Progressive Christianity and the loss of a moral center

At this time three years ago I was somewhat famous.   After writing a blog piece about how I no longer believed in hell I was released by the United Methodist church I was serving as a student pastor.  My incessant blogging on matters which sought to build my public platform blinded me to the fact that I had a church full of flesh-and-blood people, real people versus pixel amens, who were losing faith in their shepherd with every word I typed.

My exit from the church gave me everything I thought I had wanted.  I was invited to do all sorts of radio and TV interviews, was part of a documentary called Hellbound? (don’t ask me if it’s any good, as I haven’t seen it), and got to rub shoulders with all the Christian celebrities I had grown to admire.

Being asked to speak at various Progressive, edgy, Christian conferences and camps introduced me to a community where I felt welcomed and at home.  I felt I had been abandoned by my evangelical or conservative family but had found a new one. A new “tribe.”

I thought it was so cool and refreshing to be part of a new “church” family who didn’t judge me for my beliefs or for what I did.  Having grown up in the holiness tradition with what I perceived to be nothing but rules and regulations it was quite liberating to now drink it up with various Christian authors and bloggers while at a Christian conference.  And no one seemed to mind.   It was cool to be part of an emerging Jesus movement which celebrated one of it’s prominent leaders choosing to live with his girlfriend and not marry until all gay persons had the same right.   We would laugh when I drew the dreaded first slot of the day to speak (9AM) at one conference because, we joked, most of the attendees would be hung-over and still in bed.   The crude language and joking which happened around the camp-fire outside the Patheos RV (famous for making “Patheos Punch”) late into the night reminded me of my Navy days where nothing was edited, nor sacred.


I had grown up believing that a large part of being a Christian was practicing self-control, being mindful of the words I spoke, taking care of the thoughts I had and that what I did with my body mattered.    But within progressive Christianity I found a tribe of people who followed Jesus yet didn’t expect anything of me nor question anything I said, thought, or did.

These festivals were like high-school parties I attended as a youth but with the addition of booths to visit during the day where we learned about how to build water wells in Africa or how conservatives are harming gay people.   We had a religion where Jesus cared deeply about the social sins of our day but not about the moral vapidness of our own hearts.  The former we judged ruthlessly, to judge the latter was sinful.

Even as I type this I marvel that this was so.   I have often wondered, looking back, what an alien visiting our planet would make of the Christian faith had it landed at one of these “Christian” conferences, or some other party, I mean, convention.   I’ve concluded that they would walk away thinking we looked like every other person on earth absorbed with themselves and their desires with the only difference being we’d been well trained at numbing our conscience by blogging that love wins or by telling ourselves we are defending the real Jesus.

Paul would have called us “carnal” Christians.   Had he done so at any of of these conferences,  (or perhaps at some of our Annual Conferences?), we would have called him an old stick-in-the-mud, a relic from a church world which we, with our enlightenment, have been liberated.  If Paul, or Jesus for that matter, walked into our party and used words like “repent,” or “sin,” or “holiness,” without attaching them to social evils (those things out there) but to our own hearts and minds, he would be called a Pharisee and blamed for the millenial evacuation of the church (which isn’t true, by the way).

I am convinced of this one truth:  That anyone who is in Christ is a NEW creation (2 Cor. 5:17)!   True Christians are not and never have been decent people gathering together around a common mission to transform the world but dead sinners made alive by the mercy of God.  They gather to learn how to walk in the paths of righteousness and holiness, putting off their old self and putting on a new one, thus bringing glory to God.    While this certainly will include digging water wells in Africa it also includes being made new and clean by the living water of Christ, transforming our hearts and minds in holiness.

And yet, this moral apathy, or rather, outright disdain towards personal morality, is rampant in Christian circles today.    So much so that the “new life” which the gospel promises to produce in those who truly know Jesus is hardly recognizable nor different from the lives of pagans.   In our rush to divorce ourselves from any vestiges of fundamentalism we have stampeded over the cliff of moral relativism.  Where is our moral center?

While I was deep in my own addiction to pornography and sex I found solace in this “tribe” because they did not judge me.  But solace is not salvation, and I needed to be saved, not assuaged.   My reason for distrusting the progressive movement both within our own denomination and the greater Church is not only because I find it mushy in matters of biblical authority but also, and perhaps especially, because I find it lacking an authoritative word calling me and the world out of our moral malaise.   I long for a church that once more remembers, as Karen Booth reminds us, to blush.   But what I want matters far less than what I believe the Holy Spirit wants.   Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.   Spin the word holiness however you like, but it must never be divorced from personal morality, and always must consist of a clear contrast between those who have put on the “new man” and those who are still deluded by the old.

Therefore, be imitators of God…sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:1-5).

Dear God, forgive us for thinking that what we say, what we think, and what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter to You.  Help restore our moral compass. Prick our hearts and reawaken our minds so that we would be sensitive again to the wickedness within us so that we would be once more driven to pursue holiness, without which we will not see You.  Amen.    


