Family: A wife and a dog
Home: Memphis, Tennessee, Houston, Texas, and now Nashville
Been a Christian for: Approximately 12 years
Playing Guitar for: 23 years
Favorite Scripture: The book of Galatians. I hate singling out Bible verses
Favorite Christian Band: U2
Deeper Devotion: Many of our readers may not realize that you recently departed with Caedmon’s Call. Do you still keep in contact with the band?
Derek Webb: I do keep in contact with them. They have been on the road with Jars of Clay and I’ve talked with them on the phone several times over the last month just to see how the Jars tour is going. I actually just saw Josh like a weekend ago. We went and saw a concert of some cool folks in town. So yeah, I continue to keep in touch with the guys and would imagine that will continue to be the case. I don’t really have any ideas as far as what might happen in the future. Personally we will always be close because we spent ten years together as family, but as far as playing music together, I think I would be just as likely to play music with Jars of Clay or other bands that I am friends with, but not a part of their band. But yeah, I have even tried to get out to one of their recent concerts, but haven’t had the opportunity yet. I doubt that I’ll jump up on stage, but I will continue to support and see them.
Now that you are in this new stage of life and your career, what are some of your expectations for the future?
I just don’t even know. I don’t have any expectations. At this point it’s not really about my expectations. It’s more about what I am called to do-the work that God’s given me to do, and my just faithfully trying to do it. As far as expectations, I really don’t know. I think of Jeremiah. He preached repentance for forty years and had no converts, and that was God’s plan for him…that he would travel all over for forty years preaching repentance and no one would be converted. So, whatever my expectations may be, it doesn’t really matter because God is going to have His way in it. Either way, I believe He will be pleased with my striving to do whatever it is He gives me to do. So, I don’t know. I guess I’ll probably continue making records and continue playing concerts, but I genuinely don’t have any expectations.
Your music is pretty respected in the Christian industry. What theological and musical backgrounds do you attribute to your unique style?
I’ve always listened to songwriters like Bob Dylan, U2, and anybody who can write a decent song. I’ve always come more from the songwriter and folk music tradition and I think a lot of that makes its way into my music. I think that as far as writers or theologians, I definitely have gleaned a lot over the years from the reformed tradition. I’ve studied church history and the sixteenth century is my favorite period to study. There’s a lot of history there…watching the reformers that risked not only excommunication, but literally risked their lives in order to stand up and say, “This is what scripture teaches and we’re going to stand on that. If standing on this gets us knocked off, even to our death, than that’s the risk we’re going to take.” There’s a lot of boldness that comes out of the reformation that I think I probably gleaned a lot from it. There are so many good men that I could name but it would take along time to even start into that-there are so many of them. That’s definitely the tradition that I come from though.
Are there any books outside of the Bible have had a large impact on your life?
There are a couple of really great books. One is called The Enduring Community by a guy named Brian Habig. He’s a RUF pastor in Nashville for Vanderbilt, the Reformed University Fellowship, which is the college ministry of the Presbyterian Church. That’s a book on the church but there’s also another great book called A Royal Waste of Time by a woman named Marva Dawn. I actually sell both of those books on my merchandise table at concerts because I would really love for people to get exposed to some of that teaching. It’s some really great teaching on how to be the church in this culture…really good stuff.
Your first solo album (She Must and Shall Go Free) has some pretty choice and prophetic words for the modern church. Do you recommend Christian students use some of these offensive terms in their daily conversations?
I would definitely encourage any Christian to remember that all of scripture is profitable for teaching, correction, and application. We don’t need to camp out in one area of Scripture, but we need all of what Scripture tells us to teach about who we are and who God is. Sometimes encouraging the church in truth, as we are to worship in truth, means to expose not only my sin but your sin as well. This is so we might all repent and come to Jesus. Even as believers we still need to come to Jesus. We need to come to Him with our idols and our imperfections and the wreck that we make of our lives and the way that we love each other and the way that we live. We need to stop hiding our sin from each other, pretending to be people that we’re not. We need to stop pretending to be righteous and holy people when really we are a wreck. The church is a total wreck…all of us corporately and individually are a wreck and we need Jesus desperately. I’ve been a believer for twelve years and I am more desperate for Jesus than I was even twelve years ago when He saved me because I have that much greater of an awareness of my sin and my need for Him. I think that we’re not really encouraging each other as a church. In truth, we’re not really doing that if we’re flattering each other, hiding our sin from each other, and allowing our sin to be hidden from one another. We need to call each other out of our hiding places. We need to model repentance with each other. I should come to you and say, “You know what, I’m not this great and righteous perfect person that you might think I am. Please don’t think I am and let me confess to you my sin, let me show you all the ways that I am a total wreck, that we might see Jesus instead of seeing me.” That, in turn, by design, should draw the same type of repentance out of you and for you to say, “Well here are my sins…” The truth is, regardless of how mature of a Christian that we are, and as we mature in our Christian faith, we shouldn’t find ourselves as less and less sinful, more and more righteous, and better and better about ourselves. We should be realizing the further depth of our sin, that we might more fully repent and fall more heavily upon Jesus because even in glory, when we’re free of our sin completely, when we’re not sinning against each other any more, even then, we’ll only have Jesus, even then we’ll have no claim on God’s favor because we’ll still be a redeemed people. So I personally think anything we can do to rightly encourage each other in Jesus is very important. Part of the Gospel is to show the cross to each other, to show Jesus and Him crucified. That’s the Gospel and that’s offensive…but there’s nothing you can do about it. If it’s not offensive than you’re not telling it right. To look at Jesus on the cross is, in fact, offensive to who we are and how we live. I am offended by some of the language on my record…and rightly so. We should all be rightly offended, as James tells us, that we might corporately despair, lament, and weep over our sins that we might come to Jesus with nothing else because we don’t have anything else. The illusion is that we do have more to come to Jesus with, and the American church unfortunately doesn’t do a lot to break those paradigms down.
