January 27, 2021

Riffs: 05:12:07: John Dennis on the Life He Didn’t Live…Because He Lived the “Christian” Life

johnbwjuly03.jpgThis post is really going to annoy a lot of you, but I want to remind you that this web site is about provocative thinking and writing to get you vitally connected to Jesus. Sometimes, the only way to HEAR something, to really HEAR IT, is to hear it in a way that offends you, that makes you uncomfortable. Some medicine, it don’t taste too good y’know.

Blogger John Dennis writes on “If there was no such thing as Christianity.” It’s not a condemnation of Christianity, but a provocative, prodding thought exercise that helps us see what our kind of religion winds up doing. It asks the question of whether we really are Jesus followers, or perpetuators of a kind of religion that is stifling and phony.

John isn’t a theological professional, but a regular guy- aside from being Canadian. Check out his blog. Read the prelude and follow up to this, and let John know what you think at his place or here. Here’s John’s piece:

If there was no such thing as Christianity,
I would have to appreciate books simply for the good writing.
I‘d have to socialize with my community rather than the people in my church.
I’d have to use common sense and wisdom rather than using fleeces and ‘sensings’ to make decisions.
So, I wouldn’t have had to get so stressed about missing God’s will if I chose to buy that red car instead of that blue one.
I wouldn’t be able to watch a movie looking for anti-Christian themes and stuff.
I couldn’t say ‘I’m not responsible for the wrongs of my past because I’ve repented.’

If Christianity was not an option to me,
I’d have no option but to enjoy music simply for the music,
not for the message or for the worship experience.
I would have to love my family, my relatives more than my church family.

If I couldn’t be a Christian,
I couldn’t call a non-Christian my enemy, because I would be one of them myself.
I’d have to obey the doctor’s orders rather than go by faith.
I wouldn’t feel compelled to turn my eyes away from the topless statue, ‘Venus’, Instead, I would feel compelled to admire its artistic beauty and grace.
I would not have religious reasons to think I am above the guy I work with.
I wouldn’t pretend that I don’t like beer.

If there was no such thing as Christianity,
I’d have to learn to have the beauty of nature inspire me.
I couldn’t have sentimental reasons to favour Israel over the Arabs and would have to let my opinion on that issue be based on what is fair.
I couldn’t break fellowship with another Christian who doesn’t agree with my view on doctrine.
I’d have no choice but to give due consideration to the arguments of scientists.
I would dress up the kids for Halloween thinking only of the fun of it all.
The faith healer wouldn’t have performed the fake ‘make the leg grow’ miracle in Jesus name.

If I couldn’t have been a Christian,
I would have been sent to a pyschiatrist for the time I made that weird, strange outburst in Church that was explained to be supernatural.
I would have been able to attend the P.T.A. meeting when I went to the Church business meeting.
I could not have told the girl I wanted to go out with that it was God’s will that we dated but instead would have had to tell her that I really wouldn’t accept ‘no’ as an answer.
I would have visited my neighbour who was in the hospital with cancer when I told the family I was praying for him.
I wouldn’t’ve felt obligated to view that extreme fanatic as a role model for myself. I would have seen him as an unbalanced individual.
I couldn’t have told people that God spoke to me about an issue. I’d have to abandon my psuedo-spirituality and false humility and tell people that I thought of it myself.

If there had been no such thing as Christianity,
The crusades – the ‘Holy’ wars, would not have happened.
People wouldn’t make a fuss about those Harry Potter books.
People wouldn’t read those Left Behind books.
Tele-Evangelists wouldn’t push people down on the floor.
I couldn’t say that the devil made me do it.

That’s the way it could have
and would have been
If there was no such thing.


