Michael Spencer was known to Christian blog pioneers as the Internet Monk. Although he described himself as in the post-evangelical wilderness, and often locked horns with the likes of the pyromaniacs, he never lost the respect of most evangelical and reformed bloggers. His message was bold. I would often strongly agree with around half of it and strongly disagree with the other half! We were both going to have our debut books published in 2010. Sadly, Spencer didn’t live to see the fruits of his labors as he died before his book was published. Under the care of his successors, his blog continues to be one of the most popular Christian blogs.
I feel that enough time has passed since his death for me to critically engage with his book without feeling embarrassed. I trust that if his wife and others who loved him read this they will hear my deep respect and love for the giant that Michael Spencer was and appreciate that despite my differences with him, I genuinely view him as something of a prophetic voice to the Western church. You see, I emphatically agree with him that there is much cause for concern. We cannot simply be complacent and continue fiddling while Rome burns I generally agree with most of Spencer’s diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Church. Where I disagree quite profoundly is how to fix it.
Let’s begin then with where I strongly agree. (If you have a Kindle or Kindle app you can read the following quotes in context by following the hyperlinks.)
Early in Mere Churchianity, Michael Spencer sets out a charge which I do think fits. He argues that there is a fundamental misunderstanding that lies at the root of many Christians dealings with the rest of the world. Namely, we act surprised when they do not behave the way that Christians are meant to. Why should they when they do not believe what we do?! But secondly, an anger and aggression can seep into our communications such that as Spencer puts it:
Lots of Christians are like I was. They would find it easy to blame an atheist for not acting like a Christian, while failing to act like a Christian in the presence of an atheist.Read more at location 162
He is perhaps over-critical of Christians at times, but rightly makes the point that in many ways the Church has lost its way. You might not take it quite as far as he does when he says, “unbelievers see some things about life, integrity, and consistency much more clearly than Christians do” but you surely understand what he is driving at. (Read more at location 172)
Spencer is also very critical of how many of us try to do a deal with God:
Religion is our negotiation with God to try to get his help in exchange for our good behavior. We promise to do what we’re told, and we expect God to reward us. This is a straightforward business arrangement, and we fully expect it to work.Read more at location 389
Spencer’s real disappointment in the modern church is that it seems to have left behind many of the things that Jesus stood for and has instead invented a set of social rules. These rules, often designed to put a hedge around sin are actually nothing short of legalism in most cases. As Spencer puts it (and I agree wholeheartedly):
For millions of Christians, the great failure of the church is its failure to be a resource for producing and encouraging the life of discipleship. Instead of discipleship, the church has taught a life of rule keeping, with the rules set not by Jesus but by religion and traditions. Long ago the church replaced the Kingdom of God with church activities and priorities.Read more at location 1677
Tomorrow, I will discuss my biggest contention with Spencer’s views.