May 26, 2020

Wednesday with Michael Spencer: “That’s my trash can in the corner, and what you’re smelling is what I finally threw out.”

Taking out the trash. Photo by Robert S. at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Wednesday with Michael Spencer
That’s my trash can in the corner, and what you’re smelling is what I finally threw out. (2009)

I believe what Christians believe. It’s what my life is founded on.

My Christian faith is like a map. It tells me where I am, who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going and what it’s all about.

But I don’t believe everything Christians teach. I don’t believe everything I used to believe. Maybe it’s my own critical, skeptical nature. Maybe it’s the “sola scriptura” Protestant in me. Maybe it’s living awhile and drawing some conclusions. Maybe it’s learning something about what matters.

Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit.

Or maybe, as some of you will conclude, I’m some kind of post modern jellyfish who quits the team when things get tough. One of those post-evangelical emerging liberals who prefers a big hug to a good systematic theology lecture.

I don’t understand our loyalty to things that make God so unlike the one who revealed God on earth. Why we take on whole planks of Christianity that Jesus wouldn’t endorse or recognize.

Personal reference. When I discovered that God wasn’t going to stop something that I believed with all my heart and mind he had to stop, I was really pulled up short. My “map” was well worn with 30+ years of telling who I was and what God was supposed to do for me.

And now, I was discovering that my map was flawed. I’d believed it, and I had a choice. I could deny what was happening around me, in me and in others.

Or I could throw out some theology.

That meant admitting some of my teachers were wrong. Or at the least, didn’t know all there was to know.

It meant that some of what I was sure God had showed to me wasn’t God at all. It was me, or someone else.

I was wrong. My theology was wrong. My collection of Bible verses was wrong.

I hadn’t quite arrived. I didn’t have all the answers.

Part of my misery in the situation I was facing was my collection of theology.

There’s a moment when you realize things aren’t as certain as you thought they were. It’s a scary moment, and you want to blame someone. This collection of verses, statements and opinions was supposed to keep this from happening. The right theology was supposed to keep the sky from falling; it was supposed to keep the trap doors from opening up under my feet.

It makes more than a few people angry to hear that following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting. It’s less like writing down the right answers to a test and more like trusting yourself into the hands of a doctor. It’s less like standing on concrete and more like bungee jumping.

It’s less like what you think it is and lot more like something you never thought about.

Some of you have been beating your head against the wall of your bad theology for years. You’ve beaten your head against that wall until you aren’t a very pleasant person to be around. You’ve made yourself and some other people miserable. You’ve been like the Pharisees: you gave others the burden you’d chosen to carry and more. You’ve taken your misery and made others more miserable.

You’ve blamed others. You’ve silently accused God. You’ve sat there, arrogantly, insisting that you were right no matter what was happening. You’ve sought out arguments to assure yourself that you were right.

But the whole time, there was the trash, and some of that trash was theology that needed to go.

I’ve thrown out some of my theology, and I haven’t replaced it all. As much as I would like to know the answer to some questions, I’ve concluded I’m not going to know the answer to them all. I’ve concluded that lots of the theology I’ve been exposed to and taught falls considerably far shorter of perfection than I ever imagined. Some of it hasn’t served anyone very well. Some of it was nothing more than my way of jumping on a passing bandwagon.

…I believe a lot of things. I could teach through a course on theology without any problems. But the difference between myself now and myself in the past is that much of that theology is less essential than it used to be. It does not equal God and I won’t speak as if it does. I won’t pretend that my own thoughts about God are the place I ought to stop and announce what God is always thinking and doing.

Hopefully, it’s going to be a lot easier to have a theological housecleaning. In the future, I don’t plan to fall for the flattery that I’ve never changed my mind or said “I don’t know.”

I know. That’s me. The way too emotional, way too flexible, over-reacting Internet Monk. Baptist one day. Calvinist the next. Catholic tomorrow. Talking about being “Jesus shaped,” whatever that means.

And that’s my trash can in the corner, and what you’re smelling is what I finally threw out.

It was long overdue.

By the way, guess what? I’m still here, believing. Following Jesus, loving Jesus, wanting more of Jesus than ever before.

I don’t recommend my path be your path. I only ask if you’ve opened yourself to the possibility that a spiritual renovation in your life can’t keep all the old junk. Yes, you may upset someone or some important, self-validating group. You may, for a moment, wonder if you know who you are and where you are. It may frighten you to consider that Brother so and so or a sincere family member were wrong.

