published Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Lack of belief in hell becomes issue for Cleveland’s Holtz

  • photo
    The Rev. Chad Holtz quit his position as pastor from a church in Henderson, N.C. after posting on his Facebook page a defense of a forthcoming book by megachurch pastor Rob Bell, in which Bell challenges millions of Christians' understanding of the afterlife. (AP Photo/Sara D. Davis)

When Chad Holtz said no to hell, he never imagined the hell on earth that would follow.

The Cleveland, Tenn., resident recently left a North Carolina United Methodist student pastorate after a firestorm erupted when he eschewed a traditional view of hell in a Facebook post. He said he has been besieged with a nonstop barrage of phone calls, emails, requests for television appearances, ideas for books and even offers of jobs.

“It’s been all over the place,” said Holtz, 36. “It’s been nuts.”

The Duke Divinity School student was in his fourth year as pastor of Marrow’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Henderson, N.C., when he posted an opinion contrary to one that says hell is a place of eternal damnation for condemned souls.

Some members of his church “took exception,” Holtz said. “There was a general feeling based on other things that perhaps the image I was projecting for this particular local church was not the one they wanted to see portrayed.”

Contrary to media reports that he was fired, the Lee College graduate said he and the church agreed he’d “maybe be better off moving forward.”

North Carolina (regional) Annual Conference Bishop Al Gwinn told the United Methodist News Service that the body did not fire or dismiss Holtz.

The pastor said he and his family loved the people at Marrow’s Chapel and that more people wanted him to stay than to leave. His last service there was March 20.

“There were a lot of tears, a lot of hugs, a lot of we’ll-miss-yous,” Holtz said. “It ended graciously as things like that should. There was no animosity.”

The husband and father of five — two recently adopted from Ethiopia — said he already had planned to leave Marrow’s Chapel in June after his graduation from seminary.

“We missed home,” he said. “We wanted to come home to Cleveland. I wanted to take time to devote to my wife and my kids.”

Holtz said he wants to remain a United Methodist and hopes one day to seek a position in the Holston (regional) Annual Conference, which includes Cleveland and Chattanooga.


Holtz said Christians should concentrate more “on how we live now” than have an “obsession about what happens after we die.” It should be a “life full, a life robust,” a life of peace and humility — “all the things the Bible talks about incessantly,” he said.

Humans often “create their own hell on earth,” Holtz said, by making sinful choices, living a life that seems “less and less human” and choosing to “deface the image of God.”

“We’re not living into the purposes God created us for,” he said.

As far as heaven, he said, he doesn’t anticipate seeing angels playing harps on clouds, either.

“I do believe [God] is drawing all things to himself [and] to Christ,” Holtz said. “If you call that heaven, great. I don’t know what heaven will look like. I do believe God is taking us — all of creation — somewhere. And you can trust that it’s somewhere good because we have a good God.”

Holtz also has posted blogs on the church’s need to take a more affirming stance on homosexuals and one that declared reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during a worship service was “missing the point.”

The issues come down to “how we perceive faith [and] why we are Christians,” Holtz said. “I just disagreed.”

The Rev. Mark Flynn, senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, said people who hold similar views to Holtz, rely on God’s compassion and grace and believe he wouldn’t send anyone to hell. But, Flynn said, that conclusion misses the point.

“If grace is offered and we don’t receive it, of course there’s a hell,” he said. “If we continually reject God, we choose hell. It’s not because God is mean-spirited or anything like that. It’s because we keep [refusing] God’s grace poured out for us.”

The Rev. J.N. Howard, pastor of Signal Mountain United Methodist Church, said convictions similar to Holtz’s have been posited in every generation since the time of Jesus.

“Basically, from a Methodist perspective, hell is eternal separation from God,” he said.

Beyond that, Howard said, “you can get into all kinds of questions in detail ... and there is always a lot of room for interpretation.”

The Book of Discipline, the United Methodist denomination’s law book, does not contain any specific statement on heaven or hell.

However, the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a denomination that merged with Methodists in 1968, states in its Confession of Faith: “We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.”

The Confession is part of the United Methodists’ doctrinal standards and cannot be altered even by the church’s top lawmaking body.


Holtz and his family returned this week to Cleveland, where his wife was born and raised and where he once served as a lay associate pastor at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.

For now, the native of Pittsburgh, Pa., says he’ll pray about his future and “see where God leads.”

He said he’s been offered opportunities all over the country. But he says he’d prefer to live out the reason he went to seminary.

“I love being a Methodist,” he said. “When the dust settles, I hope when I come knocking, they’ll say please come on in.”

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
ITguy said...

Hotlz would be warmly welcomed at my church.

April 2, 2011 at 6:07 a.m.
EaTn said...

Like Holtz, most free thinking Christians struggle with the issues of heaven and hell, even as they read the Bible. However, most preachers find it's not to their advantage to publish these often fleeting beliefs to their congregation who seek concrete answers from their pastors.

April 2, 2011 at 7:13 a.m.
FreedomJournal said...


Victory Park, December 27, 2006, by Carl A. Patton

Along came John riding high upon a grand wagon full of produce and things good to eat and for survival. The wheels were polished and the drivers seat was comfortable with a big cushion.

There were many wagons that often crowded the roadways. Some were Black and called hearst wagons. These wagons carried the dead. Although there were two destinations all that rode the hearst were dead.

However one man also had a sport wagon. It was filled with all of the carnal pleasures of the land. This wagon was loved as it was perfect for the Hay ride.

