July 17, 2019

My Journey with Michael Spencer

My heart is heavy today. I found out yesterday morning that a young family friend took her own life. It was a shocking reminder to me to “be kind” to the people I meet. I encourage that of all of you as well. You do not know what people are going through, so treat everyone with kindness regardless of how they treat you. Her passing has just been announced, and I don’t feel free to say anymore, but please pray for this family as they are undoubtedly devastated.

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Today is also the ninth anniversary of the passing of Michael Spencer the founder of Internet Monk. Just a couple of weeks ago was also the tenth anniversary of my first article posted to Internet Monk. I believe that Michael Spencer created Internet Monk about 2000 which means that we are about 19 years old! Through the miracles of Internet Archiving you can read an early version of it here. For those relatively new to Internet Monk you will be surprised by some of his influences in his early days.

Today, I wanted to take some time to recount my journey with with Michael Spencer and Internet Monk, and encourage you to share your journeys as well.

I first encountered Internet Monk in 2008 through a dispute with my Pastor over the importance of the mode of Baptism (sprinkled, poured, dunked) and the validity of re-baptism. (For clarity’s sake infant baptism was not part of the equation.) A google search led me to the blogging of Darrell Pursiful and his series on Baptism. Darrell was constantly quoting articles that Michael Spencer had written, and in due time I ended up visiting Internet Monk for myself.

I was pretty much hooked right away. Here was the guy who was saying the things that I was not free to say (though he was looking over his shoulder the whole time). While his views would evolve and change over time, he wasn’t afraid to tackle some of the big issues of the Evangelical world, that few would touch: Inerrancy (2005) , young earth creationism (2003), homosexuality (2003), mental illness (2006), and a critique of evangelism techniques (2003).

After reading for a while, and then commenting, I pitched a couple of ideas to Michael Spencer. They were pretty much shot down.

In March of 2009 Michael released his series on “The Coming Evangelical Collapse“, that got picked up by and printed by the “Christian Science Monitor”. I thought that he would get hammered for what he wrote, bu I also thought that what he said rang true to me, so I offered up another proposal:

“Would you be interested in a guest post showing a further statistical analysis of the ARIS data, that supports what you have been saying?”

To which he responded:

“Yes… send it… make it readable.”

So I contributed my first two articles for Internet Monk.

About a week later Michael sent this:

“Thanks Michael. You did a great job and we will do it again. In fact, consider submissions to IM to be an open invite from now on.”

Exactly ten years ago today he posted my third article, and Michael added the byline “Internet Monk First Officer”. This article was picked up my the Manchester Guardian, among other places, and has been cited in several scholarly books and articles. That was a pretty significant moment for me.

I wrote four more articles over the next few months (those stats articles do not come quickly), and then got sick. I was hit with the double Whammy of severe sleep apnea (blood oxygen levels were dropping as low as 61%) and Type 1 diabetes. (I was one of those rare instances of acquiring Type 1 in adulthood.)

I only wrote one more post before Michael Spencer passed away. Sadly we never got the chance to meet in person.

I did get both my sleep apnea and diabetes under control and volunteered to continue writing. Chaplain Mike and Jeff Dunn agreed. After posting sporadically while dealing with family issues, I became a regular weekly writer from the middle of 2013 to the middle of 2015, then again had to take another break because of family concerns. I have been back writing for the past year.

Some of you may remember that I started working on compiling Michael Spencer’s notes on the Gospel of Mark into a devotional commentary. Well, that is still ongoing, and I hope to be able to release Volume 1: Mark 1-8 by the end of next year.

What has been your experience with Michael Spencer and getting to know Internet Monk. Your thoughts and comments are very welcome.

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Finally to come back to my original thought, here is an appropriate saying from John Wesley:

Do all the good you can,
to all the people you can,
at all the times you can,
in all the ways you can,
by all the means you can,
as long as ever you can.

