Who’s afraid of Derek Webb? (part 1)

webb.jpgI just returned home from a Derek Webb concert.

Derek’s venue was the Gypsy Tea Room near downtown Dallas in the area known by locals as Deep Ellum. Deep Ellum used to be the hip part of town, the place where all the young urban twenty-somethings would descend every weekend for dining, music, and club hopping. This once very popular center has declined over the past several years as most of the nightlife has moved to the new and trendy “uptown” area.

If you have ever been to a Christian concert, you might have been surprised by this one. When I saw and heard the Marilyn Manson style death-metal band screeching in the room adjacent to Derek’s, I knew this particular outing was not going to be your standard Point-of-Grace-at-Prestonwood kind of a thing. The Gypsy Tea Room is a decidedly non-religious venue. Nevertheless, this is actually the second Christian concert that I’ve been to there.

I went to the concert with the expectation of hearing Derek talk a lot. If you have been to any of his shows in recent years, you know he talks a lot—maybe even more than he sings. But at this show, he sang most of the time, which was a good thing. He took requests from the audience at the beginning of the show for about 30 minutes, then after a five-minute break, he and his wife Sandra McCracken played through the new album from start to finish without stopping.

I can affirm again what I have said before on this blog. Derek is an amazing musician and songwriter. His performance was outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire show.

But, as I have also pointed out before on this blog, this latest album “Mockingbird” leaves me with a lot of questions. On the album, it is clear that he is identifying himself with political views at the left end of the spectrum. He sings songs affirming pacifism and opposing the death penalty. In the song “My Enemies Are Men Like Me,” one even detects a possible protest against the Iraq War.

Here are my questions. What is the message that Derek is trying to get across? Is it purely a political message, or is Derek trying to say something about the kingdom of God? Or both? What can be said about the theology underlying the message?

In two posts over the next two days, I will make a go at answering those questions.

(In case you were wondering, the title of this piece is just a play on the words “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”)

14 Responses to Who’s afraid of Derek Webb? (part 1)

  1. scott zeller April 6, 2006 at 12:32 pm #

    I don’t know that Webb has taken a turn politically as much as he has just started to talk about his politics. I think Mockingbird follows in the vein of what we heard in “I Repent”, “T-Shirts”, and “Reputation” from his last album.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Derek’s message.

    SEZ

  2. Denny Burk April 6, 2006 at 12:54 pm #

    Scott,

    You might be right. I revised the post in light of your comment. Thanks for reading.

    Sincerely,
    Denny

  3. Brett April 6, 2006 at 1:38 pm #

    Did you get a chance to ask Derek? He loves to hang out and talk, especially with guys he perceives to know some theology. You would definitely fit the bill. Have you thought about contacting him to interview him for your blog or *gasp* Criswell Theological Journal? If Brian McLaren, then why not Derek Webb?? I dare say Derek is less “dangerous.”

    Looking forward to your posts.

  4. Denny Burk April 6, 2006 at 2:40 pm #

    Brett,

    No, I didn’t get to talk to him. I’m hoping to get an interview with him next for a radio show that I sometimes co-host here in Dallas.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  5. Warren Dodson April 6, 2006 at 3:27 pm #

    I am working through these questions myself, but I am not sure what one’s theology must be to believe that man’s greatest need is not democracy or to believe that non-imminent threats satisfy the requirements for just war.

  6. Denny Burk April 6, 2006 at 4:34 pm #

    Warren,

    Thanks for the comments.

    There’s nothing distinctly “liberal” in saying that man’s greatest need is not democracy. Hopefully, all Christians can affirm that whether conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican.

    I may be reading the lyrics wrong, but I think Derek is advocating a pacifist position. Here are the lyrics I’m thinking of, “peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication.” The way I read this, war is always wrong just as fornication is always wrong. That means that he’s not even open to the possibility that there is such a thing as a just war.

    Thanks again for looking at my site.

