that smart-talking well-dressed people almost never know what they are talking about.

      One exception: if they are talking about spending someone else’s money. They are good at that. The evidence is that good looking suit.

      I wonder if there is a term specifically for the equivalent of Venture Capital in religious circles? I mean, where the @&^$*&@ does that kind of money come from?

      “””I’m also tired of the Rebel Alliance vs Death Star motif”””


      • Wondered exactly the same thing. And I’m trying with all my effort to bless WHATEVER God is blessing…. but 100k per MONTH for the upkeep of their app. ??? Do some rough math: I’m an occasional Aldi’s shopper, but dang, that’s a lot of cheddar.

    • There’s always the Independents against the Alliance.

      “It may have been the losing side… still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

    • “Should I just embrace the fact the the smart-talking, well-dressed people know what they’re doing?”

      At least until the Boomers die off. :-/

      • Robert F says

        The folks in the pictures about that startup modeled church are not boomers.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Unfortunately, the Boomers have cloned themselves into their Mini-Mes, the Millenials.

        And in doing so, distilled down and concentrated all their bad parts.

    • Robert F says

      @Mule, that article is depressing.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        There was one social critic, Moirris Berman. I think he’s still alive. He says huckstering is encoded in America’s DNA. We are a nation of MLM hustlers, aluminum siding salesmen, used car salesmen, and everything we touch we remake into that image.

        Religion included.

        Berman’s books, written under the administration of Slick Willy, almost cried out for Trump as their dénouement, with the inevitability of the Orestian cycle.

        His books are also very depressing.

  2. As usual, Michael nailed this back before anyone was thinking it or saying it or wrong about it…well, perhaps a few were..I’m just not aware of them, which is why when I found imonk blog, I cried. I couldn’t believe someone was saying what I was thinking-no longer felt all alone.

    However, in my particular circle(s), not much has changed, and in some way I still feel isolated in regard to this, not really supported by family, friends, or the Christian community as a whole.

    Everyone still has ‘to be right’’ on everything. No debate. I get a lot of silence as responses.

    Oh well, Jesus loves me this I know…

    Thanks for keeping MS in the weekly lineup!

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    On one of the sidebars, there is a discussion of becoming the fastest growing church in America by thinking like a startup.

    Just like all those dot-com startups around Y2K?
    20-year-old Silicon Valley Geeks competing for the highest “Burn Rate”, i.e. who could burn through their investors’ money the fastest? Spending it all on toys and luxury goodies for themselves? Not a thought about actually running their startups because it was THE INTERNET and the money would just roll in in buckets? Sneering at all those Stupid Oldthinkers who ran brick-and-mortar businesses in Meatspace?

    • (reads article)… ugh, it is EXACTLY like those churches wanting to be dot com startups 20 years ago.

      “The church’s branding and marketing target adults aged 25–35, especially male seekers. They assume if a guy in that range gets hooked, then as he moves along in life —getting married, having a family—the others in his household will join him at church.”

      “The church embraces conversational and edgy lingo, what it deems “culturally current communication.”

      and many more examples. All they need now is a blog on their church site that sometimes directs readers to articles on the ooze.

      I bet all these entreprenurial pastors have zilch time to actually do “pastor”-al work like visiting the sick and orphans and widows because they are too busy working on their social media strategy.

      • If they’re like the Presby churches I used to attend, they’ll have a “congregational care pastor” to do stuff like that, so the head pastor doesn’t get “distracted”. Sadly, that’s not new either.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Remember that old website “F’ed Companies”?
        All about the dot-com bubble disasters and Cyberspace Stupidity?
        Maybe it needs to be revived — as “F’ed Churches”.

  4. Burro (Mule) says

    I think the gravest error we have made concerning Jesus Christ is that we have made Him the exclusive property of right-thinking, sensible, forward-seeing people who, in the words of FlanneryOConnor “have enough of everything and the good sense to use it rightly”. This must make Him sick to His stomach.

    I’m a racist. If I walk into a room of people charged with talking to the one in charge, I will unfailingly head for a white male in business attire. This is merely the nature of the Universe, any deviation from which is an intrusion from the uncanny valley. Sometimes you just have to name the monster and embrace him, invite him in, let him muddy the carpet and put his feet on the table.

    I’m glad the Jesus I know can put up with this kind of behavior. I’m glad He’s not ashamed of being my God. I’m glad He can put up with people whose greatest joy in life is to put various of their body parts in inconventional places. He’s not afraid to be called their God. The fact that we don’t get along particularly well doesn’t seem to ruffle His feathers.

    • Robert F says

      In other words, if you walk into a room of people charged with talking to the one in charge, you unfailingly head for the kind of persons who started that startup church that depresses you profoundly.

  5. Radagast says

    Thank you for the honesty and realism Mule. We all struggle with something…

  6. Radagast says

    Thanks for the honesty and realism Mule – we all struggle with something…

  7. I may be looking at this slightly differently since I’ve been outside evangelicalism for a while now, but I think this post is another way of answering one of the questions posed in the previous post. The narrative of evangelicalism has indeed gone off track. Or at least the narrative of white evangelicalism has in the era of trump. That is the whole reason for the recent gathering of evangelical leaders concerned over this, and sadly the reason that gathering more or less fizzled out and produced no substantive change.

