October 20, 2020

A Friend Who Saved My Life

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On August 26, 2008, at twenty four minutes past midnight, I left my first comment on a fascinating blog I had started reading called, “Internet Monk.” An article with the intriguing title “Wretched Urgency” had been re-posted, and I found it compelling. Here was my response to the post’s author, Michael Spencer:

You tell the truth.

The main problem with the evangelical church (Baptist and otherwise) is that it has taken believers out of real life where they might follow Christ in truly renewed human lives and relationships. Instead, it has substituted its own manufactured programs and methods, covering them with a pseudo-Biblical veneer to justify them. And we’ve been doing it for so long, that most of us actually think it’s the real thing.

I’m with you. It’s not.

When I hit “enter” on that early morning five years ago and left my comment for the Internet Monk, a wind blew across the sands of the wilderness in which I was wandering, and I began to spy the vague markings of a path toward home. In other words this blogger, Michael Spencer, emerged as an important person who was to play an integral part in the saving of my life.

This post is not about me, but about Michael, so I won’t bore you with the details of my journey, except to express my gratitude for God’s providential guidance in allowing me to know Michael and benefit from his friendship and ministry. His bio describes him like this:

Michael was a libertarian-leaning conservative politically and an adventurous pilgrim theologically. He owed much to Baptists, the Apostles’ Creed, Raymond Brown, Ed Beavins, Eugene Peterson, Paul Zahl, Robert Capon, C.S. Lewis, the Gospel of Mark, Michael Horton, N.T. Wright, Shakespeare, his dad, several pastors and always Martin Luther.

Sadly, Michael died three years ago today in his home surrounded by his family, on Easter Monday, the opening day of baseball season, and far too soon for all who knew and loved him. On that day, having been asked by Michael to continue the work of the blog, I wrote the following on Internet Monk:

With them, we mourn his passing.

With them, our tears fall.

With them, we express gratitude that Michael is at peace and no longer suffering.

With them, we cry out to God in pain because our suffering has just increased.

With them and with all creation, we groan, awaiting the day when this sad world will be put to rights.

With them and with all the saints, we put our trust in Christ alone, crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and coming again.

We continue to mourn. We continue to pray for comfort and strength for his dearest, Denise, and his children Noel (with her husband Ryan) and Clay, and his grandson Silas.

michael_spencer1We continue to put our hope in the One in whose presence Michael rests.

* * *

I encourage you to read Noel’s thoughts about her dad’s passing: “Reflections on April 4 Evening.”

I also encourage you to take some time today, as you have it, to peruse the Archives and read some of Michael’s extraordinary writing.

There will only ever be one Internet Monk.


  1. Thank you, Mike. You are one of countless lives Michael touched and continues to touch. Thank you for your prayers.

  2. Man, I miss him.

  3. Like you, Mike, Michael Spencer’s writing and podcasts assured me I wasn’t alone in my feelings of disconnect and disorientation as I wandered Evangelicalism. His work showed me that “Loving Jesus but not the Church” wasn’t a destination, but a motivation to press onward. I join you in thanking God for his life today.

    And I am adding a note of thanks to you, Mike and the rest of the iMonk crew for building on his legacy – the best tribute to his iMonk work is the fact that you’ve all continued it with such excellence. Blessings to you.

  4. I know it’s copping out to quote CS Lewis (and maybe a little cliche?), but I think this sums it up well:
    “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one!”

    Michael Spencer brought together in discussion and fellowship so many people from different walks of life, different faith traditions, different countries. Though I rarely comment, I always read, and I’ve been reading for years now since someone pointed me here to help me with my own restless wandering. I can’t really explain the relief I felt to know I wasn’t the only one. Many thanks to those who work to keep his legacy going.

  5. Perhaps Michael is proof that one can leave a lasting legacy without being “on fire”.

    • petrushka1611 says

      Good point, Ox. One of my good friends was griping at me a little for posting some of Michael’s (and Chaplain Mike’s) Wretched-Urgency themed articles, because she said most Christians aren’t doing enough to begin with. I told her those two men far more than most Christians, even while they’re preaching what they’re preaching.

    • +1

  6. Travis Sibley aka BigLove says

    Michael’s book arrived shortly after his passing. It was a bittersweet moment for me.

    I had only found the blog within a year or so before his death. It was truly a life changing experience… I had found I wasn’t alone.

    Started reins his book and was a mess of tears… weeping for loss of the man who had written those words and for the final realization that I had found truth, honesty and compassion in the first pages of his book. The kind of things that I could not find in a brick and mortar church.

    May his legacy continue, may God’s peace be with his family and friends. I think he would be pleased with the way this is all turning out at imonk.

    You are greatly missed Michael…

  7. Radagast says

    I began lurking here sometime in 2007. I was captivated by the topics Michael chose, his love of Thomas Merton and I soon began reading all the “stuff” in the archives. For me, it was a window into the evangelical world, and the first time I got a taste of the ebb and flow between the different traditions. Michael’s writing was captivating, personal, emotional at times, and the contrbuters and commenters provided a mature and considerate level of discourse that I didn’t see in other areas of the blogosphere.

    At times I was almost convinced Michael was at the shores of the Tiber ready to swim, at other times not so much. And Michael was also very personal and candid about Denise’s journey and eventual crossing.

