An Interview with Derek Webb

I guess I’ve written so much on this blog about Derek Webb that folks feel the need to alert me whenever they hear about him in the news. I’m grateful that they do. A reader recently alerted me to an interview that Derek gave to a Canadian radio host named Drew Marshall. You can download it here or listen to it below.

[audio:http://drewmarshall.ca/audio/100626derekwebb.mp3]

As you might expect, this interview includes material about Derek’s controversial song “What Matters More” and his recent tour with Jennifer Knapp. Up until this point, Derek has been (at best) unclear about his views on the moral status of homosexuality. This interview isn’t much better, but he does make a statement that I haven’t heard him say before. He says that he believes Jennifer Knapp to be a “Christian person.”

“Christian person” might have been interpreted merely as a way of saying that she claims to be a Christian. If that were the case, then there would be no news here. But I don’t think that interpretation is a valid one. Derek explains that “she does believe in and have a relationship with Jesus Christ.” Additionally, Derek argues at length that the term “Christian” can only be applied to people. People are either Christian or else they aren’t. Music can’t be “Christian,” but people can be. It seems like Derek is defining a “Christian” as one who is a disciple. If this interpretation is correct, is he then saying that an unrepentant homosexual can be a disciple of Jesus? At best, he’s being unclear again. At worst, he’s adopted an unbiblical and unchristian view of human sexuality.

My hope is that underneath it all he’s still orthodox and that he is simply multiplying ambiguities in order to be provocative. Although I believe that approach to be singularly unhelpful, I think that would be much better than the alternative interpretation of his continued lack of clarity. Better to be unwise than unorthodox.

Why do I keep coming back to this issue? I’ll mention a couple of reasons. First, it doesn’t advance the Great Commission nor does it help sinners to tell them that they need not repent of their sin to follow Jesus. In fact, to do so is to lead them away from Jesus, not toward him (1 John 1:8). We must not let people think that Jesus’ lordship over their sexuality is an optional add-on to their Christian commitment. It is not, and we condemn people if we lead them to believe that it is (Matthew 7:21-23).

Second, more and more the issue of homosexuality is becoming a litmus test for the functional authority of the Bible. On the issue of sexuality, the spirit of the age is standing foursquare against what the Bible teaches. There is tremendous pressure for Christians to surrender Jesus’ teaching on this point in order to accommodate what the spirit of the age is pushing for. So this question is testing believers, and this particular test has a way of showing what one’s commitments are.

I think we all need to be wary of the idea that clarity on the Bible’s moral claims is somehow at odds with compassion for sinners. Christians should be able to state plainly what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, divorce, gluttony, covetousness, and a host of other moral ills. Clarity on these points need not in any way undermine our love and gospel-concern for such sinners. This is how Jesus loved, and His disciples should do no less.

25 Responses to An Interview with Derek Webb

  1. Nathan July 7, 2010 at 4:19 am #

    Why is the Christian’s responsibility end at repeating what the Bible says? Homosexuality is a many-layered thing. To just say that it is a sin isn’t enough.

    I believe that there is a lot of teaching about homosexuality that goes untaught within the church. Also, there is a lot of teaching about homosexuality, gender identity, etc that is false within the church (I am **NOT** saying that teaching that it is a sin is wrong.)

  2. Denny Burk July 7, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    Nathan,

    The Christian’s responsibility does not “end at repeating what the Bible says,” but I do believe that it starts there. Christians have a responsibility to love one another, which includes struggling with each other as we try to conquer besetting sins (whatever they may be). That struggle must begin with confession (1 John 1:8-9), but confession is impossible where moral ambiguity reigns.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  3. Tom July 7, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Such a tough issue and I feel for Derek because he has a genuine friendship with a homosexual person. As such, he needs a lot of wisdom in dealing with this.

    I am not in disagreement with you, Denny, that there is a lot of pressure on us concerning this issue. You’re absolutely right.

    That said, this is NOT a matter of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, last I checked, has to do with adherence to the official creeds of church history. And as far as I know, homosexuality is not a violation of one of those creeds.

    Unbibilical? Sure
    Sinful? Sure
    Unorthodox? No. Wrong question.

