Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Life Of Steve Hays

You can't say everything that should be said about Steve Hays in a single post, so I won't even try. This is just a beginning. I'll have more to say in the future.

Some of my earliest memories of Steve come from working with him on This Joyful Eastertide. It's an e-book he wrote in response to a book published in 2005 that argued against the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. I contributed to an appendix on Justin Martyr, but most of my work on the book consisted of editing. Almost all of the book, which is nearly 500 pages long, was written by Steve. He probably would have had it out much sooner if the editing, formatting, and such hadn't taken so long. The book is an illustration of so much of what defined Steve and his work. Not many Christians would read such a lengthy multi-author work against Jesus' resurrection written by such prominent skeptics. Fewer would do it so shortly after the book was published. And far fewer would be able and willing to write such a good and lengthy response so soon after the book came out. Because so few do that sort of work or even think much about it, not many people know what it costs to do it, in terms of time, effort, your reputation, and the unpredictability of who will respond to it and when, among other factors involved.

Steve wrote several other e-books, and I contributed to a couple of them. Working in his shadow was something I considered an advantage. I always wanted to write my contributions after his, since I knew he would say most of what needed to be said and would say it better. In the context of those books and in other contexts, he was an older brother you didn't resent, but admired and always wanted to have around.

I met Steve in 2005 and joined the staff of Triablogue in February of 2006. I couldn't calculate how much I've benefited from working with him and reading his material. I couldn't number or fully describe all of the articles and books I've read at his recommendation, all of the information and illustrations and arguments I've gotten from him, how he's shaped my thinking on so many issues. A lot of people are in a lot of debt to him, including many who considered him an enemy.

He was highly active in theology, apologetics, and other significant fields - the most important issues in life - until close to the day of his death. He did far more in those contexts while in poor health than the large majority of Americans, including the large majority of Evangelicals, are willing to do when their health is much better. His last post on Triablogue was written while he was weak and waiting to die in a hospice, about three days before his death. Much of the work he did, including in his last days, was done without public attention and in contexts in which few people would have faulted him for doing something less difficult instead.

To know more about him, you should read his memoir, A Backward Providence. He says a lot there about his childhood and relatives, especially his mother. He took care of her during the last several years of her life, until she died in 2013. He would often mention her in private correspondence.

He doesn't say much about Triablogue in his memoir, but he does mention that it "speaks for itself" (74). It does, and it will. The pace of posting he kept up over the years must have been partly a result of his knowing that he had significant health problems and that he wanted to build up a database while he had the opportunity to do it. People will be benefiting from that work for years to come.

He was active far beyond Triablogue. You can read his memoir for some examples. There were so many occasions when I saw him active on other people's web sites, when he was the only person there arguing for a Christian perspective or did more to advance Christianity than anybody else there or everybody else combined. There were many occasions outside of Triablogue when the Christian side of a dispute prevailed solely or largely because Steve was participating. He was frequently in contact with people from around the world in more private settings as well, such as through email and Facebook Messenger. He often took walks, and he would occasionally mention conversations he had with people in that context. Shortly before his death, he wrote in an email, "Cancer has providential fringe benefits. Because drivers notice me going for walks, and because my cancer is so visible, I get stopped by people who have questions. That's an opportunity to witness. Just this afternoon as I was walking home, a driver in a parking lot struck up a conversation with me. His adolescent son was in the passenger seat. Their wife/mother had died of cancer 5 years before. Father and son are Christian. Gave me an opportunity to have a theological discussion with them about life, death, and heaven."

Since his death, I've seen a lot of people quoting passages from his memoir. He was an unusually good communicator. I think that was partly because he had such wide interests and experiences and read so widely. He had so much to draw from, and he knew what to draw out and how to present it.

The extent to which he was an original thinker and willing to go against the crowd hasn't been appreciated as much as it ought to be. That's not just true of certain topics in fields like theology and apologetics. It's also true of his life more broadly. He lived in a culture that despises so much of the work he did. Even most Evangelicals would have advised him against giving so much of his life to work that was of such an intellectual nature, work they're so uninterested in. He lived a life that not only most non-Christians, but also most of the Christians of our day hold in low regard. If he'd spent his life doing things like telling jokes, landscaping his yard, posting photos of his relatives, and talking about sports, music, movies, cooking, housework, and such, he would have been much more loved and respected in most circles. He had qualities that would have gotten him a lot of money and more respect in fields other than where he chose to live and work. We need to keep in mind that whatever popularity Steve has comes from a tiny minority of the population. You have to give up a lot and go up against a lot to live the way he did.

