January 21, 2021

iMonk Classic: The Quotable iMonk

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Quotes from Various IM Posts

Note from Chaplain Mike:
Instead of running a complete classic Michael Spencer post today, we present some individual passages from past articles expressing Michael’s thoughts on various subjects.

We hope you enjoy these bite-sized gems from the Internet Monk’s prolific pen.

On the Gospel for Christians
I think it’s provable again and again that what we are comfortable saying to an unbeliever, we aren’t comfortable saying to a Christian. The Gospel is for Christians, too. We love the story of the Prodigal son. Now, what about the day after the party? What if the son messed up again in a week? What if he doesn’t live the life of a grateful son? Or to be more realistic, what if he sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t? Does that change the Father? Does the older brother get to come back into the story and say “Aha!! I was right!” Christ died for the sins of Christians, and we need to hear that over and over again.

• From “Preaching Grace Is Risky Business,” (3/7/04)

On Church as Grown-Up Youth Group
…there is a genuine difference between a church that proclaims a message of sin, justification and redemption and a church that seeks to produce the feeling of “a big hug from God.”  I learned this lesson as a youth ministry specialist, one of those people with the job of keeping the kids interested in church by running a program that resembled church as little as possible. It is no surprise to me that so many of today’s adults despise anything that looks traditional or classical in Christian worship. We fed them a diet of pizza, trips to the beach, concerts, games and the appropriate musical soundtrack and kept them far away from what was going on upstairs. We endured Sunday morning with the promise of “youth stuff” the rest of the week. While most of us never abandoned the Bible, many did, and we did practice the principles of communication that the seeker sensitive movement holds sacred. So if you are looking for someone to blame that adults now want to applaud at Holy Communion, blame me. (But they paid us to do it.)

• From “Fighting Words” (date unknown)

The Difference between the Gospel and Spin
The Gospel is not about how wonderful the church is or how dynamic the pastor is or how friendly the people are. If that is all true, word will get out, trust me. If you have to put it on a billboard or an ad or video, it’s spin. And the Gospel isn’t spin about us. It’s a straightforward proclamation about Christ. Remember? “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,  but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  For we never came with words of flattery…” (I Thessalonians 2:3-5)

When people are told that the church has all the benefits of a store or a club or a product, they are not hearing the message of sinners saved by grace through faith, not are they being prepared to hear it in a real community of fallen people gathered around the cross. They are hearing the crafted ploy of exaggeration, and sooner or later they will figure it out. The pastor may be a whiz, but he won’t visit grandma in the hospital. The church may have a heart for God, but nobody invited you over for dinner. The Spirit is moving in the services, but you are remarkably similar to the person who walked in the door six months ago, problems and all. And that dynamic youth pastor ran off with some kid’s mom. Welcome to the real world.

• From “Say Anything” (date unknown)

On Your Best Life Now
Joel Osteen and thousands upon thousands of other Christian teachers, authors and pastors, are telling Americans how to get their “best life now.” This has about as much to do with the Kingdom of Jesus Christ as we see it in the Gospels as a Big Mac, fries and a shake have to do with a healthy dinner.

Have you ever thought about this? We are living in the most fabulously wealthy, excessively entertained and unimaginably prosperous nation in the history of the world. We have a standard of living, and a level of comfort, that much of the rest of the world cannot imagine. We have so glutted ourselves with pleasure, comfort and excess that we are morphing into a nation of fat kids hooked up to video games being fed pizza by the servants.

Yet Christian pastors like Osteen are preaching on how YOU can GET MORE. MORE!! Better! How YOU can have your “best life now.” Having a great life in this culture of ours is a major concern of Christians. It’s insane. It’s as if God has lost his mind, and American Christians think it’s great. Jesus is the savior of the world, and his Kingdom is going to last forever, but we want a God who will sign the invoice for a Humvee, a cabin by the lake, and breast enhancements for Mom’s birthday.

