Sunday with Michael Spencer: Ink Blot Church

Ink Blot Church
from 2005

God is like a Rorschach test. You know, the ink blot test, where you look at an image that really presents nothing coherent, and you describe what you see. Kind of like looking at clouds and talking about what you see.

The Rorschach test is outdated and was always controversial, but it does yield one agreed upon result:

There are a limited number of common responses to each image, and they do demonstrate that we don’t just purely see the world, but we bring a complex grip of presuppositions and assumptions to what we see, and this influences how we interpret an image.

I’m wondering why certain kinds of people seem to identify with particular expressions of Christianity. I don’t have to do this exercise for you, do I? Charismatics. Calvinists. Warren-style Boomers. Traditional Southern Baptists. Emerging church twenty-somethings. Social justice liberals and Jerry Falwell fundamentalists….they really aren’t the same kinds of people. They are different. Though they read the same Bible, hear the same stories about Jesus and talk about the same God, they are different from one another, and similar to those with the same label.

Is this really because some are smarter than others? Some are better at hearing God’s voice? Is it all a matter of social and family context? Or is it — at least partially — a matter of psychological factors that we don’t really want to look at, because they take away the veneer of “being right” and confront us with the fact we’re not quite the free-choosers and serious disciples we think we are?

Was Arthur W. Pink unable to find a church where he could minister because of his study of the scriptures? Did his eventual withdrawal to write a magazine at home with his wife, living almost as a hermit, come from the God he came to know in Jesus? Perhaps Pink was a hermit and a loner for reasons that we don’t know, and he interpreted Christianity in a way that made his withdrawal from other people a necessary protest against the weak Christianity of the age.

Are Rick Warren’s members and disciples really taken by Warren’s preaching and writing? Or do his followers come from those who have a psychological need to be part of the “winning” team as a way of validating themselves?

Do liberal Christians like Bishops Spong and Robinison represent a more humane, rational approach to reading the Bible, or are they identifying with an approach to God that allows them to deconstruct the strictures and prejudices they have suffered under throughout life?

Is Michael Spencer writing what he learns in his study of the Bible and his reflection on his faith, or does he need to be a writer to make up for failures to succeed in his career? Does self-publishing allow him to pretend he has something worth saying and people who want to read it?

This could go on for days. Do we see Jesus as he is? God as he is? The Bible as it is? Are we at all what we seem in our discussions and ministries, or are we moving to music that is deep within our make-up; music we can’t admit hearing and responding to?

I know it is possible to upend a lot of our Christianity under a ruthless psychological examination. The need for God to exist, the need to be right about morality and the afterlife, and the need for our answers to work are presuppositions with many of us.

When we look at religion, and at Christianity in particular, we see what we need to see and what we deeply desire to see in order for life to work. The vehemence of much of what we say to one another in the name of “right theology” and “right doctrine” is bogus. Much of it is nothing more significant than the need to assure ourselves we are right.

Faith in God is a living reality that risks all on a God who is not a psychological puppet show. Jesus really calls us to follow him. The Spirit invites us to live in a trusting adventure. These realities come to us through, above and beyond the many ways we presuppose the “truth” about God.

It would be good for me to step back and remember that my voice isn’t reporting the unbiased, pure teaching of scripture. Whatever I say comes along with all my psychological needs and baggage. Whatever is said to me by those who are sure they have the truth comes to me with their presuppositions and unacknowledged motivations as well.

What we see in the faith, in the scriptures and in the Gospel is highly personal. The kind of Christian we are is not automatically a reflection of Jesus. Frequently it is far from Jesus, and very close to our own dark sides. Pastors know this when they preach, if they will be honest. But it is hard to be honest. It’s hard to live this truthful life Jesus expects. We need to pray and be open to the ways God can shape us to be simple Christians, obedient servants and loving children in his family. Those who speak the loudest often live the least like Christ.

That is certainly true in my case. It would be good if we could all acknowledge that much of what we offer others isn’t genuine at all, and we have fooled ourselves (and others) rather than admitting the truth about who we are and why we do and say what we do.

55 thoughts on “Sunday with Michael Spencer: Ink Blot Church

  1. The trouble comes when someone reads those “stark exaggerated terms” as Word-for-Word FACT, FACT, FACT.

    “When you point at something with your finger, the dog sniffs your finger. To a dog, a finger is a finger and that is that.”
    — C.S.Lewis


  2. Was Arthur W. Pink unable to find a church where he could minister because of his study of the scriptures? Did his eventual withdrawal to write a magazine at home with his wife, living almost as a hermit, come from the God he came to know in Jesus?