71 thoughts on “Progressive Christianity and the loss of a moral center

  1. Reblogged this on John Meunier and commented:
    Chad Holtz and I first crossed virtual paths three years ago when I expressed concern in a blog post over some of the things he was writing. It has been an interesting journey since then.

  2. Wow, thank you Chad for sharing from both your personal experience and the conviction you found in the Holy Spirit. The greatest discipleship model developed in the past 1500 years came from John Wesley. This was his theme: “Without holiness we cannot see God”. Methodist like to emphasize “preventing grace & justifying grace” but we fail to acknowledge the powerful work of “regenerating and sanctifying grace”. Bless you for reminding me.

  3. Chad, by your own admission you did need to be saved. I say this in reference to your sex addiction and your marriage. I don’t know about your soul. But your ideas on hell weren’t wrong, nor was your acceptance of lgbt equality. One extreme often leads to another. I went through a similar journey when I left my new age liberalism for fundamentalist Christianity after I was born again. Since then I have become more like my original liberal self but with my faith still intact, yet not nearly as conservative. I don’t think the real Chad Holz is a fundamentalist. I think you will find your way back to a liberal openness that you once had but with the maturity of a believer who has been to the dark side and back. I’ll be waiting. God bless you.

    • Jeff, my prayer is that I look less and less like my “original self,” whatever label that is given, and more and more like Christ. The carnality and permissiveness I know exists in the “progressive” side of this coin is not that, I am sure, and so should you or anyone see me sliding back into that, please call me to repent.

      • Chad, there seems to be plenty of immorality among those who are more fundamentalist. There have been so many high profile lapses among those who are quick to condemn the conduct of others that it is clear there is plenty of immorality for all. Good for you to want to be more like Christ who is the archetype of the radical, progressive Christian.

  4. Thank you for this honest piece. I, too, bathe too deeply in carnality, and your call to remember holiness and embrace it as a core component of our walk toward Christ is helpful and timely for me.

  5. Wow. A strong, clarion call for returning to Christ and His unchanging Word as opposed to conforming to the ever changing social mores. I am always amazed how people embrace the idea that there are no absolutes, no right and wrong, etc. To be like Christ—-that is the call. We are to be made Holy by him; not to attempt to conform Him in the image of broken, sinful, fallen man. To attempt to remake a god in our image. He seeks to redeem us from the very sin that we are seeking to recast Him in. We have so debased the meaning of holiness in an attempt to allow ourselves the “right” to live in sin, redefining this very word so that it no longer holds any meaning. “Anything goes, and God is about Grace” (ignoring the fact that the God of Grace is also about Truth. Titus 2:11ff, for example)
    And now, in many ways we have a polarized society, as you know, having been camped in both poles. Sadly, on both extremes, problems arise. On the one hand, you have self-righteous people who hate sin because they hate the sinner. They are so busy judging others that they miss Christ altogether because He is seeking out the very ones they are trying to eradicate. An egregious response from a harsh, graceless group, all in the name of Christ and yet devoid of His love. And yet, on the other hand, you have people who hate the Word because it sets a standard that runs contrary to the flesh (Galatians 5 comes to mind as I write that sentence). They miss out on the fact that you can love people and hate the sin. Jesus did that. We are called to do that. But to even insinuate that something is sinful—to this crowd— means that you are intolerant. A hater. A bigot. Whatever else suits their fancy. They attempt to reduce God into a “non-holy, sin-approving, everything is OK” kind of big brother, and salvation is some kind of “saved to be whoever you think you want to be.” I am seeking to live that middle ground, recognizing that God desires to save me FROM sin, and conform me INTO His image. Holiness. Grace. Love. Truth. And yes, absolutes based on His holiness. I think I will run the risk of being misunderstood and called intolerant (which is quite intolerant of them, don’t you think) by those who are in rebellion to His Grace rather than offend God or reject His Word. So, thanks for writing honestly about your journey, and I pray that you will be a light and encouragement to others along the way. Blessings to you, my brother.

  6. Thank you, Chad, for being courageous and open with refreshing transparency. Your testimony is especially relevant since there are some who will much more readily identify with your journey than with others of us who haven’t walked that road. When we lose our focus on the One who gives us purpose and meaning, it doesn’t matter how noble or logical our actions seem. We don’t just live these earthly lives to justify ourselves before God or to fulfill a standard – it is about relationship. So the litmus test must always be “Is this bringing me closer to God or is it (in spite of my rationalizations) keeping us apart?”

  7. This was one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time. My generation is in the middle of this same journey. We are moving quickly from the conservative evangelical to the somewhat undefined progressive. There are many great things about this journey, but there are dangers as well. I appreciate your experience and your wisdom in this.

  8. I believe you have written truth. With many false writers and teachers in our world today I thank you for writing with conviction. Giving God the agenda of our life is very hard but this is where we will find meaning in our relationships. Thank you for writing this.
    Ted Love

  9. Well… having traveled from being a fundamentalist Christian to being a Reform Jew… I’d like to say that giving up the ideas of hell and heaven (as I was taught them), and learning not to judge people DOES NOT equal permissiveness.