    All in all I miss his opinion and writing style and would have liked to have met him, even if he was ‘one of them Baptists’ (and I mean that affectionately).

    I echo those above to say thank you to Chaplain Mike and Jeff Dunn and all the other contributers who have worked hard to keep this blog a place where ideas can be shared and debated without it degrading into chaos. I don’t contribute as much (as my writing style pales in comparison to some who post here), but I always appreciate all the different points of view that are presented.

  8. I miss his writing and podcasts. They still speak to me. Thanks so much for keeping this going. His family are in my prayers.

  9. I too stumbled onto internetmonk and Michael Spencer’s writing right as my relationship with the church was going down the toilet. His writing was soothing and prophetic, looking back from four years later — I have since had a not-so-clean break from the church I was a part of for over ten years, which compelled me to re-evaluate everything about my Christian faith, and ultimately leave the Evangelical church completely. We all lost Michael too soon, but I’m so glad that Chaplain Mike and everyone else here have kept this site going in the same spirit, as this has been one of the few places I can stomach regularly as I try and figure out what my faith should look like after leaving evangelicalism.

    Thank you, Michael Spencer.

  10. Sadly I only saw his posts toward the end…as that was when I discovered this blog. I remember CM taking over. Today I have spent time reading in the archives and printing out articles and giving them to a few people I know. Michael Spencer is irreplacable. But so are you Chaplin Mike. Everyone on this blog is irreplacable as everyone makes this to be a community. Michael Spencer is gone…but his legacy still thrives. And the more we read, write, etc,, the more we honor his memory.

  11. May his memory be eternal

    He was the Prince of Baptists

  12. It was great to know you didn’t have to be a “liberal” to react against the Republican Christian Industrial complex. iMonk really gave space for conservatives to wander the wilderness.

  13. “Wretched Urgency” just described my childhood in a nutshell. I have been reading Internet Monk for a little over two years but had never seen that article. Thank you. I have been in the wilderness for a few years now but am beginning to “spy the vague markings of a path towards home”. Michael Spencer, Chaplain Mike and Internet Monk have been a big part of that.

  14. Thank you Mike. Michael touched your life (and countless others) and now you have touched my life (and countless others).

  15. I still miss Michael Spence’s writing, too, and still pray for his soul and for the comfort of his family.
    What he did here was just wonderful.

  16. I first read from internetmonk in late 2008, clicking from a friend’s blog, but I didn’t get hooked until early in 2009 when an atheist friend (thank God for atheists!) sent me a link to Michael’s article in the Christian Science Monitor, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” That got my attention again and I’ve been back daily ever since. Thanks to Chaplain Mike, Jeff, and others for keeping this going.

    My own blog came about in part from Michael’s death. The first post, in April 2010, was Dylan Thomas’s poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” because I had just lost three friends to cancer (Michael was one of them) in the previous weeks.

    A year later I posted another Dylan Thomas poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and contrasted it with Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar.” I also put up that cartoon of Michael’s that he got a chuckle out of, the one of him as shepherd leading —not sheep—but a goat. I think somebody drew it to lampoon him but he loved it, and the artist gave him permission to use it.

    My own blog hasn’t gone very far because I’ve realized I have to live around some of the people I’d be writing against, and I get tired. So mostly it’s foolishness, with an effort toward some display of God’s grace.

    But thanks to Michael and all of the spunk that he had, even if I don’t. May he enjoy eternity cooking Italian food for the Mob (by the way, I’m reading through Capon’s Between Noon and Three again, and I just realized that’s probably where Michael got the idea for that).

  17. I miss him also.

    His death is one of several where I find myself asking God, just like the Prophet Habbakkuk and a couple of others, why the wicked prosper and the good die young. However, Isaiah 57:2 does say, “… devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly, enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” That verse has given me peace more than once.

  18. Wow – that is so powerful – never take a single day for granted!

  19. I discovered iMonk around 2008, about a year after I started having severe health problems. At the time I was still very spiritually immature and not quite ready to process what I was reading. But it stuck in my soul, and I can see how even though I couldn’t see it at the time, Michael Spencer’s writings were my main source of spiritual formation.

    But that would be drastically understating how important the Internet Monk community and Michael Spencer were to my survival. I grew up in an evangelical environment where the unspoken rule was if anything bad happened, and persisted, it was because of a lack of faith. Sure you were allowed to have back pain, but it better be miraculously cured after 2 months. Because of the grace and truth I experienced here, I kept my faith and grew, which I don’t believe would have happened had I not discovered this internet community. I was able to deal with depression, anguish, chronic health problems, and disappointment openly because for the first time I saw Christians able to express vulnerability, weakness, doubt, and sin, yet still maintain their faith in Christ.

    Now at my conservative evangelical university, I can tell how much I have been impacted by what Michael and others here wrote. Though sincere in it’s desire to follow Christ, the environment is very moralist but I am able to brush it off and find my worth and salvation in Christ alone.

  20. Even my previous comment doesn’t seem to capture just how important Michael and this website were, and are, to my spiritual development and my sanity. Because I had seen “The Boat in the Backyard”, I could admit I had depression and get help. Because I had read “Wretched Urgency” I could stop fretting about how I was useless as a Christian because I was bedridden. I was able to dig past the recent evangelical circus and start exploring the larger Christian tent.

    I really don’t believe I would have survived the past 6 years without Michael and without this website.