You may not be excited to discover that all that accumulated trash does not equal God.

I hope that soon you are excited. I am sad to see and hear some of you involved with a God that increasingly holds you hostage in a theological extortion scheme.

That’s not the God who came to us in Jesus. It’s not.

There’s more. He is more. Your journey is more.

Comments

  1. “I don’t understand our loyalty to things that make God so unlike the one who revealed God on earth. Why we take on whole planks of Christianity that Jesus wouldn’t endorse or recognize.”

    this

    • Because it makes God make more sense to us.

      • Interesting and ironic that, insofar as we know, Jesus did not write one book of theology, doctrine, or dogmatics — or one word of any kind for that matter — – yet many of his followers have spent their entire adult lives doing almost nothing but that, and being honored as religious leaders by others for doing so.

        • I did for over 15 years. I won’t say it was all a total waste, but it was a hard habit to unlearn…

      • Iain Lovejoy says

        It’s Jesus who is supposed to make God make sense – to have seen him is to have seen the Father, after all. If you are taking out the planks that help make God make sense, you are taking out the wrong planks. The post seems to be about willingness to jettison the planks that *don’t* make sense.

  2. I am asking this question as I do not know. Did M. Spencer find a new denomination, a new church home or a new theology that he was honestly and I would say bravely seeking? I think many religions, denominations can find people that were dissatisfied with the faith they were born into or acquired at an early age. No matter what the situation to leave the comfort , security and safety of what you know and venture out is a challenge. Certainly it is hard for many to move away from a transactional relationship with God that is ingrained. As I am a none or done , I am not sure , I think I am a none I would say that in my belief system M. Spencer is with God, not because of what he did but what he believed. It is not easy to reveal your inner heart , even on the internet. God Bless M. Spencer and his life in this world.

    • –> “Did M. Spencer find a new denomination, a new church home or a new theology that he was honestly and I would say bravely seeking?”

      Others can address this as well, but I would say he was no longer interested in finding a new church home or new theology. From some point on, I think he knew he would forever be on a journey, and I think he was okay with that. This post would, I think, support that.

      • Back in the M. Spenser days he seemed to be a person that wanted to shore things up from within his Baptist tradition. He was heavily influenced by Catholicism as he did retreats at Thomas Merton’s home monastery, but I don’t believe he could ever bring himself to swim the Tiber. He also dug into Church history and Church Fathers. His wife Denise became Catholic which initially caused him much stress and theological conflict. But in the end he was still a heavily Solas guy from my observation of his writings.

    • Michael Z says

      I think the whole idea of needing to “find a church home that fits your theology” is part of what anyone who launches out into that journey toward a deeper understanding of God leaves behind.

      In the world that Michael was leaving, people defined themselves primarily in terms of their beliefs and therefore it made sense to sort themselves into denominations accordingly. But if you’re in the process of re-constructing those beliefs and your faith has become more about trusting relationship with God and less about certainty, what you need is not companions who hold the same beliefs as you but companions who are on the same journey. And, instead of needing a church where you can hear a good sermon with doctrine you agree with, what you need most are just people to break bread and share wine with.

      • what you need most are just people to break bread and share wine with.
        This

        • Subtract the bread, and you get Cheers (that is, the TV show of yore).

          • didn’t they serve food there?

            reminds of the British institution of ‘the local pub’ community gathering place and water hole with pub food on offer – not at all a bad comparison

  3. My guess is that a lot of us iMonk regulars can still relate to this classic post. Probably the kind of post that brought us here in the first place.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Exactly. I suspect I stumbled upon IM multiple times, but the one I remember was following an especially stupid church meeting – and there is no word more applicable than “stupid” – doing an internet search for “I hate theology” and finding the so named IM article.

      • I honestly don’t remember exactly when I found IMonk, but it was around 2004 or so, and I was still processing the disastrous end of my immersion into seminary and strident Calvinist Baptist-ism.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I am grateful that my fiscal pragmatism kept me from ever considering attending seminary or any Christian college. I can only try to image how much worse that would have been.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            Additionally there was The-Change that happened to friends who went off to the likes of Cedarville; those insufferable letters.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              “Cedarville”?
              “Insufferable letters”?
              (Though the latter sound like some variant of “Cage Phase” with a bit of Dunning-Kruger Effect on the side.)

          • Mike Bell says

            In the Seminary I attended, the professors were masters at getting us to think outside the box.

