Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Steve Hays

One of my favorite writers, from way back, is George Will. Will was exceedingly well-read, and it always showed in his commentaries. Even during the Reagan era, he was one of those conservative writers who seemed to want to make sure Republicans were properly thinking through the issues. As uncomfortable as it could be in a partisan political environment, he never hesitated to challenge Republicans on a given topic, bringing to light a faulty premise, often challenging it on historical grounds. This was often uncomfortable, but his challenges seemed to make the Republicans a better party. He was not going to let them become a mutual admiration society. He was going to force them to think.

It has always seemed to me that Steve Hays is that kind of writer.

Blogging is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. After Al Gore invented the Internet, it took a while to figure out what to do with it, but not a long while. There were many experimenters, some of whom became fabulously wealthy. In the early 2000’s – less than 10 years ago – it was discovered that the Internet could provide a place with no limits as to what kind of, or how much information (or non-information) could be generated.

When you’re trying to sort through that kind of information, and to understand a topic as big as church history (as I was), and as broad as the Orthodox-Roman-Protestant divides (as I was), you simply cannot just “dive in” and learn everything you need to know, especially not if you’re doing it as a self-taught person. You have to have a tour guide. Someone who you can trust to help you get started, and to show you your way around. Before the Internet, this type of education was typically obtained in a seminary. In fact, a seminary was the only place to learn such things.

But when you talk about the world of “church history, vertically, and denominational divides, horizontally”, and “the moral and ethical challenges we face today,” even getting a seminary education was a self-selecting process. What you’d learn in that world was dependent on where you’d go. You could choose one seminary and get one education, or you could choose another seminary, even in the same denomination, and get a totally different point of view.

The Internet over the last 15 years has changed all that. The Internet is as pure and as open a “marketplace of ideas”, and in this marketplace, any idea could come into contact with any other idea, and the ideas often collided. Even some ideas that had rarely, if ever, had interacted in the past, could come face to face in the world of the Internet. Even some conclusions that were centuries-old could face steep, steep challenges. Everyone and everything could be, and has been, exposed to the light, so to speak. When any given idea would come to the “marketplace of ideas”, it was fair game. If there was a weakness, it could be exposed and attacked. If there is a fallacious argument, the Internet was the place to show it for what it was.

In the “world” of church history (vertically) and “today’s religious environment” or the “moral and ethical environment” (horizontally), and even in the political environment, there are no limits to the number of individuals who can and do profess to speak expertly on a topic. But on the other hand, only the strong can survive in it. Well-formed ideas and arguments can survive the withering heat, but if someone is posturing, or fudging, or cheating, such things are exposed as well. It’s true, an enclave mentality can enable some ideas to continue to have audiences full of idiots and sycophants. (And yes, I am thinking of certain Roman Catholic enclaves and mutual admiration societies).

The Internet of the last 15 years has been like the “wild west” redux, and the strong and the smart have survived, and lots of others have fallen by the wayside. (Whether you’d want to “survive” here is another story). But the process of shaking out continues – it’s a big world – spent and faulty and liberal philosophies and theologies are going to continue to be shown for what they are. From our vantage point, it doesn’t seem certain, at the end of this process, that good sense will reign. You can still fool some of the people most of the time. But over time, we certainly will see all of these things for what they are.

* * *

Back in 2005 or 2006, one of my old NTRMin friends, Sharon, and I were lamenting the recent demise of NTRMin. It had been an active community and discussion, but the founder had moved on to other things, and we were just talking about what was left that was good to read. Sharon said, “I’ve been reading Steve Hays at Triablogue. He’s pretty good” I took a look, and I’ve been reading it ever since.

Over the years, I’ve seen Steve take on virtually anyone and everyone, on virtually any topic, including some individuals I’d taken to be heroes. And over the years, I’ve gotten to know Steve a bit, personally. He’s never hesitated to answer a question of mine, or to give me some sound guidance when I’m not sure where to turn. “Who’s good to read on a topic” is certainly one of the questions I’ve repeatedly asked him. But I’ve gotten into some personal tangles, too, and Steve has been there to help me think it through.