  1. A good friend of mine referred me to this blog. I’ve read a couple things I really liked. That entry on prayer was great. This one is great. I love Harry Potter, and just don’t usually mention it in my “Christian circles” for fear that they’ll think less of me. I’m excited that there are some Christians out there who are thinking along these lines. Thanks, Carrie

  2. What I love about the post is how it protests a Christianity that has become alienated from the human. What’s being criticized is overall a rationalistic Christianity that unreasonably reduces everything to certain Christian ideas. The Word became flesh and dwells among us, so Christianity should if anything intensify our human experience.


    one quibble: if searching for a historical example, the defense of Europe from Islamic encroachment is not the best example. It would have been better to bewail the conversion of peoples by military might …

  3. Carrie, check out http://www.swordofgryffindor.com. It’s a blog by a BHT fellow named Travis. There are lots of Christians who love Harry Potter. Heck, I’m a pastor and I’ve read the books twice 🙂

  4. This really makes a person think hard about the legalism that tends to pervade Christianity, as well as the tendency to make every little thing into a spiritual issue. This may offend some people, but those who read it with truly honest eyes will see the validity in what he writes. In our attempts to look more Christ-like, we often more closely resemble the Pharisees.

  5. If CHRISTIANITY didn’t exist:

    1. I wouldn’t have to listen to Republican politicians insult my intelligence by telling me how much they appreciate “people of faith.”

    2. I could watch the late NFL games during football season without feeling guilty about not going to church on Sunday night.

  6. John Dennis says

    Regarding the Holy Wars:

    The failed crusades were basically Europe encroaching on the Arabs, trying to reclaim Jerusalem and what the land they considered their Holy Land for their God. For the most part, it was an endeavour by Roman Catholics that lasted for hundreds of years that contributed to keeping people in the dark ages.

    In mentioning the Holy Wars, I am not referring to the current holy wars that the Islamist extremist are declaring. The present day conflicts are waged for a couple of reasons:
    1. The radical Islamists despise Western values. Some believe that the principle of democracy is all part of Christianity.
    2. They do not believe that Israel should be a country. They believe it should belong to the Arab Palestinians who have historically laid claim to it for eons. They believe that the Christian world has favoured Israel for their own obvious sentimental reasons, and that these reasons take predominance over what would be fair.

    Lets put ourselves in the Palestinian’s shoes. Let’s imagine that the aboriginal people of North America presented a case to the world that they should have their land back. Let’s say that they managed to gather enough support to have United Nations arrange for North America to be given back to the native people. All the rest of us who are non aboriginal would be forced to live in our own state somewhere in N.A.
    How would we feel? Would we just roll over and accept this? Would we think that the world is still thinking we are just a bunch of cowboys vs the Indians? Wouldn’t we wish the world would accept what has happened historically, deal with it, and let bygones be bygones? After all, it wasn’t you and I who took the land.

    Of course there are a lot of Christians who don’t know how to correctly read. The New Testament says that now the true Israel, the New Jerusalem, is the Church – Christians. Yet so many Christians believe that the geographical Israel is what it is all about. So,we get people like John Hagee and Pat Robertson that offer unequivocable support for Israel no matter what they do. This complicates things and doesn’t help things like 9/11 from happening. Wow, I don’t see anything being resolved here for…well… maybe never.

    I love the Jews. I love the Arabs too. Jesus died for everyone because he loves the whole world. The New Testament way is for us to care about people and treat them fairly.

  7. I don’t exactly “get” this post. I understand the things that he is frustrated with and see how people use the name of Christianity to do goofy things. But some of these statements aren’t fair. For example:

    “I would have visited my neighbour who was in the hospital with cancer when I told the family I was praying for him.”

    It’s comparing the worst case to the best case. How would not knowing about Christianity make you go to the hospital to visit? Are we to assume then, that the overwhelming majority of people who don’t know about Christianity visit all their sick friends?

    The post raises some good points but it is a little fuzzy.


  8. I tend to agree with Brian.

    I understand all of the statements, but many have not been true of my own Christian experience, and many of the “I would” and “I would have” statements are overly optimistic.

