Friday, May 14, 2021

Some past correspondences with Steve Hays

A longtime Triablogue reader and a friend of Steve Hays thought some of their past email correspondences might be beneficial for others to read. He granted us permission to post these correspondences. He preferred to be anonymous so I've edited and anonymized the content. Of course, "SH" refers to Steve Hays.

[Friend]: I agree that Catholic epologists overstate the case for the Magisterium. However, what would be a suitable response to the claim that items like the catechism give a topical report on the teaching of Scripture? That this is, in fact, the Magisterium's way of providing an infallible interpretation? Would it be sufficient to point out that the Magisterium leaves too many stones unturned - such as predestination, the apostles use of the New Testament, the details of prophecy, etc.?

SH: We could point out that the "Divine Teaching Office" of the Magisterium has an odd habit of editing things out of older catechisms and adding stuff to newer catechisms–as if it was, you know, making things up as it went along!

[Friend]: I just thought of something regarding Francis Beckwith's argument that sola scriptura could lead just as much to Arianism as to orthodoxy: it's easy to forget that for all the supposed benefits of the Magisterium, Pope Liberius actually *did* embrace Arianism. Not only that, but he signed a document making it official church policy (he did so under duress, but the Holy Spirit is supposedly supposed to protect the church from that).

So while Beckwith can posit airy-fairy abstractions about what sola scriptura could potentially lead to, we already have concrete historical proof that the Magisterium can lead one to arianism.

SH: Good point!

[Friend]: One more you know of any good exegetical books on sanctification?

SH: Anthony Hoekema's Saved By Grace, chap. 12, is a good place to start.

[Friend]: What passages do you believe attest to the intermediate state, and how do you think this squares with 2 Cor 5:8? Is the intermediate state the same thing as "soul sleep"? Thanks very much!

SH: Just the opposite. "Soul sleep" is a euphemism for the extinction of the soul at death. Typically, this dovetails with annihilationism. God will reconstitute the souls of Christians on Judgment Day while continuing to leave the lost in their state of oblivion.

By contrast, the intermediate state is the traditional, orthodox belief that the soul survives death. Saints enjoy a conscious, discarnate existence in heaven while the damned suffer a conscious, discarnate existence in hades.

It is the state between (hence, "intermediate") death and the final judgment. At the final judgment, both the redeemed and the damned will be reembodied. The saints will reside on the new earth while the damned will be consigned to hell.

Here are some prooftexts for the intermediate state:

Some Christians believe in the immediate glorification of the saints at death, rather than the Final Judgment. Although that's not the traditional position, it's not heretical either.

[Friend]: I've been reading your ebook, God's Canon (great work, by the way), and it got me to thinking about your sola scriptura debate with Phil Blosser. It seems that whenever Protestants bring up prayers to Mary or the rosary, the standard response seems to be that the Hail Mary contains words taken from the very Scriptures themselves. But this seems to be an unconvincing response. After all, the following words are also pulled from Scripture:

I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.

Does this mean we'll be hearing the Roman Catholic faithful praying a "Hail Satan" in due time? :)

Food for thought...

SH: Also, it doesn't just quote Scripture:

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death.

The titles and the petition aren't Scriptural.

Also, "full of grace" is a mistranslation.

[Friend]: Hope you are doing well. I came across something interesting the other day. There was a commercial, I think it was for a TV documentary about the killing of Osama bin laden and at one point, Obama had said, "Justice has been done."

Now, I find that curious - don't liberals believe that capital punishment is unjust? Indeed, some of them believe that the death penalty is a travesty of justice. So why would the killing of bin laden be just? Is it simply a matter of numbers? But serial killers can rack up some pretty high body counts without the left calling for the death penalty.

A liberal might respond that bin laden needed to be stopped, and lethal force was required to do this - much like a police officer fatally shooting an armed madman. But Obama didn't frame it that way. He said, "Justice has been done," so in some way, he must believe that some crimes deserve the death penalty.

Unless he was being inconsistent, heaven forbid.

SH: That's a good point. And, of course, you have the drone wars, where suspected terrorists are summarily executed by predator drones, w/o any semblance of due process. Very illiberal liberalism.

[Friend]: I read one of your articles on capital punishment and I liked how you dealt with the risk of executing an innocent person. One thing that occurred to me, however, is the risk of murderers escaping to murder again:

So not executing murderers also risks innocent lives, especially given that prison inmates have a lot of free time to think about escaping.