            It was one of the best experiences of my life. And although I didn’t end up in full time ministry, I wouldn’t have exchanged it for a second.

            • Actually, I had a similar experience. However, I heard that afterwards, many of the professors who encouraged us to think outside the box were… well, “purged” might be too strong a term, but their replacements have been much more willing to toe the Westminster Standards line…

              • Adam Tauno Williams says

                I’m in midwest America, location probably matters. I’ve very rarely heard positive reviews after a few years out.

                There must of course be great seminaries somewhere.

                • I loved seminary too. But primarily because it taught me to do my own research and come to my own conclusions. And it was like this even though the school itself was firmly in the conservative evangelical camp. Like I’ve said, I’ve not moved away from that culture of evangelicalism because I’ve abandoned the Bible, but because I’ve studied the Bible more closely than ever and learned to take a different view of it.

                  It was my Bible college that promoted the “box” mentality. However, even though I disagree with so much of what I was taught then (and the culture it promoted), I still have a sense of gratitude for it. I needed structure badly at that time in my life and it gave me that in bunches. It stifled my inner rebel and helped put me on an adult Christian path, even though I’ve veered out of the fundamentalism/evangelicalism lane into something much different.

    • Yes, absolutely! I think virtually all of us are confronted at some point in our journey with a turning of the tables. Some things that were once false become, disturbingly, true. Job found that out. Jacob battled God directly over the road map and walked away limping but alive. Shying from the battle has consequences. Pasty, predictable, rote and reliable. Fighting it does too. It takes you off center stage and puts you on the fringe. Sometimes it sets you outside the camp, possibly for a very long stretch. Every individual life differs and things play out in myriad ways but we each confront some form of this when we walk with Christ long enough. It could be called a “You have heard it said but I say” fork in the road.

    • Christiane says

      Yes, it IS the kind of post that brought us here in the first place.
      The honesty is searingly insightful and at the same time strangely humble. You don’t see that combo too often in this world, no.

      • –> “The honesty is searingly insightful and at the same time strangely humble.”

        Kind of how I envision Paul being on his better days.

  4. David Greene says

    “… following Jesus is less like math and more like white water rafting. It’s less like writing down the right answers to a test and more like trusting yourself into the hands of a doctor.”

    Well poop, there goes Certainty and Control down the drain…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Certainty and Control

      Many of us got [finally] into house cleaning mode after those “promises” of Certainty and Control didn’t deliver, consistently, for years and years. I am very much an A->B->C->D kind of guy. Yet the Universe kept just shaking up the bag of scrabble tiles and dumping them out on the table, like, “there you go!”.

      • Very rude of God to keep doing that, if you ask me…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I know! After awhile it is: “Hey now, which one of us needs to get our act together?”

          • God, obviously. 😉

            • There may be a reality that must be confronted. It has to do with a desperate and fearfully grasped definition of perfection. A mathematical formula disconnected from the natural universe. God’s “perfection” gives us a static, predictable being. At least as we define perfection and what might be expected from a good and perfect being. The problem is that sometimes we find him swatting gnats and then we have to reconsider. Sometimes He eggs Satan on to brutalize one of His children. Sometimes He leads directly into temptation. Sometimes He breaks all the well thought out and accepted laws. Fighting with God is essentially judging His behavior. What else could it be. It is stepping up and saying, “Wait a minute”. Scripture tells us that some have done that and prevailed. How unexpected and how extraordinary!

    • I paused on the same paragraph David.

  5. I was still in the “finding certainty” mode well after Michael’s death. Well, the student lags the teacher…

  6. Never having been evangelical (though I visited a few evangelical churches in my religious searching), and not having grown up or lived among super religiously-engaged people during any point in my life (especially not in my childhood and youth, spent in a nominally Roman Catholic family), my own journey has been very different than Michael’s. Yet what he says in this post resonates with me, and I can identify. The inner search for religious certainties has led me down many roads I took to be highways to truth for a season or a day, but ultimately I had to turn around and go back the way I came — which was painful and hard — to get out of the dead ends they turned out to be. Not that I haven’t learned a few thing even from the going down those dead ends, but they were not the things that I expected to learn, or that the pointers down the those paths told me I would. And they were not things that could be distilled into dogmatic theologies or airtight religious certainties of any kind. They were lessons in humility (which I still have a lot to learn about ), and the importance of the personal and immediate, which are the thick religious realities we all live in.

