Sunday, August 1, 2010


It’s been a few weeks now since That Interview was published in South African newspapers and online. To some degree the storm has abated a little and I thought it might be a good opportunity to throw my hat in the ring, for what it’s worth.

Where to begin? The article itself? The article’s unfortunate title? The variety of comments the article inspired? What about the level of hatred and condemnation thrown at me by incensed Christians? The smell of burning Tree63 CD’s wafting across the hills and valleys of Christendom?

The response the article generated showed me a few things: firstly, that people are starved for intellectual debate. Human beings long for a reason to rip out the drip feed of modern media and lunge with their brains at each other. Secondly, there are many, many more disenfranchised, disappointed ‘Christians’ out there than the modern church would like to acknowledge. George Barna was right, after all. Thirdly, judgemental, self-righteous hatred knows no bounds in the modern church. I’d momentarily forgotten how ugly Jesus’ ‘followers’ can be, and boy was I reminded. Fourth, the general populace is less and less able to read critically as the years go by. Status updates will be the death of the human race. Oh, and lastly, it seems that the most vitriolic amongst us always sign our names ‘Anonymous’.

I laughed a lot at some of the comments the article received online. The guy who said, “Christian singers are traditionally poor spokespersons for Christianity because they are biblically illiterate and theologically naive… Ellis proves that point. Ellis' BA thru UNISA won't help him a bit as UNISA is so far left of the truth that they couldn't find their way back to the truth if they had a GPS lead them out of the morass of philosophy”. (That was a BTh pal, from one of the most highly-regarded theology programmes on the planet). Or the person who decided that the article was some kind of ‘publicity stunt’ to sell more records.

I cringed with embarrassment too. The average response from Christian readers was a condescending “I’ll pray for you”, as though I’d fallen off some great height and was lying in traction somewhere. I was accused of being “asinine… pathetic… deceived… Bono”. Bono?! One ex-CCM American person even decided to remind me how unsuccessful Tree63 really had been in the U.S., just in case I actually did think I was ‘the poster child of Christian rock’. Non-Christians wading through this morass of invective were noticeably puzzled by it all. “Aren’t you guys all Christians?” someone asked, as though that would somehow automatically curb infighting.

There was good news though, as there always is. Firstly, the positive, affirming, supportive responses, from Christians as well as non-, far outweighed the negativity. I had not set out to hurt anybody, and most seemed to have been able to take it for what it was: a shock-journo improving newspaper circulation. Sure, I was a little stung by some of the comments, but overall I ended up feeling supported, encouraged and more than a little strengthened by the majority of responses. That’s a gratifying feeling when the flames are licking at your feet. Secondly, the article inspired people to think, weigh in, contribute, and talk. That is what I’m most excited about: stirring up debate that requires people to at least think about these important issues and be prepared to discuss where they stand on them. We don’t need mindless vitriol and knee-jerk ugliness, we just need to be prepared to think as individuals and toss ideas back and forth as we all walk that dusty road to or from God.

So, to those encouraged: thank you, it’s going to be an exciting journey. To those who were hurt: cut off the headline (it’s hilariously outrageous!), re-read the article, and read it carefully this time. You might find some surprises there.

Right, now for round two:


  1. You weathered the storm well and it is great to hear *your voice* in this post.

    The new album is amazing John - just downloaded it a few days ago from iTunes.

    Look forward to catching a gig when you down South again. :-)

  2. Thanks for your balls John! I am an ex pastor here in SA who sees the ground swell of people who are fed up with Christian culture bullshit and want to point our lives at something more valuable, helpful, and constructive. It has cost you a lot more than most to follow your convictions and for that I admire you. More and more will follow into the light of a new day where the right things are important again! Peace.

  3. I've kept an eye on this story from afar.

    The last time I attended church (which was a while a back) there was a big push towards this thing called "authentic" worship. People took it very seriously but I thought it was a ludicrous concept, especially as everyone seemed so sheep-like and the songs were so cliched.

    Seems like lately you have been quite authentic yourself (ie really connected with your own voice) but, for some in the church, it is the "wrong" kind of authenticity!

    Keep on rocking John. Great tunes. We need guys like you!


  4. Haha, your summary of the Tonight article made me chuckle. I've always cringed when having to deal with the fact that all sorts of crazies fall under the banner of 'Christianity'. As a favourite pastor once said 'I will not defend them, they misrepresent what Jesus did on the cross.'