One way to measure a person's life is by what you miss when he's gone. I miss his knowledge and wisdom on so many issues. I miss his work and his willingness to labor where so few are doing what needs done, doing work that meets with so much apathy and contempt even among Christians. I'll miss the updates to his bibliography. I'll miss being able to add his posts to my collections of Easter and Christmas resources every year. I miss his emails. I miss being able to come here and see new posts from him just about every day. I could go on. It's a tribute to him that the loss is so palpable.

Because of who he was and the nature of the work he did, something that always stood out to me was his presence. Whatever the time of year, whatever events were in the news, whatever the latest controversies were in one context or another, you knew he was either at work or about to be at work on the most important issues in life, researching them or writing about them. He was persistent. You could go to work in the morning and know that he would be at work, in a more important way, while you were gone. (And you'd often get back from work to find that he'd responded to your critics, sent you some useful resources in an email, or done something else to help you while you were away!) When I would bring up Triablogue on my computer in the morning, I'd see posts he'd put up the previous night, discussing God's providence, prayer, or some other issue, often making points I'd never thought of and using illustrations I'd never forget. I can't count how many times I went off to work, went to visit relatives at Christmastime, or some such thing and was encouraged by the thought that Steve was around, persistent in carrying out such important work that so few people are willing to do. Knowing that he was present was such a blessing for so many years. He's no longer there.

"Our beloved brother Charles Stanford has just been taken from us. I seem to be standing as one of a company of disciples, and my brethren are melting away. My brothers, my comrades, my delights are leaving me for the better land….The grief is to us who are left behind. What a gap is left where Hugh Stowell Brown stood! Who is to fill it? What a gap is left where Charles Stanford stood! Who is to fill it?...We stand like men amazed. Why this constant thinning of our ranks while the warfare is so stern? Why this removal of the very best when we so much need the noblest examples? I am bowed down and could best express myself in a flood of tears as I survey the line of graves so newly dug. The Master is gathering the ripest of his fruit, and well does he deserve them. His own dear hand is putting his apples of gold into his baskets of silver, and as we see that it is the Lord, we are bewildered no longer. His word, as it comes before us in the text, calms and quiets our spirits. It dries our tears and calls us to rejoicing as we hear our heavenly Bridegroom praying, 'Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.' [John 17:24]" (Charles Spurgeon, in Randy Alcorn, ed., We Shall See God [Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011], 8-9)

28 comments:

  1. Hi Jason,

    Keep up the good work - I've greatly appreciated your work too over many years and have passed on insights I've learned from it to others, including my family.

    I've always presumed that Steve's day job, whatever it was, allowed him to spend large amounts of time going in depth and keeping up to date across his large range of areas of interest (how else would he be able)? I never asked, because it seemed to be his choice to keep it in the background during his life. What was it that allowed him to put "bread on the table" over the years?

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, David!

      Steve discussed career and financial issues to some extent in his memoir. I don't know if you've read it. I know some details beyond what he refers to there, but I'm also ignorant of some of the details. I'm still in the process of thinking through what should be said publicly and what shouldn't. There's nothing unethical that I'm aware of in his career or finances, and there's a lot that's commendable in that context (e.g., taking care of his mother for so long, which had to have involved a lot of money). He chose not to say much publicly about career and financial issues, for whatever reasons, and my inclination at this point is to withhold the information unless there's something to justify disclosing it (e.g., a discussion of God's providence in his life that would warrant bringing up one or more of the relevant details).

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  2. Thank you for sharing this, Jason. This was a beautiful and moving tribute. The Spurgeon quote was priceless.

    Keep fighting the good fight of faith, your reward is sure.

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  3. Thank you, Jason. I pray for you and others who were close to Steve in your time of grief.

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  4. I have just finished reading Steve's memoir, A Backward Providence. I don't think I've ever read something so quickly. Seemed to fly through it. I thank Steve for this. It is beautifully written, and very sad in parts.

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  5. I don't believe I've ever seen a picture of Steve. Would it be possible for you guys to share one? If not, I understand. God bless.

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    1. I just realized there are some older pictures included in the memoir. Are there any pictures out there from more recent times?

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  6. FWIW I read Steve's autobiography and it was enjoyable reading. Like Steve, I have a fondness for enumerated lists, bullet points, etc (probably due to my job) and were I writing something I'd probably lapse into that, which might be off-putting for a spiritual autobiography. But Steve's text flowed. It had an almost stream-of-consciousness feel to it as well. I had the same experience as Danny above in that I started reading it, and after what seemed like 5-10 minutes I was near the end.


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    1. Steve would often make his points in Roman numerals. The lists would sometimes get so labyrinthine that he'd lose track of where he was in the sub-points to his points (and sub-points of sub-points). I always liked seeing him mess up and use the same number twice.

      He also wrote in sentence fragments a lot. Like this.

