Grace, love, and humility (My take on the Derek Webb controversy, among other issues)

1 Corinthians 10:23-24  “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful, but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

Over the past few years, I have become more and more aware of a disturbing trend in certain evangelical circles.  Maybe it’s a result of postmodernism taking over our society, including our churches.  Maybe it’s a result of the huge emphasis placed on the individual that is so prevalent in our culture.  Whatever the root, there seems to be this trend for some evangelical leaders, and of course their fans then follow suit, to–in order to make what may very well be a valid point–push the lines as far as they can in order to achieve the greatest shock value among their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

There are church planters who choose a bar as the location for their congregation.  There are pastors who cuss during their sermons.  There are Christian leaders who make a big deal about the fact that they drink.  There are books poking fun at those congregations who still hold to the formalities of hymns played by piano and organ.  There are those who seem to go out of their way to loudly mock Christians who also happen to be white, middle-class Republicans.

I’m going to give the benefit of doubt here, and assume that in most cases, these people have embraced a valid issue, and are trying to make a point.  We should try to reach out to lost people, including those who frequent bars.  We should try to make our delivery of the Message be one that will reach the ears of those to whom we are speaking.  We should realize that we cannot judge others as sinning for merely drinking wine every now and again, since the Bible does not prohibit the drinking, merely the getting drunk.  We need to examine some of the newer songs that are out there, and embrace those that are theologically rich, and realize that adding a guitar is not wrong.  We should understand that we cannot blindly follow any one political party, but should examine each candidate on each issue, praying hard about our votes.  And we should try to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to understand these same points.


It is true that Jesus Christ pushed boundaries when He walked this earth.  He did things and said things that shocked the religious leaders of the day.  He crossed the lines of what was acceptable by hanging out with women, visiting in the homes of outcasts, and refusing to honor pointless traditions.  Maybe these leaders today simply think that they’re acting in the way that Jesus acted.  But I think there is a big difference.  When Jesus was pushing boundaries, He was doing so as a smaller part of His whole purpose–breaking the chains of the Old Covenant, the Old Law and introducing the world to His New Covenant of love, His New Law of grace.  He was breaking sinful traditions and habits and rituals to introduce people to His perfect law of love.  The people that He, as a result, alienated were those who stubbornly refused to believe in Him.

However, those today who are using this “shock value” to make their point do not, obviously, have this bigger purpose behind it, and are alienating and offending those that Christ has said belong to their own family.   Some of them have claimed to be trying to make a point, to open the eyes of complacent Christians, to shake us out of our comfort zones, to encourage us not to hold onto tradition for tradition’s sake.  These are good things to encourage Christians to ponder and examine in their lives.  However, I think that the “shock value” methodology is not the best, and I’ll go on to say that I even think it points to a level of immaturity in he who is doing it.

In the New Testament, Paul, as quoted above, points out that all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful, nor do all things build up.  These leaders have a message burning in their hearts that they think the Christian world needs to hear, but they should not communicate it in a way that is going to be offensive to the ones they are trying to reach.  Their message may be true and may be one that the church desperately needs to hear, but their delivery is not helpful, is not building the church up.    When Mark Driscoll cusses in his sermons, or preaches extremely graphically on sex, his Seattle listeners, who are more liberal in thought and culture, may not be offended.  But the Bible Belt listeners are going to go up in arms, as evidenced by the motions at last month’s Southern Baptist Convention to ban his books from Lifeway.  When books like Blue Like Jazz lump all traditional congregations into the same outdated, old-fashioned, ineffective, unenlightened dead-faith group, they’ll have lots of postmodern-thinking fans, but they’re alienating their more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ.  A church that meets in a bar may seem no worse than Jesus eating with tax collectors to some, but it’s a stumbling block to those fellow Christians who believe it’s wrong to consume alcohol.

And that’s the issue.  Not whether the point is right or wrong, because, as I’ve already said, all these people have validity to their points.  But how are they communicating?  Are they exhibiting the grace, love, and humility that wants to cause offense to no man?  Are they doing as much as depends on them to live peaceably with others?  Are they being cautious to not be a stumbling block to other brothers and sisters?  Even if they think they’re right, and you’re weaker than them for being offended, Scripture is still clear:  keep the weaker brother in mind.  Restrain your own liberty for the sake of his conscience.  Yes, these leaders are at liberty to say certain words, to drink certain drinks, to vote certain ways, but it is their responsibility, according to Scripture, to place a restraint on that liberty for the sake of others who may not feel the same liberties.  In employing the shock methods, especially when combined with an attitude of glee that seems to be present in at least one case that I know of, they are definitely not seeking the good of their neighbor.

So what does this have to do with Derek Webb, a singer/songwriter who started out with Caedmon’s Call and went on to release several solo albums that got a little edgier one by one?  For several years now, my husband and I have been big fans of  his.  His first solo album, She Must and  Shall Go Free, immediately started a buzz because of some controversial lyrics, mainly in the song “Wedding Dress” where he compared the church to a harlot-bride, using more colorful language than I just did.  I was able to look over the shock value of this because, after all, there are places in Scripture that make the exact same comparison using the exact same language.  However, each album got slightly more controversial in theme if not in lyrics, and when he started including a lot of pacifism in his lyrics we started feeling a little more distanced.  He is in the process right now of releasing the most controversial album to date, one that his own record label would not even release.  The main problem seems to be with one song, both for the message seemingly implied in the song (that it’s more important to fight world poverty than to preach against homosexuality) and for a couple of words used in the song that are certainly offensive to most Christians.  My take on this is that which I’ve already described:  He has a valid point that we should not focus solely on one issue as Christians (like abortion or homosexuality) but that we should also be acting out our faith by helping the widows, orphans, and homeless.  However, he loses my respect as someone whose point I want to hear when he communicates in such an offensive way.  He becomes a stumbling block to me instead of an encourager to me, spurring me on to the good works he thinks I should be doing.  He has succeeded in alienating a large number of his own spiritual brothers and sisters.  Where Christ shows grace, love, and humility, he has shown anger, immaturity, arrogance and a love of self, simply by the way he chose to communicate.

Matthew 12:36 says, in the words of Christ, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  We should all use this as motivation to be very, very careful in the way we communicate to others, especially when it comes to issues of the kingdom.  We must seek to represent Christ with our words and communication.  Make your points, challenge others where their complacency needs challenging, but do so with grace, love, and humility.

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2 Responses to Grace, love, and humility (My take on the Derek Webb controversy, among other issues)

  1. semperreformada says:

    Amen and amen. I agree with you, but let’s be balanced. I don’t want to be accused of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Mr. Webb’s past performance gives us good reason to hope that he still may have on solid ground (though he definitely slipped recently). When Martin Luther was told to recant of all of his writings, he said that there was much that he has written that was in agreement with the accepted doctrine of the church. Similarly, Derek Webb has much that we must heartily agree with. He is at a cross-roads and how he responds to the criticism will determine which direction he will go. I for one will continue to listen to and be challenged and edified by his other songs. Thank you for this thought-provoking post. I bet you’re very easy on the eyes . . .

  2. Joe says:

    You said, “we cannot judge others as sinning for merely drinking wine every now and again, since the Bible does not prohibit the drinking”

    I find your mentioning drinking wine now and then appears to overlook that alcohol is alcohol whether it is in the form of wine, a can of beer or a shot of scotch. A breathalizer does not distinguish what you drank, just how much alcohol you consumed. So I would add to your statement that we should not judge others as sinning merely for drinking wine, having a beer or a shot of scotch, etc. now and then.

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