Culture,  Music,  Politics,  Theology/Bible

Who’s afraid of Derek Webb? (part 3)

(Click here for Part 1) (Part 2)

As I said in part 2, there is much to commend on Derek’s new album, “Mockingbird.” But as I also indicated there, I will now address some items that I think are not so good.

First, pacifism plays a big part on this album. That Derek embraces pacifism as the only Christian alternative comes through loud and clear in the song “My Enemies Are Men Like Me.” I don’t know how else to understand the following lines except as condemnation of anyone who might argue for the possibility of a just war:

    peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication
    it’s like telling someone murder is wrong
    and then showing them by way of execution

It seems clear to me that he is saying that just as fornication is always immoral so also war and the death penalty are always immoral. He didn’t expand upon this theme at the concert last week, but he did in a recent interview he did with Donald Miller. In that interview, he said that killing another person is not one of the “resources” that he has as a Christian (click here to listen to the interview).

I am not going to argue that pacifism is a position that is completely out of bounds for a Christian. But I am going to say that one cannot simply dismiss centuries of Christians from throughout the worldwide church who have read their Bibles and have found there a basis for the idea of a just war. Many of those same Christians have also found in their Bibles the right of civil governments to use the power of the sword for the good of society.

These are not new-fangled ideas that have been foisted upon the church by George Bush and the Republican Party. From Augustine forward, there has been a robust just-war tradition within the church. This is not to say that all wars are therefore justified or that all wars started by Christians are justified. It’s just to say that the Bible has much more to say on this topic than one might think from listening to “Mockingbird.” And it won’t do to say that Christians who support the idea of a just-war don’t take the Bibles very seriously (as is implied in the aforementioned interview). Anyone who has ever read Augustine knows better than that.

At the end of the day, we all have to deal with the fact that the Jesus who said “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) is the same Jesus who commended a Roman soldier’s faith as the greatest he’d seen (Luke 7:9).

Second, Derek takes a swipe at Christians who act as if being a Christian also entails being a Republican. Here are the money lines from “A King and a Kingdom”:

    there are two great lies that i’ve heard:
    “the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
    and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
    and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

Like I said in my previous post. I agree with Derek that anyone who would suggest such a thing as described in these lines does not understand Jesus or what it means to be a Christian. Unfortunately, I fear there are far too many evangelicals who have sold out their Christian mission for a political crusade, and that is a tragedy.

But even on this issue, I think more needs to be said. Many Christians rightly view the killing of 40 million innocent children within the borders of our own country as the most important moral issue of our time. Those Christians also believe that it is their duty to stand for justice for the unborn (Proverbs 24:11-12). If the unborn don’t number among those “orphans” we are supposed to protect (James 1:27), then no one does (see John Piper’s exposition of this text).

The political realities in the United States right now are this. No Democrat running on a national ticket is allowed to be pro-life. No Republican running on a national ticket is allowed to be pro-choice. If you are a single-issue voter (in the John Piper sense), then who else is a Christian to vote for in national elections? As far as I’m concerned at the national level for now, the Democrats are disqualified. That doesn’t mean I’m a partisan. It just means that I am outraged by the injustice of abortion.

In part one, I said that the title of this series was a play on “Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” Do I think Derek is the Big Bad Wolf? No, not at all. If I thought he was the Big Bad Wolf, then I wouldn’t have been listening to his new album non-stop since I bought it last week. As best I can tell, Derek is wrestling with the Bible and the radical claims King Jesus makes on all our lives. He’s challenging believers to lay down some cherished idols, and I for one am happy to receive that word. Even if we don’t agree on everything and even though I don’t know him personally, I count him as a dear brother. I hope you will too as you buy and listen to “Mockingbird.”


  • justin

    I was glad I stumbled on to this blog you ask some good questions. I a, a great fan of Webb’s music. I really and truly fell in love with Mockingbird once I bought it. I think Derek falls into the stream of other great folk artists who have made me (and I am sure others think, Dylan, Cash, etc.) I do also have to admit that my favorite song on the album is “My Enemies are Men Like Me”. I am not a full blown pacifist, I still think the death penalty is a biblical “authority” given to the state, but often it is abused. Another one of my favorite songs is “A New Law”, and a good line from that is “Dont’ teach me about government and politics, just tell me who to vote for.”

    I agree with most of what you have said in the past three posts. I do wish some evangelicals I know would listen to some of these songs, at least to make them think and turn to the Scriptures to really examine their beliefs about politics, love, war, death penalty, missions, the poor, and many other things Webb covers in “Mockingbird”.

    You done some excellent reviewing, I highly commend you.

  • revnace

    Thanks for taking the time to communicate your struggles with these areas. I am personally wrestling with one line voting. There are so many issues that I believe that God would have Christians take a stand, it is difficult to choose one and throw out all other important issues. Just because someone says they are prochoice, am I going to look away from “everything” else they stand for on their platform? One item voting (here abortion) seems to lead me to that problem.

  • Denny Burk


    Thanks for the comments. If you get a chance, you should read the John Piper article on one-issue politics that I referred to above.

    I don’t think that being right on any one issue qualifies a candidate for my vote. I’m simply saying that being wrong on an issue like abortion can disqualify a candidate from my vote.


  • Gray

    Denny, that’s a great distinction. Sadly those who disagree don’t seem to understand that at all.

    It’s not about one-issue voting…though all of us have issues that are more important to us than others. (Complaints about “one-issue voters” are usually backhanded attempts to criticize those who generally vote Republican.)

    It’s about one-issue disqualifying people from getting votes, not about one-issue getting me to vote for someone else. Though, if it comes down to a guy who I agree with his environmental and economic policy, but he is pro-abortion…you better believe abortion trumps those other 2…and my Bachelors degree is in Economics.

    Thanks for your words, Denny.

  • Bruno W

    Denny, thanks for the comments. They are reasoned carefully. A couple of things.

    1. I see a difference between acknowledging God’s use of nations and a citizen of the Kingdom’s participation with it. A nation doesn’t have to be righteous in anyway to execute God’s justice; Habakkuk knew that all too well. So, at least my struggle, isn’t so much with the acknowledgement of a just war, for God is just and brings about what is right, but what should my involvement be with a nation bringing about the sword. From my perspective, I am to have no enemies and those who see me as their enemy, I’m to die for rather than kill. Even my passionate pursuit of justice for others, Christ is at the expense of my life… he doesn’t make reference to the offenders life.

    2. Concerning abortion and one-issue voting, I think it is worth saying that quantifying sin is difficult. Dwight Perry had a mini-debate with Piper at the BCP several years ago where he argued that racism was certainly as tragic as abortion. A memorable quote from Perry was, “No body cared about black women aborting black babies in an alley. Abortion became a problem when white women started aborting white babies.”

    I think I can easily argue that Christian should be convicted not to vote for any political party based on party positions.

  • Michael

    Dr. Burk,

    The difficulty I have with refusing to vote for someone because of one issue (like abortion) is that I end up not voting for anyone. I’m sympathetic with your refusal to vote for anyone that doesn’t seek to end abortion. But as Bruno said, there are numerous issues of similiar importance to abortion, issues that Republicans tend to ignore.

    So until one of the partys change, I’m with Mark Noll and will continue to vote “None of the above.”

  • Luke

    I think that the assumption by many on the evangelical left is that anyone who favors a more conservative political philosophy (smaller government, supply-side economics, strong national defense, conservative social values) has somehow not really thought through the issues.

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