Saturday, June 20, 2020

A few more tributes to Steve Hays

I recently saw some more tributes to Steve Hays that I thought would be worth linking to. However some are on Facebook so they might not be accessible to everyone. Please feel free to post more in the comments if there are others worth reading.

Yellow Lives Matter

I recently saw a popular Christian apologist post the following image on Facebook. He's also been making posts sympathetic to if not in support of BLM.

Let's take a comparison:

Asian-Americans hear similar things. You're a banana or Twinkie. You're fresh off the boat. No but where are you really from? Well of course you're good at math and science. You all look the same. And so on.

Asian-Americans face systemic racism in college admissions. For example, see the Harvard law suit which may go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Yet, are Asian-Americans going around demanding the cancellation of every movie or series with yellow face racism? Supporting a Marxist-influenced organization like BLM? Justifying the destruction of property? Tearing down railroad tracks from the First Transcontinental Railroad because Chinese immigrants were literally treated like pack animals? Using Japanese internment camps like Manzanar as a modern rallying cry against the evil US government?

Should Asian-Americans be doing these things?

I think other racial/ethnic groups could say similar things too (e.g. Latinos, Indigenous Americans, Jews, underprivileged whites). Where's the massive public outrage and support for them? Why aren't CNN and MSNBC covering their plight as much as BLM?

Friday, June 19, 2020

How To Begin To Argue For Christianity

Christians who are involved in apologetics are often overly defensive and don't go on offense enough. They're familiar with some or all of the broad outlines of the evidence for Christianity, but don't know much about the details or how to prioritize them.

There are a lot of approaches that can be taken. Different ones are better in different circumstances, and we don't have to take only one approach toward a given individual. I want to recommend several approaches, among others that could be used, with links to relevant posts.

Just as there isn't any easy way to answer every objection to Christianity, there isn't any easy way to argue for the religion as a whole. The same is true of other worldviews. There is no easy way to answer every objection or argue for your beliefs as a whole if you're an atheist, Muslim, or Hindu. About a decade ago, this is how I began my contribution to an e-book written by a few of us on the Triablogue staff:

We live in a complicated universe. No worldview has an easy answer for every question. There are advantages to complexity, though. The depth of human relationships makes life more enjoyable in some ways, but more difficult in other ways. The complexities of language are an advantage in some contexts and a disadvantage in others. Life involves a lot of tradeoffs. One thing is gained at the expense of something else. Any belief system can be made to look bad by inordinately focusing on some elements of it while neglecting others. (The Infidel Delusion, 5)

Having said all of that, we need to make decisions about where to begin in a discussion with a non-Christian. I can't cover all of the ground here, but I want to recommend some resources.

If you're interacting with an atheist or agnostic, for example, you could appeal to philosophical and scientific arguments for God's existence. You could also appeal to video evidence for miracles, especially if you're interacting with somebody who claims that there is no such evidence or that such evidence would be significant to him. To make a case more specifically for Christianity, you should familiarize yourself with the reasoning behind the traditional Christian arguments for the religion and be prepared to provide an overview to others. See here. You can appeal to prophecy fulfillment based on common ground with the non-Christian, namely evidence from the modern world and evidence from the ancient world that non-Christians often accept. You can also argue for Jesus' resurrection from non-Christian sources, in the sense of either people who were non-Christians prior to seeing Jesus risen from the dead or people who remained non-Christians, but corroborated the resurrection to some extent.

Those are just several examples. You can find more in our archives. And we have a lot of material that can be used to go beyond the earliest steps in arguing for Christianity. See here, for example, on arguing for the superiority of the Christian system of miracles over competing systems.

Thursday, June 18, 2020


In Steve’s memoir, he said “most of what I post on my blog is written from a sense of duty rather than personal interest” (page 74).  Steve and I had a couple of email exchanges along that topic over the years.  A lot of what drove that feeling is the difference between writing about what interests you and writing about what people need to hear.  For example, if I wrote about what interest me, I would write about Chaos Theory, mathematics, logic, music theory, and trying to become a polyglot.   Yet these topics would not be very useful for the church as a whole.

Indeed, I remember something my father once told me about a complaint R.C. Sproul made around the time when I was in high school.  It’s so long ago, I don’t have a way to verify the quote, but it seems accurate enough.  Essentially, Sproul’s complaint was that publishers kept having him dumb-down his books for a wider audience, so he was never able to talk about the things he wanted to talk about in the detail he wanted to express it.