    But, then, you’re Baptist, so I guess you may define Orthodox differently since you folks don’t care much for creeds….even though you have one! 🙂

  4. Denny Burk July 7, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Tom,

    It’s orthodox with a little “o” not a capital “O.” Or if you please, meaning number 1, not meaning number 5.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  5. Jono July 7, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    I listened to the interview last week… here’s what i think:

    Denny’s reading quite a bit into the interview, BUT, if I had to speculate, I think he’s correct in his assuming Derek believes (to what degree I’m not certain, I’d lean toward “hopes”) that Jennifer is a believer.

    Many of the interviews she has done over the past 2 years have concerned me in regards to her understanding of Christianity… But Derek knows her, so I won’t speculate further than these “concerns”. I’ll hope that she has Christian community around her (ie: the Webbs) to convict her where needed and encourage her where needed. Sin is bad… the community of believers is responsible for pointing that out in a manner that leads to edifying man and glorifying God.

    I think right now, Derek is more concerned with rebuking our westernized, hypocritical, pride-filled church for “trading sins for others that are easier to hide”, than he is commenting on the salvation of Jennifer Knapp…at least publicly.

    He’s walking a scary line in my opinion, but then so did Jesus on frequent occasion…

    I don’t know if he’ll slip up… My guess is that he will, because he’s so passionate, but I also guess he’ll repent if he does…

    To my knowledge, Derek has a great community of believers around him at his church, a strong believing wife, and men he looks up to that are nails on their theology. This to me is essential when walking thin lines such as this.

  6. Nathan July 7, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Denny, confession of homosexuality is next to impossible in today’s church climate (although it is getting better).

    I think that every time that you say that we need to stand on the Word and declare homosexuality is a sin, you should also say something about creating and maintaining a church environment/climate that is conducive to healing and growth. The church has a lot of problems with this particular sin — historically, it has been a mess. No?

    It would get better faster if leaders like you would teach that there is a problem, what that means to both sides and how to fix it.

  7. Kelly July 7, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Rev. Burke, what you call the spirit of the age, is seen by many other Christians as good scholarship, and faithful exegesis. Many Biblical scholars, seminary professors, pastors, theologians, etc. who hold positions contrary to your own on the sinfulness of same gender relationships, REALLY did not like the conclusions that their studies lead them to. They were not looking for an “out”…but rather found a conclusion that they were uncomfortable with.

    To imply that having a position that loving, committed same gender relationships is reached ‘following the spirit of the age’ is not fair. Those who hold to it often do so at great cost (career, professional, etc.) but do so because they think it is right. Disagree with them if you will, but you do them a disservice when you imply these Christian scholars and pastors have just become welcoming of gay people and their committed relationships to go alone with the culture in general. Speaking from personal experience, this is seldom if ever the case.

    Thank you.

  8. Tom July 7, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Well…there you go. I should’ve read your lower-case letter more carefully. Still not convinced it’s the best word to use in this situation, but I am at least more than happy to admit that you were correct in your usage. Sorry about that.

    And I hope I didn’t come off as snide…as you don’t know me, and the blog medium can be a tough one for communicating intent.

  9. ian July 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    didn’t Jesus tell us to go and learn what it means to desire mercy and not sacrifice…. why do we endlessly present the sin befor we present love. why do we teach people what “to do” rather than to seek a relationship with the only one who can fully love them, the only that can tear us to pieces and then bind our wounds. why are we trying to tear people’s ideas of what love is rather than building on what they know? why arn’t we meeting them where they are are rather that telling them to come meet us? seems to me we’ve just got a bag full of stones to throw.

  10. ian July 7, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    if you truely loved people as yourself you would not be handling yourself and this “topic” or “group” in this way. it seems to me like maybe you are praying for God to reviele his will to you, all the while forgetting that he told you to love the person as you would want to be loved. you can’t love someone you don’t know, you can only lust after them… and i think that objectifying them and lusting after them is a sin… right?

  11. Derek July 7, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    When you wipe away all the smoke screens and relentless parade of non sequiturs from people like Kelly (post #8), what you’re left with is what Christ said in Revelation 2:14. Why? Because while it may not be Derek or Kelly’s specific intent to excuse or minimize sexual sin, that is in fact the practical effect of what they are doing. And it will not be lightly regarded by Christ on the day of final scrutiny, just as it did not pass muster in Rev 2.

