Hi and welcome back! Just over ten years ago, a guy calling himself the Internet Monk made a series of predictions about the future of evangelicalism. To everyone’s surprise (including his own), these predictions went viral — insofar as anything did back in 2009, I suppose. This being the New Year, I want to check out the predictions of the Internet Monk. How’d evangelicals do? How’d his predictions hold up? Today, we’ll find out.
(Today’s topic post archive: Page 1, Page 2, Page 3. Thankfully, the Internet Monk himself did not refer to his post as a prophecy, nor himself as a prophet. As such, I use the more general term ‘prediction’ for his list, though I stuck it in the ‘prophecy’ tag.)
Meet the Internet Monk.
Way back when blogging was young, Michael Spencer, a middle-aged evangelical guy from a tiny unincorporated town in Kentucky, found himself frustrated with the level of Jesus-ing he saw online. He began blogging in 2000 to address this problem. Very quickly, he found an audience of similarly frustrated TRUE CHRISTIANS™ — and attracted much praise from the Christ-o-sphere’s big voices.
A lot of right-wing Christians thought he was this voice-in-the-wilderness type of guy.
Don’t make any mistakes, though. Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, was a fundagelical’s fundagelical.
He graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, worked as a campus minister for 20ish years, and never said anything that was shockingly different from the basic-issue Southern Baptist sales pitch. Sure, he often criticized that denomination. And, too, he had no trouble criticizing beloved evangelical talking points.
But overall, he was at heart a true-blue evangelical.
You might have noticed I’m talking about the Internet Monk in the past tense. There’s a reason for it. Unfortunately, he passed away in April 2010 after a short battle with cancer. That link provides a slap at “Christian love” that is all too familiar for many of us: after he’d been diagnosed with that cancer, the Christian boarding school that employed him fired him. Without COBRA, he wouldn’t have had insurance at all to deal with it. As it was, he had to pay the insurance premiums himself — and suddenly had no income with which to do it. His god sure didn’t help there, any more than he did with the cancer itself.
Long after his passing, though, his writing survives.
The Predictions of the Internet Monk.
If the Internet Monk had a legacy (beyond a book he wrote called Mere Churchianity that came out later in 2010 and then vanished), it’d probably be the viral sensation of a post he wrote the year before his death for Christian Science Monitor.
Evangelicals went wild over this post, though non-evangelicals probably didn’t hear anything about it. Christianity Today decided it was #10 on their Top Ten Theology Stories of 2009. The Drudge Report even covered it. This wasn’t some nobody, is the point here.
In this explosive post of his, the Internet Monk offered up a series of 10-year predictions for evangelical Christianity and placed blame for that decline. Most importantly, he predicted that evangelicalism would collapse within the next ten years because nobody Jesus-ed correctly anymore.
Now, I don’t disagree that evangelicalism has indeed begun a very serious decline. It has. Nor do I disagree that the signs of decline were there to be perceived by 2009. They probably were well before that, even.
As such, I wanted to check out these predictions. Let’s see what they say, why the Internet Monk chose to present them as he did, and what his blame attempts tell us about evangelicals as a group.
Sidebar: The Incredible Illumination of Lists.
After all, as we learned in the 1990 movie The Russia House, lists of questions tell us a lot more about the questioners than they usually ever suspect:
Government Dude 1: They’re preparing a shopping list for Dante. It’ll be the list to end all lists. A grand-slam questionnaire. [. . .] God, this is a list of questions that could unlock all the Sov military secrets and win the arms race at a stroke.
Govt. Dude 2: Or lose it. I don’t like lists, Clive. Lists tell you too much about the people who make them.
Much later, probably Dude 2 again: It [the list] would tell what we know by telling what we “don’t” know. And it would tell what we would most like to know. If the Sovs get the list, we might as well have published the notebooks, just as Barley promised Dante. [Source]
And that’s absolutely the truth of the matter. Indeed, the finale of the movie deals with the fate of that big huge list of technology questions the quoted characters are discussing there.
Well, predictions run along very similar lines. They tell us what their makers know, what they know they don’t know (and what they don’t know they don’t know), and most of all, what their pet theories really are about the topics involved.
So with that in mind, let’s dive into the 2009 predictions of the Internet Monk.
“We Are On the Verge … Of a Major Collapse of Evangelical Christianity.”
The Internet Monk begins his post with a bang (relink):
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants.
Worse, though, this deterioration would herald a new age of shocking persecution of TRUE CHRISTIANS™. He writes:
But they [evangelicals] will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
Yikes, that’s really dire-sounding. (Good thing it’s not gonna happen, ever, thanks to the very human rights advances that this guy’s tribe has always fought tooth and nail to destroy and foil.)
So the Internet Monk very much saw TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ as the only thing holding back waves of anti-Christian persecution. Without evangelicals’ powerful influence on culture and government, nothing would stop mean ole secular people from rushing into evangelicals’ homes to drag them out to the guillotine.
How’d the Internet Monk’s Listicle Go?
Ten years later, the Internet Monk’s seven predictions came true in some ways.
