October 21, 2020

A Better Writer Gets A Turn

writer.JPGUPDATE II: Ok. Plunge on ahead.

UPDATE: A number of memorable comments have appeared today, but none more entertaining than this one.

Really, it would be best to stop blogging. It’s the end of the road. Decision time. Carl’s devastating “fisk” has caused an eruption of cognitive dissonance. Deep down, you know the truth, but it’s too painful for you to act on, entrenched as you are. From this point on, for you it’s “Become Catholic or dissolve.”

Dissolve? What the…..

Carl Olson’s fisking of me today did something to me. It’s hard to describe exactly what, but I’m going to try. (And let me be sure to say that Olson’s piece was not a personal attack on me or offensive. He’s more than welcome to state his faith and use my post as fodder.)

For seven years on this blog (seven! Good Grief!), I’ve occupied a unique place and built a unique audience. I was been called and labeled everything from a Baptist fundamentalist to a postmodern emerging church guru to a Catholic sympathizer to a Catholic critic to the Spirit of the AntiChrist.

With this latest fisking, I have now been taken down and apart by Phil Johnson, Frank Turk, James White, Steve Hays, Ken Silva and Carl Olson. From the internet’s most well-known Reformed Baptist apologist to a Roman Catholic editor/author/apologist, I’ve been made famous on blogs far more widely read than my own. I’ve been called an enemy of Piper and an enemy of Calvinism, and I’m constantly receiving emails from Calvinists who love my critiques of evangelicalism. According to the dogs at Fide-O, I’m a Barthian apostate and according to fans of Joel Osteen, I’m the devil himself. I’ve criticized Driscoll and supported him. I’ve defended the SBC and shot at her. I’ve advocated Wright and Capon, and I’ve stood apart them as well, all to the applause and boos of the typing chimps.

Today, none of it made sense anymore. Standing in the middle of the fray. Standing with the other guy when he gets the bully treatment. Reaching out to Roman Catholics as my brothers and sisters, trying to be reasonable and accepting. Speaking as a post-evangelical to despairing evangelicals. Decrying team sport theology but winding up like the dead possum in the middle of the road. As one character said in a Hemmingway short story, “It all tastes like licorice.”

My wife said I ought to quit it, and she’s right. I can do better.

I’ve lost something today, and I don’t know if it’s coming back. Right now, I don’t want it back. If the answer to my blogging is Olson’s “Why I’m Not A Protestant,” I think my answer to Olson is…….completely irrelevant. If I call him my brother, I’m a damnable heretic with the truly reformed, and if I call myself a “Not a Catholic”, then the best I can be is just one more deficient, defective Protestant, outside of the true church with no authority to say anything anyway and never getting the real Jesus because I refuse to recognize transubstantiation. (Plus, I’m unwilling to read a Scott Hahn book to get all my questions answered.)

So I’ve got a lot less Piper books than I had last week because I’m obviously too critical to derive any benefit, and as of this weekend, I’ll have a lot less Roman Catholic books of my shelves, because this whole business of trying to build a bridge to people who don’t need a bridge is stupid on my part. (I’ll be sure and tell the priest at the local RC Church to give you credit for my generosity, Mr. Olson.)

This blog is going to take a turn, at least on the writing side. And I hope it’s a long-term turn for the better. Exactly where, I’m not sure. It will still be me on the confessional, honest side. I’m still going to advocate what’s important to me. But it won’t be me getting into the theological crossfire with these teams. Whatever I thought I was doing trying to be independent and reasonable, I’m not doing tomorrow or beyond. Have your little wars without me guys. Apparently there isn’t any place I can stand accept where I get buckshot in my ass.

If what I’ve written and said has been a blessing, maybe the blessing will continue. Or maybe you’ll not like what I’m going to do. What I can assure you of is this: as best I can, I am going to obey the constant call to “Find my own voice.” (One note: I do have some book review commitments that I will fulfill.) I’m a better writer and a better person than the one who wants to respond to Olson right now. I’m going to let that better writer have his turn in the captain’s chair.


  1. All Olson did was counter what you wrote with standard Catholic answers. And the positions he took issue with are not positions you invented, but pretty standard Protestant positions. I think software could be written that would give responses like the one you got (with the exception of some of his biography).

    I agree with what you wrote and disagree with what he wrote. But given his beliefs, I don’t know exactly what you might have expected him to say. Or is it the fisking style itself being turned on you that is the problem? Could the same things have been said without that format and it would have been okay?

    I’m not saying your being hurt here is not valid. I just don’t see clearly what made this in particular so hurtful.

    Much of what happens on your site is apologetics in one form or another. Your style is a bit more personal, and so I think maybe you expect a dialog in the same format. An apologist, however, will see arguments, and go to work at responding to them. Apologist sites are like shooting galleries. Your site may not be one. But he saw some duckies and decided to take some shots.

  2. >Dissolve? WT…..