    In the fundamentalist world, there are people who drink too much, have sex outside of marriage, do porn on line and are gay… but they just don’t admit to it, or, as in drinking and sex outside of marriage or other lapses of honesty, (possibly even worse) just “repent” every week and go back and do it all again next week. The idea that it’s all okay if you “believe” the right things… is, in my book… immoral in and of itself. “Beliefs” are just that – beliefs. Actions count. (Even the bible will back me up over and over on that one). And people can fool themselves into thinking that it’s all okay if “G-d forgives” them… but… since nobody can actually ask G-d if he has done so, it’s easy to take license and just go your merry way “believing” that it is so. (And worse, forgetting that there are others who you CAN see who you have truly wounded that need that apology far more than an invisible God). It’s way too easy to ask “God” for forgiveness and then excuse oneself from repenting to your fellow man.

    In “liberal” circles, yes, there are people who do the same things. Neither side is immune.

    However, I don’t like the idea that “all” liberals are out living lives such as is described. “Liberal” doesn’t mean “anything goes without question” any more than “conservative” means “Completely lacking in compassion”. The “liberal Christians” I know would not cheat on their spouses, consider online porn a bad thing (if for no other reason than the victims it leaves behind in production, not to mention the emotional damage it does to ones partner), drink in moderation, and otherwise live temperate lives.

    Christianity does not have the market on “morality”. Anyone who lives their life in such a way that they “do no harm” has morality. It all can be truly summed up by “Do unto others (all the time, in every circumstance)”. The problems come up when people pick and choose which instances they are going to “do unto others”. (For instance, imposing their beliefs on someone else’s medical care while being afraid that someone will impose their beliefs on them via “Sharia Law” or something… to pull something from this worlds headlines.). If you want to be respected, be respectful. If you want acceptance, accept. If you want love, give it. All easy to say, harder to do.

    • Denise,
      I think the central point that needs to be taken isn’t about people’s sincerity or hypocrisy (often used as justification for not giving respect to those with differing views) but this: a simple, moral life by itself lacks the essential element that historical Christianity has to offer – a redemptive relationship with God; a relationship that changes you in such a way that you actually act differently without thought or pretense. I was a church-bred, liberal-minded young person but eventually grew tired of all the arguments and justifications that ensued. I changed when I realized I was missing something essential, something that put a smile on other people’s faces.
      In a sense you’re right: Christianity does not have the market on morality. But a Christian life lived morally (sometimes called righteousness) does have something no other worldview or religion has – hope of eternity! And I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

      • Christianity is not the only religion that offers “redemption”, nor the only one that offers some kind of moral core (which is not exclusive to religion at all!), … and I’m not sure where you get the idea that only Christianity has a “hope of eternity”. The Jewish Faith has (and had long before Christianity) the idea of “The world to come” (otherwise known as the “Kingdom of G-d” or the “Kingdom of Heaven (G-d)”.,. which is this earth if everyone lived according to the ways of G-d. (This is clearly illustrated in Revelation, where – after the “final” judgement, there are wicked people living on the earth that are barred from the New Jerusalem… not “heaven”, but this earth populated by those who choose G-d’s ways… and those who don’t.). Having a “share” in the KOG or KOH is a very real Jewish hope. , (There are other ideas about eternity in Jewish circles as well… but the focus of the Jewish Faith is on how you live, not on what you believe.) Here’s a link to a comparison chart of world religions… you will notice how much they all have in common, even in their differences.

        This would be where the liberal in me wants to stand up and scream… “You don’t have the “only” valid truth!”. People find solace, comfort, encouragement, forgiveness, acceptance, guidance, fellowship, joy… in all kinds of religions (and even in eschewing all religions). Atheists have are very happy with their choice of a non-belief system…. if they get unhappy with it, they go on to pick a religion. If not, they stay atheists. This does not mean they are not “spiritually fulfilled”, it’s just in a way that religious people generally don’t understand. Pick the one that speaks to you and go with it… but the one that speaks to you may not be the one that speaks to someone else. The religion of my choice is fulfilling, meaningful, and spiritually satisfying… FOR ME (and I don’t particularly believe in or even want “eternal life”, especially if it is as has been described in some of the bible studies I’ve attended). .

        My “beliefs” have not made me moral. I choose to live a temperate life because I believe it’s the right way to live. The other people I know who live temperate lives who do not hold “christian” beliefs do it for the same reasons. I can make a case for it based completely on the idea of “do unto others”… and while I’m not perfect at it, I also do not believe that my failure to be “perfect” makes me somehow evil, or incapable of being good… all on my own, due to my choices. You are free to believe otherwise… but I have yet to see someone that I can look at and say, “Their beliefs have changed them”. I see people all the time who CHOOSE to live a life free of drugs, or CHOOSE to become honest, or CHOOSE to stop (or start) doing this or that… but in my view, it’s choices they make, not doctrines they hold that make the difference. And, to me, “salvation” or “redemption”… are not something someone else can do for me. It’s something I have to choose for myself, by making right choices. When I make wrong choices, I need to repent to those I hurt… by doing that, I will align myself (achieve at-one-ment) with whoever G-d is. If I can’t treat “G-d’s creation” properly, then any “belief” that I have a relationship with with G-d is just my belief, not something I’m putting into practice.