Those are some strong convictions concerning the church. Do you have any reservations against the Christian music industry?
The main thing that Christian artists are lacking right now in my opinion is honesty. I just think that Christian artists need to stop modeling self-righteousness and to start modeling repentance and honesty. I think that’s what Rich Mullins did and I think his presence is definitely missed in the industry for that reason. A lot of Christian artists come in with this façade of victorious Christian lives. This kind of perfect righteousness that they model isn’t what’s really true about us as believers. Our Savior is great but we are not; our Savior is righteous but we are not. I would prefer to see Christian artist be honest about their sins and struggles and for the Christian community to embrace a perspective of the Gospel to where they can deal with that. I think a lot of the times over the years when Christians have been honest about their sin, or maybe their sin has been reveled through some controversy, the Christian industry has been quick to protect themselves from any such unrighteous work and controversy by abandoning these artists and by yanking their records of the shelf and things like that. I don’t think that’s appropriate; who are we to cast those stones? We are all just as sinful as the most sinful person in our culture.
What personal disciplines help you to keep focused on the heart of Christ and not fall into those traps while forming your own music and ministry?
Actually, it’s probably my lack of discipline that helps me focus on it. When I look at my life and see the ways that I’m not disciplined and that I don’t spend time in fellowship with other believers or in the Word the way that I should…that’s when I realize that there is no difference in the way that God loves me from the moment of my greatest sin and struggle to the way He loves me in the middle of a greatest righteous act. That truth, in light of the way I live, is probably the thing that humbles me and offends me about the way I live to the end that I might really want to worship and really want to strive in obedience…because I realize how unworthy of it I really am.
Do you have any advice to the student who recognizes his or her musical talent as a gift from God, but hasn’t yet understood what the purpose of that gift might be?
I’ve been playing music professionally for ten years and by myself for twice that. I think that it is just this year that I am beginning to see what the point of my gifts are. I wouldn’t really be concerned about it. It’s definitely a process that we’re all in. I would encourage them to look at the gifts God has given them and see how they can use them to encourage the church. Continue pursuing Jesus and allow Him to place His desire in you. Genuinely though, I would say not to be as concerned about how the Lord might use you. Just be satisfied that you have that gift (even if you are not able to use it for many years). Once again, I’m just this year starting to realize why I have some of the random gifts I do and what in the world I’ve got them for. It’s a really long process and patience is probably the best thing.
When you first began using your gifts with Caedmon’s Call did you anticipate it going as far as it did?
Oh no! I certainly didn’t. I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years and I didn’t really know why this one would be any different. I don’t think any of us ever anticipated that this would become our living or our job. It was just one of those things where we didn’t really have any intentions to do what we did, but several years down the road we looked back and were like, “Wow, look what we’ve done.” We’ve always been really surprised about where we had ended up. I’m still surprised looking at it all and seeing what Caedmon’s Call has done.
How did you end up transitioning into this to this ministry from Cadeamon’s Call? Did you feel called into it?
I don’t really know. I think as far as what I’m doing at this point, there were some signs about it along the way in knowing that it would be the right decision. I realized I had to get away from the band so that I could do what I’m doing now with excellence. I knew it would be worth this kind of time and I knew that there wouldn’t be any kind of time to do both, but there wasn’t really any sense of being called into what I’m doing now. There were some moments along the way, especially with some of these new songs, where I would write a particular song and begin to play it a little bit and realize that there was something different about this new material that I couldn’t ignore. I also wouldn’t be able to do it in the context of the band. I felt like this was something the Lord was calling me into but I couldn’t impose that onto the band considering the kind of responsibilities that the band has at this point. So there wasn’t any question about me doing what I am doing now or whether or not it was the right thing to do. There wasn’t a lot of time for me to think about it. It was just kind of happening. All along the way each decision that I made really couldn’t have been made in any other way. I was compelled the whole way through.
Thanks Derek. We appreciate your time and your honesty.