January 24, 2021

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Every so often, it seems like a good idea to get the basic facts about your Internet Monk straight. I do this mainly for the sake of commenters and others who sometimes make factual errors. I’m often stunned at the weird things people believe and say about me, what I do and what is my real-life ministry.

My name is Dennis Michael Spencer. I go by Michael. I prefer not to be called Mike. I have gone by Dennis occasionally, such as in college.

I’m 52, born in 1956.

I’m the campus minister and Bible teacher for a large Christian school in southeastern Kentucky, I’ve been here for almost 17 years. Most of my students are not Christians. Many are internationals.

I preach 9-12x a month to approximately 300+ students and staff, sometimes in daily chapel and sometimes on Sundays. I teach 4 classes of Bible and one section of AP English IV every weekday. I teach English III in the summer.

Speaking publicly is easy for me, but it’s harder as I get older. It’s odd that I make my living talking, because for the first 14 years of my life I was a tremendous stutterer.

Before this job, I was a pastor for 4 years and a full time youth ministry specialist for 13 years. I worked for 5 SBC different churches in various staff positions and for one as a pastor.

I graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan College with majors in Philosophy and Psychology, and a minor in English.

I graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with an M.Div. I did 34 hours of a D. Min, but didn’t finish the thesis or get the degree.

Denise and I have been married for 30 years. We have two children- a married daughter and a son who will be married in May ’09.

We have two cats and one dog. The dog is half Cairn terrier/half Scottish terrier. She’s called Maize.

I’m a member of a Southern Baptist Church. I worship each week (morning and evening) at the worship gatherings our school provides for our students. I’ve taught an adult Bible study for 16 years. Once a month I worship with St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Lexington.

I’ve always lived in Kentucky. I’m originally from Owensboro, Kentucky and I graduated from public school there. I became a Christian at age 15 and was a member of a large fundamentalist SBC church where my uncle was a prominent pastor.

I was ordained into the Gospel ministry by my church in 1980.

I did a lot of youth ministry consulting back in the day. For 12 years, I was the preaching supply minister for a PCUSA church in Manchester, Ky. I really enjoyed that experience and miss it a lot.

I was awarded a pastoral sabbatical in the summer of ’08 by the Louisville Institute.

I’m not a Calvinist. I am a Reformation-appreciating Christian. I’m more about the solas than I am the TULIP. I have a great deal of respect for Calvinists and would be part of a “Founders” church if I had the option. I like the way they do church, worship and missions.

I sing pretty well. I play guitar better than average, but haven’t in a while. I’m passionate about baseball, particularly the Cincinnati Reds and the minor league Louisville Bats and Lexington Legends.

I think I’m a good communicator in words or in person, but I’m also deeply aware of my failures to communicate and all the sins that relate to my use/abuse of words.

I’m something of an amateur Shakespeare scholar. I know a lot about Kentucky monastic writer Thomas Merton.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

I’m always looking for an experience of Christian community that I’ll never find. I call that the “evangelical wilderness,” and call myself a “post-evangelical.” A “post-evangelical” wants to combine the best of evangelicalism with the broader, deeper, more ancient Christian tradition.

I have no idea what the future holds, but I plan to keep teaching, preaching and writing as long as I’m able.


  1. Neat… I’ve got two questions, if you don’t mind (and if you do mind, I understand 🙂 )

    1. What is it about getting older that has made public speaking harder? Is it an issue of increased humility coming with increased experience or is it an issue that physically it’s more difficult? I ask because I just turned 30 and so have been thinking about what it means to be marching more toward middle age, and I do a lot of public speaking. Or did, at any rate.

    2. What kind of guitar do you play? By ‘kind’ I mean both musical genre and type of guitar (flattop acoustic, solidbody electric, etc). My Stratocaster’s my favorite posession, so I’m always intrigued by fellow axe-slingers.

  2. Memphis Aggie says

    Hi Michael,

    Why has speaking gotten harder as you’ve gotten older? That’s the opposite of my experience.

  3. Preparation isn’t harder, but concentration and physical exertion are. I’m not in good shape, and my body feels a tremendous wear down after preaching + five hours a day teaching, mostly lecture. Energy, back, mental focus. My eyes are going. And 17 years of one assignment is harder to get energized for, though I do it. I miss preaching to the church a lot. Being almost exclusively evangelistic is tough.

    Aggie: I have a lot less stress over what I say, and more physical drain saying it.

  4. I play a Seagull acoustic. Cheap, ugly, sweet sound. Canadian cedar body.

  5. Nice to know ya, Michael.

  6. Do your students read your blog?

  7. “I’m not a Calvinist. I am a Reformation-appreciating Christian. I’m more about the solas than I am the TULIP. I have a great deal of respect for Calvinists and would be part of a “Founders” church if I had the option. I like the way they do church, worship and missions.”

    You described me pretty well there. I often have people ask me if I am a Calvinist when they hear me preach. I tell them that I am not, but I lean so heavily in that direction that for all practical purposes, I might as well be one. Ironically, I tend to think that my position is the most biblical and sophisticated position that exists and am quite proud of how I hold so much in tension. Strange how our soteriological positions often elicits pride in our own intellectual acumen when the whole point is that God is the one who saves, not us. In my pride over my position, I end up missing the whole point and end up repenting and bowing before the God who saves.