      Those are some of the criteria future scholars will use to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic Haysian texts. To peel back the layers to uncover the Haysian ur-text. (He would like that sentence fragment I just used!)

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    2. Ha, scholars have already identified the deutero-Steve tradition plus the layers of redaction that trito-Steve, pseudo-Steve, and Steve the Elder applied to the ur-text. They've also dated the writings of Steve centuries later than when they were written due to the advanced Christological tenor of his writings.

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    3. They've already concluded the first documents were written no earlier than 2120.

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    4. “He also wrote in sentence fragments a lot. Like this.”

      My favorite aspect of his writing. Added a lot of force.

      I also enjoyed when he called his self-important opponents “foils”. Good stuff.

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    5. I liked that aspect of his writing, too. Reinforced his point.

      Indeed, the 'You're just a foil' line was absolutely fantastic. It brought his interlocutor down a peg, letting them know that he was mainly writing for lurkers.

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  7. What
    Kind of cancer did he have that was so visible to others?
    I always assumed he was a seminary professor
    I am missing him...
    There were points in life when I was in deep despair over certain scriptures and weather God would bestow his grace upon me...I almost thought I would die from grief and fear until I got Steve’s emails explaining the Bible verses causing me worry.
    Reading his blog for decades made me smarter but am an intellectual minnow and needed to use a dictionary and google while reading his posts.
    What were the books that Steve recommended to you personally, Jason?

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    1. Thanks, Aleksandra. We miss him as well. It's also encouraging to hear how so many including you have benefited from his writings. Fortunately, "though he died, he still speaks" via his memoir, Triablogue, his ebooks, and so on.

      As Steve notes in his memoir, he had a type of lymphoma.

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    2. Aleksandra,

      When I referred to book recommendations in my first post in this thread, I was thinking of his comments on books in general, even if those comments weren't directed at me alone. He often discussed books here, in his e-books, in emails, and elsewhere. He'd often comment on books in emails he sent to groups of people, and he sometimes discussed books with me in email exchanges only involving the two of us. The books I saw him recommend, in one way or another (e.g., sometimes only recommending one chapter in a book that he thought was mediocre or bad overall), have to number at least in the triple digits.

      I typically don't remember how I originally heard about a book, who did and didn't recommend it, and so on. But I'll give a few examples of books I'm somewhat confident that I bought at Steve's recommendation.

      I've often gone to his bibliography on the Old and New Testaments to find Biblical commentaries worth getting. Since I've been studying Isaiah a lot recently, my getting Gary Smith's commentary on Isaiah at Steve's recommendation comes to mind.

      On issues related to the gospels, I think I first heard about Charles Hill's Who Chose The Gospels? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) from Steve.

      On Christmas issues, I believe Steve was the one who led me to get Dale Allison's Studies In Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005) to read Allison's chapter on the star of Bethlehem.

      On paranormal issues, my recollection is that I started reading Stephen Braude's material, including his books, at Steve's recommendation.

      Those are just a few examples of so many that occurred over the years.

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    3. Jason, Did Steve share with you any thoughts he might have had on Enfield and your work concerning those events? I cannot recall him commenting on the subject. Your output on Enfield has been immense, thorough and extrenely enjoyable to read, and I wonder if Steve had an opinion concerning those events.

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    4. Danny,

      I appreciate the encouragement.

      I didn't start addressing Enfield in a lot of depth until 2017, so it came up during the last years of his life and everything that went with that. He'd occasionally respond to my Enfield material in some manner, but not much, as far as I know. He occasionally offered support in my Facebook threads on the topic (see here and here). He had a bibliography at the end of a post he wrote on the paranormal and the occult, and he added a link to my Enfield material there. He showed some interest in my post about animals in the Enfield case, but that may have had more to do with appreciating the significance of animals and the paranormal in general rather than appreciating the discussion of the topic as it applies to Enfield in particular. I don't remember his reacting to my Enfield material in contexts other than the few just mentioned and likely one other occasion of a similar nature.

      He sometimes discussed paranormal issues with other people on the Triablogue staff, probably Patrick Chan more than anybody else. I don't know if he ever discussed Enfield with any of them.

      It was common for him to not comment on a topic discussed on the blog. Sometimes the blog material would get discussed in private, and sometimes it wouldn't. I don't remember him saying much about my work on Isaiah that I referred to in response to Aleksandra, for example. He had a lot on his mind.