Comments

  1. johnbarry says

    Mike Bell, thanks for sharing your history with Imonk. You add to the quality and depth. This is the only interment site I interact with as it is small and most of the commenters offer good comments. I only know M. Spencer in the historical sense , by his writings but they are still relevant and worthwhile. I think he would be well pleased with how his work on this site has been carried on. To the followers of M. Spencer I would sing this to the tune of the Bob Hope song, ‘Thanks for the Memoires”, which I always thought was great when he personalized it to location and people though the years. So think of the tune in your head and if too young too know song , look it up. For M. Spencer

    Thanks for the memories
    Of thoughts extremely well said
    Of discussions well led

    Thanks for the memories
    To your faith staying true
    and including all of us too

    Of comments good and strong
    and admission when wrong

    Thanks for the memories
    Of keeping it so real
    telling how you feel

    For letting us speak
    Not judging us strong or weak

    We thank you so much

    Safe to safe M. Spencer memory endures here. M. Bell, nice tribute to M. Spencer.

  2. johnbarry says

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIRyvgfRkr8

    The original song in a 1938 movie was a divorced couple thanking each other for the memories. Memories are important. Bob Hope used this for years with ever changing lyrics and it always worked. Keep the tune in your mind as you read my poor attempt above. Long way of saying I am thankful for the memories and thoughts many here share of M. Spencer. So thanks for the memories

  3. I started posting after Michael’s death. I obviously missed somebody really special. To the folks who keep this place going – Thank You.

  4. Richard Hershberger says

    That link to archived early imonk is fascinating. Michael has a piece renouncing Christian bookstores, dating his announcement in terms of the liturgical calendar. Then there is the links sidebar with, under the heading of “Truth,” links to Drudge, Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, etc. All in all, the picture of a man in a transitional state.

  5. I have know idea how it came about that I commented on Michael Spencer’s post on Jan 1, 2000 about the trashing of the moral ABC’s. Do you know the ethos of that post was…don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I do know that you know Mike, that IM has been very eclectic throughout all these years. I still recommend to friends to read Internet Monk and Jesus Creed, both of which I go back to their beginnings. Here you would get some insight into a Jesus shaped spirituality. It is only a very shallow representation that is presented in many other Christian and secular media.

    • Michael Bell says

      Wow! An Imonk original. I wonder how many of you there are still around?

    • Michael Bell says

      There is a little bit of confusion over when the first post was due to the subsequent site migration.
      The Moral ABC post was actually in February 2001. The first post was in November 2000 and was about vote counting and the expected eventual Al Gore win.

      Here is the first archive by date.

  6. Klasie Kraalogies says

    I first encountered Internetmonk around 2003 or so – and a quick Google search revealed comments as old as May 2007 by me, under a different alias. I only met Michael through the phone and email, never in person. He also allowed me to become a Boar’s Head Tavern member (who here remembers that?).

    I have previously posted on the pain of my own marriage and the ensuing divorce. Michael was one of the very, very few people who knew about the pain, the physical abuse, etc. He was there to listen to my struggles.

    The day I heard about his death I was at work, and saw the news during my lunch break. I couldn’t conceal the sadness – but I told my manager at the time and he understood.

    • Christiane says

      The news spread quickly through the blogs that day. It was a day when everyone who read ‘Imonk’ and cared about Michael all stopped and paused to reflect on his passing but also on what he had accomplished: the bringing together of Christian people into ‘the Great Room’ to listen to one another . . . . a profoundly important accomplishment surely close to the heart of Our Lord.

      It was a sad day for us, but we understood also that he had done something during his lifetime that MATTERED to us who realized what it was, and for those of us who remembered his blog before his sickness and loss, we are grateful for Chaplain Mike and all who write to keep Michael’s work going forward.

      I am thankful for the life and work of Michael Spencer, Servant of the Word.
      I am thankful for Chaplain Mike and his supporters who care enough to continue Michael’s work and legacy.

  7. I’ve been reading since 2005, when I graduated college. Michael was my front-line resource for the deconstruction I would experience in my 20’s.

