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Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, died last night at his home in Oneida, Kentucky. He was surrounded by his family. He had cancer.
He got sick in November. Once the doctors figured out what it was, they started an aggressive treatment program. It didn’t work, and for the last couple of weeks he and his wife, Denise, have been in the care of their local hospice.
I’ve written about Michael previously, here and here. I didn’t ever mention him on this blog until he got sick, simply because he was such a force on the Internet. His blog, InternetMonk.com, was regularly one of the top 10 or 20 Christian blogs in the world. He didn’t need any publicity from me. In fact, I often found myself seeking publicity from him.
I’m not sure when he started blogging, but I first discovered the iMonk in 2002. I think the first post I ever read from him was “Why Do They Hate Us?” a critique of Evangelical culture that is still spot-on. “Why I Am a Christian: A 10-Point Argument” was another early post that I read and remember. In these posts, and so many others, Michael was doing what he does best: writing with transparency about his own doubts and disappointments, and pointing to Jesus and the Gospel as the only way out of it.
For the eight years I’ve been reading his blog, he’s been doing that on a consistent basis, and doing it so very, very well.
Michael came from a career as a youth minister. He was an excellent preacher. He taught at a private school in Kentucky — where, despite his worldwide fame as a blogger (and seriously, it was worldwide) — he was working for peanuts and dealing with the petty aggravations of small-town, small-church, small-thinking life. Only recently had his writing really begun getting “legitimate” attention, in the form of national publications and a book deal. Mere Churchianity, a book of his essays on “Jesus-Shaped Spirituality,” his favorite topic, was in the final editing stages and will be releasing this September by WaterBrook. I hate that Michael won’t be able to see it.
Because he was so open and honest on his blog — about his doubts, his failures, his questions, his annoyances — most of his readers (including me) probably feel like we knew him intimately. And we did. Michael was an excellent confessional writer, and for someone like me, he offered a great example of what it looked like to own up to your doubts and expose your questions to the light of day, and the light of the Gospel. It feels weird to grieve someone I’ve never met in real life, but lots of us feel that way today.
Michael was one of the first people to ever endorse a book I wrote, contributing a very kind blurb to the back cover of Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse (I think it may have been his first “official” published blurb). He was a big fan of my Pocket Guide books, and very graciously promoted them whenever possible on his blog. A number of my current readers ended up here because he pointed them this direction. And I confess that I wrote O Me of Little Faith hoping that it was the kind of book Michael would like. I certainly intended to ask him to endorse it. My brother is also an iMonk fan, and the first thing he said upon reading an early draft of my book was “Michael Spencer’s gonna love this.” I really hoped so.
I just re-read the paragraph above, and I guess it could come across as being all about me. I seem to always find a way to talk about myself — even when eulogizing someone else — but I guess the point is that Michael Spencer influenced me so deeply, from my spiritual life and religious thinking to the nuts and bolts of my writing. His name is on the outside of my early books and, with this latest one, he makes a couple of appearances on the inside pages. Michael helped me see that it was OK to doubt — and to work through that doubt publicly. It was OK to ask questions. It was OK to be scandalized by grace, because if it doesn’t make you completely uncomfortable, then it’s probably not grace.
I have been jealous of the iMonk’s ease with words, his popularity, his insane productivity, and the clarity of his thinking.
I have been inspired by his writing and his commitment to the radical grace of Jesus.
I have known Michael as long as I’ve been a published writer, and have been so grateful for his influence — both public and private — on my career.
I have followed the last couple years of his life with discomfort (when Denise converted to Catholicism it was so difficult for him), excitement (finally, a book deal!) and, over the last few months, sadness. Things turned bad so quickly.
I’ve been thinking for the last few weeks that I needed to start thinking of writing a eulogy for him, just to have it polished and ready. I wanted it to be good, and honest, and meaningful, and worthy of his impact on my life. But I never started it. I thought I had more time, and here I am hashing out a bunch of disconnected memories and meandering thoughts and mostly talking about myself. It all happened way too fast.
Life isn’t fair. Death sucks. And in losing Michael Spencer, we lost a brilliant Christian voice way too early, when the volume was just getting turned up. I hate that.
But I have a feeling his influence will live on.
There should be a pretty good wake occurring at the Boar’s Head Tavern this week. See you there.