And on occasion, I’ve also been on the wrong side of Steve’s withering “analysis”, and I can say, it’s been none too pleasant. But I’ve always learned from the experience.

Now, this is just a personal testimony, but in all of the personal searching I’ve done, on all of the topics I’ve researched (usually here or there in church history or the denominational struggles), I’ve not ever found a more accessible and trustworthy guide than Steve Hays. In my mind, in my world, Steve has towered when others have shown themselves to be petty, or partisan, or just plain not thinking clearly.

On the positive side, Steve has shown me how to think about arguments, and exegesis, and the value of a sound hermeneutic. On the pages of Triablogue, and in private emails behind the scenes, I’ve seen a stellar example of clear, critical thinking up close.

As best as I can tell, Steve’s motivation is just simply to do what he’s always done: not to let Christians settle for poor arguments, or partisan arguments, just because they’re on “our side”. He wants us to be better Christians, and through this blog, he does it in a selfless way. Above all, what I’ve found to be Steve’s motivating principle, “Truth is normative”, to be as certain a guiding principle as I’ve found anywhere, on any topic.

* * *

I don’t read everything that Steve writes. I’ve chided him that I don’t know how anyone can keep up with him. He writes more than I can read. And while I check in at AOMin every day, I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t read everything there, either.

But I know Steve well enough to know that when he says that Jamin Hubner is relying on poor sources, or is making poor arguments, that he knows what he’s talking about, and that, instead of digging in, Jamin should do some soul searching, because in the process, he’ll see some room for improvement.

Steve doesn’t need me to defend him, by any means. But I will say that his perceptions are keen, and if he has something to say, especially about someone on “our side”, it needs to be said. We conservative Christians should not ever stop challenging ourselves to be better – we should not ever fall into being a “mutual admiration society”. Steve’s head and heart are both in the right place.

We all here know that a fire is coming. And that fire “will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

“The Truth is out there,” but it doesn’t always come easily. In the Internet world of ideas, Triablogue is a pure gem, and Triablogue readers (myself included) have become fabulously wealthy in the permanent things. There’s not much here that’s going to burn.


  1. Well said John,

    Now on 'My Blog List'... Triablogue is last on the list. And not because I don't always agree- but only because of an alphabetical thing.

    And it seems to work well in my morning survey... to survey the best for last.

    Keep up the great work Steve!

  2. T-blogue has rested upon my top five must-read-daily blogs for awhile now.

    As you said John, I don't personally subscribe to all that's written here, and I too have sat under the microscope of a number of T-blogue team members (during the images exchange), but at the end of the day it does seem to be about the truth around these parts, and that's more than commendable, it's priceless.

    Carry on, brothers!

    In Christ,

  3. Thanks, John, for the gracious words.

  4. Thanks CD.

    Steve, I wish I could tell you what your friendship has meant to me.

  5. Steve,

    You have meant a great deal to me as well. May the Lord richly bless you and comfort you, for in this life we will have trouble but Jesus grants us peace.

    Grace and peace,
    aka fanboy

  6. John,

    Where you going to spend that $5 that Steve gave you to write this post?


    P.S. I totally agree with you about Steve.

    Thanks Steve for your sharp thinking shaped around a Jesus-formed heart.

  7. Rho,

    I think you have something on your nose there...


    In Him,

  8. john: Amen! Triablogue and Mr. Hays have blessed me enormously. Keep up the fine work for there are countless readers who have been encouraged and taught how to reason faithfully as they are equipped to defend the truth.

  9. Steve Hays is Valiant-For-Truth.

  10. TUAD: John, Where you going to spend that $5 that Steve gave you to write this post?

    I'm going to try and not spend it all in one place, that's for sure :-)