But there’s another aspect to Steve’s quote that does need to be examined as well.  In using his quote as my launch pad, I should clarify that I do not believe what I’m going to discuss was Steve’s primary reasoning in the slightest—but it’s also not completely alien, given our conversations behind the scenes.  And that is the dichotomy that arises from writing about what you know to be true at times when you do not feel it to be true.

There is a reason that I use the distinction between knowing and feeling here.  Steve mentioned how for him it was a no brainer that God exists, but that the emotional problem of evil was far more difficult to tackle (see page 43 of his memoir).  This is something that I have also struggled with.  I’ve never doubted the existence of God—logic makes no sense unless theism is true.  But given theism, the question of God’s goodness definitely still remains one that can be struggled with.

Now at this point, I want to speak solely for myself.  While Steve and I did discuss the topic, as I mentioned, it’s in the midst of some emails that I am unable to dig through at the moment, given the nature of the events that were going on in my life during the time we had these exchanges.  So while I’m fairly confident I can accurately reproduce from memory what we discussed, I don’t want to inadvertently put words in Steve’s mouth that he would never have actually said simply because I mis-remembered the conversation.

So to my point.  There can be a radical difference between what you intellectually know to be true and what you feel at any given time.  My personal struggle arose from a time when I felt God had betrayed me.  This feeling of betrayal was a real feeling, but even a cursory logical look at the circumstances indicated that there was no such betrayal.  While confidentiality requires that I not give too many specifics, it involved the fact that at one point while I was in prayer and fasting, I believed God answered my prayers by affirming that I should remain faithful to my word and continue to pursue something that all my reason told me was impossible to achieve.  What I concluded from this was that God had told me, “If you remain faithful to your word, I will work out the details so you will get the result you want.”  But the truth was that never was the “message” that I got from the prayer—it was a simple command to be faithful without any indication that God was promising to do anything further.

The net result was, of course, that not only did I not get the ultimate desire I was hoping to achieve from my prayers, but it turned out that by remaining faithful to my word I ended up in a far worse position than I would have been in had I ceased my efforts when I knew it was hopeless.

Now here’s the rub.  The feeling of the betrayal was a real feeling, but it was not a reasonable feeling.  I could logically tell myself repeatedly all the facts.  I knew God had never promised to give me the end result I wanted, contingent upon my following through on my word.  For that matter, the affirmation to be faithful to my word was merely the bare minimum of what God wants us to do anyway!  In short, had I broken my word, that itself would have been sinful, and God is not obligated to bless you simply because in one instance you avoided sinning.

But reason doesn’t enter into matters of the heart.  I felt pained.  I felt betrayed.  I felt that God was unjust.

But I still knew God was just.  And here is where this ties back into the topic of this post.  At the time that I was struggling with this dichotomy between what I felt and what I knew, a former friend of mine who had apostatized to atheism started to engage me in debates on Facebook.  He would consistently make arguments about how if God existed, He would be nothing more than a moral monster.  That God was actually evil, not good.  Etc.

I engaged with this friend by arguing from reason.  I would object to his claims by showing the flawed logical assumptions and presuppositions underlying the claims, and how they had no teeth in an atheistic universe.  I used every bit of my intellect to focus on the reason his claims were false.

Yet the reality was, as soon as I hit “Submit” and turned off my computer and went to bed, my prayers would be accusing God of the very things the atheist had accused Him of, and which I had just spent so much time to refute.  And I was well aware that those emotions were genuinely felt, even though irrational.  I knew I had answered all my own questions, but it wasn’t an intellectual issue.  It was the emotional pain driving everything.

Why did I bother debating my atheist friend on logical grounds when emotionally I felt the same way he did?  Because I had a duty to do so.  I know that God is real and good and just.  And I know that my emotions, while genuine emotions, are not reality, nor can they be used to condemn God.  I can’t jettison what I know on the basis of what I feel.  As a result, I would write what I knew to be true despite how I felt.

I believe there is a sense where some (by no means all!) of Steve’s writing was based on that same balance sheet.  That some of what he wrote he did so because he knew it was true, and the sense of duty that compelled him to write it was required because the reality of evil in this world had hurt him in the same way it had hurt me. 

It’s easy to throw in the towel and let emotions rule the day.  It’s easy to vent, to rage, to cry out, to despair, to throw a tantrum against God.  It’s much harder to acknowledge that those emotions aren’t truth, and the truth still needs to be said.

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

The point of this somewhat lengthy meandering post is thus to assert a simple claim: To write the truth despite how one feels is actually a very good thing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Providence In The Life Of Steve Hays

"those who honor Me I will honor" (1 Samuel 2:30)

God's providence is the subject of the title of Steve's memoir and a recurring theme within it. I won't repeat everything he says about the topic there. But I want to supplement the memoir with a discussion of providence in Steve's life in contexts the memoir doesn't discuss much, especially his work at Triablogue and the events surrounding the end of his life.

