January 16, 2021

Curious Minds Want To Know: Does the IM Audience REALLY Exist?

seatsC.S. Lewis said that the person who tries to be unique never is, and the person who sets out to be original seldom is.

I would suggest that the IM blog and IM radio podcast audience are made up of people who may, at least at some point, have felt they were “the only ones,” or one of a few.

Slowly, as books and blogs and stories and coffee shop conversations proliferated, their view changed.

Now, they/we know. There are thousands of us at a thousand different places in the evangelical wilderness. Our experiences in evangelicalism weren’t exactly what we originally thought. Given a place to stop, listen and talk, it turns out there are many of us, not just a few. No one seems to have a map, everyone seems to have a story. Very few of us want to go back to whatever evangelicalism was when we were happily going along with the show.

We are simply here, and we’re greatly strengthened by the stories we’re hearing and the reality we’ve discovered can’t be questioned.

Whenever I write, I’m aware of this. An audience exists around this web site and around some of what I have written, who understand what the wilderness experience means. They do not all want or even understand the post-evangelical label. They do not all agree with me or my pessimism about the future. They are not a “movement.” (Good grief.) They are not all reading Brian Mclaren, or N.T. Wright or Don Miller. They are not all anything, any denomination or any common complaint. They are not some common hoard of emerging caricatures.

We are every denomination, every age, both genders, in and out of ministry, holding on to different parts of what we once were. We take encouragement from some of the same voices, but we are most definitely not anyone’s club of the discontented. We are tribes, hermits, monastics, liberals, conservatives, traditionalists, emergers, contemplatives, prophets, lamenters, artists, solo players and plodders. Most of us have found a place to live out this wilderness experience and we go to work every day doing something for Jesus.

The audience for what I write is very real and very there….having an experience that my critics will endlessly and tirelessly describe as nothing more than the whimperings and whinings of people who can’t get over some aspect of their fundamentalist past or can’t see the glory of the evangelical present and future.

This audience has found thousands of faithful and happy evangelicals, but it has also found those who have left, are leaving and will leave. The people with no where to go. The people who don’t know what to do with their experience in evangelicalism. The people who have found shelter in some half-way house, oasis or way station.

For eight years of blogging and for most of three years of controversy, this audience has grown every year.

I could name the names of other individual Christian bloggers with large audiences and no one would embarrass themselves saying they were illusions or insignificant. But my audience? Apparently this audience either isn’t there, doesn’t matter or should be labeled as the source of the problem.

Be that as it may, the audience for this blog is real. They can be diagnosed, shuttled off to the back lot with all the other wimps, cranks and troubled kids who won’t behave. You can dispose of this audience with a word and swish of your rhetorical wand, but this audience, its experiences and its place in and out of an evangelicalism gone sour is not imaginary.

This audience and their experience of evangelicalism is part of what is happening in evangelicalism, right there along side the culture war and the latest efforts to save everything with a conference. There is no amount of diagnosing me personally that is going to make one person in the IM/IMR audience cease to exist, cease to have their experience or cease to find themselves moving out of, through and beyond evangelicalism.

If you think it’s about me being “sensitive,” well have a coke and stay a while. Ask yourself if my lack of obsequiousness is the real core issue here. Ask yourself why the blogosphere would be such a pleasant place in some corners if I just closed up shop? Ask yourself what it is that this blog and its numbers represent? Ask yourself how the stories- and people- on this blog would be treated elsewhere?

Then go back to being REAL, IM audience. That’s what you do best.

COMMENTS OPEN!

Comments

  1. Michael –

    i am with you…as we and the rest of your “audience” seek to faithfully follow Jesus..no matter how irrelevant or how mythical our existence is…maybe we are the myth that becomes real…just remember a prophet and i mean that in the OT sense is never appreciated in his or her time…you have been a prophet to me and i dare say to your audience..a prophet of hope, encrouagement and rebuke in times that we have all needed it..thank you for answering this calling..it is a burden i know…but your reward is not in the world, but in the world to come..i for one and proud to call you brother….blessings…

  2. I am the iMonk audience.

  3. I just wish I could find more “real” people in “real” life, the interwebs are all fine and good but I don’t seem to run into many Evangelicals who are exploring this wilderness.

