Sunday, July 19, 2009
The "controversial" Derek Webb
Derek Webb is a Christian musician who used to sing lead vocals with Caedmon's Call back in the 90's until 2003, when he left to pursue a solo career. It's since then that he has gotten the label of "controversial", since his lyrics have included what some consider to be mild profanity and have also touched on political/social issues in a confrontational way. What is it about Derek Webb that makes him so controversial? Is it just the "strong" language that he occasionally uses in his songs? Is it the hot button issues that he tackles in his songs? Well, the answer to these questions is yes, and more. Derek has written what I consider to be the most theologically mature lyrics in Christian music in recent years. There are others who also write theologically accurate lyrics, to be sure, such as Michael Card and Fernando Ortega. But Derek takes these theological insights and lets them loose on politics and culture. It's in this that he's gotten himself in trouble. You see, Derek Webb is speaking with what is sometimes called the "prophetic voice", a voice that is never popular, because it speaks to the idolatries of God's community, the church. Whether it's Wedding Dress calling us whores chasing after other lovers besides God, Saint and Sinner saying that we're a damned mess before being united with Christ, or King and a Kingdom, where he says that one of two great lies he's heard was that Jesus Christ was a white middle class Republican, Derek hits the American Evangelical church where it hurts. He hits them where they have chosen to elevate these cultural issues above the call of the gospel. Derek makes clear in his music that we are all guilty, himself included. In one song from his first solo album, he says that he's a dangerous crusader, turning over tables, but he's starting in his own living room. This is what a real prophetic voice does. Many, who would like to be seen as prophetic voices, whether on the left or the right, simply use their accusative voice to make their own side sound better. That's not a prophetic voice in the biblical sense, that's just another partisan trying to sway the vote. A true prophetic voice will point out his own log before mentioning the splinter in any one else's eye. His new album, Stockholm Syndrome is more of the same true prophetic voice. The "controversial" song on this album is What Matters More, where he uses scandalous words like damn and shit. What seems to be lost in the midst of the controversy is what the song is actually about. Derek Webb is an important artist, not just for his social commentary, but for the fact that his commentary comes from his Christian convictions. Maybe the true controversy is what the American evangelical church has become.