    I really don’t like beer (prefer wine, and have had no trouble drinking it, even when I lived in Texas working with a Christian group);

    I read Harry Potter and don’t care who knows about it, and I don’t read Left Behind;

    there are lots of non-Christians who consider other people enemies; I generally don’t consider non-Christians enemies (at least not just because they are non-Christians) but I have had strong opponents who are Christians;

    I know lots of folks who neglect things like PTA or their kids’ sports matches because of career pressures or to hang out with buddies, and I have no reason to think that I would be better than that if I were not a Christian;

    I read more non-Christian books than Christian anyway, and unless I am reviewing a book for a specific purpose I look neither for the message nor for the non-Christian influences;

    Same goes for movies;

    I know tons of non-Christians who don’t socialize with their neighborhood either, and I know Christians who do;

    I find nature very inspiring and I enjoy music for its own sake AS WELL as listening to specifically Christian music;

    I know plenty of folks who “break fellowship” with their neighbors over the frequency of cutting the grass in the back yard or some other stupid thing like that, or with a colleague at work over some silly disagreement;

    I don’t avert my eyes everytime I pass a nude statue here in Vienna, and I really don’t know anyone else who does, here or in Rome and wherever these statues abound.

    This post sound very much like John Lennon’s “Imagine” which has always struck me as naively unrealistic and pretty overtly anti-religious.

  9. One might note that land from Alexandria, Egypt, through Israel through Constantinople was, originally, under the control of the Byzantine Empire, and the Eastern Church until the Muslims invaded and took over. In fact, the first Crusade began when the Patriarch of Constantinople petitioned the Pope in Rome for help, as the Muslims were at the doorstep of Constantinople.

    Of course, the Crusaders ended up sacking Constantinople, instead. This event is generally recognized as the “last straw” in the increasing divide between the Eastern and Western Churches.

    The fact of the matter is, however, that the Crusades were only a part of the larger conflict between European Christendom and Islam. Europe was essentially engaged in a 2-front war with Muslim armies until the 1400’s, when the Spaniards finally defeated the Moors.

    And, as a result, much of the Eastern Church has spent the majority of its history under the persecution of Muslim rulers (except in Russia, though they got their own time of suffering under the Communists).

    My point is that it seems the tendancy is to forget that the Eastern Church even exists, and portray the Crusades as those meddlesome European Christians attempting to take over the land the Muslims rightly invaded. While there are many bad aspects of the Crusades (the sacking of Constantinople, for instance, and the “Childrens’ Crusade”), they were not what they are often portrayed to be.

  10. jmanning says

    Some of them are great, some are good, some are just goofy. I want to say “if you didn’t think you were better than your neighbor for your faith, you’d find another reason to elevate yourself.” It’s almost like he links Christianity with his sinful nature. “IF I wasn’t Christian, I wouldn’t sin”

    Christianity of course isn’t the culprit in his post…but some of it is still a stretch.

    The crusades were a reaction historically though. Islam struck the “West” first in the Iberian peninsula.

    Let’s also remember that Palestinians didn’t exist as an ethnicity until they were created by the media. They are just displaced Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese. This doesn’t make them somehow less entitled to rights…but it put the situation in perspective. Both sides (Israel and Arabs) have displaced populations. Looking backwards at history they will never achieve peace…

    Israel has no biblical right to the land though, they have broken the covenant and haven’t repented. All this dispensationalist-led politics is killing our credibility in the Mid East.

  11. I confess to some ambivalence regarding this post. While I come from a fairly conservative independent Baptist background, I’ve been pondering and discussing a lot along these lines (although most the discussion has been with my wife, lest I be outed as the closet heretic I am).

    On the one hand, my budding understanding of grace and liberty sympathize with the speaker. On the other hand, none of the “Christian” things listed are necessarily bad in and of themselves. I wish I could hear the post—it’s lacking the vocal cues that would better help me catch a sense of the speaker’s mood. Charitably, I see it as a Christian lamenting the way much Christianity has turned into a checklist of orthopraxy. Cynically, I can see it as a whine coming from my high school students: “How come I don’t get to…why can’t I…why do I have to…?”

    I confess to lacking the discernment to know which it is; my background keeps loudly shouting that only carnal people want to do those things. Meanwhile, I’ll keep pondering and discussing. Just don’t tell my church, or I might be excommunicated from the Fellowship of Baptists of the One True Way®!

  12. Patrick Kyle says

    I think what Mr. Dennis is really critiquing is not Christianity but the parody it has become under churches that reduce the bible to ‘Christian Principles’ or some kind of self help/self improvement technology. The conservative form of cultural Christanity in this country is truly a sadness.(So is the liberal form) When you reduce the faith to moralism based on a shallow reading of the scripture, you get the kind of things Mr. Dennis is decrying.