      • Denise,
        From a Christian POV (and I recognize that progressive Christians might not agree with this), faith is not for the purpose of making my life better but honoring a God who has spoken and revealed Himself. The chief end of man, as the Westminster Catechism begins, is to glorify God. Our pride often subverts this and says “whatever makes me happy and fulfilled” is good. That is not Christianity, nor the God of both the Old and New Testaments. One of the most pervasive lies in religion today is that God just wants us happy, and however you find happiness is cool. God wants to make us holy. If this results in some temporal happiness, then to God be the glory. If it results in suffering ending in a cross, then to God be the glory.

    • Denise, thank you for your comment. I certainly agree with you that beliefs do not matter without action. It’s the fruit that matters. I believe that fruit includes, but is not limited to, a transformed heart – a new life from the inside out.

      You touched briefly on one of the key distinctions between “liberals” and “conservatives” in your example of pornography. You are right, liberals may choose to abstain but for the reasons you state: they see it as bad social sin – it hurts others, exploits women, etc. Check out former friend, John Shore’s post on pornography, which basically says everyone masturbates so have fun with it, just don’t exploit anyone while doing it:

      My point is, whatever limits one places on themselves are because, at least for the moment, reason dictates that it’s harmful to someone or it kills a dolphin somewhere. God is absent from the conversation and really unnecessary. In most progressive circles I know, morality is just what we deem is best for others and ourselves. I find that lacking in any credible authority, namely, God. I don’t look at porn anymore not because it exploits women (which it does) but because it offends a holy God and I have been bought with a price. I am not a slave to my flesh or my desires, as John Shore says we are, but am actually MORE free because I am able, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live my life pleasing to this God who has called me His own.

      It’s that sort of narrative – redemptive narrative – that I find sorely lacking in progressive living/ethics. But of course, this is just me sharing my story.

      peace to you!

      • “whatever limits one places on themselves are because, at least for the moment, reason dictates that it’s harmful to someone or it kills a dolphin somewhere. God is absent from the conversation and really unnecessary.”

        Good stuff there. Thanks for your honesty.

      • And I understand all that as the Christian perspective. However, it’s not the Jewish perspective, nor the perspective of many “spiritual” (however that is defined) people.

        Christians limit G-d to their perspective. Others may limit G-d to other perspectives… but since nobody has ANY autographed writings by G-d, nor any proof of G-d, nor any way to prove the “absolutes” they believe in… it’s kind of futile to say, “I know what constitutes a relationship with G-d and you don’t” or “the only valid relationship with G-d looks like this” or whatever. You are free to believe whatever you want… but it gets sticky when those values are applied to other peoples beliefs. There are many, many religions that I don’t have any resonance with. They make no sense to me (and, frankly, Christianity – with it’s required belief that G-d had a child with a human being, and that that human being was sent to die to “pay for” sin (a belief common in fundamental Christianity but not in Greek Orthodoxy and other denominations) and that said G-d would base judgement on a “belief” in this story rather than how one behaves (contrary even to the teachings of Jesus himself) and then throw those “non-believers” into eternal torture and call that justice – is now one of those religions.

        Those who believe that killing a dolphin is a sin, believe that because they perceive G-d within his creation (even if they don’t really believe in “God” per se, they then still revere the natural world as “sacred”, for lack of a better word.) (No coffee yet this morning). Treating the creation or natural world with respect, treating our fellow beings on the planet with respect… is a spiritual act to them…. and I’d have to say that there are things in the Torah that would say they are correct, even if they don’t believe in “God” per se. To say, “You have to have ‘x’ relationship or belief about G-d for it to be a valid one” means… you get to define how someone else defines the undefinable. And that leads to the dreaded “I have the “truth” (Tradmarked) and you don’t”, which then leads to disrespecting someone elses views about G-d as being unfulfilling or invalid, or nonsensical, or pointelss, or whatever.

        “What does the Lord require of thee? To do justly (in Jewish parlance: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, defend the defenseless), love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God”. Nothing in there – or anywhere – that belief trumps action. Ezekiel tells us that if you were righteous yesterday but choose evil today, you are evil; if you chose evil yesterday but now choose righteousness you are now righteous. Isaiah says that if I want my sins (missing the mark, which means I have to be shooting at the mark to start with) to be “white as wool”, then what I need to do is to … stop doing the wrong things. I don’t have to “believe” anything. I have to just stop behaving badly. Therefore, my belief system tells me… regardless of the doctrines anyone teaches, regardless of whatever “beliefs” they may think are necessary… the bottom line is how I or anyone else behave. “Righteousness” IS action. It’s how you recognize a righteous person… by how they behave. An unrighteous person is just as easy to spot. How they treat others is the mark of them. Do you know any righteous people whose belief systems you don’t understand? Whose “beliefs” you don’t “get”? I do. Lots of them. But their actions speak for themselves.