    • My mother was a strong Catholic, my father, as I learned after my mother died, was a catholic that was very resentful of the changes Vatican II brought. He felt he was lied to as he was heavily influenced by the Baltimore Catechism and in the end he died with no faith.

      I went the agnostic route and when my spiritual stirrings began to revive on my journey to figure me out, I went back to Catholicism mostly because I got bible thumped a few too many times by zealous followers of Preacher Bob’s Church of the Redeemed Souls or something like that. And I dug in deep, reading from an intellectual standpoint, and following things my wife was doing from a “reaching my heart” standpoint.

      These days I struggle with all that is going on in my Church, but try to push all those distractions away. Honestly though it has been tough and has left me on shaky ground.

      I came initially to Internet Monk as a younger more idealistic person cheering on the notion that he might one day swim the Tiber and I was going to be an observer.. After all this time though I have found his writings helped me become more tolerable of others of differing opinions and see the plank in my eye.

  7. I found IM somewhere around this time as well. A friend sent me a link to his essays on the ‘Coming Evangelical Collapse’. I started reading on this site and found a fellow-traveler. At that time I was still a theologically certain evangelical Baptist, but had found that after seminary, I really didn’t fit with the fundamentalist SBC churches I had attended for 25 years (at that time). I had become a man without a country. Michael’s articles resonated with me at a time when I needed to know someone else was on the same journey and it hadn’t killed them.

    It’s said that nothing will challenge your theology like life, and it’s true. It’s even more true of ‘church life’. One of the first doctrines I dropped was the idea of ‘regeneration’. After a particularly nasty church fight I looked back on my life and other Christians and realized that we really are no different than anyone else as far as ‘flesh’ and all that. Christians are often just as nasty and self-centered as anyone else, sometimes worse. After this church fight I noted that in 25+ years in the business world I had never seen non-Christians act so badly and dishonestly, and certainly not in the name of God or ‘for the good of the church’. I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘regeneration’ – a change in fundamental nature – is a future thing, if at all (e.g. the ‘saints’ in Rev. 6:10 are calling on God to avenge their blood – not exactly ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’, and they are in the very presence of God). And looking at some of the things friends and family post on facebook, in the name of Christ, makes me more convinced than ever.

    Michael gave me permission to question, though at that time I didn’t have any idea those questions would take me as far from that fundamentalist evangelical ‘religion’ as they have. Thanks Michael Spencer. You probably saved my life. R.I.P.

    • Michael Z says

      I think I would disagree, a little bit. If someone is following Christ, they ought to be displaying the fruit of the spirit – love, gentleness, kindness, etc. But what I see in my own life is that rather than those characteristics steadily increasing over time, there are seasons when I’m deeply connected to God and able to display all those qualities, and other seasons when I am not. (And, someone who is coming to church just looking for certainty and security and someone to tell them they’re “right” is almost certainly *not* experiencing a deep and grounding relationship with God at that point in their life.)

      It’s often also the case that churches attract deeply broken people. It’s amazing, for example, how many people in church leadership are actually “serving God” to fill some deep aching sense of inadequacy within themselves.

      • Michael, I’m not saying there is no such thing as a ‘new birth’ in some sense (and, admittedly, that, by definition, is called ‘regeneration’) or that the Spirit does not work in us to produce growth. Paul’s fruit of the Spirit argument in Galatians reflects his eschatalogical perspective rather than a dualistic inner-personal struggle between an ‘Adamic nature’ and a ‘new nature’. To live as though Christ has not come is to live ‘in the flesh’; to live in light of the ‘Christ event’ and live in grace produces good fruit, which, by the way, all involve how we interact with others rather than a mystical ethereal ‘spirituality’ like most evangelicals seem to believe (easier to pray and listen to CCM than to deal with my obnoxious neighbor).

        My disagreement is with statements like this from Millard Erickson: ‘First, it involves something new, a whole reversal of the person’s natural tendencies. . . . The idea of one’s being made dead to the flesh (the natural way of acting and living) and alive in the Spirit is evidence that regeneration is the product of a totally new creation (as Paul correctly labeled it), and not merely a heightening of what is already the basic direction of one’s life.’ (Christian Theology, 956-57).

        I’ve seen very little evidence that people actually change their personalities or natural tendencies as a result of a conversion. Paul himself experienced a change of direction (the course his life would take), but his basic tendencies and personality (and the basic direction of his life – serving God) did not seem to change. And he did exhibit the same personal traits – tenacity, zeal, and perhaps a little sarcasm – that no doubt characterized his ‘prior’ life.