As life passed them by we heard great laughter as the riders danced, sang wretched songs and consumed fermented beverages that made them happy while they poked fun at death.

Meanwhile there was much confusion because they didn’t know that all wagons led to the hearst wagon. However many rode the death wagon to the Black wagon.

April 2, 2011 at 7:32 a.m.
GreenKepi said...

Lately, I have come to find it ‘amazing’ that most “believers” will get fighting mad if one possesses a belief such as Mr. Holtz. Most, I know, will boldly state, “No…we don’t believe in Purgatory but we believe in Hell”. Both doctrines came from the same source and both are non-Biblical (please check the history of how they came into existence).

J.N. Howard, pastor of Signal Mountain United Methodist Church basically said the same thing as Holtz and he’s got a pass, he said, “Basically, from a Methodist perspective, hell is eternal separation from God.” How’s that not saying the same? Go figure?!

April 2, 2011 at 8:51 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Interesting mythologies, these "modern" religions.

April 2, 2011 at 9:28 a.m.
Veritas said...

FreedomJournal, it's spelled H E A R S E not H E A R S T!

April 2, 2011 at 9:41 a.m.
Facts said...

2 Timothy 4:2-4 (New International Version, ©2011) 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

April 2, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.
Lefty said...

Veritas said... FreedomJournal, it's spelled H E A R S E not H E A R S T!

Leave that guy alone. He's most likely obeast.

April 2, 2011 at 10:17 a.m.
librul said...

"Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis" -- Sigmund Freud

April 2, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.
Schubie said...

I walked away from religion over 40 years ago. Every day I hear or read something like this and become more and more convinced I made the right choice. It would be fun to watch all this insanity if it weren't so darn scary.

April 2, 2011 at 11:17 a.m.
esaletnik said...

If there is no Heaven or Hell then there is no need for religion. And that is very bad for business and greatly affects the bottom line of most churches.

April 2, 2011 at 12:45 p.m.
EaTn said...

I once had a six hour operation with no remembrance until I woke with family around me. I felt at peace going into the operation for I knew I would either wake in the hospital or in eternity with the Lord. I can't imagine those who would enter a life or death operation without knowing their outcome either way would be a celebration.

April 2, 2011 at 12:47 p.m.
esaletnik said...

EaTn said... I once had a six hour operation with no remembrance until I woke with family around me. I felt at peace going into the operation for I knew I would either wake in the hospital or in eternity with the Lord. I can't imagine those who would enter a life or death operation without knowing their outcome either way would be a celebration.

It may have been those good relaxing drugs they give you just before an operation

April 2, 2011 at 1:31 p.m.
EaTn said...

esaletnik wrote....It may have been those good relaxing drugs they give you just before an operation.

One thing for sure, you have an appreciation and don't think twice about taking drugs for a period of time afterwards.

April 2, 2011 at 4:06 p.m.
Stewwie said...

[I do believe God is taking us — all of creation — somewhere. And you can trust that it’s somewhere good because we have a good God.”]

I'm not sure how Mr. Holtz can subscribe to this kind of view if he really read the Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that man is destined for hell without the saving grace of Christ. We all start out life hell-bound unless and until we choose to accept God's saving grace. No one is "good" enough for heaven and you can't earn your way there.

I applaud his former church for speaking out against those anti-hell comments. The New Testament warns against false teachers in the last days, and I hate to say it, but it sounds like Mr. Holtz may be one of those.

April 2, 2011 at 5:07 p.m.
LibDem said...

"No one is "good" enough for heaven and you can't earn your way there."

The Reverend Billy Graham says good deeds are nice but will gain you nothing. I'll stick with my good deeds and join my friends in hell when the time comes. I know there'll be a lot of good people there.

April 2, 2011 at 5:34 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Indeed-it's hard to imagine that people who don't believe in Jesus (that's most of the world's population) but live good lives will go to hell when a few (gee what a coincidence-largely white european westerners and the descendants of those they converted) will be the only ones admitted to heaven, along with those who live lives full of evil and repent/accept Jesus at the end. I'll make my reservation for hell and see you there, LibDem. I'll save your seat.

April 2, 2011 at 6:10 p.m.
MicDixon said...

I don't believe in forcing religion down peoples throat or trying to convince someone of something. I'm also not a huge fan of Christians who condemn non Christians, news flash they're lost so of course they are going to live ridiculous lives. But when someone sticks a Bible under their arm and claims that they have been called by God they have brought themselves under the scrutinity of the Word of God by his or her brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no way you can claim to be a student of the Bible and deny hell, there is room for arguing from silence that perhaps it isn't eternal, but we do not need "ministers" in our town giving lost people a false hope of everything being sunshine and daisies if they do good.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” - 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

April 2, 2011 at 10:33 p.m.

I still can't figure out why supposed adults still believe in all this christian mythology to begin with. We all had invisible, imaginary friends when we were little, but most of us outgrew them by the time we were 8 or so. Religion is the cause of most of the world's problems today, especially war & death.

April 2, 2011 at 10:57 p.m.
moon4kat said...

If only religion cured people of doing evil...

But, as we've seen too often, it doesn't.

Humanitarian decency and ethical behavior can be found just as often outside of organized religion, and it's there without having to swallow unbelievable myths, tedious rites, and smug, self-righteous attitudes.

The real teachings of Jesus have been manipulated and abused by most churches; it's a scandal that should give thinking people real doubts about the folderol created in his name.

April 2, 2011 at 11 p.m.
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