Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Internet Monk, R.I.P.

Michael Spencer, known on the Web as the Internet Monk, died Monday night at his home in Kentucky.

What a terrible disease -- cancer -- stole from the Baptist minister's family, friends, students and readers, it has given back to Him who is the source of all blessings. And the work and life of the Internet Monk was a blessing, indeed.

HERE IS a snippet of the kind of wisdom and fearless cultural criticism we have lost with the passing of the Internet Monk. It's from a 2006 post of his on what he learned from the Chinese exchange students at the Baptist boarding school where he taught and ministered:
It’s impossible to know and talk with these Chinese students without catching their conviction in the superiority of their communist culture. As something of a student of Asian history, I understand how our Chinese students differ from other Asians in their cultural interactions with others. They do have a historical conviction of the superiority of their culture, and they see little need to demonstrate that to outsiders. To the Chinese, there is little doubt that their culture will be proven to be superior to all others.

Further, it is impossible to know these students without seeing that the Chinese communist revolution -- with all its many, many failures and evils -- is producing a generation of young people who have remarkable values, ethics, loyalty and devotion to their culture. I see little evidence in these students of much for a resistance movement to work with.

All of these students are atheists, and none are familiar with Christianity, but when we do talk about the area of core beliefs, they are quick to witness to the influence of their families and their country. They want to return to China and live for the benefit of their families and country. They are endlessly grateful to their country and, unlike some internationals, have no reluctance to say where they want to return and live.

I’ve concluded that Mao may have been a poor communist, but he was a brilliant Confucian. Our Chinese students demonstrate so many of the virtues of Confucius, and are clearly bemused at what they see in our American culture. No longer are they in awe of the capitalism of our country. Our students come from strongly capitalistic areas. (I took one student to a sub shop, and he said the sandwich was good, but far too expensive.) They want to make major contributions to their society and to find materialistic success, but they are not enamored with the vices and immaturities of their peers in the declining youth culture of America.

In many ways, these Chinese students are a revelation of American decline and a preview of future Chinese cultural success. China may not be our military equal, and their government may be repressive, but the products of a culture are an indication of where things are going. These 8 Chinese students will not go to college and run up credit cards, wreck the car, stay drunk, fail classes and waste their time. They will soon be engineers, pilots, doctors and scientists; leaders in their field.

And I doubt, very seriously, that they will be Christians. Not because I haven’t tried to live, teach and preach the Gospel. I have, and will continue to do so as will all of the Christians on our campus.

I doubt they will become Christians because they are seeing American Christianity, and it’s far more American than Christian. They’ve helped me to see my own cultural religion, and it’s been a disturbing revelation.

When they attend chapel, they frequently hear moralistic preaching. Their own Confucian and Maoist culture gives them morals and moralism, and produces a far more moral person than their typical American peer. They hear sermons on being a good person, staying off drugs, not having sex and staying in school. They were doing all this when they came here and will do it when they leave.

They see American Christians without a Bible most of the time. We have few spiritual disciplines and are hungry and thirsty for the things our culture values more than the gifts and callings of Christ. They hear us talk about Jesus, but the Jesus we talk about is not compelling enough to cause us to live truly sacrificial or revolutionary lives. I’ve noticed this with other Asians as well. When they hear us talking about our religion, they expect to see the same holiness and devotion they see in Buddhist monks, but in American Christians they simply see another American, with a slightly different set of consumer interests. Same American. Different t-shirt slogan. Our spirituality is clearly inferior.
MICHAEL SPENCER loved God, and he loved the truth much more than he feared tipping sacred cows. Actually, I think he kind of reveled in sacred-cow tipping.

That's a good thing.

And now, as my own church, the Catholic Church, sinks once more into the fever swamps of sex and lies -- weighted down by the millstones of its many clerical malefactors -- I find myself wishing for someone,
anyone with the simple faith and deep-seated integrity of an iconoclastic Baptist preacher in the hills of Kentucky to step up and say "Enough! In the name of God, enough!"

I find myself grieving that it no longer will be
that iconoclastic Baptist preacher in the Kentucky hills writing insightful pieces challenging his branch of Christianity and mine, too, to cast aside the pride and the prejudices standing between us and the risen Savior who beckons all.

Too often, we who claim to be followers of Jesus are instead worshipers of false gods. Followers of idols made in our own image. Devotees of spiritual fads proportionate in stupidity to that of the fools who birthed them.

And it is our grievous loss that the Internet Monk no longer will be there to call us on it. To hold us accountable for what we've done with the unfathomable, unmerited grace so hard won on our behalf one terrible day at Calvary.

Requiescat in pace, Michael.

UPDATE: Michael Spencer's obituary is here.

1 comment:

sean said...

I'd kept away from most blog reading during Lent, but this morning for no reason I can remember, I caught myself thinking of the Internet Monk. I was only barely familiar with him--mostly through excerpts other bloggers had quoted or linked. He wasn't on my regular blog reading list, but nearly everything I had seen of his was wonderful. And this morning he came to mind.

And then I sat down to read that he had passed.

Shall be praying for his peace.