Thanks for your great articles!

SH: Another thing: in the US, presidents and governors can pardon convicted murderers.

[Friend]: By that, do you mean that pardons make it easier for murderers to repeat their crimes?

Another irony has occurred to me. Currently, rape is the hobbyhorse of lefty feminists. But many conservatives believe that rape warrants the death penalty; ergo, conservatives treat sexual assault more seriously than liberals.

SH: Yes, a pardoned killer can become a repeat offender.

SH: This might interest you.

If you Google this:

input manslaughter

then click on the 5 results, it has some useful exegetical analysis

[Friend]: Thanks for the link, that's a great resource, and certainly helps to counter the simplistic claims of those like Kevin Craig and Calum Miller.

Thanks also for your patient and thorough responses to them - I'm sure I would've blown a gasket at some point!

Your latest posts on whether crime/violence has increased made me think of something else that lefties hate - the corporal punishment of children. If it can be shown that corporal punishment has gone down while crime has gone up, it might help to counter the claim that corporal punishment "doesn't work." Anyways, just something to mull over.

One last thing, if I may - it'll be a while until I have a commentary for every book of the Bible - could you recommend a good "Bible difficulties" book in the meantime?

Thanks for all the great biblical wisdom you've shared!

SH: These two items have the dual advantages of being by an exceptional scholar and being free!

SH: This is a post I update periodically:

Among the best entries are:

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP; 2nd ed., 2007)

Steven Cowan and Terry Wilder, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture (B&H 2013)

James Hoffmeier & Dennis MaGary, eds., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? (Crossway 2012)

Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003)

John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Zondervan 2009)

[Friend]: I came across a few links on child-rearing that you might find interesting. I'm not a father and I don't believe you are either, but this came up with the comment Ted Cruz made about spanking his five-year old daughter. Of course, this was met with the predictable whining from the social justice crowd.

So it's possible that child discipline might be a subject that Christians need to dust off again - what's surprising in these links is that there seem to be many psychiatrists in favour of stronger discipline. Usually psychiatry seems to take a hard turn down the PC road - but I suppose the effects of child-rearing are more easy to empirically verify than those of, say, transgenderism. Anyways, here you go:

SH: I think parents should use what works. Corporal punishment should be one options. But what works one child may not work on another.

Both my parents used corporal punishment, although that was rare, and it certainly didn't leave me psychologically scarred for life.

[Friend]: You make a good point - and now that I think of it, the "spare the rod" passages occur in proverbs, which are provisional rather than absolute - i.e., like saying "look both ways before crossing the road."

Anyways, I think it's nevertheless good to point out to the social justice crowd that disciplining a child will not make them monsters and that there's scientific data to back it up.

Thanks for your thoughts in the matter!

SH: There are several potential justifications for corporal punishment (of kids):

i) Some kids are too young to understand an explanation

ii) Even if they are old enough to understand it, kids are impulsive. They forget the explanation. That's not what's on their minds at the moment. They don't think long term.

iii) Again, if they want something, that trumps a reason.

iv) Fear of punishment is a deterrent to dangerous activity.

v) Most SJWs believe in evolution, yet animal parents get rough with misbehaving cubs

[Friend]: Well, appears that a teaching on faith and morals by the pope, teaching *as* pope, needs to be corrected. Will wonders ever cease?

SH: It will be interesting to see when that formally comes down. And that carries an implied threat of sanctions in case he refuses to reply. I wonder if Ratzinger is quietly backing the traditional-minded bishops.

SH: A while back you asked what I meant by the soul-making theodicy. Here's a more detailed exposition and defense:

[Friend]: A long time ago in a post far, far away you made mention of an alethic argument by Augustine and Aquinas, where a belief presupposes a believer. You then mention a Leibnizian argument from sufficient reason. Would you be able to point me to any resources where I could read about these further? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!

SH: Plantinga mentions that in his 2 dozen or so arguments, but unfortunately that wasn't developed by any of the recent contributors to the volume recently published to flesh that out.

Alexander Pruss is currently the chief expositor of the argument from sufficient reason.

This adds to it:

Pruss may also have related posts on his blog.

Then there's this:

[Friend]: Most horror directors, when they touch on the themes of religion, can't resist the visual appeal of Roman Catholicism - the stained glass windows, the candles, the solemn statues, the chanting in latin, the robes and rituals - how could a movie maker resist?

