Calvinist blogger Steve Hays has a long list of people he needs to monitor on a regular basis and I’m apparently on that list. Every few weeks, he seems to make a point of commenting on one of my articles or tweets. I wrote a reply to him last week and of course, he needed to reply. But in this case, I can’t help but respond to his hamfisted heresy hunting analysis.
The background for this discussion is the fact that I pointed out that young earth creationists who insist their beliefs are necessary for faithful Christian witness thereby place an unnecessary stumbling block in the way for Christians. Here is Hays’ stinging reply:
“Just to put things in context, part of Rauser’s schtick is to say we shouldn’t create unnecessary stumbling blocks that drive people away from Christianity or deter them from considering it in the first place. And it just so happens that the list of unnecessary stumbling blocks always lines up with what progressive theologian Randal Rauser doesn’t believe in. What a coincidence! And by yet another amazing coincidence, he never classifies his progressive theology or ideology as an unnecessary stumbling block, even though progressive theology and ideology constitute a turnoff for many people.” (source)
There are two points in Hays’ comments. Let’s take them in turn.
To begin with, I have never claimed that my “progressive theology or ideology” (whatever that is supposed to be) should be considered a necessary stumbling block for Christian witness. On the contrary, I’ve repeatedly defended alternative views (e.g. Roman Catholicism, open theism, and Hays’ own Calvinism) as fully consistent with mere Christianity and faithful Christian witness. Given that Hays regularly monitors me and thus he must be aware of what I’ve written, I’m forced to conclude that either we label him an egregiously inept reader or a liar.
Now let’s turn to the first bit. Hays suggests that it is somehow problematic that my beliefs about which stumbling blocks are unnecessary just happens to line up with what I believe Christianity to be. So, for example, I believe that young earth creationism is false and so I conclude that it is unnecessary.
Er, okay, but so what? Hays thinks he made some incisive observation here but in actuality, it is wholly trivial. It’s trivially the case that each individual will distinguish necessary from unnecessary stumbling blocks based on their beliefs about which doctrines are essential to mere Christianity (i.e. the dogmas) and which are non-essential (i.e. theologoumena; adiaphora).
It takes a particularly hamfisted heresy hunter, somebody like Steve Hays, to take a trivial and universally applicable fact and try to spin it into an indictable offense for his perceived enemies. Sadly, Hays is so focused on attacking others that he has not only sacrificed critical nuance and charity in reading his enemies but he has even lost sight of basic consistency and self-awareness.
I recognize that Hays seems to feed off conflict and will likely use this article as more fuel to write articles against his enemies. I can’t change that fact, so instead, I offer this commentary as a salutary warning for the rest of us lest we too fall into the trap of becoming a hamfisted heresy hunter.