    Or maybe I do know more than I think I do, but they are just afraid to show it… Who knows.

    • I have the same perception.

    • Have you looked for an ‘Emerging’ church around your town? I don’t know if that label fits everywhere, but I find a lot of the same themes in our emerging church that I find here at IM.

    • I know lots. Really, they’re not hard to find. Most of them are disguised as Evangelicals who have God all figured out, but once you start sharing with them your serious concerns they’ll open right up to you.

      Or they’ll recoil in horror and think you’re gonna lose your salvation, but whatever.

  4. I’m one…

  5. I am the walrus…err…

  6. I’m one of the imonk audience, and I’m real.

  7. Hey, iMonk! You should get one of those maps where we can pin our location for all to see. I, for one, would be interested to see it. (pininthemap.com is one)

  8. I’m fairly new to blogging, mostly because it’s actually pretty time consuming and I don’t have that much time to read and respond. I really get a lot out of reading what others are saying, but sometimes it’s frustrating since one can’t really hold a real conversation. It is what it is.

    It does seem to me that the “audience” is biased towards those who are post-evangelical, anti-evangelical or having-issues-with-evangelicals-evangelical which is to be expected, I guess, but I hope that many *actual* evangelicals can read and absorb a lot of the thinking expressed here. If more did, there would likely be fewer post-evangelicals, etc.

  9. Cogito ergo sum.

  10. “No one seems to have a map, everyone seems to have a story.”

    Interesting related CS Lewis quote:

    “… if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he will be turning from something real to something less real … The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but … it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together.”

    I think this blog brings together those thousands of glimpses and experiences; it’s some kind of newfangled digital theological cartography or something. 😉

  11. Last time I checked, I’m real. I think. And when did “evangel” equal snark? Just asking. Crap, now I’m quoting Beck. Surely the end is truly nigh! I am thinking of creating a, You might be Post-Evangelical if? list. Should be interesting. Looking at my post makes me wonder if I am real. Sheesh.

  12. I’m here!

  13. It is quite a lot bigger than those of us who comment. We’re just the ones with big enough egos to think our comments are a big deal.

  14. Its not just your audience. I am one, but I can name at least 10 others that dont even know about this blog. They have the same experience, tell the same stories, and want to see the church be so much more than it is in ways it has never imagined – even in the most inspiring ‘visioning’ conference.

  15. “Apparently this audience either isn’t there, doesn’t matter or should be labeled as the source of the problem.”

    Well, you know how it plays, Michael. The people who are seeing something different from the mainstream are first demonised and ridiculed and then go through the several stages before where they are is the mainstream.

    It’s such a human nature thing. I notice it in myself often. I think that may be part of denying yourself, the refusal to demonise and scapegoat the other for whose opinions you deride or dismiss as stupid or whimpering or whingeing. I tend to do it back the other way so I can’t really cast any stones on that one, although it’s just plain ugly and childish wherever it comes from 🙂

  16. I’ve never been accused of not being real before!

  17. I commiserate, therefore I am.

    Goo-goo-g’joob.

  18. Dan Allison says

    I am post-evangelical, part of the IM audience, and I thankfully have been blessed to find a small neighborhood church four blocks from my home. We are not a megachurch or multi-site church. We are not a CCM church, prosperity church, tongues church, rapture church, antiabortion church, emerging church, or a verse-by-verse church. I like to think that we are a Jesus church.

    We are part of a mainline denomination that we pay little attention to, and you would never know we are “Presbyterian” if the sign didn’t say so. We have little money and are small in numbers (maybe 100). We don’t want to “take this city for Jesus” but we do want to love our neighbors for Jesus. I can reach the pastor any time, directly on his cell phone, if I need to.

    I really believe the only way out of the wilderness is neighborhood churches. What can the megachurch 15 miles away on the highway do for people in my neighborhood? I also believe the mainline denominations have a lot to offer. I am so tired of hearing that “Presbyterians are this” or “Lutherans are that” because someone who has never been in a Presbyterian or Lutheran church has heard some news story on the Salem radio network. Every congregation is different and you really must go in and meet the people to find out who they are. I know that God will lead us out of the wilderness, but I don’t believe that we can know now what the Promised Land will look like.

    Thank you, Michael.