  12. Darius July 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Ian, Denny is dealing specifically with homosexuality WITHIN the Church. The Bible tells us to throw out false teachers. It would be different if Derek Webb and Knapp weren’t professing to be Christians. In that case we would let them know that there is freedom to be had in Christ from all sin, sexual and otherwise.

  13. MRS July 7, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    I’ve come down hard on Derek in this space before, but I’m not going to say Knapp isn’t a Christian, either. That’s a step too far.

  14. Kelly July 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Derek, my points on the way that many theologians came to an understanding of scripture that calls for an acceptance of loving and committed same gender relationships, and not always liking the conclusions they came to when they approached the topic with higher standards than lowly literalism, stand.

    Rev Burke was wrong, no doubt unintentionally, to imply that such positions are taken to appease “the spirit of the age”, as many Christians, straight and gay, who could avoid the slings and arrows of conservatives by being silent and not standing for what they belive God calls them to do, can tell you.

    Derek, I have no interest in excusing or minimizing sin. I am interested in expressing what teachers and scholars who are far more educated and scholarly (and usually, in my experience, kinder and more gracious to those they disagree with) than the conservatives who taught me as a child and young adult (a time in my life when you and I would have been in agreement about most things I think). In short, that some things we thought were sins in the past, are not. Just as some things we thought were allowable (and had Biblical passages to back that up, verse, line and sinker) are now seen as sins.

    It’s not a smoke screen, nor non sequiturs, it was just me, as a former conservative, trying to do the same thing I am so thankful someone did for me…remove the blinders from eyes that mistakenly think they understand those that they disagree with….but whom it is obvious they do not understand AT ALL.

    I should add, in fairness, a lot of people on the left, having been so beaten up by religious fundamentalists, have a lot of blinders also, and see no value whatsoever in the conservative denominations and their positions. When I can, I try to expose them to ideas of value on the right they have never had to think of. Not understanding, and giving due respect, to Christians one does not agree with serves no purpose and offers no value whatsoever. Except to the enemy of us all.

    Thanks.

  15. Derek July 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Kelly,
    Even if I were to agree with your conclusions (obviously I do not, though I respect your right to come to your own), you don’t have to convince me, you have to convince Christ, who will probably not judge your words out of personal animus, but out of their faulty framework.

    The passage in Revelation 2:14 is interesting to me because apparently, there were very clever and intelligent teachers who were quite good at persuading people that certain sexual sins were permissible. So I do not doubt for one minute that the teachers and intellectuals you speak of are persuasive on some level.

    We have heard from others (right here on this blog) that float this idea that monogamous same sex relationships are blessed in God’s sight, but I’ve never heard any arguments from this quarter that are compelling; and certainly no smoking gun that would invalidate specific and consistent warnings about sexual practices that take place outside the confines of marriage between a man and woman.

    That said, normally we hear less about how they/you actually derive this from Scripture or about the merits of their own views and more about the failings and shortcomings of conservative Christians. This is what I mean about the steady stream of non sequiturs. I also think it is a diversionary tactic to do what Nathan has consistently done – that is, to make blanket statements about Christendom and to infer from his own personal anecdotes that Christians are too immature and judgmental to speak on this topic. These kinds of arguments are just not persuasive because they don’t address the real question of what the Bible has to say on sexuality and gender and homosexuality.

  16. Nathan July 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Derek,

    I agree with you on what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. Now what should the church do about the issue?

    I don’t remember saying that Christians are too immature and judgmental to speak on the topic. I have consistently said that if a Christian stops his message on what the homosexual needs to do, then the message does not completely address all sides of the issue. You may think that the message is complete because you’ve spoken the Gospel from beginning to end, but what about living the other parts of the Bible?

    I see two sources for stumbling blocks. One is from those that teach something more permissive than what God wants. The other comes from those that set man-made, extra-biblical hurdles for men go through. It’s a cultural thing that you won’t easily see unless you are on the losing end. These things are stumbling blocks in that they are a systematic rejection of a group of people to the point where those people find it easy to move on to the permissive side.

    These conclusions are not only from my own personal experiences. I’ve talked with scores of people from across this country and a couple of other countries whose experiences are almost identical to mine. I really think the church has a lot of difficulty in dealing with people who aren’t on a normal path. The attrition churches have seen of those on those paths is proof enough for me that there is a problem.

