Michael Spencer was one of those guys saying things most people weren’t.
The Internet Monk often discussed topics, and his conclusions, regarding God, Jesus, Christianity, and the church that by default seemed uniquely his own. Relatively few of his peers seemed to be journeying down the same path Spencer was on, although by his sizeable audience quite a few readers seemed to be with him on that same journey.
You don’t find a lot of blogs like Internet Monk on the web, and you won’t find a lot of books like Mere Churchianity in the bookstore.
Mere Churchianity (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CBD) is the late Michael Spencer’s first, and perhaps only, book, and he leaves us with thought-provoking material that, again, few people talk about but everyone needs to consider.
What we’ll do here is, instead of a book review, do a discussion of some of the topics Spencer raises. And we’ll be doing this discussion in parts, and without spoiling the entire book. I would like you to purchase it if you can, and Spencer would have too 🙂
Part 1 (the thread you’re reading now) covers Chapter 1 (When Church Signs Lie). In the interest of keeping the blog articles fairly short, we’ll probably cover a chapter at a time.
Chapter 1 refers to seeing signs in front of churches that promise Jesus is there and will be there…and Jesus is not.
Many things are promised on those church signs – revivals, the mission of Jesus, helping the hurt, fighting the culture war.
While Spencer believes that Jesus is alive and active in this world, he (Spencer) has become skeptical that these churches are delivering what they claim. He takes on the prosperity gospel, Christian consumerism, near-total dearth of discipleship and the tendency to attach Jesus to whatever one’s agenda is in order to legitimatize it, as well as preachers who tie God’s work to their church’s schedule.
Meanwhile, numerous Christians, frustrated over not seeing Jesus in what the church has become, are leaving the institutional church, often after looking for any sign of God and seeing instead sign after sign of religion.
These people come from all walks of life, and have for the most part rejected religion but still maintain a spirituality that keeps them connected to Jesus, if not to the institutional church. Spencer compares them to the prodigal son, with the older brother caught up in ‘churchianity’. And Spencer asks if those who have left the church are doing so to indulge their sins, or to abandon the churchianity religion of the older brother.
This is where Spencer’s prodigal son analogy breaks down, because the son clearly wanted to indulge himself; many people who leave the church do so out of frustration, and pain, not so they can engage in unlimited sin.
Still, the analogy to the older brother is applicable here. The older brother seemed to be about rules, and what was proper and holy. Many churches seem to be as well.
As Spencer said, “In Jesus’ story, God forgives a major-league failure and throws him a part. Religion wants justice, but the Father knows what is needed is grace and mercy.”
Spencer clearly sees multitudes of Christians abandoning the religious, churchianity-type church institutions because they promise Christ and deliver justice, and lack not just the grace and mercy Christ gives His people, but Christ Himself.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
“Love community and you will kill it. Love your brother and you will build it.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as posted at The Boars’ Head Tavern two weeks ago
Some thoughts meant to introduce a hopefully ongoing conversation:
Online community within the church has been around long enough now that at least most of the church leaders know of it and have an opinion.
This article from leadershipjournal.net gives a great overview of the church and internet ministry. Advocates like lifechurch.tv (a multi-site church with numerous campuses in the U.S. and around the world, an online campus at its website and a virtual church in Second Life) are represented. So are its critics like Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
But here is an angle I have not seen addressed by the proponents nor detractors:
For those who struggle to fit in socially with other people…for those whose jobs cut them off from the 9-to-5 world that many Christians seem to live and work in….for those who have been hurt by the church….is online community such a bad thing?
While the ideal may be to steer people towards a safe community they can participate within in the flesh…what do you do when the ideal isn’t practical?
What do you do for the guy who has to drive a truck 15 straight days on an interstate somewhere out West?
For the woman who has to work the night shift six days a week because that’s the only job she can find that will provide for her kids?
For the person working 80 hours a week to pay off debt or put the kids through school or pay a medical bill?
We still live in a 9 to 5 world.
Try to find a decent restaurant open at 3 a.m. that isn’t named Denny’s or Waffle House. Or, try to show up at the mall at 11:45 p.m. and see if you wait 10 hours for it to open up or if the mall cops show up to send you home.
What do you do, if you are a church leader or concerned Christian, for people whose lives don’t neatly fit into the evening and weekend slots most churches have their community groups and service activities (and services) scheduled into?