    I went all in with the Young, Restless, Reformed aggressive neo-Calvinism movement in the 2000’s. At the time it was the only branch of Christianity (so I thought) that was speaking to my stage of life: a desire for passionate personal relationship with God, a concern for urban issues (several prominent voices were Christian hip-hop artists), a faith that was intellectually rigorous, and all things “manhood” related.

    I began to see the cracks in the foundation after attending a few conferences where I was picking up subtle hints of authoritarianism and condescension towards anyone who was unlike the rest of the tribe. The way women were spoken about was deplorable. What I thought was the “intellectual rigor” of Calvinism was nothing more than a lens, a box, a worldview that was not allowed to be questioned. And the “manhood” stuff was simply the dark side of ego and insecurity.

    With wit, humor, and theological acumen — probably more than he gave himself credit for — he butted heads with this growing movement, and helped me whittle away at the assumptions and presuppositions that I had uncritically bought into. He gave permission to deconstruct before deconstruction was cool. He cited contemplative and critical scholars. He opened up a world to me which I continued to discover through seminary education. And he pointed to Jesus as the ultimate reason for going on this critical journey, which is something that a lot of my peers who are building their church/podcast/conference platforms on are forgetting about.

    I think Michael gets a lot of the credit for turning me into the weird amalgamation of sacramental evangelical Anabaptist that I currently find myself as… and I don’t think he ever even wrote about Anabaptism. But he spoke prophetically to “God and country” folk religion… again, before it was cool to do so.

    If Michael were still around, I believe he would speak as prophetically to the unexamined aspects of the progressive movement as he did to the fundamentalist/evangelical movement of the 2000’s — and remind us of Jesus-shaped spirituality, over and over again.

  8. I posted this in 2012…. still applies:

    I started reading internetmonk around 2006-2007 having been directed here from another site. I think at the time I was satisfying an itch to see how the other half lives – being Catholic and all. But what I found was a man who could write authentically, with much depth and conviction. I soon read all of the archived essays and came back to lurk (I didn’t think my quality of writing was up to snuff with many of the commenters at this site to contribute on a regular basis). I found it interesting to read his words as Denise approached the decision to become Catholic. I got a glimpse of his struggles with the faith, I respected him for his focus on Merton and enjoyed reading about his revelations after going on retreats at Gethsemene.

    I also enjoyed the folks he attracted to the site, the commenters who are both intelligent and yet tolerant of other points of view. This site has been a comfortable place to come to and very good place to exchange ideas, share emotions.

    I never met Michael, or talked to him though I listened to a few podcasts, but I was sad at his passing and even mentioned it to my wife who had no idea what I was talking about. I believe he enriched me and at times got me to think outside of my box, got me to think past the us and them mentality… and for that I am grateful.

    • Christiane says

      ” I think at the time I was satisfying an itch to see how the other half lives – being Catholic and all. But what I found was a man who could write authentically, with much depth and conviction.”

      +1

    • thatotherjean says

      Radagast, I think you and I must have arrived here at about the same time, and stayed for much the same reasons. Many thanks to Chaplain Mike and all the others who have made Internet Monk an enduring legacy of Michael Spencer, worthy of its founder.

  9. Thank you to everyone who keeps this site going. I don’t think I would still be a Christian without Internet Monk. I discovered this site after leaving an effectively neocalvinist church. It was such a breath of fresh air to read articles that are by a Christian who had a good head on their shout and noticed some of the same craziness I was seeing. God Bless you Michael Spencer. God Bless you Chaplain Mike. God Bless you Jeff Dunn and Michael Bell and all the others who keep this site going.

  10. I started here around ‘06 I think. I took a year off at one point because I became too invested and some of the contention, it has become much less so I think, just started getting to me. Now I no longer receive the email so I have to think of it and check in. It’s been good. Little less involved and happy. Thanks to all the writers.

  11. Adam Tauno Williams says

    I first arrived via an internet search of “I hate theology” immediately following a church meeting about a proposed cell phone tower. OMG.

