Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Try a Blog (But Don't Try Triablogue)

NOTE: There is an important update to this post at

I share the following with a great deal of disappointment, both in myself and in the others involved.

For some time, I have looked up to Steve Hays at Triablogue, and I've also made no secret of my admiration for Paul Manata. Unfortunately, I must now disavow any recommendation of these men and their work.
Why? I wish I didn't have to say any of this. But I do.
For several weeks, Hays and Manata have been posting vociferously against some arguments David Ponter has presented regarding certain distinctives of Moderate Calvinism. This week I got into a related discussion with both Hays and Manata in the Triablogue comment box. The discussion went downhill and quickly turned into a mud slinging contest, with uncharitable personal attacks being launched from both sides. Hays then wrote a blog post about me, citing out-of-context phrases taken from comments I posted, interspersed with his cutting remarks. Hays harshly attacked my character, calling me a "yes-man" and a "cheerleader" for Ponter. Mind you, Hays has never met me, and has rarely interacted with me online. So I'm not sure how he justifies making those pronouncements.
After considering the whole situation, I concluded that one of Hays' criticisms was correct. I had engaged in ad hominem attacks, particularly with regard to certain remarks I had made about him. I also realized I had not conducted myself with appropriate respect or humility in our previous exchanges. I had become sarcastic and was starting to take things too personally. The ad hominem attacks from both sides were escalating, and we were violating clear Biblical standards. Proverbs 15:1 came to mind with great force and began to batter my conscience. Also, Colossians 4:6. What could I do? 
I decided it best to take responsibility for my actions and try to restore good relations with these Christian brothers. I wrote a detailed confession, asked their forgiveness, and requested further input from them if they felt there were other offenses that needed to be addressed. I also asked Hays to back up what he had asserted about me (my full responses are quoted at the end of this post).
The only response was from Hays: "Thanks, Derek."
No admission of wrong from his side. No affirmation of forgiveness and no request for forgiveness. No attempt at reconciliation. Worst of all, perhaps: no acknowledgement of the falsehoods that were brought to his attention.
The falsehoods were the reason I engaged in dialogue with Hays in the first place. He has labeled his posts about Moderate Calvinism with the misleading tag, "Anti-Calvinism." Take a moment to think about the significance of that. In Hays' estimation, moderate Calvinism equals ANTI-CALVINISM. The label is pure slander. Hays continues to do this despite the fact that he has repeatedly been shown conclusive proof that moderate Calvinism is a historically valid stream of Reformed Theology and is not in any sense "Anti-Calvinism." Norman Geisler and Randal Rauser are Anti-Calvinism. Classic/Historic/Moderate Calvinists like David Ponter are not. I find Hays' ignorance about these matters disturbing, and his stubbornness when corrected alarming. In my mind, his ongoing refusal to accept the facts and correct his own thinking disqualifies Hays from acting as a Christian apologist or a representative of mainstream Reformed thought. He has shown a persistent unwillingness to tell the truth about his opponents. He has smeared them with false charges and misrepresented their arguments. And he has not been willing to justify or recant slanderous remarks made about a brother.
In contrast, Ponter's response to Hays and Manata has been copiously fair and balanced. He has addressed the arguments presented rather than the individuals who presented them. His posts have lacked the insulting tone and deceptive selectivity of Hays' posts. Whether or not you agree with Ponter, his godly conduct in this debate has been unmistakable. This is a good example for me to learn from. This is admirable.

It is notable that Hays picked a fight with James White on the same day he attacked me. White perfectly described Hays' basic M.O. when he said:

"The ability to not only disregard the obvious meaning of my words, but to stretch to this incredible length, speaks so loudly to the length to which Mr. Hays is willing to go in the prosecution of his case against those he personally dislikes that I truly need to make no further comment. I simply ask the reader to compare what I wrote to his response, see how the substance of my reply was ignored, and that what he does say in response ignores my clear intent and purpose, and make your decision on the basis of the facts."
I have seen Hays consistently use these tactics with moderate Calvinists like David Ponter and Tony Byrne, and I have seen him use them against many others. Systematically and unrepentantly. This makes for a sad parody of Reformed Apologetics that can only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes. I stand with White in his conclusion:
"I pray the Lord's blessings on Steve, and on the whole Triablogue team. I simply pray he will recover his balance and seek fairness in his future efforts."
Until that happens, I recommend trying another blog. In the past I would have suggested Paul Manata's. But Manata has disgracefully stood with Hays on these matters and is now taking shots at other moderate Calvinists as well. So, for a more objective approach to Reformed Philosophy and Apologetics, I recommend these great sites:
James N. Anderson - Analogical Thoughts
I don't agree with these men on every point, and I don't imagine they agree with me on every point, but I have found I can count on them to be fair and respectful to their opponents. That adorns their arguments with grace and makes me much more willing to consider the merits.
Dear reader, those you admire will fail. Your friends will fail. I will fail and you will fail. But Christ will never fail. Keep your trust firmly set on Him, and you will not be shaken. Keep repenting, and you will not get far in your own selfish folly when it arises. Keep walking humbly with Him, and you will find rest for your soul. These are lessons I am learning . . . sometimes the hard way.
My notes to Steve Hays and Paul Manata at Triablogue:

Steve and Paul,

This cut-and-paste job on my comments is a stacked deck. I could do the same using comments from you, but I'm not going to bother with it. I would simply invite readers to go back to the original comment threads and read my words in context along with the rest of the conversation. No defense, just a call for objectivity.

For my part, I admit I got too deep in this and resorted to some ad homs, and definitely employed some unnecessary sarcasm. In particular, my two "conclusions" about you, Steve, were offensive and uncalled for. I can see that my sinful pride fueled some of my words as our disagreement heated up. Please forgive me.

FWIW, the logic of my "formal argument" was intentionally ridiculous in order to make the point that one need not be a professional philosopher to realize calling moderate Calvinism "anti-Calvinism" is simply incorrect. Amazingly, you (Steve) continue to use and even defend this misleading label. I never considered that you would take my "argument" as a serious attempt at formal logic. So I guess I set myself up for your comeback.

That doesn't excuse the improper labeling of moderate Calvinism. On this point I will stand firm. It's a matter of Truth, and it is to your benefit to accept what I'm saying. Obviously, the choice is yours.

Now the three of us have had our little brouhaha and I hope we can all shake hands (metaphorically speaking) and take responsibility for what went wrong with the discussion.

BTW - I have always held that you are much better philosophers than I am. You'll get no arguments from me on that point. I hope you enjoy your abilities and use them for the glory of God, and speak Truth in love.

Derek (a.k.a. THEOparadox)

PS - nothing written above should be taken as sarcasm. These words are sincere and serious reflections on our recent experience of significant disagreement. If I have committed offenses that need to be addressed further, please give feedback and let's be sure we are fully reconciled as Christian brothers.

One other question: Other than agreeing with Ponter, was there something I did that led you to the conclusion that I am a "yes man"? I work very hard at thinking independently and speaking honestly to everyone in every circle I travel. I have lost jobs and strained friendships over this. No doubt I fall short sometimes, too. But this question is very, very important to me, so I would deeply appreciate any further thoughts on this point especially. Thanks.

PS - again I want to assure you there is no sarcasm here, and I am grateful for your willingness to bring to my attention the areas in which I have fallen short during our conversation.


  1. I'll help them out by designing a template.
    Dear Sir:
    With regards to {current theological blog post} I have only to say one thing {insert cruel comments about your personal hygiene here.} You {unflattering adjective} and your {monkey related adjective} "Calvinism" have no place in Christendom. Quit the internet and your {vocational insult}, and learn to {intelligence insult.} You further insist {nonsense statement} is true, when clearly {opposite} is true. Get lost. Sincerely {person}

  2. Derek,
    What I appreciate the most is your humility and recognition of your own error, as well as your attempt to reconcile with them in a biblical way. You have exemplified Christ beautifully to us in Blogger land.

    Something that breaks my heart a lot is the common attack I see with words online. In my own experience with commenting on other blogs, I have learned that it is best to not say anything at all, and to stop following when you see a red flag such as what you mentioned above. I myself have been involved in unhealthy, unfruitful commentary via internet blogging in the "Christian" world. It is very sad to see such negativity emanating from professing Christians when challenges are presented. There is a major lack of a teachable spirit amongst professing Christians, as well as practically no fruit of the Spirit. To me, that speaks for itself and translates perfectly clear, even online.

    Thanks, Derek!

  3. Phil, unfortunately that is what it boils down to sometimes. This time I flung plenty of mud, too, which was not the right use of my rhetorical gifts. :(

    April, thanks for your kind comments. I'm afraid this experience has been more of an opportunity for humility than a demonstration of it. The worst part is, I did exactly what I have advised others not to do. That gives me a much needed wake up call regarding my own weakness, and hopefully it will help me to be more gracious when others fall short. As you noted, there is much more at stake in these conversations than winning an argument. Ultimately, the fruit cannot be hidden, whether it is good or rotten.

    Robust debate is useful, and in many ways the internet is an ideal place for it. But it can easily get out of hand. May the Lord help us by His exceedingly great mercy!


