The iMonk Interview: All Souls to EasterNov 2nd, 2011 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
Two years ago today, Protestant minister Michael Spencer (aka iMonk, or “Internet Monk”) published the first part of an interview with me. At the time, he seemed healthy. I could not know that five months later he would die from cancer. The invitation to participate in the interview had come in October of 2009. I received a note from Michael asking me if I would be willing to be interviewed by him. For some time he and I had occasionally been trading online comments about each other’s theological positions, critical, yet with mutual respect. His wife Denise had recently become Catholic, and Michael, being a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had been engaging Catholicism in a love-hate sort of way, not convinced of the Catholic Church’s claims, but seeing obvious value there, as well as ecclesial problems in Evangelicalism, and also exploring Catholicism out of love for Denise.
At the same time, he was bringing Christians of various traditions into a common dialogue on his website. Earlier in the year Michael had written an article in the Christian Science Monitor titled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.” In his effort to salvage what would be left, Michael was seeking to open the windows of Evangelicalism, and thereby make other Christian traditions visible to an Evangelical culture that tends to be unaware of them. My interview with him was a part of that larger project, especially because I had left the sort of Evangelicalism in which I was raised, and eventually became Catholic.
In his private correspondence with me he was humble and gracious. I agreed to do the interview, and on the Feast of All Saints (November 1), I sent him my reply to his questions. Michael divided the interview into five parts, and published it in installments over the next three days, starting on November 2. And then he posted his response. (The link to each part of the interview, and to Michael’s response, is available here.) Three weeks later, Michael became ill, with symptoms of dizziness, nausea, and loss of appetite. In December he was diagnosed with cancer. His last post was on February 10, titled “Real Apologetics.” By early March, the cancer was determined to be too advanced for successful treatment. He died the day after Easter, on April 5, 2010. As Denise explains, there was no deathbed event, no sign of his standing for a moment in both worlds, ready to cross over. There was just the ugliness of death, and the hope of the resurrection to eternal life.
But at the time of the interview, I did not know all that was coming. After reading Michael’s response to my answers to his questions on November 4, 2009, at first I was disappointed. It seemed to me from his response that he did not want to engage what I said. Instead, he simply stated that he remained “unconvinced.” He noted that he was “less impressed with the answers” and matter of factly stated that union with the Catholic Church was not the goal of his journey. I understood that he did not want to engage in a debate, especially a public debate. But I was expecting more interaction with what I had said; I was expecting him at least to say where and why he thought I was mistaken. He didn’t do that. His response made it seem as though he approached the interview by asking himself whether my answers convinced him or not, rather than by examining whether what I said was true or not. But at the same time, there was another way to read the significance of his not saying where he thought I was wrong.
By the end of November Michael was quite sick, and the doctors were trying to determine the cause. On December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, he chose to spend his day listening to Catholic radio, and then wrote about it the next day in Thoughts On A day of Catholic Radio. There he wrote:
I’m very open to what Catholicism has to say. I’m about as soft a sell as you could find right now. My own evangelicalism has made its case to me and while I remain part of the evangelical community, I am not manning the ramparts with weapons. I’m opening windows and doors, actively inviting in the voices of non-evangelical Christians and their experience of Christ.
On December 24, a small mass was removed from the back of his brain, and he began receiving radiation treatments. The last note I received from him was very short, on December 31. In it, he asked me to pray for him as he “traveled a long hard road.” On January 15, 2010, he wrote the following:
Spiritually: It’s been a rich time fellowshipping with God and feeling the prayers of others. I’ve also been able to do some valuable reading. Mostly B16.
When I read that, my heart took hope. Why would someone who had decided that union with the Catholic Church was not the goal of his journey subsequently spend an entire day listening to Catholic radio, and then be reading Pope Benedict XVI in what he knew could be his last months on earth? Maybe there was more going on in his heart and mind than I could see from his response to my interview. I have no evidence that Michael had any change of heart or mind toward the Catholic Church before he died. But, from these small but significant words and actions in the few months before he died, I took hope that he was still pursuing the truth as best he could, and that in his heart he knew that there was more to be found in the Catholic Church, more than he could put in words at the time. From All Souls to Easter, he finished his life liturgically, ending with the hope of the resurrection.
I could wish that he had been given more time, but we are all given the time we have right now, and that is enough. The most important questions in life must never be ignored or postponed; our life could be over in a few more months or even weeks. After “Who is Jesus?” a close contender for the second most important question is “Where is the Church He founded?” As you pursue the answer to that question, please say a prayer for Michael.
Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amen.
All Souls Day, 2011