Friday, March 12, 2010

Michael Spencer's Deepest Well

Will you pray for my friend Michael Spencer? You may know him as The Internet Monk.

I have not said too much about my feelings on what is happening to him. The truth is, I haven't known what to say.

This latest update from his wife Denise has settled in the reality a bit deeper. It still has not settled in totally. It may never. He's apparently been given 6 months to a year to live. Denise in the comments says "My calling now is to help him die."

I've never met Michael face to face. The Internet is a weird thing, isn't it? But I've "known" known Michael since 2003, which is a long time in blog-years, honestly. I've spoken to him once or twice on the phone. The first time was when he was starting to write his first book (Mere Churchianity, which comes out this fall and which you should order) and he was just asking me about the writing process. It wasn't about advice or anything; it was just two guys who like to make words say things in interesting ways shooting the breeze.

From the beginning of my readership of him, I admired and loved him and found in him some quality I still can't name. Michael wears his feelings on his shirt sleeves. That is a recipe for early retirement in the blogosphere, especially in those early years of the burgeoning God-blog community. It was a tight-knit community but a turbulent one. Lots of flames and fisking. Back in those days, the bestselling authors and megachurch pastors weren't blogging yet. It was just us nerds. It was a small pool and it wasn't hard to be a big fish if you could write your way out of a paper bag. The group blog I started with (and still blog with) was for a couple of years the 7th most linked-to blog in the Christian blogosphere. The iMonk was always in the top ten. Boar's Head had been around for a while. Challies was there but he wasn't "Challies" yet. Dan Edelen. Adrian Warnock. (Anybody remember Darren Rowse? What about Mac Swift?)

Most of us are long gone from the top whatevers. The Thinklings aren't even in the top 500, I'd wager. But iMonk's still there. Why?

Because of that something. A relentless focus on Jesus is the main draw, for me. Would Jesus like this? Would he say this? Would he recognize this as something he started? Those are the questions he's been asking for a decade. But lots of people are asking those questions too. What makes Michael different? There's a vulnerability and a transparency there that has gotten him in trouble, provoked derision and disdain and denouncement. He is prone to depression. He can whine like a baby. He can be inconsistent. He can lean on a double standard when it comes to debates. I don't agree with Michael on more than a few things, but his resilience and his rawness -- which was never, ever, ever posturing -- earned him my loyalty. After a short time, he didn't have to earn it any more. He just had it. Step to him, and I'd be liable to cut your ear off. (And that's my own character flaw, not his.)

I guess I did say a lot. I didn't sit down planning to. The bottom line is, Michael Spencer is the Internet Monk. For many of us, he's our guy. He's the resident monk in our place. (I don't know if that makes sense.) The iMonk is our Larry Norman meets Norm from "Cheers." Or something.

He's Michael. He's a child of the most high King, and therefore my brother, but also he's my friend. And he's in a valley from which most of us can't hear him. Our monk has been forced into a vow of silence. I don't like that.

Michael and I share a love for Luther, but he likes monastics and mystics, while I prefer the Puritans. :-)
Here's the titular prayer from The Valley of Vision:
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold

thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,

deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter

thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

Thy life in my death,

that every good work or thought found in me

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty

thy glory in my valley.

If you know anything about Michael's "real life" -- and I hate putting that phrase in scare quotes because Michael is one of the realest guys on the interwebs -- you know he's one of the most prominent missional guys out there. He has been steadily laying up his treasures in heaven. Some of that treasure is in the eternal hearts of those of us who know Jesus more deeply and love him more strongly because of Michael's pirate radio prose.

I'm praying for healing. Because I'm thankful for his gift and I want more of it.


Brandon said...

awesome post...

most people who think a lot about God and theology and christianity and churchianity and everything that comes with those things has one or two authors who have influenced them greatly...

for example, John Piper would probably mention Jon Edwards... or John Calvin... or John Owen...

A lot of people in my generation would think that way of Piper, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, etc...

I'm going to be honest though...
For me, its been Michael Spencer...

He taught me that Calvinism was cool back when I was in highschool...

He taught me not to be wretchedly urgent...

He has been a constant, yet ever changing voice in my spiritual life... and for that, I am grateful.

He even helped catapult me to near bible college/seminary stardom by posting my calvinist wife video on his blog...

Anonymous said...


I couldn't have put my feelings any better than you have. You said, "Our monk has been forced into a vow of silence. I don't like that." I don't like it either.

When Michael took his sabbatical back in the summer of 2008 I had the privilege of buying him dinner at a little Irish pub in Wheaton. We talked for a couple hours at the pub and then while sitting on a stone wall in front of the dormitory where he was staying. For both of us it was true fellowship. I knew I had spent time with a real brother.

We've not spoken since then except on the blog in comments or through an email or two. But I will always consider Michael a friend.

Thank you for your kind words about "our monk." May God's grace abound toward Michael, Denise, and his family in this time.


Scott Eaton

Brian in Fresno said...

Thank you for putting words to what I was feeling and thinking. I am with you and the two previous commentators when it comes to Michael Spencer. With Scott Eaton I pray that God's grace abound toward Michael, Denise, and his family.

Most sincerely,

Brian Vawter

Byron Harvey said...

Very, very, very well said, Jared; I would only add that it is the similarities I find between the two of you (despite your disagreements with him, and I have some of my own, likely some of the same as you) that has drawn me to be a regular reader of your blog. Praying for healing for Michael; confident God will answer in His way, either via prolonging his days on this earth, or by welcoming Michael into an eternity where there will never be any more need for healing.

co_heir said...

I'm with you, brother. Michael Spencer has been a huge influence on my journey.

dle said...

I was always hoping to meet up with Michael the way you and I did. He's not that far a drive from me, plus he comes into Cincy for Reds games.

My sadness over his, David Wayne's, and Matt Chandler's cancer issues is a very real thing. And sadder still, the Internet only allows us to watch their illnesses play out from afar.

Honestly, if I were in Michael's position, I'd find a way to get to some small house church in some developing country and ask the Christians there to pray for healing. I believe that the Lord gives genuine, miraculous healing. But here in the States we don't really believe that. Go to a country where Christ is all they have for healing, and that's where you see the most miracles. If Jesus honors the roof-busting faith of the paralytic and his friends, would He not honor the faith of a cancer-sufferer who travels many miles to a poor, humble church filled with people who still believe that God heals and whose only shared language is the language of prayer?

As it stands now, I don't know if it would make sense for me to visit Michael in person. Would it be a strange gesture at this point? Or something welcome? I'm not sure if that Internet etiquette has been written yet.

Too many good voices are taken from us too young. That may not be a theologically proper thing to say, but it's how I feel as a human being. Michael's been through a lot the last few years, and it just seems harsh that he should be suffering even more.

Erik said...


Thanks for putting into words my thoughts of Mike. Excellent post. I really like your statement:

"...iMonk's still there. Why? Because of that something. A relentless focus on Jesus is the main draw, for me."

Amen to THAT! Michael had his focus squarely on our Savior and for that he was so thoroughly enjoyable to read.

I also appreciate the Valley of Vision prayer. How very appropriate. My prayers are with Michael and his family during this difficult time.

Rob Harrison said...

My thanks for your post as well. I'm praying for a miracle.