  4. Well, this is a good wake up call for you, then. But I do see it as more of a demonstration of humility by the way you have handled this. You didn't have to bring attention to this at all, but in doing so you have shown us that you have a teachable spirit. Quite frankly I don't follow that blog you mentioned, nor have I ever even heard of those people! I guess that is just my own ignorance, but from my perspective, since I don't follow them, I would have never known you had done the very thing you advise others not to do with their words. It happens to the best of us! Some of us go down with our words, and some of us grow stronger, learn from our cicumstances, and come out of the refining fire looking more like Christ. I believe you are an example of the latter.

    Your character is consistent on your blog and so what you have done is quite easily forgivable for those of us who follow you. You are credible and that wins out over a human weakness to me.

    I pray you are encouraged and not bogged down by this. And yes, may our Lord's sweet mercy and grace lift us up so we can run this race! God bless, brother!

    The LORD directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37:23, 24 NLT)

  5. Can you imagine for a second what it is like to deal with the likes of those two as an atheist?

  6. John,

    I can only imagine, although from what I've seen Mr. Manata has conducted himself well in debates with atheists. My main complaint is that he has not distanced himself from Hays' tactics.

    My hope is that Hays will turn over a new leaf. I know from experience that God can turn a person radically from the course he is on.


  7. I have almost never rejected a comment on my blog. However, two comments recently left at this post violate the rules listed in the sidebar, and for that reason I have opted not to publish them. As a reminder, here are the rules:

    Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others.

    Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.


    Both comments contained negative remarks about other individuals that I cannot substantiate. The commenters are free to revise and re-submit their comments, and I'll be glad to publish them if they fit the guidelines.

    This blog is not going to be a place for people to sling mud at one another. I am not trying to harm Steve or Paul, but seeking Christian reconciliation with them, and hope they will respond positively. That would be, perhaps, the strongest argument they could make in favor the faith they profess.

    Blessings to all,

  8. So...all comments against the orthodoxy of reconciliation are off limits? mkay.

    Don't you recall that even in your own scripture that there's a point in time to "shake the dust off your feet" and accept that someone is beyond hope?

    It's not even unChristian. It's just realistic. These guys have been entrenched for a long time and they've heard what you've said over and over and over again from Christians who are more mature than they are. They have systematic ways of backing up their immaturity and the Bible verses to prove it. It is not ad hominem to point this out. It's just honesty.

    If you want, I can link you all up to all the unprovoked bigoted things Steve Hays has said to me in the last few years. I'm not making this stuff up.

    No one wants to think their heroes aren't what they thought they were. But sometimes it's true.

  9. Unfortinately, Derek, you citied nothing in the post which serves as evidence against me and as deserving of your ire, and the only thing you hint at, "the comment where you left your apology," is a comment (or post) I never read until seeing your reference to it.

  10. Hi THEOparadox, You wrote, "Mr. Manata has conducted himself well in debates with atheists."

    However in 2006 Manata invented a character called "The Discomfiter," an alleged Christian who became an atheist after reading things John Loftus had written. It was soon seen that "The Discomfiter" was a parody, not an atheist, but a Christian attempting to make atheists and their arguments look foolish. Manata was asked if he was the Discomfiter and twisted every which way shy of admitting he was, until even some of his own Christian brethren thought he'd taken the joke a bit too far. But Manata was quite pleased with his performance (including a radio performance), and when rebuffed by atheists claimed that atheists had no right to judge anything or anyone.

    Perhaps it never occurred to Manata that whether some infinite absolute "right" exists or not was not the point. The point is that we are human beings that share similar physical and mental discomfort and the vast majority of us know or understand what such discomfits not only us as well but other people as well. Extremely few if any people think it's wonderful if their lives or belongings are taken from them simply at another person's whim.

    In the midst of this "discomfiting" episode I received a few insulting emails with the return addresses of John Loftus and Don Morgan, but the emails were definitely not from those people. And John Loftus was impersonated on a forum and made to say something about being a homosexual and pedophile, and the link to that comment led back to John's authentic blogger profile. The real John then tried to point out that someone was impersonating him, but his comment was deleted from the forum. A bit frustrating I'd say.

    In the end, Manata said that the Discomfiter was closing his blog. Manata admitted he knew the Discomfiter. And it turned out it was him.

  11. Hi THEOparadox, A further note,

    Concerning Paul Manata's ability to argue, he wrote that I "mocked" the biblical writers for their flat cosmos assumptions in my chapter on "The Cosmology of the Bible" (in the book, The Christian Delusion).

    What I did was compare the flat cosmos views of other ancient Near Eastern cultures with that of the Bible and noted the parallels (and tell tale verses), the same types of comparisons that Evangelicals like John Walton at Wheaton College have made.

    In his brief review Paul also claimed my metaphor (in which I compared the earth to "a fragile lifeboat bobbing in space") could be mocked if taken as literally as I was taking the Bible. However, I never claimed to be divinely inspired, and anyone reading my chapter in the context of 20th century science in which it was composed would hardly be fooled into thinking such a thing.