    A.W.Pink managed to achieve the theoretical ultimate End State of Protestantism:
    The One True Church of One.


  3. –> “I already regret my vote, but I’m glad Trump listened to somebody with sense and nominated Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court. I have been watching her confirmation hearings and I am duly impressed, more than I was by Gorsuch and far more than I was by Kavanaugh. She exhibits incredible grace and presence under fire.”

    We probably don’t agree on much, Mule, but on this I agree. I watched her speech when Trump introduced her and was extremely impressed. I mean, heck… she actually has a sense of humor!!! I also got the impression she was fairly grounded, enjoyed things other than “the law,” was strong in considering THE LAW “uber alles” when making decisions. Back then, as she talked, I thought, “Hmm… here’s someone who Trump thinks will be a Trump loyalist, but will probably surprise him (in a bad way) because she won’t make decisions based upon what Trump wants.” And now she seems even more so that way. So either she’s outright lying (which I doubt), or she’s truthful in what she’s been saying, which has earned my utmost respect.


  4. Not very many people stick with a blog for fifteen years. I started reading several years before Michael died–about the time his wife began her journey into Catholicism–but I’m pretty sure it was after this was originally posted.


  5. No.

    All kinds of corruptions rise to the surface when the body is too ill or compromised to fight them off.

    The National Review is right. You can carry a lot more when your GNP is growing at 3%. Now that resource depletion and climate change, that’s no longer on the menu, boys.


  6. My head has never been wrapped all that tight.

    I’m a compulsive Creative, and mundane stability is not part of that package. The trick it not letting that instability go out of control and take you over.


  7. You would do great wrong to other people, though, if you took them at face value and tried to follow them to the letter.

    Hasn’t stopped some More-Pure-Than-Thou True Believers from doing just that.


  8. Yet that is the god we get from the Pious Piper, a cosmic egomaniac whose only reason for existence is His Glory. And from the Rapture Ready crowd, a God whose only reason for existence is to PUNISH! PUNISH! PUNISH!, always one Divine Temper Tantrum away from destroying the world.

    American Christians have been groomed for decades by crooked pastors and leaders to knuckle under and worship/praise/adore such a god OR ELSE. A God like a Cosmic Donald Trump/Toddler In Chief. So when the real Trumpster comes along in the flesh and all the Christian Leaders are praising and adoring Him, what else would you expect?

    “Proclaim Him a God, Demosthenes! PROCLAIM HIM A GOD!”


  9. My wife is one of those “Trump people”. I voted for the other loser.

    Last week, I voted against a weak and vain man with whom I hold many policy positions in common. I loathe foreign adventuring, our current ally-ally-in-come-free immigration policy. The Democratic party , as far as I can see, is the party of Black people and the Sexual Revolution. How responsive it has been to the concerns of Black people I am not able to discern. My guess is not very. However, it has leaned over backward to distance itself from anything resembling the sexual constitution ante 1973. There are now more single and divorced people in America than married, and they vote Democratic. Their married cohorts; Republican. There was no “gender gap” in 2016. There may be one now. Anyway, I didn’t vote for him because, bluntly, he isn’t a good President. He doesn’t know how to ‘play the game’.

    Wisdom. Let us attend.

    He is coming. He won’t have Trump’s moral failings

    The man for whom I actually cast my vote is an amiable sort of guy who has been in politics all my adult life. He has never had to meet a payroll. He is tied deeply to two existential threats to the American body politic; the pharmaceutical industry and credit card companies. He appears to have let one of his entitled, pampered kids loose in a part of the world I have an intense interest in, a part of the world that has already suffered deeply by coming between a ruthless dictator (with whom I share a communion cup) and a vampiric plutocracy slavering to capitalize its resources, and those of its neighbor, the dictator’s country.

    He will prove incapable of bringing America together.

    I already regret my vote, but I’m glad Trump listened to somebody with sense and nominated Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court. I have been watching her confirmation hearings and I am duly impressed, more than I was by Gorsuch and far more than I was by Kavanaugh. She exhibits incredible grace and presence under fire. I wish she was running for President. Maybe. following Thomas Brooks here, we won’t need the randy old buffoon once we have her.

    Also, sometimes I think that the lot of you are really lazy, sentimental post-Christians in the sense that Richard Beck so masterfully laid out a couple of months ago.. It’s one thing to go all gooey about ‘kids in cages’, its another when that “family” has been paroled to your neighborhood and that same kid is scratching around the perimeter of your house looking for entry.