Just posted by Steve Hopkins on the open thread:
Hey guys Steve Hopkins here! As many of you know I was diagnosed with cancer last month. I had a biopsy surgery Wednesday June 23rd and the Doctor just advised that the test results were good…and it doesn’t look like the cancer has effected my lymph nodes. So this Wednesday, June 30th, it looks like Laproscopic surgery for me. As you can imagine this has been an ordeal for my wife and me both physically and emotionally. While this while thing isn’t fun, This is the best outcome I could have expected. I appreciate your continued prayers…thanks
Good morning…hope you’re having a good weekend so far.
If you went to church…tell us how your service went and what your pastor preached about.
Tomorrow, a discussion of online community; Tuesday, a review of Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity.
The United States and Ghana were tied 1-1 going into extra time in their opening knockout round World Cup soccer match…until Ghana scored in the opening minutes of the first 15-minute extra period…here’s hoping the U.S. pulls through to the next round against Uruguay!
Esther over at Fifty Hours asks where have you found help?
DustShaker’s prayer thread for June is up.
And ERunner at More than Coping has posted his weekly praise and worship video thread.
Here’s a blog recently started by someone I don’t recognize who apparently is familiar with the PP community….
The idea came up last night to reopen ERunner’s porch (which was really an open thread), something we did over at the old From the Ashes blog. So BD’s Bar, BD’s Club were proposed and shot down (BD too close to the blog name of a frequent PP poster, Babylon’s Dread)…
…so, what to call the Club/Bar/Porch?
As I’ve begun a series of reviews of the late Michael Spencer’s book, Mere Churchianity, I think it good to repost an article I wrote for PP about his life, and portions of a Linkathon with links to various rememberances and tributes to his life and ministry. – Brian
Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, is in heaven today.
Though he had been sick for some time, I didn’t expect his passing to come this soon. As I’ve seen before, however, the end can come sooner than one expects.
I believe God took him home at the right time. There is a part of me that thinks God took him too soon. I can’t blame anyone for thinking that way.
Spencer always talked about the “evangelical wilderness”, which was where he and those like him who didn’t fit into or wanted no part of the “evangelical circus” pitched their tents.
For those who read Spencer’s posts, they learned the evangelical circus featured quite a big tent:
- Superstar pastors, with books, DVDs and even fitness videos
- Pastors preaching about sex from a bed set up on stage
- The theological police
- Huge megachurches with 7,500 padded seats in the sanctuary, complete with a Christian bookstore, a Christianese Starbucks and a killer kids’ section
- The prosperity gospel
- The religious right
- and about 10,000 other spectacles and movements
Moses, David and Jesus each went out into their own wildernesses en route to their ultimate destiny.
Spencer lived in the evangelical wilderness, but was very much a part of the body of Christ.
He spoke to issues and asked questions about evangelicalism that made many think they weren’t nuts, or alone.
While the Truly Reformed debated minutae, the iMonk asked hard questions about the future of the evangelical movement many Christians are influenced by to some degree.
While the superstar and up-and-coming megapastors and their staffers blogged about new and exciting ministry methods, Spencer blogged from his heart, about issues that most Christians weren’t even touching.
When the important ones of the Christian blogosphere popped up now and then and reminded everyone to watch what they say online, Spencer stuck his neck out and – sometimes to his own detriment – spoke from his heart. He complained about the TRs, voiced his frustrations about his life circumstances and often directly responded to his critics.
iMonk may have broken the rules on Christian online socializing, but even in his mistakes, God used him to not only help other believers who were asking the same questions, but also remind us all that honesty trumps appearances, even if you anger the powerful and influential.
His journey began with Landmark Baptist Christianity, which claims to be connected directly to Christ Himself, and through the streams of Calvinism, Southern Baptist Christianity and Lutheranism. It took him largely against his will through Roman Catholicism.
Spencer’s journey also took him to the writings of men and women outside the mainstream of evangelical and Reformed Christianity: Robert Capon, Henri Nouwen, and Thomas Merton, for starters, and for those closer to the mainstream like Eugene Peterson, C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright. It took him through the Reformed stream, where he met the likes of Jared Wilson and Michael Patton. It took him to young evangelicals like Andrew Marin, who dared to look for another way to engage homosexuals other than with hatred.
Ultimately, it took Spencer into the arms of his Savior, who embraced him and welcomed him into glory.
Throughout that journey, Michael Spencer never lost sight of Jesus, which probably enabled him to see the Lord above the virtues and flaws of the ministries and theology of the men and women he encountered along the way.
The voices of the theologians and superstar preachers, and staffers at their churches, remain. They are a dime-a-dozen on the internet.