        The way I have often seen that work out is that bad tendencies tend to be put to ‘good’ use – lying for the ‘good of the church’ (or gossip disguised as a genuine concern for someone).

        I think it would do us all good to simply acknowledge what non-Christians around us clearly see – there’s really nothing fundamentally different about us. We just ‘god religion’ and some of us make a lot of noise about it.

        • I came to IMonk out of curiosity when I saw it mentioned, around 2006 on another blog I followed once in a while. I was captivated as it gave me insight into the Evangelical world as my only real experience were with former Catholics who joined non-denom churches and did a full 180 in personality.

          “I’ve seen very little evidence that people actually change their personalities or natural tendencies as a result of a conversion.”

          Over time I came to agree with that statement… from my observation they just used their personality in a different way. Some would look for confrontation and use bible verses as a club and I found there was no real discussion, just a way to best the other.

          So coming to IMonk gave me some perspective in all that.

      • –> “But what I see in my own life is that rather than those characteristics steadily increasing over time, there are seasons when I’m deeply connected to God and able to display all those qualities, and other seasons when I am not.”

        It does feel very rollercoaster-ish, right? But my recent (past couple of years) focus on bearing those fruit has led me to be a much better person in general (wife and daughter both have said they’ve noticed a change), so while I’d agree my walk is still a rollercoaster, I think that the rollercoaster is going in an upward direction overall. (Maybe at an angle of 5 degrees… Lol.)

        • + 1000 – I can relate there… even though it can be seasonal and I can backslide at times when I lose focus.

    • –> “…I looked back on my life and other Christians and realized that we really are no different than anyone else as far as ‘flesh’ and all that.”

      I was at a Christian retreat a couple years back when the speaker asked us, “If we’re all filled with the Holy Spirit and ‘born anew,’ why don’t we ‘behave’ better than the world behaves? Why do all the statistics we look at (like divorce) mirror the world’s statistics? Why are we still jerks driving on the road and jerks in the checkout line and jerks at home?”

      To his credit, he had no “Aha” answer, much as my theologically-minded self wanted one. But I’ve been mulling on that ever since. One thing I try to do is really focus on the fruit of the spirit. Am I being peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, etc in as many situations as I can be? Am I bearing better fruit today than I was yesterday, or is the general trend going in the right direction? I think my wife and daughter would say I’ve been a better husband and father since focusing on this, much better than when I was more focused on theology.

      • One thing I try to do is really focus on the fruit of the spirit. Am I being peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, etc in as many situations as I can be? Am I bearing better fruit today than I was yesterday, or is the general trend going in the right direction?

        Many people with no particular Christian or religious convictions do the same thing, though they may not call it focusing on the fruit of the spirit. It’s a human thing, not just a Christian thing.

      • David Greene says

        “Am I bearing better fruit today than I was yesterday, or is the general trend going in the right direction? I think my wife and daughter would say I’ve been a better husband and father since focusing on this, much better than when I was more focused on theology.”

        Great question, I have wondered that myself. But I also wonder is it because of the introspection or because of some organic work of God’s spirit? Maybe the two cannot be totally separated. All I can say is on the one hand thank God I am not still the man I was before yet on the other why am I still so messed up 🙂

    • Dana Ames says

      Greg,

      “Michael gave me permission to question, though at that time I didn’t have any idea those questions would take me as far from that fundamentalist evangelical ‘religion’ as they have.”

      Me too.

      What I came to see was that in a very real sense, eschatology is a person’s theology. When the goal is “going to heaven after you die” (and the other things that come with that viewpoint), a system is constructed in order to perfectly (to its adherents) fulfill that goal, which in a large aspect amounts to “instant morality” because sin is the ultimate problem. I saw the same things you did re comparative morality among Christians and non-Christians, and that led me to believe that morality in and of itself cannot be the ultimate goal. At the same time, I was finding out that everything about the theology that stresses “going to heaven after you die” was completely alien to Judaism in Jesus’ day. Which really left me up a creek without any paddle…