    My two cents - I'm glad you're engaging, feeling, thinking, living and processing. Kanye said it better when he sang 'cause I don't want no Robocop' :-)

  5. All I can say is, I LIKE 'COME OUT FIGHTING'.

    The writing is creative, the music moving, and very catchy. I loved Tree63's music, and John's latest album is a GREAT continuation of that.

    From what I've read, John hasn't lost faith in Jesus, he just isn't singing songs about him 100% of the time. And hey, if people want to listen to "God" music, then listen to Hillsong and CCM. (BTW I hate their music cuz it's boring)

    In closing, I'd rather listen to a Christian singing about politics and world events more than I would secular singers.

    Daniel Tomlinson

  6. i am VERY disappointed in you John. [anonymous] - i can't believe that Sean Tuck guy got your balls. you promised me.

    ah well, as one who didn't get to read the article but just grapevinely hear some of the responses to it, i look forward to coffee next week sometime and if 'Bono!' is the best insult they can come up with then man, you're doing well. if the real 'christians' had been paying attention you would have at the very least gotten a 'bieber' or 'hannah montana' tossed your way

    and it (and the anne rice link|) prompted a big sermon discard and discussion at our enGAGE sun nite church service last nite which was a lot better than what i had planned so at least thankx for doing my job

    love you bro
    brett fish and No_bob

  7. I understand you so well that I think we should start a club and/or support group... ha ha. My view of God has been so tainted by institution that it has taken over 5 years for me to reboot my mind and start afresh. It is good to THINK.

    I am starting to write a blog that reflects some of this journey. No one has read it yet as it is under a false name. So would love to know how many people out there feel like me... :o)

  8. THANK YOU for being authentic and for so eloquently voicing what many of us are feeling. For what its worth, you have my support!
    You are an inspiration :)

  9. Hi John, I have been a fan since 1997. Still am.
    Enough said?

    Thanks for being so frank, it's time to get real about these things again. "Om die kaf van die koring te skei" as the expression goes, so that what remains will be the truth and nothing else.

  10. I'd like to respond... but not sure how!

    In some ways I'd like to apologise for the amount of mud slung your way by fellow believers... but apologising somehow aligns me with them!

    I've always loved your music with tree63. Have always said you're the best lyricist out there; having an ability to cut through the church jargon and be real and poetic. Your music has consistently inspired me to a deeper worship of God.

    I admire you for having the guts to openly share your doubts and questions.

    I think you'll quickly find many people who are in a similar place... and somehow through this process I hope you find truth and freedom.

    Haven't heard any of your new music but I'll certainly have a listen.

  11. Hi John, I like this journey you're taking us on!

    My question relates to this quote from the interview: "I can write for the first time in 38 years. That's one of the reasons why I left Tree 63."
    The music you wrote for Tree63...did those lyrics come from your heart as truth or did you write them because that was the 'christian' trend at the time? I guess I'm struggling to decipher my own feelings now, because those songs really influenced me at the time. I just want to separate my own fakeness from whats real.
    Kind Regards

  12. Hey John

    I'm a composer and song-writer myself (although I'm just starting out). I love the honesty with which you are going on this journey...
    If you come down to Cape Town and want to jam let me know! And all the best with laaaaf, as you guys say in Debben ;)


  13. John;

    I'm enjoying the CD! While it's not quite what I expected, I find that some of what your saying can be applied to just about any government, especially the "good o'l USA" recently.

    If only we could all "kill" religion instead of just playing church once or twice a week. I found myself weary of the whole process. I find my own "food" through the Scripture and listing to others perspetive and weighing that with what the Word says. "Finding My Own Way Home" seems appropriate to me. I guess we have to have been there and done that to truly appreciate what you are saying.

    May God continue to Bless you, inspire you, give you strength and peace! I love you, brother.


  14. Well done for not being a sheep and for being honest about the way you feel and what you are thinking! I firmly believe that you should always question and take nothing for granted.

    You are a rare breed and the world needs more people like you cause we certainly have enough sheep!

    Keep on making great music!

  15. Hey John...i can't answer for your popularity in the USA but having worked in international radio and Australian Capital City radio, i introduced a lot of NON believers and aussies to your music...and had no complaints! LOL (I even had the Muslims requesting your songs...perhaps the Indian ones were currying favour..LOL!) Having worked in Christian media...i actually got fed-up with many of my fellow Christians and after 2 years, left. I found it easier being in the WORLD dealing with non-Christians where my expectations weren't disappointed daily than in working with fellow believers that would blow hot and cold and be self-righteous...proving that we are ALL sinners and so need a saviour! Bono was horrendously condemned by many Christians that said things like "wouldn't it be great if he got saved?" etc..only God truly knows the heart! You have tremendous talent - and hopefully we can catch up for an interview on Australian radio ( i still do some gigs )
    Until it up!
    Gaby McEwan

  16. Hey John...

    A Christian i know posted "The interview" on facebook...This was my comment...

