Michael Spencer, 1956-2010

Michael Spencer died this past Monday, the day after Easter. He leaves behind a loving family, a school full of students and staff, a book to be published this fall (buy it), a bar full of malcontents and heretics (jn) known as the Boar’s Head Tavern and a vast number of readers/friends who know him as the iMonk, or TommyMertonHead.

It’s strange to grieve and mourn someone I’ve never met, but that’s what’s happened this last week. Michael wrote with such transparency that I feel like knew him well without ever even talking to him.

In his last post here’s what he had to say about apologetics,

The ultimate apologetic is to a dying man.

That is what all those “Where is God?” statements in the Psalms are all about. They are, at least partially, invitations to Christians to speak up for the dying.

All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than you argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.

What is your apologetic? Make it the full and complete announcement of the Life Giving news about Jesus.

His bar mate at the BHT, Fearsome Tycoon, wrote this reflection,

Richard Dawkins thinks he really has Christianity licked. As far as he’s concerned, he’s proven that there’s a logical, completely materialistic explanation for why there’s a universe, why there’s a race of men, and why this peculiar species has unique traits such as its moral compass, even its belief in a deity. Thus, there is no reason to believe in God, no reason to be a Christian, and moreover, anyone who does–or tolerates those who do–is simply an idiot. On a similar note, Greg Epstein has sufficiently proven to himself that people can and will be good without God. Leaving aside the irony that he tends to define “good” the way a Christian would, rather than how Nietzsche or Lenin would, I’ll give him his argument. As far as he’s concerned, he’s proven there’s no need to be religious.

What Michael’s death brings sharply into focus is how wrong these two men are. It’s not that original sin, creation, and providence are insignificant, but they’re not the reasons for being Christian. Disagreements over the things Dawkins and Epstein talk about have led to factions within Christianity, not atheism. That’s because the one place each and every recognizably Christian sect starts from is the belief that Jesus has defeated death. Destroy the resurrection of Jesus, and you destroy Christianity. Even as I grieve over Michael, the Lord sustains my faith through the promise I will see both Michael and the Lord himself some day, each one of us having been raised from the dead.

Even if* Dawkins and Epstein are right, they haven’t made Christianity irrelevant. As long as people die, we will still need the Gospel. The resurrection is too foolish to be easily attacked. A philosophical argument for believing in God as an explanation for the universe or the basis for an orderly society is something that can be debated and tested. Believing that a Jewish man came back from the dead 2000 years ago simply doesn’t submit to that kind of analysis. You can only say, “That’s crazy,” and we can only say, “We know.”

Yet, if Christ is not raised, death wins. Without the resurrection of Jesus, death is a gaping maw of inky blackness that will devour and destroy anything and everything that exists. It’s a relentless attacker that always finds its mark, never rests, never grows weary, and never slows down. If Jesus has not been raised, then it doesn’t matter what you think about anything else; death wins. No devil? Death wins. No hell? Death wins. No sin? Death wins. No judgment? Death wins. A clever explanation for how we got here? Death wins. If Christians are deluded, death wins. It will come for us, it will come for you, it will come for us all, so pity us for our naivete as we all shuffle off into the terrible nothingness of death with you–or perhaps envy us, because we don’t spend our lives in terror.

If the resurrection doesn’t sound like the Gospel, you haven’t really considered how great and powerful death is. An ordinary man might conquer a vice. He may fix a hole in his reasoning. But he will never defeat death. Even if he finds the Fountain of Youth, death will eventually blot out the sun and leave the earth a cold, lifeless shell. Should he escape the solar system and find another star, death will destroy that one, too. It will devour and devour until not a single wisp of usable energy remains in this universe to sustain life.

The easiest way to kill the Gospel in your church is to drive thoughts of death out of our minds. Hurry the old and the frail out the doors of your church, so the youthful and exuberant don’t have to see them. Distract people with self-help lessons and inspirational stories. Wrap people up in the institution, in the programs, and the politics of your version of the faith. Just don’t let them think about death. Don’t let them see the dying. Be sure to do this, and regardless of how “orthodox” your church is on paper, the Gospel will be the only thing that dies in your church. Only face to face with the ugly visage of death do we learn who Jesus is.

When Michael Spencer died, I said was going to be angry with God. He didn’t even get to see his one book, the dream of his life, make it to print. You’d think God would have at least given Michael until late September to live. Would it have hurt so much to let him stick around just a few more months, just to see the book? But when I read the news, even as my heart broke, the Lord said to me, “Don’t you see? This is why I came.”

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.

*This is not the same as saying I agree with Dawkins or Epstein, nor am I “egging on” Dawkins fans. See my earlier post on the Lord’s Supper.

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