      (broken record warning) One of the things I so appreciate about the EOrthodox view of things is that nothing is “instant”. We are baptized into Christ’s death, and since he destroyed the power of death – because it’s death and the disintegration of the human that is the ultimate problem – if we are already dead in him, the fear of death no longer can be used to enslave us. From our baptism on, we are on a journey of learning how, with God’s help and that of the people around us, to become more and more free from that slavery so that we can actually live the way God created us to live – in self-giving love toward others. That’s how we become humans created in the image of God; the image of God is Christ on the Cross in love and humility. This is consonant with not only a high view of God, but a high view of humanity as well, and it leaves the unique personality of each human intact while shaping it. This takes prayer and struggle – not so we earn anything, but so we can bring ourselves to God more and more. The ultimate end is not “heaven”. It is comm/union with God in the life on the plane/in the mode of the Resurrection, on a restored earth when Christ returns to make everything right, when the earth will be filled with the (experiential) knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

      In one sense, it is the practice rather than the head knowledge of theology that is most important. But I’m the kind of person who needs to be with a group that’s on the same page as me in terms of meaning and ramifications of what is thought about God, and about humans. EOrthodoxy came at me out of left field – wouldn’t have expected it in a million years – and I can worship within its framework with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

      Dana

      • Dana, I’m not EO, but I do agree with much of what you say. My one-time focus on the whole “Heaven/hell/instant morality/sin” issue has given way to an experience and relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit that is much deeper and, oddly enough, filled with moments of enjoyable mystery. I feel sorry for people with rigid theologies and doctrine, for although I’m sure they find great comfort and even control in them, they’ve essentially put God in a box that He’s much bigger than.

  8. “One of those post-evangelical emerging liberals who prefers a big hug to a good systematic theology lecture.”

    Systematic theology isn’t a big part of the Lutheran tradition, so I wasn’t exposed to it, even as a nerdy pastor’s kid. Then in my twenties I stumbled across a book on it. I immediately understood the appeal. It is the theology version of classical geometry–Euclidean theology, as it were, with elegant axioms followed by rigorous reasoning to come to indisputable conclusions. Then I looked into it more and discovered that it is beautiful so long as it is abstract, but as it becomes more tangible the god of systematic theology looks quite different from God as he reveals himself in scripture. Upon reflection, I realized the inherent problem with systematic theology: It either tells what what we already knew through God’s revelation, or it denies God’s revelation. In principle it could produce resulted complete consistent with that revelation and with additional insights. In practice it doesn’t work this way.

    Once I figured this out, systematic theology because a handy diagnostic tool: Anyone espousing it should be avoided, or if young, encouraged to reflect on God as he revealed himself.

    • Richard, thanks. This was one of the most insightful comments I’ve read lately.

      • Yes. Some of my Reformed Baptist friends have EVERY I dotted and EVERY T crossed. Certainty (‘indisputable conclusions’) is a requirement of faith, at least in their view. But it often does produce a god that looks very different than Jesus, and Jesus himself is reduced to an abstraction – Jesus’ death is all that matters and what he said is completely ignored.

        • Christiane says

          Wow. I’ve seen this too among some I know. Fearful people who grabbed on to what ‘saves them’ and they need do nothing else after that but point the finger and hold lesser folk (the ‘lost’) in contempt. The pattern was perfected in that cult, the Westboro Baptist Church. Others continued as pale copies of that model. So smug, so judgmental. So willing to look down on others. Kindness has no place in that ‘worldview’ where power and control are most highly respected. So easy for it to be ‘taken up’ and ‘used’ by people of ill will because there was no humility opening in them a place for grace to come and stay.

          • I was walloped a few times in my younger days so I can relate…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Kindness has no place in that ‘worldview’ where power and control are most highly respected.

            Which explains their cleaving to certain political “worldviews” (you know which ones, Christiane).

            I think there was a very old IMonk article called “The Limbaughization of Christianity” which gave a snapshot of an earlier stage in the process.

        • If there is a Jesus-centric systematic theology out there, I have yet to see it.

          • Christiane says

            ‘a kneeling theology’ ?

            • Christiane says

              ” not a schema of the mind, but a narrative of the movements of the heart towards God”

              this is where I see the models of Western and Eastern Christianity meeting in an older narrative found in the Church ‘catholic’ long before divisions took preeminence and ‘thought systems’ created strange ‘gods’ of wrath and long before people’s ritual baptismal waters came to be so shallow

              • To kneel, sometimes one must first learn to stand. To overcome the systematic theologies Spencer had first to learn to stand against them. It is only by struggling to get into the upright position that he was able to kneel, rather than merely being prone.