    "The book of Galatians is the book he wants to read right now...

    Paul himself said "what has happened to all your joy?"...Grace is free but he felt like he had to beg for it?...That's religious law-galistic Christianity right there...John Ellis doesn't know it, but even now, he is the voice of millions of believers, what they are thinking, he is saying...

    You see, that's the fruit of the law on a believer, its either robots or rebels and he has just become a rebel... and in the end its the church that loses out...


    Praise God, Grace is coming like a tidal wave, and people like John, who are sick and tired of the same-old-same-old (Charismaniac Churchianity) are going to be the first to catch it straight into the glory realm !! c

    Oh God is so Good!!"

    PS When i said "rebel" i mean someone who says "stuff this, i love Jesus but i cant deal with this C.R.A.P (Christian Rules And Principles) anymore ...

  17. Tough times. That journo was after sensationalism from the onset. Good to see you keeping strong. When okes don't have a common enemy they turn on each other. Now how exactly does one get your tracks from iTunes? It keeps chooning me that music is not available in SA. What's with that?

  18. hey john,
    i have been a huge fan of tree63 since the early days, bought the cd's, and went to every gig possible (including the last one in cape town last year where you forgot some of the lyrics and i was thinking, 'maybe this is a good time to call the band quits'). then i heard about 'the interview' and read it and i guess realized that forgetting the lyrics was possibly a symptom of something that you had been dealing with for a really long time.

    i wanna align with what nelmarie posted and figure out the 'for the first time in 38 years i am able to write' comment, cause i look at a song like 'a million lights' and it seems like inspired stuff you know. and if your comment is true, can you blame people for burning their cd's (btw i haven't and won't) because technically you're saying none of those songs are for real?


    ps good on you for wanting to have conversation and being real - i agree that the church is being corrupted by so many things and we have to make sure that we are not part of those things.

  19. Hi John,

    I hope that you are well. I'm can't say that I completely agree with you and I can't say that I completely disagree with you. There is a lot in Christianity that drives me crazy. The amount of manipulation of people is one of my big problems, but just recently I have just been studying the bible and have been trying to apply what I've learned.

    I believe that when you know the word and do it, then you are 100% free. I don't know where you are currently at with your beliefs, but I hope that you will see God as he truly is ~ He loves you and wants you to know Him on a deeper level.

    It's really pretty simple, we need to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we as so-called "Christians" start showing God's love to others instead of telling them how wrong they are the world will be a better place. It is not my job to condemn anyone and if you are truly trying to follow God then you will not be condemned by Him either. I think what you need to figure out is if you are truly following the word of God in your life. If you are, then great, but if not, then you need to re-align yourself with what scripture tells you to do.

    I understand being in depression and expressing things through that depression, but I hope that you do not throw away the truth of who God is and more importantly who you are in God. If the church would understand this concept in full we would be making a huge difference in the world.

    God bless you!


  20. It is still not clear why you have taken this new path. If I read between the lines I perhaps see intellectual doubts about Christianity?

    If that is so then you should check out some William Lane Craig debates and many more resources. I'll happily send you a free stack of books/DVD's because I've been down that road myself...

  21. Dear John. Am not at all surprised you had such a hard time here. When someone can show me a church not owned or run by the illuminate or church of satan, maybe I will take what is termed 'mainstream christianity' more seriously. My deep personal relationship with Jesus allows me access to the throneroom of the Most High (Yod Heh Vav Heh). That is where I find all life's answers and that is all people need to do. When we can truly stop looking at others and truly focus on the rock of our salvation, we will be truly set free. I couldn't give a crap about which theology degree is best, how enlightened people are, how authentic they are or any of that hogwash. I am sorry that your influence has been used in this way, but hey, we are all imperfect. I hope this stage of Goetia leads you into new Gnosis so that you can again reach a new, blow your mind state of Ginosko. All my love,

  22. If people didn't speak out the world would be a dull and boring place with no room for change and growth. Ironically, as important as change and growth are, everybody fears them and so they lash out at them. It's mostly fear and a lack of understanding. The one who takes the stand will always be the one to blame. And the ones responsible for the lack of understanding don't even need to speak out because they have enough people to speak out on their behalf so that they still look good! Jesus is all about compassion and understanding. He WELCOMES those who are outcasts. And yet it seems to be a part of human nature to do the complete opposite. We are our own worst enemies.