    Paul mentioned that the Bible said the sun "rose and set," but forgot to mention as I did in my chapter that according to Ecclesiastes the sun then "hastens to return" to the place from whence it rose.

    In his summation Paul claimed I missed the fact as to how brilliant the Hebrews were for coming up with the idea that the cosmos was constructed by a person with intentions and powers. Unfortunately his summation missed the point of my chapter which did not revolve around the argument from design. My chapter was meant to point out, as Walton himself did in The Lost World of Genesis 1 that "Throughout the entire Bible there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their culture" (p. 19).

    But if Manata wants to press his idea that the Hebrews were brilliant for believing a divine person with power designed a flat cosmoses, then that's fine too, because as I pointed out in my chapter that's also what the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians also believed, that personal divinities designed a flat cosmos and those designers lived directly above the earth.

    Paul also missed the implication that if the Bible contains no scientific knowledge beyond its day and time, then what of its theological knowledge? And why couldn't a believer in any ancient book simply claim that its "theology" was inspired while shrugging their shoulders at every questionable aspect in the same book that was clearly a product of its day and age, products that didn't stand up well against the test of time? Hence the "theology" remains unfalsifiable.

    See also the comments on "Paul Manata's" arguments at this blog:

  12. Hi THEOparadox,

    One final note.

    Having mentioned Walton's work approvingly I should add that he fails in my opinion to see the full implications of acknowledging that the Bible shares so much with its milieu. Walton admits for instance that the ancients viewed the cosmos as flat with heaven directly overhead. He admits no special bibilcal revelation in that area, only ANE presumptions. But that is merely the tip of the iceberg in so far as shared ancient Near Eastern beliefs, pious practices and prejudices. The ANE was a place where temples (including Hebrew ones) were built to face the rising sun, had chambers of increasing holiness, and special rites for passing through them, where animal sacrifice was practiced, as well as circumcision, and where it was believed that high moral henotheistic deities ruled over all other gods (as men ruled over all other men), had their homes in the sky (as men built tall palaces on high places), and laid sacrificial demands on humans (as kings demanded tribute). They also shared the idea that divine being(s) favored songs and praise (like a human king), and feared that the stability of both the political and physical realms would be shaken should such being(s) get upset (a belief per "sympathetic magic" that nature mirrored human and/or divine emotions). Should the worship of the god(s)s decline, so would the king and/or his kingdom, and the very structure of the world as well, that they believed could fall back into literal chaos from a flood of primeval water held perpetually at bay by the power of god(s) windy breath, his divinely instituted firmament, and floodgates held tightly shut beneath the earth.

    Two quotations:

    "Wisdom [in Proverbs 8:22-31] recounts God at work in carving, anchoring, stabilizing, establishing, circumscribing, securing, and setting boundaries. The mountains serve as weight-bearing pillars that hold up the heavens and thereby prevent cosmic collapse. God sets the cosmic infrastructures and boundaries firmly in place, all to maintain the world’s stability. The universe is a cosmic construction zone in which God builds an inviolably secure place."*

    "Marduk [high god of Babylon] . . . founded an everlasting kingdom, whose foundations are laid as solidly as those of heaven and earth."**

    See also these papers on the THEOLOGICAL WORLD VIEW OF THE ANCIENT ISRAELITES and how much it had in common with the theological world view of the ANE in general:

    And Brian Godawa, an Evangelical, has two handy research papers that I suggest to any creationists I meet:

    "Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible"

    "Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat and Covenant"

    *William P. Brown (Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia), “Proverbs 8:22-31,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, v.63 no.3, July 2009
    **Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, translated into English by L. W. King in 1910--available online.

  13. Mr. Babinski,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'll just make a few brief comments.

    It goes without saying that I totally disagree with your analysis of the Bible's cosmology, etc. However, we don't need to replay the debate here. If your arguments were misrepresented, that was wrong.

    Looking back on the episode regarding this "Discomfiter" fellow, I can only apologize on behalf of all Christians for the apparent misconduct of some who claim to represent us. However, as you are probably aware, the Scriptures predict such sinful behavior is not only possible but guaranteed among those who claim the Name of Christ (partly because some make this claim falsely). On the other hand, those who are true believers ought to be genuinely repentant and willing to admit when they have done wrong.

    I wish you well.

    Blessings (per Acts 3:26),

  14. I am encouraged and saddened. I am encouraged that I am not the only one to experience Hays' uncharitable vitriol. I am also encouraged to see that others think this behavior to be a clear violation of the biblical mandate for charitable behavior.

    I am also sad to report that Hays' tactics have remained entirely unchanged. I have delinked his site from my blog and will no longer visit Triablogue.


Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.