Yesterday Chad Holtz left a comment to a post of mine from May 2011, What Jesus Really Meant by the Story of Lazarus, in which I suggest that the parable is not, as it’s traditionally accepted to be, intended as a lesson about the reality of a literal hell, but rather as a lesson about ourselves. In response Chad wrote:
As someone who lost his pulpit for not believing in hell, I would have loved this rendering. But I think Its [sic] wrong.
I believe the point of the rich man now begging for even a drop of water off the dirty finger of a poor man illustrates how dreadful hell truly is. It is so awful that pretense is gone, and he would now gladly beg for just a drop of water to quench his thirst from the one he ignored in his life.
Lets not forget the plea as well. He wanted his family to change…to know that this hell is real and to repent lest they all join him.
Hell is real. Woe to us who have lost all fear of God.
Some of you may recall Chad as the pastor who in March 2011 made national news when he was dismissed from his job for writing a note on his Facebook page supporting Rob Bell’s then-new book Love Wins, which questioned the notion of hell as a place of eternal damnation for sinners. (The reality behind Chad’s firing was a bit more complicated, of course—but, to paraphrase the saying, the media wants what the media wants.)
Unemployed but heralded as a martyr for the Christian left, Chad turned his attentions to his blog, Dancing on Saturday—where, earlier in the month in which he got fired, he had stirred the ire of his congregation by publishing a piece entitled “What I Lost Losing Hell,” in which he spoke of how no longer believing in the traditional view of hell had freed him to become a more deeply spiritual person. “Love does, indeed, win,” he wrote. (Chad also wrote that in “losing hell” he had lost “a very powerful and useful motivator: Fear. … I lost the ability to use fear as a tool to manipulate others to believe as I did.”)
Buoyed high by the tidal wave of Love Wins, a revamped Dancing proved very popular. But as the months passed and the waters calmed its popularity waned. What seemed to finally drown Dancing was Chad’s efforts to utilize it to launch a new church ministry he attempted to start based upon the sexual addiction he often blogged about suffering.
According to his blog it was said addiction which led to Chad’s wife of eight years, Amy, filing for divorce in July 2011. The couple have five young children, two of whom are siblings from Ethiopia who were ages three and five when the Holtz’s adopted them in early 2008.
In October 2011 Chad declared on his blog that early the following month he would be leaving the world behind in order to spend seven months overcoming his sexual addiction at Kentucky’s Pure Life Ministries, where they practice a brand of Christianity it’s safe to call ultra-conservative.
From PLM’s website:
Our 35 full-time biblical counselors and support staff are fully committed to bringing the hope, healing, and restoration found only in Christ to those who have been touched by the leprosy of sexual sin. …
In fulfilling our call, Pure Life Ministries is founded upon the authority of the Word of God as the supreme and all-sufficient Truth for overcoming sin. We unashamedly preach a message of repentance unto salvation. Everything we do—whether in our counseling programs, our speaking ministry, the distribution of our books and resources—all these things are based on the Word of God, with the goal of leading others to victory over sexual sin through a deeper life in God.
For a few months before he left for Pure Life, Chad and I emailed back and forth, sharing links to one another’s posts on our respective Facebook pages, and so on. Once he left for rehab I didn’t hear from him again (nor expect to), until his comment yesterday on my Lazarus piece.
Accompanying that comment was an invitation to visit Chad’s new blog, Unchained. (On their website Pure Life Ministries presents slick, drama-drenched testimonial videos called Unchained: The Stories, which includes such titles as It never ever dawned on me that I was on my way to hell; I associated myself as a gay man; All I knew was that I had a secret life of homosexuality; I was angry, so angry; and He finally got up the nerve to tell me he struggled with homosexuality. Each video ends with its subject saying, “My name is [so-and-so], and I’ve been unchained.”) I originally deleted the link within Chad’s comment on my blog because, having looked at Unchained, I thought it and the comment itself fake. Subsequent poking about convinced me it’s not.
“I repent of my past denial of hell or that a person could ever be eternally seperated [sic] from a holy God. I know now that I had no fear of God. Therefore, I had no knowledge of God (Prov. 1:7). I was a fool with an MDiv. I was wrong.”
“Marrow’s Chapel United Methodist Church was right to ask me to leave. It was God’s mercy.”
“Love doesn’t win. God wins. And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a holy, living God (Heb. 10.31). I lost sight of this and God, in His mercy, granted me a chance to repent.”
“Like Paul, I count pretty much everything I said and did in the past as dross (Phil. 3:8) compared to the intimacy I now have with Jesus.”
“[Jesus] saved me. I know today that I am free, redeemed, delivered, unchained. I know what it means to live at the cross and to walk in daily repentance. I know what it is to fear God and the joy of holiness. The chains that bound me for decades are gone. The blood of Jesus has washed me clean! Hallelujah!”
“God has even seen fit to restore my dead marriage. He not only saved me, God saved Amy as well. Days of depression and anxiety are gone and her strength and joy is found in the Lord. In March she wrote me in only [sic] of her many letters to me:
I used to get so angry at women who said that one day I would look back on all of this and be grateful. But crazy as it may sound, I am so thankful for our many afflictions, Chad, because through them I have been brought closer to Christ.”
And so on.
Chad has eliminated all online traces possible of his former self—most certainly including his old blog (which is also now apparently infected with malware it’s waiting to download onto your computer should you dare to visit it). I would venture to guess, however, that we will soon enough be hearing from the new Chad. I would be surprised if he hasn’t already signed to write at least one book with a Christian publisher in the evergreen “He was lost to the sin of sexual addiction, but now he’s found—and now he and his long-suffering wife are the happiest Christian married couple ever!” genre.
And now, if I might, on a more personal note:
Chad! Great to hear from you! Sounds like you’re feeling very good about your time at Pure Life. That’s wonderful. I guess you and I don’t share beliefs about hell anymore! But so what? When it comes to what’s behind Door Number Death, even the most religiously inspired must admit that ultimately they, too, are necessarily speculating. The important thing is that you’re now feeling better and back with your family. How beautiful is that? The best of luck to you in whatever preaching or writing opportunities are surely awaiting you now.
Hey, so, one thing I wanted to ask you about, Chad.
Before leaving for Pure Life Ministries you were an unwavering defender of the idea that God blesses same-sex relationships the same as he does straight ones. Your blog post “Homosexuality: God’s Gift to the Church” is typical of your forthright and unabashed work on this matter. So is this, which you wrote not long before leaving for Pure Life:
Scripture has nothing to say about “same sex relationships” as we know them today. Not a word. All 6 times it comes up in the Bible they are unanimously about cultic worship, abuse or rape. None of them have a loving, mutual relationship in sight. … What, exactly, is “sinful” about a loving, committed, same-sex relationship? Can anyone tell me what it is about this that makes it sinful, apart from just saying, “God said so”? In other words, we can no doubt come up with all sorts of reasons why murder, adultery, incest, lying, stealing, lust, etc are “sinful” which don’t rely solely on “God said so.” So what is it about a same sex loving relationship that is “sinful”?
I am so glad that you and your wife are happy again, Chad. I just hope, with all of my heart, that part of your new belief in hell is not the conviction that destined to go there are so many of the people whom you once so passionately argued had a rightful place in heaven.
UPDATE: About five hours after I published this post Chad and his wife Amy launched a new blog. Called Desire Mercy, it’s about how God wants them to share the story of their struggle for the benefit of others.
FOLLOW-UP: The Bible and sex addiction?