• From “iMonk 101: Jesus, Joel, and the Hard Parts of the Gospel,” (revised 3/31/09)

How Evangelicals Pick and Choose What They Admire in Their Heroes
I’d like to suggest that when you observe evangelicals picking, promoting and icon-ing their favorite theological heroes, you may not be learning so much about those theologians as you are about evangelicals themselves. These icons tell us what evangelicals want to believe about themselves, their theology and their church movements. Consider some questions:

  • How many who quote Luther endorse Luther’s overall view of his connection to the RCC, Mary, the Jews or the radical reformation? How many can endorse his use of language or his view of the sacraments?
  • How many who quote Calvin have his view of church and state?
  • How many who quote Bonhoeffer would agree with Bonhoeffer’s view of Barth’s theology, especially regarding scripture?
  • How many who cite Spurgeon would agree with him on weekly communion? The use of the invitation? Sharing the pulpit with other denominations?
  • How many who cite Edwards know that there is considerable evidence of obsessive/compulsive disorder and a tendency to terrorize his congregations to the point that suicide among members became a concern and a reality?
  • How many who cite Owen endorse his congregationalism?
  • How many who quote Wesley endorse his perfectionism or agree with his ecclesiology?
  • How many who cite the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention have ever read a defense of slavery by those founders?
  • How many who quote Tozer or Chambers know how those men would have viewed today’s Calvinistic Christianity?
  • How many who cite Lewis agree with his view of free will, atonement, inspiration, purgatory or beer?

• From “Photoshopping Luther,” (3/12/07)

On “Approved Reading” for Evangelicals
You cannot trust me to avoid the likes of Merton, dozens of other Catholics, and many dozens of unsafe, unapproved and unprofitable writers. The idea that membership in some faction of evangelicalism carries with it an expectation to not read and like the Mertons, or the admirers of Mother Theresa, or N.T. Wright, or Brian Mclaren is obnoxious. It’s oppressive. It’s ridiculous.

• From “Pilgrim Tracks through the Stacks” (3/14/06)

The Passion of My Life
Anyone who theologizes without discerning Christ crucified is on the wrong track. Anyone who builds the church without discerning Christ crucified builds nothing. Anyone who preaches, sings, leads, writes or counsels without discerning Christ crucified is a sounding gong and a clanking bell, inviting judgment.

I fully realize that how we discern the presence of Christ in the supper, baptism, preaching, serving and so on will differ widely as we read scripture with our various assumptions about theology, history, tradition and language. I’m comfortable with that conversation and even with the tension that results, but I am committed to discerning Christ as the “reduction” of my entire evangelicalism. Establishing a vital relationship between Jesus and my world is the passion of my life. In that quest, I freely admit that I find more help among those simplifying the faith to a focus on Jesus in the gospels than among those making it ever more complicated.

• From “Reduced to Jesus” (9/23/06)


  1. I read the linked article “Photoshopping Luther”. It seems I’ve missed this in the past.

    As a Lutheran, I found my evangelical family, had never read Luther, Calvin, etc. There is an inherent mistrust of church fathers and old theologians.

  2. Christiane says

    What a commentary on the needed modern role of the Church in this country . . . offering help AND hope.

  3. The Gospel for Christians is excellent reading! Thanks for these!

  4. An excellent selection of excerpts. They are both varied in topic but centered in Michael’s desire for a Jesus shaped spirituality.

  5. Killer quotes. I sometimes wish that Michael was a megachurch pastor, cause then everyone would read his works.

  6. these are really great. i kind of just now realized how much i miss michael’s voice. man was he good.

    is this going to become a reoccurring post?!?

    • Yes, I think this a good way to get a concentrated dose of Michael’s insight.

      • I really liked what you did here Mike.

      • that is so good to hear. if you don’t mind indulging my prying, are you guys thinking every week, every other, or something else all together?

        i really think that we still need michael’s voice here in our discussions. he had such an ability to really stay at the center, and as such, was able to share richly.

        • Every Saturday we present an iMonk classic post. In addition, we sometimes put other posts up when they relate to topics we are discussing. So, you can always get your iMonk fix–at least once a week.