    I became a regular reader immediately.

    No clue when I first posted. I think Boars Head Tavern was still around then, maybe in it’s twilight years.

  12. Patrick Kyle says

    Started reading and commenting in 2006-7. Became the first paying advertiser on the site (New Reformation Press) 2007-8. I was crushed when I received news of his illness. I miss him….

  13. I discovered IM around 2007 or 08, just about the time we were starting to exit evangelicalism and church. I grew up as a missionary kid, completed a masters in theology, and had always been part of a church until that time. Michael had a lot of the same questions and views I was starting to have, and he expressed them a lot better than I could have.

    Also, this was and continues to be one of the most civilized places on the internet. It was an island of sanity not only from the rest of the internet, but also from the evangelical circus I was starting to ease out of at the time.

    I will always be grateful to Michael. A lot of what he wrote about evangelicalism was prophetic in nature. At the same time, I think he underestimated how far off course white evangelicalism could and would go, as did I and probably almost everyone else. The last election confirmed to me just what a dire state the evangelical circus is in (and the fact that mostly it does not even know it yet). I can only imagine what Michael might have written had he lived long enough to be around for that or for today’s constant barrage of ugly news, but I don’t think he would have held anything back.

    I miss his writing, his wit, and most of all the passionate courage it so often reflected.

    • Christiane says

      “Also, this was and continues to be one of the most civilized places on the internet.”

      THIS !

  14. Dana Ames says

    Agree with all the positive comments above. I think I started coming here in 2007, well into the Wilderness but having had some help from Tom Wright and some in the Emerging Church scene to regain my balance. I probably arrived via a link from one of those EC folks. Michael was very generous and had a grateful heart, in addition to his intellectual capabilities and his wit. May God make his memory to be eternal.

    And may God grant rest to the soul of your young friend and comfort to her family, Mike. So sad.

    Dana

  15. I started reading Michael Spencer on this site way back in 2001-2002, when I first discovered blogs…I’m pretty sure I found Internetmonk by following around the links of some of the Catholic blogs I found at that time (particularly the blog of Amy Welborn).

    Having moved around a lot and participated in many different types/denominations of churches , I was very drawn (and still am) to Michael Spencer’s idea of “Jesus-shaped spirituality”.

    Also at that time (in a new place, in a new church) I was basically thrown into the deep end of the contemporary worship pool, which was very new to me as a musician and as a Christian. Michael’s essays over that time provided helpful and interesting food for thought to sift through as I navigated through the modern evangelical world and kept the worship music focus (I was a worship ministry leader) on Christ, not the musicians nor the music style (we had a pretty rockin’ band, and people were quick to put us on a pedestal).

    After several years of that I had to move again, and ended up in a small isolated place where I learned the excruciatingly hard way how cruel small, provincial, self-absorbed, toxic churches can be to someone who is new, has significant ministry experience (in other words, makes everyone else look bad), and is an outsider. After strugging for nearly 5 years through several churches (the first church slandered me and spread misinformation about me that significantly poisoned the well for my chances of acceptance in other local churches), I couldn’t deal with the condemnation and rejection anymore and quit church. I would’ve lost or renounced my faith completely at that time if it weren’t for Mr. Spencer’s writings, especially as his book Mere Churchianity came out two years after I left church, right at the nadir of my spiritual struggle.

    His passing was a sad and terrible blow to me, he was such a far-seeing spirit, gifted by God to see the big picture of Christianity (which was also clearly a burden to him), as well as a prophet with such an important message for the evangelical church.

    I still lurk here, though the uncharitable & negative political tone that frequently appears in the comments now discourages me. Nonetheless, I have made my peace with living in the middle of the wide (sometimes hostile) evangelical wilderness, a place where one can still seek to pursue Michael Spencer’s Jesus-shaped spirituality.

    (BTW, I still regard it as an honor to have worked on the transcriptions of Mr. Spencer’s lessons on Mark, and I look forward to the completion of the book).