  10. I don’t think the change happened in the short space of 15 years; but the differences and divisions that were already there, and had been growing for decades, have now emerged. Politics defines religious people as much as anybody else, back then and now; but there was more space to deny that reality, to pretend the religious dialogue was the real one — while all the while, rising toward the surface….Human beings are political animals that pretend their own politics are the ways of God.


  11. Granted, we’re living in a much starker environment now than in 2005… But going back over the original comments myself, she does have a point.


  12. Doubtless our enfeeblement is due in some small measure to the dearth of your contributions?

    I looked at the comments to the original article and did not recognize a single name. Do you think any of them will drop by in the last couple months to inform us just how far we’ve fallen?

    This is a conversation. So what do YOU want to talk about?


  13. Sheesh, I remember reading this article when it first appeared in 2005, and I’m astonished at the reaction to it now compared to then…Lord have mercy on us all.


  14. But she should not have been considered till after the new President was elected. But you and others conveniently look over this. Trump Republicans no shame.


  15. Brilliant legal mind, impeccable character, plenty of experience; yes, she is just awful and so unqualified.


  16. Hate and bitterness are not good things to hold on to, even against the “deplorables”. This post wasn’t even political, it was about humility in Scripture reading, understanding that we all have presuppositions that color our readings. And yet some are trying to turn it into another “I hate Trump and everyone who supports him” post.


  17. It’s an insult, sure–to a woman unfit for the office to which she is about to be confirmed–but it’s not misogyny. The male equivalent would apply equally well to any man–I can think of a couple–appointed to the same office, so lacking in the qualifications to be there.


  18. when we are ‘wounded’, we don’t make the best of judges of one another,

    but I get you – you see through Trump as many do

    but some people aren’t able and I don’t know why that is,
    but I don’t think that makes them ‘bad people’ as such, no

    just means that they don’t get it yet

    it’s pretty complicated, this ‘wounded’ thing 🙂 for ALL of us

    Christ have mercy!


  19. This strikes me as true, Robert F. So much of Christianity in the US–at least of the Evangelical variety–looks like a cult that HUG and other people who have been through the same kind of experience are doing well to stay sane. Congratulations, HUG. I don’t know how you manage it.


  20. You would do great wrong to other people, though, if you took them at face value and tried to follow them to the letter.


  21. If there is a god who made Trump specifically in his image to be a leader, I want nothing to do with that god. He/she/it is obviously malevolent.


  22. There are some things that have happened to me in my Christian life that I will never be able to move on from. That is why I am currently a DONE. The scars and deceit by these “christians” runs too deep. It is almost too glib to tell another human being to move on-they have to decide themselves to move on IMO.


  23. I think it’s hard to “move on” when you look around and see literally millions of fellow American Christians at the present time in the grip of the a steroidal version of the kind of thing HUG went through. It would be like living in a 24/7 news-cycle cult flashback played out on the cultural big screen of our country. Vast swaths of American Christianity have become a cult, and its visible at every turn. That fact that HUG can hang on and maintain his sanity in the face of this countrywide manifestation of bad religion is a great triumph of the spirit.


  24. I know I am wounded, but I pray to God that I do not go along with the aberrant behavior of any Christian leader. Trumps behavior is deplorable!!


  25. Headless Unicorn Guy, I am hoping that you will someday be able to move on from your bad experiences you had with whatever extreme group you were associated with in the 70’s. We all must move on and it seems to me this obsession you have is tainting your life. Perhaps this is inappropriate but I do empathize with you as I had a early childhood experience that took me years to get over and it hurt my development as an adult. So God Bless and hope you can move on someday.


  26. Hello TOM,

    if you think about it, we are ALL wounded in some way

    I don’t understand ‘why’ Trump, no, but I understand ‘wounded’.


  27. two rodents definitely, maybe, unless of course they’re beavers
    flags crossed
    skeleton spine, possibly fractured

    diagnosis, someone? gotta know


  28. If your reaction to this post is “Yeah those Trump people are awful” and not “I need to be more humble in asserting my opinion about my interpretations of Scripture” you need to read it again.


  29. Back in the Seventies I was mixed up in a Rapture Ready/Shepherding “Fellowship” with its own Cult Compound and all.

    Some of Hal Lindsay and Dake’s Annotated “plain readings of SCRIPTURE(TM)” from that time and place could make Art Bell’s 3 Ayem open phones sound as mundane as a business memo written by liability attorneys.


