During the years that Michael Spenser was alive he found Steve Hays at Triablogue an occasional thorn in his side. In the Boar's Head Tavern orbit Steve Hays was viewed as a trouble-maker.
I got to know Steve roughly twenty-seven years ago in college at a cadre at a little school by a canal. I met him around the same time I met one of his debating partners, Jeff Lowder. I would not have guessed back in the 1990s that I had ended up meeting members of the ... should I call it the dark web debates on Reformed Christianity and atheism? Jeff was agnostic at the time but his shift to atheism seemed fairly certain to me but that's a whole other topic. Steve Hays has died.
That he was a writer of letters and a voracious reader could probably go without saying. That I stayed friends with him and also somehow simultaneously ended up in the Boar's Head Tavern scene and acquainted with folks in the Internet Monk scene seems all the stranger to me here in 2020 since people at the BHT tended to regard Steve as almost one of the sworn enemies of Michael. Michael, for his part, got a sense that Steve might run down his own grandmother over a doctrinal issue. That can be the shortcoming of all forms of online correspondence and debate and I feel more and more as I get older that Steve, or Michael Spenser, or myself, may be one of the last generations of online writers whose educational life and intellectual formation by and large predated the commercially and publicly available internet.
Why do I mention that? Because Steve's whole approach to writing seemed to presuppose that you would read slowly and thoroughly and if you wrote back you wrote back in kind. Whether or not you would ever agree on things might be moot but you'd write at length. Anyone who has read any posts by Steve Hays at Triablogue would quickly discover that. Perhaps I could say in the best and worst senses of the term (depending what you think of them) Steve wrote like an English Puritan.
That Steve was conservative in this theology and politics likely doesn't need to be said but I figure I can say it. That he was a Calvinist can also be fairly swiftly said and it was in association with him and discussing Scripture and theology this young Pentecostal began to shift more Reformed. That said, what struck me about Steve was though he was semi-cessationist in practice he said he was not a cessationist in terms of formal stance. He had not been convinced the the ways Reformed argued for cessationist positions were sufficiently exegetically sound to regard as a finished statement. In that way he was capable of a pragmatism at an interpersonal or conversational level that people who only knew him through a blog like Triablogue might never come across.
I was already some kind of Calvinist quasi-charismatic by the time I ended up at Mars Hill. Steve and I stayed intermittently in touch over the years. As I began to read Internet Monk I also started reading Steve's writing at Triablogue. I found, and I have long since wondered if this was a bit weird, that I could enjoy reading Michael Spenser and Steve Hays in fairly equal measures. For those who quickly forget both Michael and Steve had positive impressions of Driscoll for years. In both cases those positive impressions became more skeptical by about 2007 through 2010. Michael passed before witnessing the downward spiral of absurdity and sell-out that Driscoll took on but Steve lived to see the Mars Hill death spiral, if at a remove.
I mention all this because the internet can be a big impersonal and yet starkly interpersonal venue and there came a point where I wrote about Mars Hill and criticisms of Driscoll from the Team Pyro side in ways that inspired ire from Pyromaniacs. At some point someone in that orbit said a number of things about how Wenatchee The Hatchet was an idiot or a liar or something like that and Steve made a point of writing that he'd known me for many, many years and knew my character and that if he was going to err in preferring the opinions of the Pyromaniacs of Wenatchee The Hatchet on the extent of problems in Mars Hill he would weigh my assessment as an insider and observer more seriously. It may be a sign of how tiny the Christian blogosophere has always been but knowing you have a friend out there who will stick up for you is something to appreciate. In Proverbs we're told to never forsake a friend, either ours or our father's so as to not have to go to distance places in time of need--better a friend nearby than a brother far away but in the realm of internet discourse, a friend nearby has never needed to be geographically close, although Steve and I lived in the same general area of the PNW for quite some time.
Steve had let me know earlier this year that his time was drawing to a close but because we'd been friends for so many years I kept that to myself. Now that he is gone I feel at liberty to say that he'd shared that he'd grown tired of living and looked forward to being with the Lord. We exchanged a few appreciative thoughts on Mahalia Jackson and Marion Williams.
Ten years ago I was sad at the passing of Michael Spenser, with whom I corresponded intermittently but never met--Michael died around the same period of 2010 that one of my brother's former coworkers got murdered by her deranged stalker and I was in the middle of a long jobless streak and one of my relatives died so 2010 was a pretty terrible year.
This year has also been, in some key respects, a terrible year, and Steve has died and I'm sorry that he has died yet relieved that his sufferings are done. The sheer strangeness of actually sitting down and thinking about how I had friendly correspondence with both Steve and Michael when their respective readerships and associates might have viewed them as something like polar opposites within the realm of Christian blogging is still, ten to fifteen years later, a bit hard to wrap my head around. It is a reminder to me that all of the internet discourse and smart device back and forth in the world is never really the same as flesh and blood friendship and though we were separated by distances over twenty years he was my friend.
I had intended to write more today but learning of the death of a friend, well, you'll understand if I don't feel like posting anything for a while.
POSTSCRIPT 5:05 PM
In the comments I noticed comments from John Frame, who worked with Steve for years, and some comments from those who thought that Steve, though he was named, was in many ways more anonymous than people who used pseudonyms. I think the concept we're collectively looking for is Steve, though he wrote prolifically enough on the internet, may have embraced what I called once a Bill Wattersonian commitment to having a private life distinct from internet activity. I appreciated that about his online voice. I've written here in the past about how one of the things that stands out about the sermons of a John Donne or a Richard Sibbes centuries ago, or even a Spurgeon or a Martin Lloyd-Jones in the last century is how they found myriad ways to discuss theology and biblical texts without feeling what seems in twenty-first century American homiletics to be an obligation to have an introduction and a conclusion that brackets even an expository sermon in terms of personal narrative. So if you only read his lengthy theological or philosophical stuff you might miss that he liked House of Flying Daggers (as do I). He also enjoyed the original Trek and none of the spin-offs. In the age of the sci-fi space-fantasy franchises that just can't die liking TOS is old-school.