But I was surprised to find an exception to the rule - a movie called "The Witch", it takes place in 1630's Puritan New England. Interestingly, as other religious movies are visually opulent, this one is remarkably sparse. The drab farm surroundings and glacial pace make this challenging to watch at first, but it makes the occurrences of the supernatural that much more effective.

I'm not entirely sure how well they represent Puritan theology but they seem to have made the effort and it's still worth a watch if you're in the mood for something different.

SH: When was the release date?

[Friend]: 2015, with Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy

SH: Demonstrates the fact that one doesn't need a big budget and sensational CGI to make a powerful movie. It boils down to the basics: a good story, good acting, a potent, evocative setting.

[Friend]: Glad you liked it! I'm a sucker for "slow burn" types of films that take their time to let things escalate. It was almost Polanski-ish in the way that it played with paranoia.

What did you think of their take on puritan theology? It frequently called on the theme of burdensome guilt, which to me was sort of weird. One thing that separates protestantism from non-sola fide traditions (roman catholicism, judaism, etc) is the lack of inescapable guilt.

On the other hand, the puritans certainly had a thing for being overwrought.

SH: An interesting historical question is what kind of witchcraft we'd expect in Colonial New England. Would it be a European import that white settlers brought with them, or would the primary source be Indian tribes? Perhaps there was syncretism.

[Friend]: I was into the occult before I was saved and I've read the testimony of witches from that time. If there was any sort of shamanistic syncretism, I don't think it ever came to the surface. It traded on very European themes - sex with the devil in exchange for power, things like that. Wicca today of course has all sorts of dealings with nature magic and animal familiars, etc. but I'm very much willing to bet that's a new age development.

SH: Interesting. Thanks for that.

SH: Did you observe or experience anything uncanny during that phase of your life?

[Friend]: Nothing overly weird, but there was one unusual incident. Just before being saved, I was attending prayer meetings with this group of charismatic roman catholics (this isn't the weird part, believe it or not). One night one of the priests was speaking and his voice kind of faded out as this very oppressive, palpable darkness filled the room. It wasn't so much a lack of light as it was an unbearable sense of evil. After a while, I could clearly make out the sound of cloven hooves stalking around nearby. When I was saved that night, I had a vision of sorts - one in which I saw two paths, at one end was Satan and at the other was the Lord. I went towards Christ and I was immediately filled with the realization that everything in Scripture was true. All the stories about David, everything about the Apostles, I knew that the whole thing was true from the first page to the last.

With regard to the sound of hooves, I know that this is a popular cliche and that if Satan has any physical form at all then maybe he doesn't actually have goat horns and hooves etc. But who knows, he might be willing to use that form in order to fulfill expectations. As for the vision, I sometimes wonder if that was really the result of my imagination or not. Jesus looked kind of the same way that you see him in paintings. Satan looked like a being cloaked in smoky, shadowy darkness. Perhaps if it was a real vision, I would be more sure of it.

SH: Fascinating. Thanks for that anecdote and testimony. It makes secularists inside and outside the church look like fools.

SH: But surely things like that only happen in musty old religious books by superstitious Bronze Age goatherders!

[Friend]: It's ironic that signs and wonders greatly show that the supernatural is real, when it's really the first thing unbelievers scoff at. Granted, I think a lot of that comes from Pentecostal excesses which can damage a person's faith to a great degree.

[Friend]: Hope you are doing well. Thank you for the posts you have been doing on inerrancy. I was wondering if you'd like to devote a spot on your blog to this post from Tim O'Neil:

He's mentioned these 'contradictions' before, saying that evangelicals 'tie themselves in knots' trying to harmonize them. The irony is that he believes these contradictions strengthen the case for a historical Jesus. I only bring it up because Tim is more capable than your typical village atheist so it might make a decent pole with which to sharpen your exegetical claws!

SH: Thanks for that

SH: I thought about how to respond. Two years ago I did a simple post in response to this stock objection:

Looks straightforward rather than knotty.

But I also decided to question the underlying assumptions of the objection:

While that's not a direct refutation of O'Neil's article in particular, it challenges unexamined assumptions that lie behind that type of objection.


  1. Thanks for posting that, and thanks to the person who forwarded the emails.

  2. Bouncing ideas off of Steve (especially when he disagreed!) was always very insightful. He’s missed dearly.