  30. And such “stark, exaggerated terms” have maximum IMPACT.
    It’s called “hyperbole”, and is characteristic of Prophetic Utterances.
    Sort of like “first you hit them over the head, and now that you’ve got their attention…”


  31. The internet “Christian” then told me that Trump was ordained by God—that, in fact, God had specifically chosen, and made Trump in his image to be a leader, and God put him into power “for a reason,” a reason which would purportedly culminate in the second coming of Christ… and ending with the rapture.

    Jump-starting Armageddon by launching a nuclear war?

    And if you let this Internet Christian “grow” a little longer and check back, will he have taken the final step to “Trump IS God!”?

    “Proclaim him a God, Demosthenes! PROCLAIM HIM A GOD!”
    — older Hollywood biopic about Alexander the Great


  32. the day the fundamentalist-evangelicals walked towards Trump, they were walking AWAY from their Christ AND THEIR WITNESS

    so now, if DT goes down the drain Nov 3
    there will be an ENORMOUS amount of folks who will be looking around for ANOTHER ANNOINTED ONE to follow, to sieg heil, to bow down before and BELIEVE even though no truth is spoken

    the idolatry will not ‘end’, it will just attach itself to a new ‘CHOSEN ONE’ who will entertain and conduct hate rallies and demand complete loyalty to himself alone

    this will go on until the movement chokes on its own destructiveness like naziism croked until a flicker appears at a place like Charlotteville and the SHOW WILL GO ON


  33. Jesus has set the bar very high for those that truly desire to please him not only in words but actions IMO!


  34. It is impossible to sidestep interpretation. Even as one reads the Scriptures, interpretation is kicking in. It is impossible to read anything, including the Bible, without interpreting simultaneously. That’s how we derive meanings from texts and events. You just can’t get around it, even though it means that we are forever injecting our personal baggage into the Bible and everything else that we encounter and experience and analyze in our lives. The kind of god that is so narrow that he expects us to get things right, or even just the “main and plain” things right, is too narrow. “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea….But we make his his love too narrow, by false limits of our own/And we magnify his strictness, with a zeal he will not own….” — of necessity, I’m hoping that is the fundamental truth in the midst of everything else.


  35. I do not know their “Jesus” and do not wish to. I still consider myself a follower of Christ, but I am a DONE. I continue to be disillusioned with this Trump “Christianity.”

    I will add, the people that I used to go to church with, etc. have really surprised me. Vote Republican, that does not bother me; but to never speak out against the human abuses he has brought to the White House is unacceptable to me.

    I am very imperfect, but I hope those that know me know I do wish to show by my actions to show I am a follower of Christ. But I have always told people do not look at my life for perfection, but for them to look at Jesus life.


  36. This might be a reason why Jesus put so many of His commands in such stark, exaggerated terms – pluck out your own eye, sell ALL that you have, forsake wife and parents, take up the instrument of your own execution, etc – to make His call and ask expectations as hard for us to spin as possible.


  37. “But see,” I began explaining, “there’s a difference between the ‘Jesus Christians,’ and the ‘Fox News/Rush Limbaugh/Breitbart?/?#Cult45 Christians.’” I argued, “If you can’t clearly see the difference, i.e., how the ‘Alternative News Christian’ is incredibly and wholly wrong, then that’s only because the wool has been quite thoroughly pulled over your eyes… hate to break it to you, but it seems you’ve been indoctrinated into a very dangerous cult.”
    Of course, my words were all nonsense, he argued. It was actually people like me who are the cult members. “Sheeple,” he called us. (It’s amazing how quickly cult members learn psychological projection and gaslighting from their leader.)
    I continued, reminding him how many of us “Jesus Christians” had left the church in droves because organized religion had collectively lost its damn mind, along with members who appeared to have sold their souls to the devil. A dead giveaway is how these conservative “Christians” tend to worship trump, right or wrong (or the American Flag, or the national anthem). They worship Trump, or symbolic objects like they are idols?—?something Jesus strictly warned against. Equally grim, they bastardize and twist the scriptures to fit a convenient but misguided narrative.
    The internet “Christian” then told me that Trump was ordained by God—that, in fact, God had specifically chosen, and made Trump in his image to be a leader, and God put him into power “for a reason,” a reason which would purportedly culminate in the second coming of Christ… and ending with the rapture.
    On God…”



    “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

    (2 Cor. 11:3)


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