Whether we consider something providential will depend on a lot of background factors that we've discussed in other contexts and that I won't get into here (the existence of God, the characteristics of God, the evidence for Christianity, etc.). And different aspects of providence are going to be evident and evidenced to different degrees. I'm not suggesting that all of what I'll discuss below is of equal significance.

I'll start with some examples of providence related to Steve's life as a whole. I'll then conclude with the events surrounding his death.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Confessions of the Unknown Blogger

It was me. 

I wrote the first ever posts on Triablogue. Up until today I didn't realize I was listed as "unknown" on the list of bloggers. 

I even came up with the name. It was a verbal mashup of my hopes for dialogue with two of my most learned friends: Rev. Richard Bledsoe and Steve Hays. So I invited them to join me for a triablogue. 

Blogging was new to me back then and I knew that Steve and Rich would be good at it if they tried. Indeed, Steve became a hall-of-famer. I, on the other hand blog like I play golf: too infrequently to be any good at it. The others that Steve recruited to Triablogue have graciously kept me around despite my absenteeism. I do feel regret for not engaging more. 

I met Steve while attending Westminster Seminary in California. I wouldn't claim we were close friends but I learned quickly that he was an insightful thinker and prolific writer. Steve was thoughtful and cared deeply about evangelism. When I told him I worked for a campus ministry he immediately took an interest. 

After I left WTSC in 2000, Steve would send me interesting things via email and we would exchange replies. I knew he would be a great blogger. 

I was stunned and saddened to read that Steve had died. 

I saw him before I left CA in 2000. It was on a pier in San Diego. I was with my family and he was walking with his mother. I remember his gentle kindness with his mother and his delight in meeting my family. That has been my enduring image all of these years as I have read his work on the blog. 

It might sound strange but Steve remains "present" in my thoughts like a well memorized equation of arithmetic. Maybe it is because I've read far more from Steve than I ever heard him utter. He is now "present" with Jesus and though I will miss his writing, I look forward to renewing our friendship in person. 

In this house of prayer

Danny recently suggested reposting Steve's old posts from time to time. I think that's a good idea.

This fictional story about prayer might be a good place to start. Attentive readers will realize the examples Steve used in the story are taken from the pages of his own life (e.g. the junior high school in Seattle where Steve's father used to teach and where Steve would walk around and pray for his father).

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction

I wrote this about Steve Hays last Saturday, as soon as I knew he had died:

It is fair to say that I have learned more from Steve Hays in my life, than from any other human being. Christian doctrine, philosophy, “how to think clearly”. Steve was first of all a profound Christian thinker, and a prolific blogger at Triablogue, which I started reading in 2006, and where I became a co-blogger at his request, in 2010. He died peacefully this morning.

Looking back, it was actually 2011 when I became a Triablogger.

I am now and always have been a nobody. I never wanted to be anybody. Back when I was young and running for my health, Joe Henderson, a former editor of Runner’s World magazine and, according to Wikipedia, “recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on running”, said something to the effect that “while many are running up mountains, to try to get to the top, some of us just want to run laps around the base.”

To put that idea more Scripturally, it might be stated, “But we urge you, brothers, … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, …” (1 Thess 4:11).

That has generally been my philosophy of life, with a few exceptions. Those exceptions typically revolve around me looking at a thing and saying “now that ain’t right”.

One of those exceptions turned out to be Roman Catholicism.

* * *

I grew up in a devoutly Roman Catholic family, hearing very frequently that the Catholic Church was the Church that Christ founded, the one true Church. “Thou art Peter, and on This Rock I will build my Catholic Church”.

Later as a teen, I heard the Protestant Gospel (the Biblical Gospel). I read the New Testament, I found the Gospel there, but I didn’t find the Roman Catholic Church. Matthew 16:18 was always thin gruel for me. As an aspiring wordsmith, I soon learned that it didn’t say what they told me it said. And so that contradiction sent me on a journey of explanation. To find out precisely why “that ain’t right”.

I was in and out of Catholicism a couple of times. I left in 1979 for what I considered to be the right reasons. Later someone persuaded me “it wasn’t too bad”, and following up with those folks, I was persuaded that I should try to go into the priesthood. After a few years of that, I ended up getting married, and having lots of kids, but some things about the Roman Catholic Church still didn’t sit right with me.

A friend handed me the 1994 issue of “First Things” with the first “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement. That too didn’t seem right.