    Well done John, for daring to admit that there are problems that need to be addressed. I wish more people would put their fears aside and question instead of taking a few answers from a few select people, as God's unspoken truth.

  23. I think I found someone who sounds a lot like you. I first started listening to a CD a friend had in their car and I thought, "John Ellis is back singing Christian music?" After I looked at the cd I realized it wasnt you... Disappointed a little but he will make a good replacement... His name is Phil Wickham

  24. Miss you, loved the article and blog response.

  25. I want to set
    The story straight
    It's time to tell
    The truth

    I never could
    Have come so far
    If it were not
    For You

    You covered up my sin
    You covered up
    my silence
    You covered up my shame
    You made me new again

    [ Find more Lyrics on ]
    It's all
    because of

    They tell me to
    Abandon You
    To make my dreams
    Come true

    So what am I
    Supposed to do?
    I only dream
    Of You

    You covered up my sin
    You covered up
    my silence
    You covered up my shame
    I am new again

  26. Hi, John

    I hope you don't find me too presumptuous. I just skimmed this blog post, but for the first time I actually read "That article."

    I'm a Christian... In that I believe everything in the Nicene Creed. But I'm not a "blind faith" kind of guy. Never have been. The church often infuriates me, and other Christians with their "textbook" understanding of what it means to be Christian, infuriate me. There is far too much hypocrisy in the church, and among people who profess to be Christian.

    You, dear sir, are most definitely someone I would LOVE to sit down and have a few beers with, and a couple of hours of conversation with. Not to judge you, or to approach you with any preconceptions whatsoever; I would never do that. I was a huge fan of Tree63. I don't own your album but I've heard one or two of the singles on YouTube. They're really not bad. You seem like a complex, multidimensional human being, and if you ask me, Christians need more of those!

    So what do you say? How about a beer next time you're in Joburg? ;-)


  27. By far the most bizarre comment was the one addressing the WSAC - White South African Christians? Erm?!?

  28. The link to "the interview" seems to have died - but here's an alternative:

  29. Thanks John for your years on the U.S. CCM scene. You've provided many songs for us to enjoy. I enjoyed serving you as a liaison and running your merchandise booth at a concert in Kentucky about 10 years ago with my wife-to-be. I agree, much of what is considered Christianity is nothing but a moralistic social facade but those who profess to be the church aren't all the Church. I'd say that many of the professors in America are false converts and they'll fall away too when tragedy, persecution, disillusionment, etc. come there way. The god they worship is an idol and will not deliver what their lost hearts desire. May the Lord grant you much grace...
    In His Matchless Grace, Jeremy (KY, USA)

  30. Ok, so been reading through all the comments. One question remains, are you a follower of Jesus Christ or not? in the end it really doesn't matter what the people around you do or what they say, or the poison that they throw at you or the slander they dish out at you or the encouragement they give you even. What matters is that you know whether God exists or not, do you believe in Him, forget the people who claim to be Christians, I could claim I am a Muslim and that means nothing, because I am not. Do you know the voice of the one true God who sent His only son to die in your place and that he is the only way to the Father? In the end the people will return to dust and the haters will be no more and the hypocrites will die. I ask a question that was once asked me "are you allowing people to destroy your view of who God really is?". Are you pursuing Jesus Christ or are you not sure because of what you have seen or heard from mere selfish people?

  31. Hi John. Dunno if you still monitor this or not but hey I was looking for new albums by Tree 63 and then read some stuff and came to realization that the band is no more and then read the article and your response. I see nothing wrong with you questioning all the stuff that goes on in the Name of Christ and all the hypocrisy that is to be found in your own and other peoples' lives. I have been a Christian now for 30 years and I have NEVER believed that God wants us to EVER disengage our minds. Yet why did we become Christians in the first place ? I know for me it was the call of love from a Man on a cross which transcended all else and my acceptance was child-like yet as real as anything I have experienced in my life and yes it has changed the whole course of my life. It changed yours too and don't forget that. I can see how success can actually be harder to deal with than mediocrity of achievement and you my friend achieved a high level of success. Did you forget how it all started and what it first meant to you ? Perhaps the falseness that you encountered in your travels somehow caused you to forget how your life in Christ started - 'that day you first believed' It happens to all of us to a lesser or greater degree at sometime in our Walk I believe. The only advise that I can give you that rings true is this: Abandon all else if you choose John - but don't abandon Jesus - don't throw Him away. Keep Him close to your heart and I really do believe that whatever you go thru He will never let go of your hand.