    Sorry for rambling. You got me thinking there.

  8. Not while they are students, unless I assign something, which is very rare. It appears that my site is highly filtered by our lab and is extremely slow loading.

    My blog is considered a “bad thing” by a few of my coworkers. Others really like it. Most pay it no mind at all. Only on one occasion has it been an issue, and that was a barnburner. I assume at least two people monitor the blog to make sure I’m behaving.

    But after students graduate or leave our school, many read the blog and write me.

  9. How in the world do you find time to blog?

  10. I’m done teaching by 2:30 every day. If my students are working, I usually have the laptop nearby and I will work on sermons, etc there.

    I’m a fast worker, fast reader and fast worker. I go to bed about 11 and I get a lot of work done in the evenings. My life isn’t 8-5, but it’s not hectic.

  11. Michael: You said, “I’m always looking for an experience of Christian community that I’ll never find.”
    Me too, brother.

  12. Imonk,

    I noticed that St. Patrick’s is an AMiA. Do you feel as strongly as I do that AMiA is a great model and that it has big potential to shape things in the future.

    I wish we had an AMiA closer to myself.


  13. Out of curiosity, how comes it that “Most of my students are not Christians. Many are internationals.”?

    How do foreign non-Christians end up in a Kentucky Christian school? Is it related to mission work?

  14. I remember reading a comment by you that you used to be a Calvinist. When did you lean away from it, and why?

  15. Martha:

    I’m not allowed to talk about the school on the blog, but we’re the 3rd least expensive boarding school in America and we have a great ESL program.

  16. John:

    April of 06.

    I don’t believe the L.

    In a choice between Luther and Edwards, I’ll take Luther.

    In a choice between reasonable Arminianism and typical Calvinism, I’m far more comfortable with my Bible with the reasonable Arminians.

    I had experiences on the net in 06 that were intolerable.


  17. Very nice, Michael. And…I see you made Time Magazine:

  18. Dennis and Denise. That’s cute.

  19. Michael:

    I haven’t been around for awhile. Thanks for the imonk reboot!

  20. “I don’t believe the L.”

    I totally concur. Everything else about Calvinism I greatly respect and admire…but the “L” is just too big for me to ignore!!! If it weren’t for Barth, I don’t know how I’d reconcile it all!

  21. Imonk,

    It’s great that you love Shakespeare…but how about Milton? I find it weird how many well read Christians shun Milton yet embrace Shakespeare…

  22. Greenstuff:

    Not a Milton fan. No comparison in my book, but Milton isn’t a pure dramatist.

  23. Speaking publicly is easy for me, but it’s harder as I get older. It’s odd that I make my living talking, because for the first 14 years of my life I was a tremendous stutterer.

    Another famous stutterer James Earl Jones. About 12 years ago I heard an interview with him where he admitted that under some circumstances he can still stutter. Hence, he will occasionally re-write some of his scripts. When the writer or director of the film protests he asks “Do you want to get this shot today?”

    Just thought you’d like to know that you are in famous company.

  24. Maize?
    What happened to the dog you named after Van Til?

  25. Van til, the BHT’s magic tail chasing wonder dog, has his own apartment in Miami. I only answer his mail and schedule his appearances.

  26. “I’m something of an amateur Shakespeare scholar.”
    I was told recently that Shakespeare had a hand in producing the KJV. I’m dubious. Can you help?

  27. Michael: What do you mean by a “Founders” church? That’s a new phrase for me.

  28. OK, I have to ask one more question…What is a “reasonable” Arminian?

  29. Michael,

    Wonderful post. Great to be able to get to know you a little better.

    You’ve given me some things to think about, including a post such as this on my blog.

    Thank you!


  30. Will S and the KJV:

    Shakespeare died in 1616. The KJV was produced in 1611. There are some who believe- without any scholarly evidence- that the KJV translators used some of the literary stars of the time to lend style to the Psalms.

    I think someone claims there’s a Shakespeare acrostic with one of the Psalms. Whatever.

    One thing I know a bit about is the existing documentary evidence for WS. That evidence gives us nothing for this theory, and a lot against it.

    WS was certainly born into a Catholic family, maintained Catholic contacts throughout his life and may have died “a papist” as early biographer said. His contacts with the Catholic underground were extensive. While his players were the King’s Men, we are still talking about “players” here, and it’s almost mad to think that the leaders of the church would involve a guy whose plays were full of bawdy jokes, blasphemy, sexual content, etc.

    Shakespeare’s poetic work is doubly inappropriate to commend him to the church establishment. The Sonnets and the long poems are all extremely sexual. In fact, one of Shakespeare’s relatives may have dedicated a book to him “On the Duty of Poets,” pleading with him to use his literary gifts in the Cathiolic cause.

    We have no record of Shakespeare ever actually attending church. Both his daughter and his father ran afoul of the law for not attending Protestant services. The evidence for WS being a convinced Protestant pretty much consists of Hamlet studying at Wittenberg.