There are very few voices, relatively speaking, from outside the ivory tower and Six Flags over Jesus. Fewer who dared to look at the spectacle and call it out as a circus, clowns, top hats, car giveaways and all.
And even fewer who give a voice to those on the margins, to those outside of the tent, and to name some of the frustrations the outsiders had with the establishment.
Michael Spencer is gone from this world. There are so many of us who were affected by him. We are the ones who will continue his work, if it is to be continued.
I assume his website will continue on for the time being, as will another site he started and participated in as long as his health permitted, the Boar’s Head Tavern. And his first and only book, Mere Churchianity, currently in bookstores months ahead of its original release date, will give a fresh opportunity for his ideas to be discussed and considered.
I have a list in my head. It’s a list of men, all whom loved Jesus deeply and had impactful ministries, whom one might think died before their times:
- Jim Elliot
- Keith Green
- Rich Mullins
- Mike Yaconnelli
- Kyle Lake
and now, Michael Spencer.
It is up to us to make sure their memories are not drowned out by the louder and more popular theological police and superstars of the church world.
Tributes to Michael Spencer from around the web, the most comprehensive list I can find (with a hat tip to Tim Brister and others): NEWLY ADDED posts designated with a *
Tony Kummer (includes must-hear interview he did with iMonk)
Ted R from New Reformation Press
and my tribute at the top of this page.
These links, and others, can be found on a special page set up at the Internet Monk website.
Michael Spencer’s website is, of course, the Internet Monk, now run by Mercer and Jeff Dunn.
Michael is possibly best known for his series of posts entitled the Coming Evangelical Collapse, all of which can be found here.
One of Michael’s posts originally written in 2004, titled When I Am Weak: Why We Must Embrace Our Brokenness and Never Be Good Christians, is a particular favorite of mine.
He also began and ran the Boar’s Head Tavern in which he and other kindred and sometimes not-so-kindred spirits discussed the issues of the day.
The word does sounds kinda unusual, doesn’t it?
It’s short for weblog, and there are tens of thousands of them online, talking about every imaginable subject.
Some dismiss blogs as pointless, incessant barking, and some blogs are exactly that 🙂
Some blogs are good, and helpful, and provide a service to their readers…and that is what motivates me here.
Taking on a project like this – a blog – comes with some responsibilities: writing and posting articles daily, interacting with the people who are kind enough to comment on what they read.
It is my blog – but if it’s all about me, then I may as well shut it down.
BrianD blog is where part of the community from the Phoenix Preacher blog I was part of has journeyed online. Some may think that perhaps I would pick up where its founder, Michael Newnham, left off.
However, my calling and gifts are wholly different from his, so I will leave Michael’s calling to him or whomever God would desire to carry it forward.
Nevertheless, there are two things about PP that stand out to me:
- Michael served others by talking about issues of interest to his audience, sometimes using his own life as an example
- He sought to represent Jesus and serve Him well.
This blog hopefully will include these core elements going forward:
- God-oriented, and others-oriented
- What God is doing in my life, and yours, and in the world we live in
- Things that I may find to be especially helpful, or interesting, to you.
I may talk about myself once in a while…but I don’t want this blog’s voice to be incessant barking. There’s enough of that online as is.
I want this blog’s voice to spark conversation.
I want to follow in the footsteps of such Christian bloggers as Bill Kinnon, Dan Edelen, Michael Spencer and the guys who are continuing his legacy at Internet Monk and the Boars’ Head Tavern, and Michael Newnham.
And I want to be a voice for hurting Christians, Christians who have fallen through the cracks in the church floor, and Christians who feel alienated from the world or the church.
I’ve been all of those things…and there are very few voices speaking out for those wounded sheep.
There are plenty of Calvinist blogs, young restless and Reformed blogs, blogs extolling the glories of church planting and service. I don’t have much to contribute to those conversations.
But it’s a big church, with a large variety of denominations and perspectives under the Protestant banner, and I’d like to explore that quite a bit.
I also want to thank the audience who has followed me over here from Phoenix Preacher, and from other places on the web…and help that audience and grow it, if God permits.
There are a few other reasons why I want to keep going here for awhile:
- I didn’t want the PP community to die off…and while Michael needed to shut down his blog, I couldn’t stand to let the community disappear into the vapors…
- Right now, I NEED that community desperately, especially since circumstances are keeping me from building community in my local church which I don’t see changing anytime soon.
- I really like to write…and I dare to believe that perhaps I might have something to say to the world from my little corner of the web.
We’ll see where this goes. I hope it has a long shelf life.