ONEIDA, Ky. (ABP) — Michael Spencer, voice behind the popular and sometimes controversial Christian blog Internet Monk, died April 5 after a four-month battle with cancer.
Spencer, 53, an ordained Baptist minister who graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1984, began blogging from an out-of-the-way unincorporated town in southeastern Kentucky in 2000. Today Internet Monk claims 700,000 visitors a year and is consistently ranked as one of the 20 most popular blogs in the Christian blogosphere.
For two decades Spencer worked as a campus minister, Bible and English teacher and in other jobs at Oneida Baptist Institute, a Christian boarding school affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He lost his job shortly after his diagnosis but managed to keep his work-provided health insurance by participating in COBRA with financial assistance from friends.
Spencer was supply preaching at a small Presbyterian church when he began experiencing dizzy spells and nausea last year. He was diagnosed with a non-specific cancer and had a small mass removed from the base of his brain on Christmas Eve.
He began radiation and chemotherapy but doctors said in early March the cancer was too advanced and aggressive to expect any remission. At the urging of his oncologist, who told him chemotherapy was not working, he and his wife, Denise, opted to discontinue treatment March 23.
Michael Mercer, a hospice chaplain from Franklin, Ind., who had been filling in for Spencer at Internet Monk the last few months, reported April 5 that Spencer had passed away at his home surrounded by family.
"Words are hard to come by at this moment," Mercer wrote. "At a more appropriate time tomorrow, I will say more."
Weblogs, which evolved from personal diaries on websites, were just gaining popularity when Spencer began Internet Monk. As of 2008, Technorati counted the total number of blogs at 133 million.
A lifelong Baptist, Spencer chose the name for his blog because of his interest in Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky and one of the most influential Catholic writers in the 20th century. Merton died in 1968, ironically, also at the age of 53.
A frequent critic of the status quo, Spencer was sometimes accused of being anti-evangelical. He described himself as a Baptist who was open to other traditions — including Catholicism — but said he chose to remain a Protestant, evangelical and Baptist for a reason.
"Being realistically critical isn't hatred," he wrote on an FAQ page of the blog. "I am critical and honest about the issues in my tradition that are problems."
Spencer's biggest splash came in January of 2009, when three blog posts he wrote appeared as a single op-ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor. The article, which began with, "We are on the verge — within 10 years — of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity," was picked up in the Drudge Report and got attention from all around the world.
Spencer and a diverse group of fellow Christians started a group blog called The Boar's Head Tavern in February 2002. Tributes poured into the site April 6, along with other blogs including BeliefNet and the Catholic blog First Things.
In addition to his widow, Spencer is survived by two adult children. A memorial service is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 10, in the Oneida Baptist Institute chapel.
Spencer's first book, Mere Churchianity — Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, is due for release this fall.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.