    So I don’t buy it, and no serious Shakespeare scholar does, but it is a tantalizing possibility.


  31. Reasonable Arminian: Not on the Charismatic extremes, the emerging extremes, the Holiness extremes, etc. Roger Olson.

    Founder’s: Founder’s Ministries is the Calvinistic/reformed movement in the SBC.

  32. Have you ever read anything by Theodore Darlymaple Michael?

    He is has very insightful commentary on things like poverty, morality, ect.

    He also said that Shakespere’s works basically covered every aspect of human phsycology.

    You might like his stuff.

  33. Thanks for sharing your life with us Michael… It’s a breath of fresh air for me… I’ve had too much of the other BS!!!!

    Your Friend,

    Dennis Laing

  34. Justin "baby sheep dog" McFarland says

    The Pirates will have their day! you mark my words!

    oh and just wanted to let you know that my father still sends “pigeon threats” to me to this very day.

  35. Hi Michael,

    As a reasonable Arminian, 🙂 I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I also had a severe stutter, mine however lasted until the age of 35. I so appreciate the fact that I have had only a slight impediment for the last 10 years. For me, swearing off of caffeine did the trick. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to figure it out.

  36. Michael, until recently, I would have said I was a “reasonable Arminian too” (ala Roger Olson). BUT…Arminians still believe in the original sin thing and if I think that infants all go to heaven, maybe that puts me outside the Arminian camp now too. I guess I will have to exist within the heretic camp. I was glad to find out, though, that you can be a Christian and STILL be a heretic. Yay!

  37. So good to meet other non-Calvinists who nonetheless appreciate and are influenced by many Calvinists, as well as the Reformation in general… while also not being forced into the Arminian camp. Ironically, i’m more or less a (disgruntled) Southern Baptist as well. The flavor of SBC i grew up was considerably less Calvinistic than the current SBTS flavor.

  38. Great post, Michael. It’s a pleasure to know a bit about the host. Thanks for hosting this marvelous conversation.

  39. It’s good to know you, brother (even if only through the blog and one meal together).

  40. JoanieD

    I just finished reading Olson’s book and my understanding is that he believes that infants go to heaven as well. They do have original sin,but that original sin is sort of put on hold by God’s grace until they reach and age of knowledge

    hope that helps


  41. It’s good to know you Michael and am glad to see you at St. Patrick’s each month. We should do dinner sometime.


  42. “The evidence for WS being a convinced Protestant pretty much consists of Hamlet studying at Wittenberg.”

    And in the same play, Hamlet after seeing his father’s ghost, invokes St. Patrick when talking to Horatio. Why St. Patrick? A Danish prince in an English play swearing by an Irish saint?

    Because everyone would have associated St. Patrick with Purgatory (thanks to Lough Derg, where he was supposed to have found an entrance into the Underworld) and connected this invocation with the Ghost.

    I am dubious about the more enthusiastic of my co-religionists enlisting Shakespeare as “one of us”; it reminds me too much of gay activists reeling off a long list of famous historical personages in the arts and sciences, claiming “And they were gay, so that means we’re better!”

    His parents certainly were of the generation that was Catholic; he grew up in those blurred, confusing times when the pendulum swung between reform and Reform, and the English church was swayed between those who wanted to import the Continental reform and pure Protestantism and those who wanted to keep a toe-hold for traditional Catholicism. I think myself he was yet another ‘bright country boy goes to big city, mixes in higher social circle than his home, becomes sophisticated and gives up all that old-tyme religion’ – whatever religion he may or may not have practiced. A heritage of Catholic tradition in the back of his head, like so many others, which is why he could make the St. Patrick allusion with no need for heavy-handed explaining.

    Certainly I don’t think Shakespeare was a flat-out atheist like Kit Marlowe, but I imagine him with a kind of cocked eyebrow of scepticism about all the changes being arbitrarily imposed according to who was riding high in the saddle of state power at the moment, and being very careful (like any prudent person growing up under the Tudors) not to say anything that could be construed as critical of the Monarch, whoever that might be at the moment, and whether he or she was Papist, Protestant, or in-between.

  43. Hey, thanks, Austin, for letting me know that Roger Olson believes infants “go to heaven.” I guess maybe I can stay classified as an Arminian after all! I have only read some of the online things that Roger Olson has written. I haven’t read his books yet. There are just so many books out there that I would like to read.

    If Michael would not mind our getting off-topic a bit, which of Olson’s books did you read and is it one you would recommend over other books of his if you have read his other books? Thanks.

  44. JoanieD

    It was the one Imonk mentioned in a blog a few pasts.

    It is called Arminian Theology

    I got barnes and noble to order it

    I read it in about a day and 1/2

    It is a very good and easy read

    I had always considered myself a pretty strong Calvinist.

    Turns out I’m more of a classical Arminian, as are most of the baptist preachers I grew up listening to.

  45. Have you read “Chronicles Volume 1” by Bob Dylan.
    If you’re interested in Bob Dylan it is excellent.

  46. sorry, the Bob Dylan Comment was for another post but you get the idea.

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