  17. Tim July 9, 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Kelly –

    I’d like to know what scholars you are speaking of that searched the Scriptures and found the Scriptures accepting of homosexual relationships. I am pretty tapped into the academic culture (liberal and conservative) and am not aware of any examples.

    One example I would share with you is Walter Wink, who used to argue that Scripture allowed homosexual relationships, but now admits that Scripture is actually against homosexual relationships. However, that did not change his position. Instead, he now argues that we just are more advanced morally than the writers of Scripture which is why we can accept homosexuality and they could not.

    That attitude I believe is what Denny is referring to when he says that acceptance of homosexuality is ‘the spirit of this age.’ The church had had one position on this issue for 2,000 years. Now that our culture celebrates homosexuality, we suddenly find our BIbles do not condemn homosexual relationships? Either Christians were just that bad of exegetes for 2,000 years or something has changed which has made us want the Bible to read a certain way…

  18. DL July 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    I think that someone like Knapp could be a Christian and could have slipped/ backslided into sin. People backslide all the time. However, with homosexuality, the church is very definite with its incompatibility with church membership. Therefore, it gets called out a lot quicker and people are excommunicated quicker (or like Knapp, they excommunicate themselves to avoid the process).

    Even though Knapp is probably a backslidden Christian, the Bible tells us that we should treat such as non-believers, meaning that we should evangelize them and not give them the false confidence of fellowship with the body.

  19. ian July 14, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    hey Darius. i know that he is talking specifically about people who call themselves christians. If you truely love people, even the ones in the church, you would not treat them in this way. I am not aruguing homosexuality, only that you are “sinning” in treating another in this way. A shepher tends his sheep. He doesn’t fence or block them out. He looks for the lost one and brings it back. He doesn’t yell to the heard that another sheep is bad, but he cares for the one that is “bad.”

  20. ian July 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    you also have to be careful about saying who is and who is not a christian. If you love Jesus, you will keep his cammands… at least thats what he said.

  21. DL July 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    Ian, sure. If someone says they are and they have demonstrated that faith, then we are bound to believe them.

    If they then ‘backslide,’ we should not whip out Heb 6 and say, ah ha! You were never a Christian to begin with! Even though they have not renounced the faith or denied Christ.

    The world, sin, and the flesh are powerfully deceptive. Not one of us keeps Jesus’s commandments perfectly. She has stated that she doesn’t believe it is sin. So we must pray, if she is in fact a Christian (which she most likely is, IMO), that the Holy Spirit convicts her of her sin and that she repents and returns to communion.

  22. josh July 23, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    Denny (and Jono),

    I agree that Webb is walking a fine line. And this is what I have always loved about his stlye…(that is his painfully obvious critique of gross misreprestnations of Jesus).

    I have been very blessed by his work. But it is harder to support him when I know he isn’t confronting Knapp (avoiding the answer = not confronting). And then you get into all the other artists that seem to support him. What do we do with all them? Isn’t over looking the sin, or pretending it isn’t real, sin itself. I know that in my community if a brother or sister is in sin, we confront them. And if they do not hear we take another…and so on.

    All I know is that it is more difficult to listen to Webb now. And this pains my soul.

    I will appretiate your thoughts.

    His,
    josh

  23. david August 30, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    you know, it’s funny how “the church” can be some of the most rude, arrogant, racist, pride-ful, hate-ful, un-welcoming, un-loving, judge-mental people with such un-Godly like behavior i’ve ever seen. people claim to be good “Christians”; however, do not follow some basic commands Jesus gave; such as, “love they neighbor as theyself”, “even so as you do unto others, you do unto me”, “let he who is WITHOUT sin(no one is), cast the first stone”, “for ALL(that means EVERYONE) have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, “humble yourself so that you shall be exalted, DO NOT exalt yourself that you will have to be humbled”, “DO NOT judge others, lest you be judged yourself” ..READ YOUR BIBLE CAREFULLY and don’t forget to look in the mirror at the sinner staring back at you…why do you put so much emphasis on what Derek says about homosexuality? is he God? Jesus?…didn’t you say God already spoke on this issue?? so why condemn Derek because he will not judge others and speak, as these Christians do, as if he is THE JUDGE(God), THE RULER(God), THE SAVIOR(Jesus) of GOD’S PEOPLE(again, that’s EVERYONE)?????

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