        We all have a grip on a very small piece of a very large elephant. To think we have the whole picture and someone elses small view of the elephant is wrong or “less than” ours… makes us deluded. That doesn’t mean I will “get” how each persons beliefs meet their needs… but at least I can try to accept that they do, and that they are precious to them. If we concentrated on actions rather than “beliefs” or “doctrines”, maybe we could actually make some progress on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven (G-d) that Jesus spoke of so frequently.

      • Denise, thank you. Once again, let me say, I don’t believe that beliefs are more important than action. I don’t believe I’ve said anything which states otherwise, and if I have, I misspoke. And I affirm everything you say about practicing righteousness. I also affirm that beliefs matter.

  10. Well said Denise. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Chad’s post, but I take issue with the implication that all progressives have joined in on some immoral free-for-all. You hit the nail on the head with your response and did so with grace. Thank you.

  11. Very refreshing to read and great insight from experience you are including in this. As I travel and see churches whom are growing and thriving with young people it is very much like what your return story shares of where you are at now. Thank you for sharing this and I imagine will be encouraging to many.

  12. Thanks for sharing your story. It seems like you are genuinely pursuing some things that are healthy and authentic. It does seem, however, that you are swinging back and forth between the extremes of a pendulum. You started on a “conservative” side, then swung to the “liberal” side, and then back again. I’m curious what you might have learned during the in-between space? Todd Hunter has a saying: “The proper corrective for the abuse of something is not NO use, but right use.” In other words, maybe instead of a legalistic moralism followed by an amoral permissiveness, you could pursue a thoughtful, disciplined, grace-filled holiness. Perhaps that’s how you would describe where you are now … it just sounds like you’re defending the place you started your journey, which did deserve some critique.

  13. Hi Chad,

    I appreciate you continuing to share your journey with us. I continue to appreciate you – from ‘Dancing on Saturday’ Chad to ‘UMC Holiness’ Chad. I think you’re “somewhat famous” even now. 🙂

    I want to gently push back as someone you’d doubtless consider a progressive Christian: I don’t think any of us “winked at your sin.” No one that I knew, who knew and loved you, thought that sex addiction was cool and that we should offer you ‘solace’ over ‘salvation.’ I hear you, in this and other writings, that the Sexaholics Anonymous recovery process that your progressive Jesus-following friends advocated for you just wasn’t cutting it for you – that you needed stronger stuff. But to characterize us as apathetic to your self-acknowledged struggles is a mis-remembering, from where I stand.

    Speaking of “stronger stuff” – I think you’re spot-on to point to excesses that can exist in the conference and festival circuit – I’m certain that there are times when I’ve not conducted myself impeccably in environments both ‘sacred’ and ‘secular.’ And yet, according to the Apostle Paul, fighting excess with Law simply doesn’t cut it – we need the Gospel grace of Christ, and Christ in his graciousness gives us room to grow.

    As Reformed rocker Derek Webb sings,

    “Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
    I prefer a shot of grape juice
    And don’t teach me how to live like a free man
    Just give me a new law.”

    Sometimes when I read your current writing, you seem to have the zeal of a new convert – which is fine (I’ve been there in different times in my life, myself), but when it resorts to legalism and caricature in terms of what you prescribe to others, I feel like it only increases polarization in the Body of Christ, rather than unity.

    I’ll say one more thing about caricatures and strongmen:

    You’ve mentioned the “Patheos Punch” at the Wild Goose Festival several times, as though that tableaux was accepted by Goose-goers without question and is uniquely progressive in nature.

    As far as Patheos goes, from my understanding they have a presence at many conferences and events that represent their blogging constituents – which is everyone. They probably get more pageviews and earn more revenue from their conservative evangelical and Catholic bloggers than they do their progressive ones (my homespun estimate, but I think the sheer quantity of their conservative blogs bears this out). Aside from, perhaps, Muslim events, do you really think that Patheos peeps don’t get buzzed at conservative events? That non-teetotaller conservative Christian events don’t wrestle with these same issues?

    To the latter, Goose leadership has always been concerned about the presence of alcohol at officially-sponsored venues, which is what it’s had regular AA meetings in addition to Beer-and-Hymns. Even more recently, the Goose has added Hymns-without-Beer to be more considerate to those in Recovery. All of which is to say, I suppose, that ‘Progressive Christianity’ is not the monolithic cesspool of debauchery that you sometimes paint it as – we’re real people who are learning and growing, just like you, open to suggestion and change, and – I hope – moving toward moderation in areas like this that better reflect the love and consideration of Christ.

    Anyway – I love you, Chad, and I continue to rejoice at the healing you’ve found in your own life and your marriage to Amy. But I agree with Jeff – you weren’t wrong about hell, God’s ultimate reconciliation in Christ, and the inherent dignity and worth of LGBT people. Perhaps you were a bit loud and bombastic when discussing such things, but you weren’t wrong. 😉 I don’t share his ‘hope’ that you’ll come around to this or that balance or perspective, though – like Jesus and Mr. Rogers, I like you just the way you are. 🙂

    • Hi Mike, I appreciate your comment and even more your gentleness in it. Knowing you personally it would be far more beneficial to have this conversation in person rather than over a blog, especially since it’s been so long since we’ve talked.