          • @cm: thanks for indulging me! i’ve gotta say, that even though i read and re-read the classic posts, there’s just something about the format here that, for me at least, just really worked.

            i was driving today and thought about how cool it would be if there was a book of little IM snippets. seriously, that would be awesome!!

  7. Concerning “On Church as Grown-Up Youth Group”, it appears that the only solution would be for youth leaders across the country to teach youth groups historical Christianity. Then, when they become leaders, all this mess could be fixed.

    But, they would be fired. Two true stories
    – I had a pastor tell the elder team “All I need is someone to baby sit the youth, and make sure they have fun. I don’t care if he teaches them the Bible. Actually, I don’t want him to focus too much on Bible studies”
    – At another church, someone left our church because of a statement that Christ’s death was the only path to redemption. Within 2-3 months of attending a new church, they were the youth leaders because they have a fun personality. No one asked them about their belief system.

    • Your stories make me angry. I was in youth ministry for almost four years, and I can’t say that it’s completely foreign to my experience. Youth programs have become a means to an end of making a church grow. Who cares if the kids themselves are actually encountering God and experiencing life change, right?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Concerning “On Church as Grown-Up Youth Group”…

      Does that mean we’ll start seeing games of Baby Bottle Burp as the Opening Antiphon every Sunday?

  8. HOLD THE PHONE! Jonathan Edwards was OCD? Now THAT is interesting. I agree with Benjamin Franklin on beer.
    I guess I’m gonna have to read Luther for myself so that I don’t have to stop quoting him. I believe he said this: “In domestic affairs I am led by my wife, Katie. In all other matters, I am led by the Holy Spirit.”
    His one-liners are among the more compelling evidences he was a student of Augustine. 😛
    Now to find me a good edition of “Bondage of the Will”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      HOLD THE PHONE! Jonathan Edwards was OCD?

      It would explain a lot. Judging from what he’s best known for (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), I’d guess that his OCD manifested itself in what my church calls “Excessive Scrupulosity”, obsessed with his own sin and failings and compulsively trying to Get Right With God. Like what fuels a lot of “Wretched Urgency.”

      And if the pastor was that obsessive, compulsive, and depresso, I’m not surprised that suicide was a danger among his congregation. Especially when the pastor is a good speaker and the surrounding culture reeks of Calvin.

  9. “Establishing a vital relationship between Jesus and my world is the passion of my life”

    Oh my. Thanks for this. I’m going to have to ponder this—-it may be what I do for Lent.
    What a mission statement!

  10. Scott Miller says

    iMonk I miss you…

  11. From “Photoshopping Luther”:
    “What we see is Luther used, not understood. Parts of the Luther story are bought, repainted and utilized for the purposes of the evangelical.”

    Hardly surprising given that scripture is often treated the same way.

  12. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a writer with whom I have agreed 100% of the time, on every issue. That goes for Luther, Calvin, and all the others mentioned above too. I think iMonk’s point was not that if we quote these guys, we have to agree with everything they said, it’s that we need to stop treating them like the “rock stars” of our particular branch of Christianity. Jesus Christ is the only Superstar.

    • Some, perhaps, do treat them as “rock stars.” I think, though, that all too many cherry-pick their quotes the same way they cherry-pick the Bible. That is, they find something Luther said that they like, then run with it, regardless of the context of that quote within the life and times of the person writing it.

      So we’re getting a modern, sanitized version of the parts of Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards or Tozer that we like and throwing out the rest, just like many of us within evangelicalism do with the Bible.

      • Ok, but with regards to Luther, for instance, I can agree with him on justification by faith without feeling any obligation to agree with him on women or Jews, or whether it’s acceptable to drown Anabaptists.

        I need not receive Luther’s teachings in the same way I receive the Scriptures, in other words. I can– no, I should!– pick and choose.

  13. I’m a big fan of the church signs. Good points you make as well. Although, I personally like Joel Olsteen – even if he can get a bit too hokey at times. He brings positivity in a world where it seems negativity is constantly threatening to engulf us.

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