I wrote a long letter to my parish priest at the time, telling him all my reasons that I did not believe that I could remain Catholic. I never heard from him after that. That was August of 1997.

The Internet was coming online at the time, and I found some of the early Protestant writers who were writing about Catholicism: James White, Eric Svendsen, David King, and several others. James White’s “The Roman Catholic Controversy” had a profound influence on my thinking about Rome in those days.

I joined the NTRMin discussion board, and got to be one of the “adelphoi”, the insiders. (I honestly didn’t understand James White’s “channel”. Never got the hang of the culture there. Not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t understand how it worked!)

NTRMin helped to shape my thinking theologically. When you leave a thing that’s important to you, as Roman Catholicism was to me, there’s a void. And it’s very important that that void gets filled properly.

After a lot of exploration, I found and attended an OPC church in 2002 and 2003, but it was destroyed in a fire, and Reformed churches in the area were few and far between. I began following several blogs and participating in comments and discussions, especially surrounding political and religious issues.

That’s the first time I had heard of Triablogue. NTRMin (where I had met Jason Engwer) kind of went out of business in 2004 or 2005. Then in 2006, one of my other NTRMin friends said she had started reading Steve Hays and Triablogue. I had seen Steve’s name in a few discussions at NTRMin, so I tuned in over at Triablogue.

Around that same time, I first came across Peter Lampe’s work, “From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries”. That ground-breaking work had been written in 1987, in German, so it was not widely known.

But apparently the Vatican knew about it. They promptly did two studies into the papacy, one historical (1989) and another theological a few years later That was surprising because Rome never does anything promptly. It is said that they think in terms of centuries. But the quick work here well could have been because Lampe’s work shook them up.

John Paul II issued his “Ut Unum Sint” encyclical in 1995, famous for its request that even Protestants help him look for “a new situation” for the papacy.

Lampe’s work was published in English in 2003, and I found it in 2006. Reading that work was a life changing experience for me, for it showed me the first genuine look at what the ancient church in the city of Rome was like, in a way that was based on historical, archaeological, and other physical evidence.

In 2007 I went to a local Michael Horton conference, in which he talked about “Two Kingdoms” theology. Not ironically, a key verse for him was “But we urge you, brothers, … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, …” (1 Thess 4:11).

I became interested in that, and by 2008, I had landed on Jason Stellman’s blog about Two Kingdoms theology (the now defunct “De Regnis Duobus” blog). I was looking into a subject that might be termed “political theology” or “political philosophy”.

But Stellman was going through his own “transformation”. In those days, the group of Roman Catholic converts who were later to start the blog “Called to Communion” were showing up in Stellman’s comments, and it seemed as if that blog had totally moved off of “Two Kingdoms” and into discussions of Roman Catholicism.

So in June 2009, I started a blog to discuss issues separately from both the Stellman site and the new “Called to Communion” site. By that time, I already had a huge sense that “that ain’t right” – a WSCal-trained pastor was converting to Roman Catholicism.

It was during those discussions that I began to have a fairly robust email conversation with Steve. My earliest emails with him go back to that period. Later, James Swan asked me to blog at his blog, Beggars All. A year later, after I told Steve that James and I had had a bit of a disagreement, Steve asked me to write at Triablogue.

My response was to say, “It would be the dream of a lifetime”.

* * *

I wasn’t one of the insiders who knew of Steve’s health conditions beforehand. I just assumed he’d keep writing. But I do have the ability to do the kind of snooping around that most readers don’t have access to.

As I write, there are 23,546 published blog posts on Triablogue. I personally have written 1,344 of them. Jason Engwer is tagged in 1549 of them. Patrick Chan in 1299. Peter Pike is tagged in 301. Interestingly, Hawk does not tag his posts as Hawk, but he’s been writing a quite a bit lately. There are several others who have written for this blog over the years, but the vast majority of these 23,000 blog posts were written by Steve Hays.

Checking the archives (in the right hand column), the earliest blog post here was “Posted by Unknown” on Friday, April 16, 2004. That one reads:

This is an experimental blog with two who’ve never blogged but should and one who just started blogging but struggles to find the time. I’m hoping this will give a public outlet to all of the wisdom and provocative thoughts of my two as of yet blogless friends. Gentleman, after you...

Steve was one of those guys, and since that date, it seems, he genuinely took 1 Thess 4:11 to heart. And he did it in a profoundly appropriate way.

There’s a book title that impressed me a great deal, some time ago. It was “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”. Those of us who read this blog got to see that concept play out right before our eyes.