      I don’t wish to claim that my experience shared in this post is universal of all progressives, but nonetheless it is my experience. I am happy that you and others sense in my writing a zeal, that which might look like a new convert, because in a very real sense I am exactly that. Lord willing, I hope that never grows dim but only increases.

      It is not only in the festival circuit that I think the above is evident but in the blogging and writing of many progressives. The missing ingredient, as I look back, is a fear of God. I don’t mean the reverent awe sort of fear but the woe is me kind we find in Isaiah 6 and elsewhere. I’m sure that evacuating hell has much to do with that, but I think even more is the ways in which I and many others treat the bible like a beautiful book of human wisdom seeking to capture their experience of God versus the inspired, holy, authoritative words of a living, revealing God. You and I and many of the progressives today used to have that. We used to cherish the words of God and see them as pure and true, holding a weight in our lives and being a compass for everything we thought, did, said and acted upon. Why do we no longer fear God?

      In progressive circles words like “sin” and “holy” and “repent” are simply absent from the conversation, unless we are talking about the “sins of patriarchy” or the “sins of homophobia” or the “sins of bad environmental stewardship.” These things are important, to be sure, but what about the sins of careless talk, sexual immorality, inordinate desires, lustful thoughts, pride, treating God’s word with contempt, drunkenness or simply making friends with this world, which James says puts us at enmity with God? I am convinced that we serve a holy God who is one day going to return to judge the living and the dead, and that what we do with our bodies and our minds is of great concern to him. Morality does matter, not just in issues of global care but in personal holiness. That this God would die for me, in order that I might live to Him, to save me from the “darkness in which I once walked” (Eph. 2), blows me away!

      My hope and desire and prayer is that those who bear the name “Christian” would live sold out to him – that we would ALL look like new converts, causing a watching, lost world to ask, “Wasn’t this person blind before? What has gotten into him that his life is so different?” Progressives, IMHO, are missing that element of the “new life.”

      I love you brother. Praying with and for you,

      • Progressive Christian here. (I guess.) Gotta say, this paints with pretty broad strokes. It seems, first of all, to be about relatively young progressive Christians, (dare I say, immature?) not the grandparents I know. I do agree that the word “holiness” is largely missing from the vocabulary of progressive Christians, but I wonder if that is because they are running away from what they regard as the Phariseeism of other corners of the Christian world. That would be my excuse. The word itself feels like it has become something of a cultural marker — but for me, not using it isn’t the same as throwing out the concept of growing to be more like Jesus, and of examining my personal, as well as our collective sins. It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten that God is God, and I am not.

        Interestingly, in the progressive world, spiritual formation is a topic of great discussion, which you haven’t mentioned. Learning to pray (sometimes with help from the contemplative practices of the Roman Catholic community) is something my gay-loving women-ordaining friends are very much about these days. Some are using the Ignatian exercises, including the examen. And I think of some of the people progressives read — I don’t think our more mature voices are all about getting drunk.

        That said, I have no need to defend what is the poor behavior of some, or even the blind spots of the left-leaning portion of the church. It makes sense to me that we are all deficient, every corner of the church has unfortunate tendencies, and a fair share of crazy uncles. But I would urge readers to think about the fact that language isn’t the whole game. If “sin” “repent” and “holy” are missing from the conversation, maybe the concepts are not. Maybe we’re trying not to sound like members of a separate language group, (the way I feel sometimes when I’m in the middle of evangelicals who talk “bibleaze.”)

      • Paula, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I admit I paint with broad strokes here. Nonetheless, I’m sharing my experience. And I guess I should point out that these aren’t the “young kids” I have in mind but the leaders – the movers and shakers – of this movement. Perhaps they are immature in their faith, but they are leading others.

        I agree there is an emphasis on spiritual practices such as prayer. We might disagree, however, on the point of these practices. The missing note, IMO, is a holy fear of God in the things we do. For example, as John Shore, a prominent progressive, teaches: We abstain from looking at pornography because it exploits women. While he is right about the exploitation part, he’s only half-right. Missing is the note of sin – that lust is a sin against a holy God, and we should abstain because we seek to please Him and know this God. Likewise, I pray or fast, etc., not because it makes me a better, more well-adjusted person (which is does) but ALSO because God commands we do, and because I realize that without that anchor in my life my heart is deceitfully wicked and prone to wander, chasing after the wisdom of this world and it’s desires rather than the pure wisdom of God and His desires.

        I hope that makes some sense. peace to you

      • Well said Paula. I have a number of friends like you and I acknowledge (somewhat to my surprise) that some of the older traditions are being embraced by a group/movement that we’ve assigned the term “progressive”. And many of the “traditionalists” have grown tired of such tradition. I guess it doesn’t really correlate with “holiness” as a movement or what perspective you embrace.
        I don’t remember who to attribute this thought, but I like to reflect on the idea of seeing each other with “spiritual eyes”, as God sees us. It might be a shocking revelation, and very humbling.