    • you. speak. truth. thanks.

    • You are VERY lucky! I pray to find such a church. Actually, I visit such a church about once a month but it is not in my community.

    • Dan, this has also been my experience … My husband and I recently joined a tiny mainline church (United Methodist) that averages about 120 people between two services. We live just two-three blocks from it, and it sits smack-dab between the poor and better-off sides of our community.

      The church isn’t perfect, the denomination isn’t perfect, and I am far from who I should be. But it’s like a weight off my shoulders, to be back in community again and to break the silence and indecision.

      • Dan Allison says

        Praise God. Thanks, Danielle. I think the mainlines have a history of learning to accomodate all types of us and building true community, while many of the independent and non-denoms come off as cliques or in-groups. That’s my experience, anyway.

  19. Hi MICHAEL,
    You wrote ‘If you think it’s about me being “sensitive,” well have a coke and stay a while’
    I admit I did.
    And I love the diversity here.
    AND, I have come to appreciate the parameters you lay out for the audience participation. It frees us up from having to ‘walk on eggs’. (Not that we can throw them instead.)
    I’m discovering something interesting:
    I’m not sure how it is happening, but Protestants are no longer as much in the dark and estranged from the ancient ways of the earlier Christian Church . This doesn’t mean that they are ‘turning Catholic’ or ‘turning Orthodox’ so much as they want their birth-right: a share in the rich treasures of the Christians before the time of the Reformation that were lost to them, but were not the reasons for ‘separation’.
    I love this.
    The catecombs belong to Protestants, too, And the Didache and the writings of the Church Fathers (Patristics). And the music, like the beautifull 8th Century Irish hymn: ‘Be Thou My Vision’.
    And the customs and the liturgy that ground us to the life of Christ as we follow the Church Year.

    And Protestants are finding out that Catholics WANT them to have these things with no strings attached. Protestants can enjoy that which is present in the ancient ways that is meaningful to them without endangering their own integrity as Protestants.
    I may be wrong about this in many ways. But something is going on. I know it is.

    • Wonderful response, Christiane. Michael has been very courteous to we Catholics who post often here. And I have learned a lot from him and the other non-Catholics. (Calling them non-Catholics is my way of acknowledging that some people who I thought would be called Protestants, don’t call themselves Protestants. So, see, I learned something!)

  20. Right over my head…………….

  21. “I am,” I said
    To no one there
    An no one heard at all
    Not even the chair.

    thanks for listening, michael.

  22. Eric Weatherly says

    The idea of a Baptist monk is kinda scary and so I had to check it out! I loved it though, but I still feel funny about it! Take care!

  23. I am a memeber of the iMonk audience, and I am real. Keep up the good work, iMonk! You are a huge encouragement to everyone in your audience.

  24. If you post a blog in the forest, does anybody read it?

    Keep up the great work IM!

    • Hey, I live in the (Ocala National) Forest, and I read iMonk! I am real, and I was relieved to find iMonk because I was beginning to believe that I was a perpetual malcontent.

  25. I’m here, I’m real, and I’m very thankful for the courage you display by speaking your mind in spite of whatever criticism you receive. I don’t agree with everything you say (aren’t you glad?), but I share your disillusionment with the status quo and your hunger for a deeper, more authentic expression of this beautiful faith we have received.

    Don’t be dismayed by your detractors–just keep doing what you do!

  26. I am Gladiator, I think. Its fortunate to have a few places to stop that help you grow in a bigger perspective. Cant find alot of flesh and blood to discus such things. Cant even seem to get past the young earth deal let alone why the catholic church might have something to offer. Oh well. The ones that you can talk to have already tossed the whole thing out. To bad they couldnt have stopped by and pitched at tent in the wilderness for a while and learned that the paradigm they learned about christianity in was wrong and not christianity itself. Now Im thankful that I started going to church after experiencing a bigger picture and doing a little collage. Hmmm.

  27. Monk,

    Does it havd to be a coke? Is that our only choice? 🙂

  28. Thanks so much for this. Your blog often puts to words what my husband and I feel. Yes, we have a story, and even though part of the wilderness has been frustrating, it has also been very freeing. So keep it up, for our sakes!

  29. David Higginbotham says

    I’m here…listening and reading.