- Evangelicals still identify very strongly with their culture wars and conservative Republican politics. They’ve become purely tribalistic as well. Ten years later, there’s not even a pretense anymore to the contrary.
- They’ve still utterly lost the next generation. Millennials were already peeling away from the tribe in 2009, but Gen Z is now the least religious generation of Americans ever.
- They’ve still failed to figure out how to help their churches survive. Some churches make it. Many others don’t. The ones that survive are not the ones TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like at all — megachurches, namely. Smaller ones close constantly, while those that manage to survive do so in vastly reduced circumstances.
- Nor have they figured out yet how to craft a robust system of evangelical-friendly education that keeps children indoctrinated for life while also adequately educating them. (It turns out that the Bible’s placid assurance about childrearing is completely erroneous. Also, check out the 4-14 window.)
- Evangelicals have indeed increasingly been seen as cultural villains, thanks to their ongoing fight against human rights and civil liberties — as well as their escalating shows of racism, sexism, bigotry, xenophobia, and classism. They’ve redefined a whole lot of words to give themselves permission to act out like this, particularly love, but these redefinitions increasingly don’t fool outsiders.
- Even in areas that evangelicals previously dominated completely, their groups are collapsing.
- And yes, because their groups are thinning out, the amount of money their leaders take in has also shrunk. Duh.
#5 was by far the creepiest entry on his list. Any time you start thinking the Internet Monk was some bastion of compassion, just remember this:
We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done.
Yikes. He refers here to the culture wars and evangelicals’ long-dreamed-of transformation of America into the Republic of Gilead, I suspect.
What the Internet Monk Fixated On.
The funny thing is that despite seeing these seven trends more-or-less accurately, the Internet Monk took them to the worst conclusions possible.
Part of his problem was his inability to perceive those trends objectively, of course. He saw it as a purely good thing to indoctrinate children, and he was positive that there existed a way to super-indoctrinate children while decently educating them in science and philosophy. He might have condemned evangelicals’ excessive culture-warring and power-grabs, but he didn’t seem opposed on the face of things to a theocracy run by evangelicals amid the smoking ruins of American democracy.
Nor could he ever adequately explain exactly why even he believed in that nonsense or any anybody even should believe at all, and yet he still saw it as a good thing to tell others to believe the nonsense that he did. And hooboy, he actually liked Mark Driscoll and called Mars Hill “theologically driven and determined to be a blessing in the culture.”
Thus, any forces that blocked evangelicals’ efforts had to be evil and ickie and bad. And if those forces continued to wreck his tribe’s level of cultural and governmental dominance, then obviously the Endtimes would soon begin.
What the Internet Monk Forgot.
That problem also manifests in one other very important way:
Did you notice the Internet Monk didn’t say one single word about all the huge scandals that have rocked evangelicalism for years now?
Because he didn’t. In all three pages of his archived essay, he doesn’t even acknowledge his tribe’s rampant hypocrisy problem.
By 2009, you can absolutely bet scandals were a known thing even in evangelicalism. (Check out this list, which strangely seems gone from Wikipedia now and exists only in mirrors that I could find. Archive everything, folks!)
The Catholic child-rape scandal was on everyone’s mind starting in 2003 or so, and evangelicals only had a short while to gloat about the situation before attention turned their way. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience had been out for almost five years, for goodness’ sake.
But oddly, the Internet Monk didn’t have anything to say about the influence of scandals on his tribe’s reputation and credibility. The word hypocrite/hypocrisy appears not once in his post. Nor do the ideas behind it. He just assumes his tribe lives up to its own marketing.
A Product of His
Out of everything else we could say, the Internet Monk was just a product of his tribe. So is his 2009 post, and so are all the predictions he made within it — and all the blame he assigns, as well.
The fears he felt regarding his tribe’s loss of power were, similarly, a product of the tribe’s lockstep indoctrination. His horror-story scenarios sound very familiar to me (someone who deconverted in the mid-1990s) — and probably to anyone who’s tangled lately with them as well. These fears are downright timeless in evangelicalism.
That’s because authoritarian groups have a lot of trouble altering their teachings and platforms. Evangelical leaders teach the flocks to fear being wrong and losing power, and this decline they face now involves both to a huge degree. The Internet Monk sure wasn’t immune to those teachings. So he pushed the same fearmongering message as the leaders of groups he condemned, and he sought to frighten the flocks into Jesus-ing the way he preferred just like they did — and do.
That’s where we’ll take up tomorrow. See you then!
NEXT UP: The Endtimes visions of the Internet Monk.
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(Last Thoughts: I love ‘The Russia House.’ In it, Sean Connery plays a lampshaded inversion of his James Bond role: a boozy book publisher who finds himself embroiled in an international espionage incident. Michelle Pfeiffer co-stars with an interesting Russian accent. Also, we find Klaus Maria Brandauer being his usual surly, elusive, and magnetic self, alongside James Fox, Roy Scheider, John Mahoney, Ken Russell, Ian McNeice, and many more. The director set ’em all loose to play cat-and-mouse amid a compellingly bleak Soviet setting. Catch it if you can.)