    Boy, am I glad that guys like this are around to show me what you get with a regular diet of the real Jesus. (jn) There really is a difference.

  3. I want to point out that I wrote nothing, no matter how implicit, to suggest that you are a fanatic or a fundamentalist.

    No, you didn’t, Bob, and I apologize for the confusing way that I put that remark. I was referring to comments made by two or three others here. And, frankly, I’m glad you aren’t into giving out warm and fuzzy feelings. I don’t mind the straight talk; actually, I prefer it. But as for my comments being “facile,” well, we obviously will disagree on that point.

  4. Michael,

    Well, as a Catholic, let me say I think God’s got you covered.

  5. Christian M. says


    So Olson’s comments were some kind of “tipping point” for you. Not sure why, but it’s important to follow where that leads. If you’re feeling “out of voice” because of this, then let it help you find your real voice. I’ll look forward to hearing more of it.

    I’m a disaffected, but not yet disavowed, Evangelical. Your voice has been for the year I’ve been reading one of the only “true” voices of biblical clarity, personal honesty and humble reflection that I have found on the internet. I tried your Boar’s Head Tavern for a while, too, but eventually found it depleted my spirit rather than refreshing it. It made my brain hurt. I stopped reading it. In contrast, I am always refreshed, challenged, and encouraged in my spirit, by the Spirit, by your internetmonk posts.

    Here’s my helpful metaphor. You are like the little weights they stick on the tire of my car so it won’t be out of balance. When I feel like my evangelical car is about to shake apart because the wheels of belief and practice are so out of balance, your insights and wisdom are like balancing weights that smooth out the ride, at least for a time. You give me time to spiritually reflect on what is true and right, rather than focusing on the things that shake up my brain.

    Evangelical Christianity is out of balance. It needs you to keep it from shaking our brains into jelly. Find your voice, but by all means, keep blogging!

  6. I went back and re-read Olson, and I don’t think he really engaged in fisking, but an honest accounting of where he stands. But I can very much understand how the so often harsh internet postings that accompany blogging might drive you out of the arena. I hope they do not. Your writing–in both content, style and spirit–is a unique and needed presence on the web. Thank you for all the help and pleasure reading it has given me.

  7. I’ll join with caplight and with J.Kru.

    If you need a break then take one. But I am not sure what I would read when I arrive at work each day if you did.

    I expect that wherever you go will be insightful and inspiring.

  8. No major break planned. I just got discouraged with blogging guys. Real life actually continues…..

  9. marymargaret says

    Best of luck to you, Michael, and may God continue to bless you. As you know, I am a Catholic, and do not agree with all your opinions. Even so, I deeply respect you and believe that you are a good, Christian man and minister to God’s people. I would hate to lose your voice on the blogosphere–it is a reasoned and loving voice. As a Catholic, I will say that you have been unfailingly courteous and charitable to us, even when you disagree. I hope I have been likewise. (Please give my best to your family, and I hope you are still around my computer. I truly enjoy your writings, and learn much from them.)

  10. Well Carl, as one of the “two or three” who used the word “fundy” – I want to make clear that I wasn’t referring to you. I was referring in the generic to fundamentalism, in this case, of the Catholic variety. I don’t know the other commenter who used the “f” word but that didn’t seem to be aimed directly at you either. Of course I couldn’t say.

    Also, in saying that I “got” what Michael was saying, I was not saying that because of what you said in your post. Comments aren’t the best place to be as clear as one could be in a conversation. I tried to explain that. I “get it” because I have, in ways, a similar constitution and things like that, over time, tend to get to me and I can understand that. Everyone is treating this as if it were only in reference to one isolated incident. Not much is.

    I’ve e-mailed Michael before, he knows, about what I consider his “mixed messages” about Catholicism, calling him on it as I saw the need. So, I’m not straight down the line with everything he says for sure. I’ve also shared that my experience, and I have recently returned to the Catholic Church, with popular Catholic apologists, especially on the internet, has been fairly negative (not totally) – but there’s a bad taste in the mouth. It seems to excitable sometimes, too concentrated on certain aspects of Catholicism, and sometimes, there seems to be a tendency toward what could, at least, become a sort of “Catholic fundamentalism.” Maybe that’s what I was referring to, but not Carl in particular. I apologize if it somehow sounded like an attack on you.

  11. I am reading and praying for you daily, Michael. I’m glad you write.

  12. Hi Michael,

    I may be incorrect in my understanding, but I don’t think I am. So, I thought you might be interested to read my response to Mr Olson’s post …


  13. I’m a lonely Gen-X pastor. Your blog Michael Spencer has been a lifeline to me and makes me feel I can continue in this alienating evangelical world. For every one guy who doesn’t like you, there are 10 who find you a much needed breath of fresh air. What you are doing is a ministry as far as I’m concerned.

  14. AnonoChap:….

    Ah yes….something vaguely familiar in all that talk about “cognitive dissonance.”