    Sincerely,
    Denny Burk

  7. Warren Dodson April 6, 2006 at 5:03 pm #

    Denny,

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess the immediate answer is for me to become more familiar with Derek Webb. I agree that those lyrics seem to state a more sweeping position than is required to question recent policy decisions. Of course, it might depend upon whether he means “peace by way of war” to refer to a party platform or a limited situational tactic. Peace may at times require war, but war is not our primary method of seeking peace.

    Thanks,
    Warren

  8. Bruno W April 6, 2006 at 9:11 pm #

    I read the lyrics a little differently. It seems that Webb is saying peace can’t come by the means of war. I don’t think Webb is making a statement about wars morality, but a statement about wars effectiveness. I would agree with that. The cessation of violent conflict can come by way of war, but that’s not peace. Peace comes by way of the Prince of Peace.

  9. Anonymous April 6, 2006 at 9:41 pm #

    Mr. Burk,
    As I hear Derek Webb’s music (I own his 3 solo albums), I must say that I am a little disappointed to that his intention (as I understand it) is either being misunderstood, or not accepted. When I listen to what Derek is saying, his message is very clear. Christianity in the West isn’t Christianity at all.
    Let us take for one moment the concept of pacifism. I would like someone to show me one martyr, post-resurrection, before the Dark Ages or 476 A.D., who would have chosen to pick up the sword and advance the gospel through war. Not even the Armenians of Asia, the Albingenes and Waldenses of the Alps and Piedmont, the Huguenots of France, or even the Ethiopian Kingdom of Africa, would go to war for the promulgation of the Gospel. I say this this way because if we as Western Christians are very honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that the vast body of Evangelicals here and abroad view this war as “the” means through which the gospel is to enter and “conquer” the false religions of the 10/40 window, particularly the Middle East. We all have our eyes set on Jerusalem, and want to see it restored, and if we are honest with ourselves, evangelicals will admit that since the certain of the Israeli state all evangelicals has been pushing for it, to fulfill prophecy.
    The problem with this approach (and there are numerous problems with the entire scenario that I just described) is that it uses war as a means of Gospel promulgation. Jesus never used such means, even speaking against such things in John 18:36. Never did the apostle advocate such things. Paul actually did the exact opposite after his conversion. Prior to the Damascus road Experience, Saul was a genocidal maniac, determine to use force to bring the Christians under the rule of the Jewish Law. After the Damascus Road Experience, Paul himself was abused numerous times, accepting it all, and changing the face of the world through his suffering for Jesus.
    I don’t see or even hear many evangelical preachers preaching this type of Christianity. We all seem to have jumped on the popular Christian cultural bandwagon of peace at ay cost, so long as we are not affected.
    Derek Webb brings a fresh look at Christianity. His perspective is definitely that of the Pilgrim or sojourner, like David in Psalm 39:12. I would dare say that most of us aren’t looking for that land-to-come, we believe that it is our job to make that Kingdom an earthly reality here and now. However that is not what the Bible teaches. It teaches a New Heaven, a New Earth, as well as a New Jerusalem. It is there, and then that the earthly reign of God is to be manifested to us (Revelation 21-22). How we have been duped into believing otherwise is beyond me.
    Derek Webb also appears to be reminding us that Christianity is sacrifice first (here and now), sovereignty (there and then) second. Self-sacrifice is the requirement of every true believer (Romans 12:1-2). Even in that text not being conformed to the world is stated, which easily can be applied to the world’s methods of conversion (one of which is the sword). Self-sacrifice in the here and now, loving God so much that you will demonstrate it with you entire life is 100% Biblical. This includes demonstrating in poverty, hardship, oppression, abuse, hunger, and if needs be death (Psalm 116:15)
    Most of us are unwilling to even consider such a sacrifice. We want sovereignty (there and then) now, sacrifice (here and now) never. This is not true Christianity. It is Anti-Christian. Any student of history will discover that when the church was truly Christian it was persecuted (before the conversion of Constantine 313 A.D.) After the civil authority supported the church, the church back the civil in whatever the civil did to bring about “peace”. Soon after that the church became the persecuting power, directing the civil authority.
    It appears as if we evangelicals have forgotten the church’s past, if we now have problems with Derek Webb, whose view are reminiscent of pacifism. Again I appeal to Jesus. Had he wanted to, he could have brought about the War of the Worlds in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he chose not to. He chose to endure hardship and sacrifice now, and to postpone his sovereignty until later.
    I suggest that too many of us evangelicals are not interested in preparing to go with Jesus, therefore the idea of sacrifice is obnoxious. Letting the love of Jesus shine through me to my enemy, to the point of my pain and suffering, is not what we are being taught. Most western Christians wouldn’t even be known as Christian when standing next to our 3rd world brethren, if it were based on aggressive versus pacifism. Yet it is just what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
    Derek Webb’s music is a beautifully refreshing, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying, clarion call to all of Christendom to return to the true roots of Christianity, and that is Christ-like sacrifice (in the here and no) for the glory of God.
    Forgive the length of this, also any typos.
    Respectfully,
    Jason O’Rourke
    trillip@hotmail.com

