In Memoriam: Michael Spencer (1956-2010)
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, scheduled for release this September, 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.