      I'd be surprised if he didn't get at least one complaint (probably more than one) about my Enfield material. That sort of work is often viewed negatively in Evangelical circles, many people judge paranormal cases in a shallow way (read the YouTube threads following Enfield videos to see many examples), and I expect a lot of people to object to the length and frequency of my posts on the subject. When I put up my Enfield posts, I only expect a small minority of Triablogue's regular audience to read the entirety of the post. I expect a majority to find the material uninteresting, embarrassing, irritating, and such and to not read it. None of that changes the fact that Enfield is an epic case that warrants the sort of coverage I'm giving it and more.

      About a month before Steve's death, I commented on why I've done the work I've done on Enfield. I don't know if Steve read those posts, was aware of my thinking on the issues involved, or how much he agreed with how I view the situation. For reasons like the ones discussed in my comments I just linked, it takes a lot of time and many lengthy posts to do the work that needs to be done. I'm grateful that Steve gave me such a significant platform for doing that work, was as supportive as he was, and did as much as he did on paranormal issues more broadly.

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    5. Somebody forwarded me an email Steve wrote, about a month before his death, commenting on Enfield. He said that he hasn't read my posts on the topic, because "My own approach is cumulative. Have multiple well-documented examples or case-studies. Having a large sample base allows for a margin for error. I don't invest too much in any particular example. They just need to meet a certain threshold of testimonial evidence. I don't mean poltergeists in particular, but a range of paranormal/supernatural phenomena. That's enough to debunk naturalism from many different angles."

      One of the reasons why I've given Enfield so much attention is that you can't have a cumulative case if there aren't enough individual pieces in the case that hold up to scrutiny. And I'm addressing far more than naturalism. My impression is that Steve was more focused on atheism than I am, and he thought he had sufficient evidence for individual paranormal cases before I started addressing Enfield in depth in 2017. So, he didn't need to study any other individual cases in depth at that stage of his life. He knew he was close to death, so he had to be highly selective in what he spent his time on. He wasn't under any obligation to read my Enfield material, and he chose not to for the reasons outlined above.

      Patrick Chan helped Steve a lot with technical issues, sometimes doing HTML work on his posts, for example. I asked Patrick if he remembered whether the link to my Enfield material in Steve's post on the paranormal and the occult was added at Steve's initiative. Patrick told me he's confident that Steve was the one who took the initiative to add it. I know that I never asked for it to be added and only found out about its being added later on.

      So, it looks like Steve read at least a few of my posts on Enfield on Facebook and responded positively to three of them, if I'm remembering correctly, and he included a link to my Triablogue Enfield material in his post discussed above. However, he apparently didn't read any of the Triablogue posts. (His email comments quoted above were made about a month before his death, which means it's possible that he read some of my material between the time of that email and his death, but that's an unlikely scenario. He was getting significantly weaker in the closing month of his life, and I doubt that reading some Enfield material he hadn't read previously was much of a priority to him.)

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  8. Thanks, Jason. I'm afraid I'm no longer on Facebook so I cannot access the full threads to which you link. But you've answered my question, and I appreciate it.

    'I'd be surprised if he didn't get at least one complaint (probably more than one) about my Enfield material. That sort of work is often viewed negatively in Evangelical circles, many people judge paranormal cases in a shallow way (read the YouTube threads following Enfield videos to see many examples)...'

    Indeed. It's astonishing how many people simply wave the hand in arrogant dismissal when faced with such an astonishing case with multiple lines of evidence, *including* the evidence of adolescent monkeying around, which only adds to the authenticity.

    '...and I expect a lot of people to object to the length and frequency of my posts on the subject. When I put up my Enfield posts, I only expect a small minority of Triablogue's regular audience to read the entirety of the post. I expect a majority to find the material uninteresting, embarrassing, irritating, and such and to not read it. None of that changes the fact that Enfield is an epic case that warrants the sort of coverage I'm giving it and more.'

    It's remarkable. There is nothing 'uninteresting' about the Enfield case. On the contrary, Enfield is an utterly fascinating case. You might not be convinced by it, but only a dull mind would find it uninteresting.

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    1. When I'm logged out of Facebook, I can still see the threads I linked above and can see the comments and who reacted to a post by clicking on or moving the cursor to the relevant areas. Have you tried any of that (clicking on "Comments", for example)? I'm wondering what people without a Facebook account can and can't access. It would be good to know.

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    2. All I can see is your original post, Jason. Nothing else. No ability to scroll down and see comments/reactions. For the first link, a pop-up invites me to join Facebook or log in. For the second link (where you link to your Triablogue article), it simply invites me to share the article. That's it.

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    3. That's good to know. Thanks!

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  9. I'm a nobody yet I had the privilege of being blessed with some correspondence from a brilliant mind like Steve Hays. I'm fortunate that I came across this blog and got to be good friends with John Bugay and then the privilege of being added to a Messenger group with Steve in it. The treasure of his work really should be known throughout the world. I will be absolutely sharing his work with others.

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