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13 November 2005

Derek Webb On Art, Christian Music And The Promise Keepers

So the Derek Webb show was great. I think I'll be talking a bit more about it in the next few days. But for now I'll let Webb do the talking. Here's a spiel he's been making at his concerts recently. He didn't talk about all of this on Friday (I snagged the following from a bootlegged concert from last month), but he did cover some of these points. At any rate, here are some of Webb's thoughts on art and the Christian church:

I've been mentioning this here lately, but I've been thinking about it and I've decided that over the past 13 years or so I've spent the better part of that time overexplaining songs. And, yeah, I admit it. And so I've decided I'm turning over a new leaf. I'm going to stop overexplaining songs and here's why. Because there's this rumor going around, and I don't know who started this rumor, but there's this rumor going around in church circles that art in the church has no value whatsoever if it's not immediately understandable and explainable and categorizable and applicable somehow to your life and beneficial to you somehow spiritually. If all these things aren't true, then art just doesn't have any value whatsoever in the church. And of course that's just a huge lie.

Because you look at the Bible and the whole first chapter of Genesis is us just marveling at God's creativity, just making all these things. That's the first thing we learn about, the first of his attributes we learn about. He's a creator first and that's the first thing we know. And then as far as we're those made in his image as little creators, the art that we create, the art that we make, especially in the church, has intrinsic value simply because we are those made in the image of a great artist.

It is not the obligation of the Christian artist necessarily even to use their work to do vocational ministry, full-time ministry. That's a common misconception that I think a lot of people, a lot of friends of mine who I know who play music, who have gifts in the arts, feel as though if they're not doing some kind of full time ministry with their gifts, that they aren't worth as much to the church. And that couldn't be further from the truth. I don't want you to live in fear if you're an artist and you're here tonight thinking that if you're a guitar player you've got to go join a praise band or else God doesn't love you. That just couldn't be further from the truth. The art that's made by Christians has intrinsic value.

And, unfortunately, the thing that happens is, when we don't learn to identify good art and bad art and things like that, then what we end up doing is living with these categories. And most of us live with these categories. We categorize art and these categories aren't real. They just make us feel more comfortable.

You find stuff that you can put in your Christian category and stuff that you can put in your secular category. Whatever those things mean to you. And these categories aren't real. The truth is there is no such thing as Christian music. Has everybody figured that out by now? It's not possible. There are Christian and secular people who make music. But until somebody comes up with a song that's got a soul, and we can witness to that song and get it saved, there is going to be no such thing as Christian music. There just is no such thing. There is no such thing as a Christian painting or a Christian song. It's just a logical impossibility. There are Christian and secular people, though, who make art.

And so the greatest thing, the only thing, is, it's what Francis Schaeffer said. He was a smart guy and what he might have told us to do, is rather than putting our faith in these categories that don't really mean anything, finding a false sense of security in a Christian category or a false sense of fear in whatever your category is, rather than living in fear with these categories, better to learn how to discern beauty and truth. Those are the only real things to find are beauty and truth. Francis Schaeffer said that all truth is God's truth. Anything you find, no matter what mouth it comes out of, if it's true, if it's absolutely true, then God is the originator of that truth. It finds its origin in him. Any real beauty is only at very least a reflection of God's beauty. Even if the one who created it doesn't see it as such, even if they don't acknowledge it back that far, the only thing we can find is beauty and truth.

And you're going to find some beauty and some truth over here in your Christian art. Unfortunately the church is kind of known at this point in history for making kind of bad art, kind of cheesy art, unfortunately. So you're not going to find, certainly, all the beauty over here. But you might find some, you might find some over in your Christian category. But you're also going to find some beauty and truth over here in your secular category. Neither one has the market cornered on beauty and truth. Christian artists do not all say things that are true, things that are all good and healthy and beneficial for you, and not all the art they make is beautiful. And not all non-Christian artists say things that are dangerous and bad for you and not true and unbeautiful and unlovely. It's just not that simple. We have to be people who learn how to use the tools we've got, rather than letting someone and these categories do our thinking for us.

So I don't know if that helps anybody, but I would rather us be people who are free to engage with all kinds of art, and know what we're looking for, who don't have any fear about engaging with all kinds of art as we move into culture. Because anything that Jesus is Lord of, I can write a song about. And he's Lord of all things. All things. So that broadens our pallet of things we can write songs about and things we can paint pictures of. But we've got a lot of fear and a lot of hang ups about art in the church. So I'll have no part of it.

So that's why I'm going to make it my job from now on to write some songs and it's going to be your job from now on to figure them out. Is that OK with everybody? And we're going to start practicing here tonight. You can figure these things out because I'm not going to tell you a thing about any of them.

Because that's the thing that's so fun about art. I mean, all the songs and the bands and the records I love more than any others, the most enduring music for me, I don't have a clue what most of these people are talking about. I don't have a clue what these songs are about. And that's what's fun about it. It could mean something totally different to you than I might have intended when I wrote it and that's beautiful. That's what art is all about. That's what's mysterious and subjective and abstract and artistic, really, about art. That's what's great about it. Let's stop killing it in the church and making it purely functional spiritually. There's so much more to it, so much more to enjoy.

And I don't think I've explained the next song, even with all that, even though I just talked to you for like five minutes. I don't think I explained it. I explained some of it. So, anyway, there you go. I've already broken my promise. I'm a promise breaker.

And I'm actually thinking about starting an organization: the promise breakers. We're going to travel all around the country and we're going to have rallies where you can come. We're going to all gather together, the promise breakers. Doesn't that sound more realistic than a bunch of guys getting together and calling themselves promise keepers? I'm not a promise keeper. I couldn't go to that rally. I'm a promise breaker. Somebody needs to rally for me. I can't go to that rally because that's not who I am. I'm a promise breaker. There's only one promise keeper and that's not me, folks. Because I've just told you that I'm not going to explain a song and there I went explaining the whole thing. We're only like three songs into this deal and I've already broken a couple of promises. So where's my rally? That's what I want to know.

Comments on "Derek Webb On Art, Christian Music And The Promise Keepers"


Anonymous zalm said ... (11/14/2005 12:34:00 AM) : 


I haven't heard a note Derek has recorded since his CCall days, but he's suddenly one of my favorite artists.


Anonymous Stefani said ... (11/14/2005 12:35:00 AM) : 

Awesome. What a cool guy. So how can I get a bootleg copy of his new stuff??? Tell us what else he preached at your show.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (11/14/2005 09:13:00 AM) : 

He also talked at length about Africa and poverty. I'll be posting that as well, as soon as I have time to transcribe what he said.

I'll post links to three shows later today.


Blogger ninjanun said ... (11/14/2005 04:43:00 PM) : 

Derek Webb is so awesome. Is it any wonder why he left CC, and that when he did, I didn't really care for CC anymore?

I think I might have to link to this, Kevin. Good stuff. He just articulated so many things I had been struggling with for so long regarding art and music, and their role in the church. Thanks!


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (11/16/2005 09:34:00 PM) : 

You're welcome. Yeah, I stopped listening to Caedmon's the day Derek left, too. I'm glad he's doing his own thing now. Link away.


Blogger jasdye said ... (11/17/2005 07:42:00 PM) : 

he's a talkative one, ain't he?

i'm sorry, am i the only one who doesn't care for all that preaching in the shows. not that his opinions aren't valid (heck yes, Africa needs our genuine support and needs to be put at the forefront) and it's not that they're controversial or whatever.

it's just that i think our artists should not be so dang-gone talkative. show it (through the arts), don't tell it.

but that's just my opinion.


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