    I don’t think this will improve, precisely because those making it happen don’t want to hear other views. I see other segments of the church universal producing a much more Jesus-shaped narrative and actions. The church won’t fail, but the damage being done is real and will probably last a long time.

    • It’s been like this for ages, under the surface. Trump just ripped off the mask.

      • Christiane says

        Eeyore, what did he do NOW???

        I haven’t gotten over his last break with ‘norms’. There is no House of Representatives doing their job; instead they seem to be his Amen Charlies as he progresses into a larger, angrier, more out of control demogogue who doesn’t understand basic norms of Constitutional government and certainly has no respect for our Intel or our Justice Dept.

        Like a giant bad child, he is on the loose and our country is the worse for it. These may be the good days, when I think of what might be coming . . . . . I see an attack on Iran looming ahead . . . . please tell me I’m way off base if not dead wrong . . . I have family in uniform and I dread what may be coming

        • Robert F says

          I think Eeyore is referring the Trump phenomena in toto, not to any specific recent action on his part.

          And I’m afraid you’re not way off base, or dead wrong. Things are going to get much worse.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            I wonder if we’ll be able much longer to invoke the apocryphal proverb ‘God looks out for fools, drunkards, madmen, and the United States of America’.

            On the other hand, hell, if you listen to most media outlets, we live in a proto fascist state where anyone with the wrong genitals or skin color sticks their noses outside at the peril of their lives. but I have yet to receive my recruitment package to become the neighborhood Gauleiter. My guess is that things are bad, Trump is crooked, but the Republic is in no danger of becoming a 1000 year Reich.

            If Cersei had been elected, I think we would still be close to war, maybe closer, but we would be constantly updated on her triumphal diplomacy until the moment the bombs started flying.

            • Robert F says

              Things are going to get much worse. We are in the beginning stages of a constitutional crisis that the courts will not be able to resolve, because one side or the other will not consider their determination to be legitimate or binding. I personally have reached the stage where I do not believe in the integrity or trustworthiness of either the institutions or the people who occupy them, because I believe our president has corrupted them to his own purposes, in order to deflect negative attention away from himself and toward his enemies. He has been telling us that the CIA, FBI, and DOJ are hopelessly corrupt, and now I agree with him, but not for the reasons he would have me believe. I don’t believe a thing that any of them or he says anymore.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                And all it takes is one Presidental Tweet and the streets fill with AK-47s and tiki torches to Defend the Great One against the Deep State Conspiracy. With Christians in the forefront.

          • John barry says

            Robert F. Trump does not have a dog but he may try to make Oz great again.

            I think things will get worse under Trump., North Korea will obtain ICBM capicity , Iran will keep using money to fianance their nuclear bomb development, FBI/CIA will continue to spy on poliitical foes, Black/c unemployment will contiinue to rise, our miltary will be underfunded by design, our borders will be totally open, China will continue to take USA to the trade cleaners, NAFTA will make more jobs disappear., ISIS will still be a major miltary force, NATO countries will not pay their pledged dues, GDP will not exceed 2.5 percent, law enforcement will not be supported strongly and America will be great again when we return to establishment normal and unemployment is at 7%where it belongs. The establishment gets what the establishment wants, who died and made Trump President, a Russian?

            • Robert F says

              Each point you make could easily be contested, but to what purpose? Our narratives do not align, and maybe never will, not in this life. You just keep trusting a man who changes his mind about getting tough on the Chinese, after they float him a 500,000,000 dollar loan to build a resort in Indonesia. You’re more trusting than I know how to be.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            And I’m afraid you’re not way off base, or dead wrong. Things are going to get much worse.

            While all the Christians chorus “AAAAAAAAAA-MENNNNNNNN!”
            “I Give Donald Trump Praise and Adoration!”
            “Thank You Donald Trump!”

            (After all, It’s All Gonna Burn — “IT’S PROPHESIED!”)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Remember “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”.
      Well, this is it.

  8. Christiane says

    I love dialog which is respectful between people that have disagreements because it can clarify (as in ‘put light on’) where specifically they differ and where they might be closer in agreement than they had known they were before.

    But what I see a LOT of these days on ‘christian’ blogs is ‘negativity’ that involves name-calling and abusive verbal comments . . . . really nasty stuff. Then sometimes you get the commentator who is civil for a good while and then WHAM the person switches modes into heavy verbal abuse, as though they forgot to take their medicine or are inebriated . . . . that sudden ‘switch’ in tone is a sign that the person is in some kind of trouble.

    What IS the difference these days among Christian people who are disagreeing with others? Why the abusive, disrepectful language? Am I too old to ‘get it’ that this is now the ‘acceptable’ style of communicating ? Well, I didn’t get the memo that ‘it’s okay now to verbally abuse anyone who disagrees with you’ and if I get that memo, I’ll trash it where it belongs . . . down the toilet. Some ‘standards’ don’t go out of style . . . . and verbal abuse stinks and it’s time people said so.

    Which I just did. 🙂

  9. I first came to Imonk back in Michael’s day and have hung around ever since, with a year off, because I can throw my spiritual linguini at the wall and see what sticks. I know of no other place. It’s important. It matters. I have some fine dishes and I have some messes but I can cook in this kitchen.