Derek Webb Isn't Exactly A Christian Anymore...Or is he?
So...according to an interview with the Give and Take podcast Derek Webb isn't exactly a Christian anymore...or is he?
You can listen to the interview here: http://mygiveandtake.com/2016/04/22/a-conversation-with-derek-webb-and-david-zahl/ (here's the itunes link)
Webb was his typically provocative self during the interview and had many fascinating and insightful things to say about the current state of the music industry and about intentionally being an artist who flies under the radar, which in Webb's case means having enough committed fans that he makes a decent living but not enough fame that he has to make compromises in his art in the hopes of pleasing the adoring masses in the hopes of maintaining the fandom of the masses. Essentially, Webb has been able to make the kind of music he's wanted to throughout his career and he expresses his profound gratitude in the interview for this set of circumstances. Webb's career has certainly been a test case for pushing the boundaries as an artist (especially within the realm of "Christian Music"), being an innovator and disruptor on the economic side of his artistry (e.g., giving away his albums, starting Noisetrade), all while finding a decently modest amount of success and recognition (despite "flying below the radar" Webb is still pretty much in the upper echelon of known artists)
But in the interview (which was recorded after Webb's Mockingbird Conference, which was put on to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his landmark album) he also says he's scared to death of the new songs he's writing because of the stories he's telling. I have my guesses about what he means by this, and this is based on where he goes in the rest of the interview. Webb says he hasn't been going to church since his divorce and admitted infidelity to his ex-wife and artist Sandra McCracken. Webb says he is in the midst of a deconstruction and possible re-construction of his faith. He says that when he is in the realm of having and practicing his faith it takes on a relatively conservative theological bent. He has a pretty high ecclesiology, which means that if he were a Christian, his beliefs would not allow him to not be in Christian community, which is to say that his belief in Christ (when it is present) causes him to strongly believe that he should live in committed Christian community, which is to say he cannot allow himself to be one of the "spiritual but not religious" types who believe in Jesus in some personal way but do not practice their faith outwardly in a typical way such as regular church attendance. Here is a direct quote: "The last time I put any real thought into the construction of my theological grid, I don't know that I would allow myself Jesus without the Church...and so, is there a season where I'm having to say no to both for a minute? Maybe...? Um...and I think that if I come back to it I'm going to have both. I don't think there's a version..I have a very high view of Scripture. I have a very conservative theological ethic when I have it...That's the only answer I have right now."
Notice Webb's emphasis on the "if" and "when" of his beliefs. Webb seems to intentionally leave his self-definitions vague and the interviewer doesn't really press him to parse out where he presently finds himself on the spiritual map other than to say/ask "you don't exactly seem like a religious "none" but maybe more like a religious "done" (my paraphrase), titles which Webb mostly eschewed. Webb also noted that the turnover of his friends in the past 2 years have been near 100%, which is to say that he has almost an entirely different set of friends then he had before. He says he has found people to be more accepting in bars than in churches. They more readily accept you for your past than people in churches, who are more ok with you singing about your sins in your songs than actually being a sinner in real life.
So where will Webb go with his new batch of songs (which he says might take on a synth-heavy industrial rock tone—think Nine Inch Nails)? Will he turn his critical eye on the church who wasn't willing to accept his mistakes and who was not there for him when he needed them? Will he confess his personal doubts and struggles for belief? Will he bring to light the part he played in his failed marriage? Or will he be putting God himself on trial? Will this be a walking towards or moving away from faith record? I know—it is all speculation for the time being.
Here are the vital questions: has a prophetic voice for the Church led to doubt which has led to skepticism which has led to cynicism which has led to non-practicing unbelief? Has Webb allowed the witness of the Body of Christ to speak into his life or has he simply chosen to "go his own way"?
You can click here to see my article written as a counter argument to Webb's views on "Christian music: "Yes There Is Such a Thing As 'Christian Music': A response to Derek Webb