  14. Hi Chad. I’m cross-posting what I posted on Dan Kimball’s Facebook link to this post, because I find this false dichotomy popping up again and again in critiques of progressive Christianity:

    “I’ll be honest, as a “progressive” Christian, I get *so* tired of hearing other Christians say that my “judge not” ethics somehow equates into moral permissiveness. I preach from Scripture on the transforming power of Jesus Christ at my church every Sunday, and that part of that transformation includes changes in the choices we make in our lives. But because I don’t emphasize sexual purity over “drilling wells in Africa” (which is a pretty reductionist characterization of Christian mission), I’m “mushy in matters of Biblical authority?” Please.”

    • And on the flip side, I’ve had my fill of critics who assume because I pay attention to my spiritual well being that I have an incurable blind spot for the needs of others. Truce?

    • Eric- I think you bring up a good point that what Chad is describing is a generalization. There certainly are exceptions such as yourself.

      However, as he describes, he was deeply involved in that culture on a personal and national level, so is able to speak of an overarching theme.

    • Eric, thanks for your comment. Just to be clear, I did not say that YOU, Eric, are “mushy in matters of biblical authority.” I don’t know you. If you are teaching and preaching the transforming power of Jesus Christ to change how we not only treat our neighbors but also how we grow in personal holiness, then you are not the “progressive” I have in mind, or the one’s that seem to be taking the spotlight. Perhaps more self-identifying progressives like yourself who care about personal holiness and the authority of Scripture need to be more vocal? Or perhaps just drop the “progressive” descriptor and call ourselves Christians?

      • Hi Chad–thank you for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully. I would like to think that I am vocal myself–in church, on my blog, on social media–but the reality is that I simply do not have the platform many other Christian ministers and writers have. Which is fine–I am loving doing the work I am called to do on whatever sized stage God sees fit for me. But honestly, it isn’t that we aren’t being vocal, it’s that many of us are and we don’t have the attention of as many people yet. Which I think probably came out in my initial reply…I’m on a small stage but I don’t always want to be lumped in with folks on a bigger stage!

  15. Hi Chad,

    I relate to your premise. I am at a place in my walk and ministry where I focus on grace over judgment. I hold that as we “press in” to Christ and seek to imitate him the Holy Spirit works out the moral transformation in our lives. (Philippians 1:6) Granted, we are responsible for our own morality but I believe that the Progressive Christianity you reference is an overcompensation of some pharisaic legalism that has also been evident in certain corners of the Kingdom. While I hold to a view of extending mercy, I would never condone what has been explicitly revealed in Scripture as sin. I suppose that the authority, even inerrancy of scripture is so ingrained in me that it restrains me from going overboard into permissiveness. Thank you for your thoughts.


  16. Reblogged this on Crossbridge and commented:
    I did not write this but I appreciate the sentiments of the author. Since it is not my own post, I am not holding to the 500-word maximum. This article is worthy of discussion.

  17. It was cool to be part of an emerging Jesus movement which celebrated one of it’s prominent leaders choosing to live with his girlfriend and not marry until all gay persons had the same right.

    Hi, Chad,
    I think it is important in a post like that above to have your facts straight or at least tell the whole story. In the above sentence from your post – if you are speaking of the person I think you are speaking of – you haven’t told the whole story. Said person and said girlfriend were married before God in a sacred space by a minister with family and friends (and dogs) as witnesses. They chose not to do the “legal” part until their gay brothers and sisters in their state were granted the same legal right (which that state has done and said couple has now done the “legal” part). In my opinion, that first wedding was more important in God’s eyes than anything the state could confer on them.

    • Thanks, Ivy. While that may be the case, the person you are referring to is off the reservation as far as I’m concerned when it comes to addressing sexuality in a biblical, God-honoring way. This post is just one of numerous examples:

      I affirm chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage, period. That sort of standard of holy living is, in my experience, archaic or even barbaric according to many progressives.

      • Chad, it seems to me you missed the point of my comment. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with what this person did in regards to his marriage – what I care about it that all the facts be shared so that other people can make up there own minds about it knowing more of the story than you told.

      • Ivy, I don’t dispute those facts. However, he and others did not disclose that at the time I’m talking about (I was there) and their decision to live as though married w/o being married was celebrated all the same.

  18. Pingback: losing legalism while keeping the scriptures « Embodying Our Faith

  19. Pingback: Weekly Meanderings, 12 April 2014

  20. Purity has a purpose. That’s what “I desire mercy not sacrifice” means. A zeal for God’s honor that doesn’t make me more generous and patient with the shortcomings of others is taking me the opposite direction from Jesus. I am ruthless with myself in order to gain a heart that is more merciful to others. It sounds to me like what you encountered was not strictly progressive Christianity but an immature backlash of ex-evangelicals against their roots. But the love-less zeal of the culture warriors is not any better than the honor-less “love” of their jaded offspring. I appreciate reading and contemplating your story because it helps me recognize that I would have plenty to be cynical about if I had walked your journey. I have walked a very different journey in which I got cynical in a different way. I hope that you and I both can transcend writing things that simply get atta-boys from our amen choruses but rather provide edifying challenges. It’s always going to get lots of acclaim as being “prophetic” to point out the flaws of the other side. I think you often do transcend your amen chorus and I appreciate the continued opportunity for challenge.