    Not because I always agree, or always even always get it…but because I care about reality in Faith and what is transpiring in the Body of Christ at large.

    I will sometimes comment but usually not…I don’t always have something different or interesting to contribute…but I am here.

    Keep doing what you are doing, IMonk…because I am here along with a host of others.

    Godspeed…

  30. I’m here; for a while now; reminded of that every now and then when sifting through some old printouts and come across some material from the old site.

    I’ve said it before, but again, Thank You.

    – Craig

  31. Sad to say but I don’t think the ones asking this question REALLY want to know. I doubt they are even curious.

  32. 1) Diet Pepsi, please
    2) I’m real. Weird, but real.
    3) I’m not evangelical, or post-evangelical. I just get a ton out of your posts and those of your audience as I attempt to conform my life a tiny bit according to God’s plan, rather my sin-of-the-day. You resonate with me, especially your humility.

  33. Michael, the question is not, do we exist; but rather do YOU exist? Or have we been making fools of ourselves?

  34. I’m Here,

    I’m Real, and by the way, one Diet Coke for me please.

    Been diagnosed as “rebellious”, shuttled off to the back lot (or was it “pew”) with all the other wimps, savants, cranks, “embittered” (their term for those who disagree), and troubled kids who won’t behave, won’t accept the status quo, won’t believe the hype, and won’t fight the culture war by voting, holding up picket signs, or boycotting. Been disposed with harsh words and swishes of the rhetorical wand. Refused to become the Ned Flanders clone that evangelicallism tried to shove on me.

    I’m post-evangelical, post-political, but still Christian and a child of God!

    Keep up the good work. Thank you again and again for being the loudest voice coming out of the post evangelical wilderness.

  35. I’m one. Follower of the way. Tired of the control-gospel but love the gospel.

  36. I am the IMonk audience, but I do not necessarily claim to exist :).

  37. I am the iMonk audience.

  38. Ok, i know there are people who think that aspects of my theology aren’t real (I made them up? never knew I was such an original theologian), or that some of the problems I perceive aren’t real (they know better?) but this is the first time I’ve ever been told that *I’m* not real.

    Best go inform my kids they never had a mother! (and words fail me when it comes to my poor deluded husband!)

    Seriously, i don’t post often, because I’m not American and I’ve never been Baptist, so some of the “in house” stuff I have nothing to contribute to, but I’ve been reading consistently for 3-4 years (and the BHT slightly longer) and I take heart from the fact that my Lord’s church comes in more flavours than vanilla. And i’m so glad that Jesus is bigger than our best theology.

  39. I have been in the wilderness, and I am real.

    Thanks, IM, for creating a space for people to chat about these issues. It is needed. And it is so good to know there are others with similar stories!

  40. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna…

  41. I’m kind of curious how you attract all us folk who have never been evangelicals and never intend on becoming evangelicals. I think in American Christendom the state of evangelicalism has huge ramifications for everyone.

    I’m pretty good at coming up with proofs against my own existence. But that’s just the kind of philosophy I like to read.

  42. Real. Present and accounted for. Now, back to my regularly-scheduled wilderness…

  43. I’m a Marxist!

  44. Cool blog. Keepin’ it real.

  45. I can’t even remember how I found this blog, but I’m here now. My internal dichotomy between faith and intellectual honesty is now gone. (That almost sounds like an infomercial. Oh well.)

    • I remember how I came over here. I had stumbled over the term “post-evangelical” because I was thinking about “Recovering Fundamentalist” as a title for my memoir, and I was intrigued. Using Google (not Bing) I did a search, and found the blog. I stayed because someone was asking out loud a lot of the questions I had never dared to verbalize.

  46. Word!

  47. Imonk,
    I read you everyday. And I am neither a evangelical or even a Protestant. Came over from Amy Welborn’s blog one day about 3 years ago. I read you because I work with evangicals of many stripes as well as raised by a Catholic Mother / United Methodist Father. So keep on writing Michael.

  48. I’m not part of your audience, I’m a participant. 🙂

  49. Now that we know we’re real and that we’re camped out here in the post-evangelical wilderness — anybody for smores and a few rounds of Kum Ba Yah?

  50. I’m here and fighting to be real.

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