    What can I say? Discovery Channel? Animal Planet? National Geographic?

    Really….a better hobby is in order.

  15. MIchael,

    Now I am more confused at your reaction to the comments than from your original post. You have gotten 64 and counting comments on this post, most offering support and only a few “dissolve” type reviews. You even had Olson, your critic, come in and give his respect for you.

    64 comments! Most bloggers would give their left eye socket to get that much response to an article they wrote. They would take even 64 comments of the “dissolve” quality to at least know they weren’t speaking to themselves in a vacuum.

    But then, you waxed sarcastic at your respondents as follows:

    “I’ve been reading mail and comments all day. It never fails to amaze me what bloggers will conclude from reading ONE post. We have some of the world’s greatest psychologists out there. House has nothing on you people who read one post and can describe my entire inner person in detail. Whence cometh such knowledge?”

    Most of your responders are not one time readers. From what I gather, most have read you awhile and were trying to give you support during what appeared to be an emotional and painful reaction in your post. Yet you lump them as “the worlds greatest psychologists”. To quote you, “WT…”

    I know you have said in the past that we make a mistake if we assume we know you just from reading your posts. Well, to some extent I disagree. You said right in this post that you will continue to be “confessional, honest side.” You’re “still going to advocate what’s important” to you.

    Well you can’t have it both ways. If you are honest and confessional then you are revealing who you are. If you are telling us what is important to us, you are telling us who you are. We don’t know you as someone in your family, but if your writing is honest and confessional, in some ways we should know you better than at least some members of your family..second cousins at least.

    We who read this blog like the Michael that is being revealed to us. We travel with his honest pains and victories. We like this guy. Otherwise we wouldn’t hang around so much. We don’t know him comprehensively. Only God does that. We don’t know him like his wife. But if he is honest in these posts, we at least know that small portion of his personality and we know that portion truly.

    And again, we like this guy that is confessional and honest. We tried to give support and now it feels like we got slapped for it. Something more like “thanks for the support, but some of you misunderstood me” would have been nice.

    Like the Olson issue, it appears you have fixated on the few negative (and incomprehensible) comments. Why? I won’t try to figure that out. That is up to you.

    I am not House. But if I was, at least I could say one thing truly. It’s not lupus.

  16. Point well made. Diagnose at will. Thanks.

  17. Michael, I understand that you can’t afford to publish my latest comments. I wish you well.

  18. While, I think Olson’s response is a tightly reasoned and well-written response that amount to some fraternal correction, it bears noting that we are brothers by virtue of our faith in Christ and our common Baptism, as well as our longing for unity among all the baptized who believe in Jesus Christ.

    So, I am glad that Olson’s so-called “fisk” and the resulting fall-out, or shark-like feeding frenzy, didn’t stop you from continuing to blog. I’ll give you one good reason why: “Dumb Up, Brother: A Spirituality of Ignorance.” This is one of the best things I’ve read on discipleship in a long while.

  19. Why are our labels so important to us anyway?

    (Most) blogs are toxic. Keep providing an alternative.

  20. I’ve read you for a while now, always good to see counterpoints, open frank discussion etc. Sometimes maybe it gets personal for those writing, but walk the walk etc. You have no reason to back down, to change your view, or your tact. Be blunt, call a spade a spade etc. Ok a bit heavy on the cliches, but brother we need more voices like yours, not less. The statement that “a prophet is not accepted in his hometown” kept running through my head as I read your piece. Maybe a visionary is not accepted in his own areana applies. Let the Spirit lead, not your own feelings. God bless you continually.

  21. love your blog, keep it up, but the negative responses affirms that I made the right decision years ago to leave theological wranglings and pursue my gifts as a craftsman and woodworker. much easier on the soul and heart than being accused of heresy. Here’s to dust and the smell of crisp shavings in the morning.

  22. “I have now been taken down and apart by Phil Johnson, Frank Turk, James White, Steve Hays, Ken Silva and Carl Olson.”
    🙂 If you’ve ed off such a wide variety of people, you’re probably doing fine.

  23. Michael, I am learning that there are those who like to fight for intellectual turf. I’m not one of them. Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, says that giving up all notions and intellectual positions is the path to peace. I am beginning to understand the truth of that. Which doesn’t mean you don’t have notions, just that you refuse to turn them into ammunition. Read Nhat Hahn’s book, Being Peace. It did more for me than most Christian books I’ve read lately. Of course, then they’ll call you a RC/Buddhist sympathizer, but who cares. Keep the faith because nothing else matters. — Chuck

  24. Carl Olson irritates me, even though I usually agree with him. You educate me, most of all when I disagree with you. I know which I’d rather read.

    (And I apologize for my prediction on an earlier post that you would eventually end up poping. Especially now that so many twits from both sides of the Tiber have ripped into you. Keep serving the Lord on whichever side, and we’ll all sort out the theology in heaven.)