    • Thank you, Morgan. I appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

      I agree that we must grow increasingly patient with others and extend grace and mercy, always remembering that God in Christ has done the same for us. I think you’d agree that mercy is not the same as being permissive, and, in fact, mercy is also part of God’s discipline of us, as Hebrews 12 reminds us.
      With regards to those who are inside the church, how patient can we be before we either become the people described in Rom. 1:32 or are disobeying the instructions of 1 Cor. 5:11-12 or Jesus’ instructions in Matt. 18 about discipline?
      Mark tells us that Jesus “loved” the rich young ruler when he looked at him and demanded much of him. I wish to love in that same way – a way that is willing to lay down my life for another while simultaneously calling them to something higher, holy, and not watering down that demand when they don’t like it and walk away sad. That’s not easy, as I want people to like me.

      • I wonder if certain types of Christians because of addictions or other struggles need to have a pastor who is like a father that demands obedience from them. Being a paternalistic pastor like that is for me too great a departure from the grace by which God has revealed himself to me through the mentors and guides I have had in my journey. I have no problem speaking boldly about sin in general in my preaching. In my pastoral care though, I tend to be focused on listening prayerfully and creating a space where the other person feels safe enough to receive God’s conviction and healing for any sin they carry without making them submit to my authority in some kind of way. I am very wary of my authority. It makes me tremble to actually say to another person what you’re doing is wrong. It’s much easier to preach about how something “we’re” doing is wrong in some broadly defined way that listeners can apply to their individual struggles. It gives me comfort to read the desert fathers and see the reticence that they had to rebuke each other. I’m quite fearful of the pride that gets cultivated in doing that. I tend to want to focus on the beauty that others can be invited into rather than dwelling on the ugliness they’re living with right now. But I recognize that I have much room to grow in this area so please do pray for me. There are some ugly situations among my flock that I’ve been too intimidated to confront.

  21. Chad, I appreciate this post very much. As a pastor in a denomination that is not that dramatically different from yours, my thoughts and beliefs have been morphing in similar ways in the past few years. Similar to you, I had to realize just how far my life was from the “new life” that the New Testament describes before I could see just how much our denominations have let central concepts like holiness and sanctification slide. My preaching and teaching has changed a lot since that realization. Thank you for your courage, your conviction, your honesty, your insights, and the journey that God has put you on.

  22. Pingback: Progressive Christianity and the loss of a moral center | hilarionphang

  23. Pingback: Being Holy | Coffee Chat with Raven Nightsong

  24. Wow thank you Chad. I actually read through all these posts as I find it fascinating as I was convicted by a revelation that the healthy tension between truth and grace, predetermination and free will, faith and works, and all other theological debates only point to a God who cannot be contained, an all-knowing, all-powerful God who we cannot contain within the box of our own intellectual capacity or logic.

    On a slightly different note, to address the user “Denise” above, I have a strong sense that she does not believe in every word of the Bible as the infallible word of God. I think that is the source of the “progressive issues” that you bring up, as certain Christians might prefer to pick and choose the verses which fit their personal tastes. However, I also strongly believe, as you suggested to another user that we should drop these one-worded labels altogether (i.e., progressive, conservative), because those labels are lazy and judgmental at best – it takes a heart of compassion to truly listen to the struggles of an individual, for that person’s experience is so much more complex than any one word can possible hope to capture.

  25. The views of modern society regarding religion, and specifically Christianity, are in a state of great flux. Beliefs that were once sacrosanct are now being called into question. Is the day soon coming when the majority of people in society will view “the Holy Bible” as immoral and evil?

    Imagine if your grade schooler brings home a few books from the school library with these titles:

    1. Giving the Death Sentence to People who eat Forbidden Fruit

    2. Drowning Millions of Children for the Crimes of their Parents

    3. How to Murder First Born Children in their Beds

    4. The Genocidal Annihilation of Evil Foreign Peoples is Justifiable

    You would be horrified that your local school would allow such books in a library for children, wouldn’t you? But yet fundamentalist Christians would love to have the Holy Bible in the same library and would not bat an eye at the bloody, barbaric violence and twisted justifications for that violence and immoral behavior contained therein.

    “Oh but that was in another Era of time. It is a mystery why it was necessary for God to do these shocking acts, but we must simply accept by faith that God had good, moral reasons for his actions in the Old Testament.”

    Ok…so we will sweep all that barbaric behavior under the rug because Jesus has changed everything. All that bloody violence is no longer necessary because Jesus has ushered in the Era of Grace. We now are to love our neighbor as ourselves…not slaughter him in righteous anger.

    But there is one little problem: Slavery.

    I don’t see how putting shackles around the neck, ankles, and wrists of your neighbor and calling him your property is in any way, shape, or form “loving your neighbor as yourself”. And I also don’t see why a loving, just, Jesus would not have condemned this evil institution, which he did not, nor why the Apostle Paul would condone it, which he very much did.

    Any book that condones slavery is evil and should not be in any school library…nor on your child’s nightstand.

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