  10. Denny Burk April 6, 2006 at 10:48 pm #

    Jason,

    Thank you for reading my blog and for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you. Christians should never take up arms and kill others for the sake of the Gospel. We may be called to die for the Gospel, but we will never kill for it.

    There are many evangelical preachers who would agree with what I just wrote. John Piper is just one example, but I could name many. On the other hand, I can’t imagine what evangelical leaders you are talking about who would support spreading the Gospel through war. If you can cite some examples, I’d be interested to know.

    So we can agree that Christians should never use war to promulgate the Gospel. But that’s not the same thing as saying that there is no such thing as a just war. Ever since Augustine, there has been a thoroughgoing tradition of Just War theory within Christianity.

    The Iraq War was not and never has been justified as a Crusade to spread Christianity. The case made for the war was a political one, not a religious one.

    Thanks again,
    Denny Burk

  11. Michael April 7, 2006 at 9:53 pm #

    Dr. Burk,

    The way I hear Webb, he would challenge the very distinction you are making between politics and religion. The Church is its own polis, no private-public distinction.

    I’m not personally convinced of the non-violent resistance position, but I do think it is an honarable, Christian position. As a Baptist, I count it as part of my tradition.

  12. Wade Prunty April 9, 2006 at 9:35 pm #

    To us, the war on terrorism (I presume that everyone realizes that this is what we are talking about) is about protecting our self by freeing others through democracy. To the Islamic nation, it is about their crusade to destroy its long time enemy, Judaism and Judaism’s supporter Christianity. I do not believe and have not seen anything that would convince me otherwise that America is fighting this war for the spread of the Gospel. However, getting past our perception of reality, I do believe that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” What I am saying here is that I believe that there is a lot going on here that is more than meets the eye. Like, when the demonic religion of Islam speaks about their hatred for the freedoms we have, that they’re not really talking about America’s freedom as a nation but our freedom in Jesus Christ. They can see that we are slipping off our foundation and they understand that this is the perfect time to strike their blow. As Derek Webb said this past Tuesday, “We certainly don’t condone drunkenness, but we do drinking”, I certainly don’t condone the spread of Christianity by way of war, but I’ll take this door that has been opened and try to use it, as best as it can be, for that which is good.

    Fact: “Before the war on Terrorism, there were no believers in Afghanistan, a nation of about 27 Million people. Today there are about 5600 believers with missionaries constantly moving in.” – Fred Markert, International Director of YWAM Strategic Frontiers

    – I realize that the above quote from Derek Webb might be out of context, I’m just really having a problem with it right now.

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  1. Denny Burk » Who’s afraid of Derek Webb? (part 3) - May 29, 2007

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  2. Denny Burk » Who’s afraid of Derek Webb? (part 2) - May 29, 2007

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