  13. John Dennis says

    Yes, this post is ‘fuzzy’ as it is a vague series of one-liners meant to generate thought. To expand on each idea presented here would mean to write an essay on them all. I’m glad it is provoking some questions that we need to ask ourselves about what our religion has become.

    It is typical for some Christians to tell the needy that ‘Hey, I’m praying for you’, which could just mean that ‘I’ve put your name on my prayer list.’ Sometimes we need to get our feet and hands moving and not just our lips. (Matthew 25:31-46) Lately, I am using the commom response ‘I’m praying for you’ as one of the last things I’ll say. Conveying to a suffering person that his situation is in the forefront of my mind often offers more of a sense that I really do care – even though unfortunately with some Christians I make myself vulnerable to criticism for appearing to be less spiritual. (See Michael’s recent post on prayer)

  14. Larry White says

    The post works for me brilliantly, and, yes, I appreciate it simply for the good writing. Good writing must be about something or someone. This, as a Christian’s imaginative even poetic exercise in cataloging the growing pains of a representative Christian, is about his (my) relation to Jesus Christ. As I read each accusation I feel as a sinful man the sting of self-recognition, and the out-pouring balm of Christ’s forgiving love. The “have to”s here are the leaven of Jesus bringing fruit in his living body while pruning and burning the dead, accusing thing.

  15. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Let’s pretend that we live are Jewish living in first century Palestine.

    If JUDAISM didn’t exist:

    I would actually have to help the guy on the side of the road who has had the crap beat out of him and left to die, rather than just saying “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” is a great commandment.

  16. dan macdonald says

    If it wasn’t for Christianity…
    I would never have heard about Christ.

  17. If it wasn’t for Christianity, I’d value human life only as far as it serves my whims. Adolf Hitler would be a role model (actually he’d be but a common man in such a world). I’d see the post-modern thought that my salvation lies in an ever illusionary utopia, that is dependant on my finite mind and feeble limbs, as my only hope – a hope that would prove ever the more futile as the years pass.

    Of course, if it wasn’t for Christianity, I simply would not exist.


  18. I think “If it weren’t for Christianity” is a different piece of writing. Just as valid.

  19. Me again. “If it weren’t for Christianity” seems like a piece written by a disgruntled man. I guess for people who know their freedom in Christ, this piece doesn’t have much to say.

  20. jmanning says

    I think some people aren’t getting this post….some of its still a stretch…but the more I hear people bash it the more I like it

  21. dan macdonald says

    I am deeply grateful for the canned, hierarchical, overly aggressive para-church ministry that pushed its people to share the gospel with me whilst I was a skeptical but interested law student. I am thankful for the rigidly formal Baptist church that first took me in as a new Christian, fed me, taught me, and suggested a local church to attend when I graduated and started practicing law.

    I am thankful to that local baptist church that loved me, taught me to tithe and serve and love young people, who I eventually became a youth pastor to. I am deeply appreciative that they supported me in prayer and finances whilst I joined a parachurch ministry, and loved me through many storms and valleys.

    I am thankful to people like you, Michael, that thoughtfully probe the meaning of following Christ. I am a desperate sinner who deserves far worse than the present church I am privileged to serve.