                • Christiane says

                  do you think Michael was trying to break free of unwanted baggage or longing for something he knew was ‘out there’ instinctively?

                  a lot of young folks in their teens and college years ‘re-examine’ their faith and find in it what is meaningful to them or what is no longer meaningful to them;

                  and then examine other faiths looking for something that speaks to them as they are becoming their ‘own’ persons?

                  Michael seems to have made this journey a bit later in life, but that is interesting too, as he had these gifts of communicating on a more mature level . . . . he ‘connected’ with a lot of people from a lot of different faith backgrounds in a way that I think we all came to wonder at and to admire and, in the end, to be thankful for, to remember, and to be grateful for those who carry his work forward . . . and his voice is still heard here on this blog, yes

                  • I think Michael had a God-given nose for sniffing out BS no matter how its smell was masked, and was also irresistibly driven to point out its odor to those who wanted to pretend that it smelled just fine.

      • I wonder if the absence of systematic theology isn’t part of the appeal of Lutheranism to many post-evangelicals: Protestant, but without this particular load of baggage. (Don’t worry: We have our own loads.)

        • anonymous says

          what makes a theology ‘systematic’????

          • Christiane says

            is it where:

            if “A” is true, then so is “B” and “C” and “D” and ____________ you end up with things like patriarchy and its offspring Mysogyny; and TULIP and its parent “Double Predestination”, and wild incomprehensive disparities between what is ‘believed’ and what is ‘practiced’, so wild as to become almost an inside joke???

            or is it just a deck of cards arranged into a house where if you move one, they all fall down?

            what do we mean by ‘systematic’ when we discuss the term ‘systematic theology’?
            And for all that, what is the term ‘theology’ anyway but our human attempts to make ‘sense’ of something that is ‘geheimnisvoll’, filled with mystery?

            terminology is hard to fathom on blogs where folks come and use the same term and label and think they are understanding one another but instead they talk past each other and it’s only the cults or ‘tribes’ that have the ‘code’ language that signals only that they ‘are in’ or ‘belong’ and once this is identified, language no longer matters?

            (sigh) if anyone wants clarification of what I just wrote, don’t ask 🙂

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              or is it just a deck of cards arranged into a house where if you move one, they all fall down?

              Such vulnerability to “One Point Failure” is usually a sign of Bad Design, and is to be avoided whenever possible as far back as the design stage..

              • Christiane says

                TULIP ?

                • Mike Bell says

                  An acronym for the five points of Calvinism:

                  Total Depravity
                  Unconditional Election
                  Limited Atonement
                  Irresistible Grace
                  Perseverance (or sometimes Preservation) of the Saints

                  You can look them up for a more detailed explanation.

                  Ironically they were coined in response to points put forward by the followers of Arminius.

                  Hence Calvinism versus Arminianism.

                  You might here someone saying “I am a 3 point Calvinist”. Well these would be the 5 points to which that person is refering.

                  I wrote about my own move away from Calvinism here: https://internetmonk.com/archive/how-i-became-a-arminian

    • The systematic theologies were the first books to go when I started purging my massive library.

    • –> “Upon reflection, I realized the inherent problem with systematic theology: It either tells what what we already knew through God’s revelation, or it denies God’s revelation. In principle it could produce resulted complete consistent with that revelation and with additional insights. In practice it doesn’t work this way.”

      Oh, man… I’m sure we’ve all seen this. In fact, my pastor and I were just talking about how we’ve seen this. And one of the worst aspects of this is that if you don’t see systematic theology exactly the way they see it, you’re at best a misguided Christian, at worst a probable heretic. As you say, Richard… Best to avoid.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And one of the worst aspects of this is that if you don’t see systematic theology exactly the way they see it, you’re at best a misguided Christian, at worst a probable heretic.

        Purity of Correct Ideology, Comrades.
        Ask a survivor of Cambodia’s Killing Fields just how far “Purity of Correct Ideology” can go.

  9. Clay Crouch says

    “I don’t understand our loyalty to things that make God so unlike the one who revealed God on earth. Why we take on whole planks of Christianity that Jesus wouldn’t endorse or recognize.”

    This is why, after 35 years, I left the evangelical wing of Christianity. I could no longer believe or pretend to believe the picture of God that was presented. And though it was very different than the church of my youth, I returned to the Episcopal Church. I found Michael Spencer’s blog about a year later and felt such a relief to know that it wasn’t just me who thought something was rotten in evangelicalism.

    This is the only blog that I have read every day for almost 10 years. This is a special place.