  22. Sasquatch says

    This post reminds me of Bible verses I read as a kid that made no sense.
    When I grew up, and lived life, I looked back on them and suddenly my eyes were opened to what Solomon, Moses, David and the gang were talking about.
    I was in their sandals and could nod my head and say, “I get it,” while feeling relief that God would transform my life like he did theirs.
    I don’t think over-analyzing this dude’s blog and dividing it into subsections really does it justice.
    I don’t think he’s saying what he’s saying.
    The beer thing, the PTA meetings, he’s giving illustrations about his own feelings… it’s not meant to be a list of infallible statements.
    I’m a first nations person and in my culture, I read it with my heart and not my head.
    My heart connects with his sense of loss.
    I’m still a deep believer in Christ.
    But I literally almost lost my whole belief system because of the terrible things I experienced from Christians.
    I was so happy to be a new believer, like a butterfly burst out of a cocoon, but Christian leaders gave me so many rocks to swallow that all I could do was drag my stomach weighed down by rhetoric across the ground.
    My wings were still attached, but it seemed that I wasn’t actually supposed to use them.
    I didn’t date the girls I liked, listen to the music that made me happy, or go to churches that gave me peace or made me feel relieved.
    I was told to be cautious about all my decisions… because I was, after all, a sinner, and my instincts weren’t to be trusted.
    I was told that we weren’t religious like mainline churches, and were freer and happier than anyone else in the world, but I sat in church with a broken heart enduring controlling sermons and cruel people whose meanness I never imagined in my previous life as an “unbeliever.”
    I treated people like family who my “Spidey sense” warned me were not to be trusted.
    Anything celebrity pastors and musicians said might as well have been written in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    HOWEVER, as I experienced these earthquakes, windstorms, and fires, I walked away from it all to follow the still small voice of God.
    As Patrick Kyle wrote earlier, John Dennis isn’t writing about Christianity, but the cultural narrow-mindedness we are told IS Christianity.
    I too look back with a lot of regret and emptiness, and I wish I’d listened to the Holy Spirit’s truth flowing and sparkling into my heart when I was a lot younger.
    Following what I was led to believe was Christianity, as a preacher I knew used to say, “pierced my heart through with many sorrows.”
    He used that expression to illustrate our sinful decisions… in my case, they were the sinful decisions of letting jerks tell me what to do, and not allowing God’s gifts of real life and freedom into my heart.
    I feel so brainwashed that I consciously have to let God relieve me of all the distorted Bible teachings I was fed as a teenager.
    When I actually hear the scriptural truth, as opposed to the rules John Dennis refers to, feeling validated by God is such a shaking experience that I have literally wept.
    Thank God he can free us, but do we really have to be so dumb?

  23. Jeremiah Lawson says

    This reminds me of a testimonial/apologetic approach that says “This is how bad I would be if I weren’t a Christian”. It’s an approach I don’t buy anymore because Christians struggle with sin and any attempt to explain how bad we would be apart from Christ amplifies the sin that dwells in our hearts right now rather than attempting to imagine a life in which we never knew Christ, which is what this piece does. Here we get a sample of how we could be different if we didn’t use faith in Christ and Scripture as a rationalization for our own sin, which is REALLY how we would be different if we never knew the Lord. That’s just my take on this right now.

    I think “if it weren’t for Christianity” is a really different ball of wax than “if I weren’t a Christian here are the things I wouldn’t excuse myself of in Jesus’ name.”

  24. I found your site doing a search on prayer, but have jumped around from one interesting topic to another. You seem to have discovered all sorts of wonderful insights into the Christian life that God has recently been awakening my spirit to understand. I grew up back and forth from Southern to Fundamental Baptist, and still struggle with all the ensuing legalism. While I don’t still follow all the ‘rules’, I find myself making up my own rules for everything–how to keep house, what time to get up, which homeschool curriculum is the most godly, blah, blah, blah. God is really wrestling with me right now about being in relationship with Him. He created the world and would like us to receive his gifts with thankfulness. Thanks for your transparency–what an encouragement it is to see a sinner saved by grace enjoying his creator!

  25. grimtraveller says

    I’ve come to this 2 years late and I hope there are still people that will contribute to this post. I think John Dennis was being very piercing and insightful in what he wrote and as some pointed out, he was making a valid point about what christianity has become in the minds and practices of so many. I think that it is a sad fact that so many of us simply do not experience the freedom, joy and suffering that comes with truly knowing God. Instead, many of us seem to do what countless before us have done, which is to make up rules and regulations and sort of make them a litmus test of being a real believer. Sometimes it’s done with sincerity, if somewhat misguided, other times it’s done to cover up our innate controlling impulses. I live in England and believe me, it’s pretty much the same as the US of A and Canada.
    If Saul of Tarsus was around, I’m sure some of us would get a Galatian style blast !!
    Truth is, this life we are in is led by the Lord living in us. About 20 years ago, I feel he very pointedly let me know that my life was not my own, but his. It’s still a struggle sometimes though, against the dictats of man. But it gets less so, even if I’m seen as a rebel.

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