In his recent album, "The House Show," Derek Webb has issued a clarion call to bring Christians into a community of believers who boldly preach the Gospel -- in all of its beauty and offensiveness.
The album, recorded in the intimate setting of a living room rather than a concert hall, intersperses challenging lyrics with Webb's up-front theology. Webb's vocals are uncluttered, backed only by his 12-string guitar. The result is the kind of CD you can play over and over to draw you back to Christ when all around you is chaos.
Webb, who left Caedmon's Call to bring his message to hundreds of living-room concerts, focuses our attention on parts of the Gospel that are often lost in the Christian obsession with simple salvation. He targets Christ's emphasis on reaching out to others, preaching the Gospel, being truly repentant and letting our great Savior deliver us from the troubles that surround us in modern life.
Webb challenges complacent Christians to look deeply into themselves and abandon "the great righteousness that we might prop up as an idol from time to time."
"We think we will be able to measure the growth of our spirituality by how little we are sinning, or by how little we can convince ourselves we are sinning," Web says in his introduction to "I Repent."
That song quickly assails some values American Christians would prefer to leave unexamined:
"I repent, I repent of my pursuit of America's dream
And I repent, I repent, of living like I deserve anything
Of my house, my fence, my kids, my wife
In our suburb, where we're safe and white
Oh I am wrong and of these things I repent"
Lest any listeners feel left out, the song goes on to repent"
"of the way I believe that I'm living right,
by trading sins for others that are easier to hide."
But the positive message that accompanies the song is this: Jesus "knows you better than you're willing to even admit to yourself, but He's forgiven you!"
"Wedding Dress," fleshes out the theme of Christians who are hedging their bets because they don't truly believe the Gospel's promise that Jesus is sufficient for all our needs.
"And because I don't believe that," Webb says, "I all too often give in, am convinced or wooed by what some theologians have called 'lovers less wild' than Jesus, the great lover of our souls."
The song that follows is another affront to comfortable Christians:
"So could you love this bastard child
Though I don't trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side
"I am a whore I do confess
I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle, run down the aisle
"I'm a prodigal with no way home
I put you on just like a ring of gold
and I run down the aisle, run down the aisle .. to you"
To those who might find these message hitting too close to home, Webb says, this is the real Gospel -- get used to it.
"You just can't preach the gospel and not be confrontational," he says. "The cross is both beautiful and offensive, and it must be both ... There is no other gospel for us to preach."
Webb reflects on "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a classic Christian work by C.S. Lewis in which some children are magically sent to a world ruled by a huge talking lion named Aslan -- the Christ figure in the story.
"They go to some who live there and say, 'We are frightened by the sight of Aslan the lion. Can you tell us, is he safe?'" Webb recounts. "The response is, 'No, he's not safe. But he is good. And he's the king.'"
"Jesus, folks," Webb says. "He is not safe. He is not manageable. He is a wild lion. You cannot tame Him.
"But He is good. He is King. You can trust Him."
With that trust of Jesus in our hearts, we must reach out to others, Webb says in his introduction to "Nobody Loves Me."
"If you divorce local community from the Gospel then it ceases to be the Gospel," he says. "There is no other context for your faith as a Christian than to be in community with other people."
We must remember to preach the Gospel not only to nonbelievers, but to each other, Webb says.
He goes on to recount a story of Martin Luther, about whom "Nobody Loves Me" is loosely based.
Luther was once asked at his church why, week after week, all he preached was the Gospel, Webb said.
"Luther's reponse was, 'Well, because week after week you forget it. Until you walk in here looking like people who are truly liberated by the truth of the Gospel, I'm going to keep on preaching it to you.'"
"Nobody Loves Me" goes on to paint a picture of Luther as someone who assaults the comfortable, starting with himself.
"Well I can always tell a liar and I always know a thief
Well I know 'em like my family because brother I'm the chief
Well I'm a dangerous crusader 'cause I need to tell the truth
So I'm turnin' over tables in my own living room
"But I might nail indictments up on every door in town
'Cause it's not right or safe to let your conscience down
So I don't care if nobody loves me, nobody loves me, nobody loves me
Challenging lyrics abound on this album. "This World," written by Aaron Tate, again confronts us for chiseling out hiding places from God's intention for our lives.
"This world is making me drunk on the spirits of fear.
So when He says 'Who will go?' I am nowhere near," says one verse.
"And the least of these look like criminals to me
So I leave Christ on the street," says another.
"But now I'm breakin' up, and now I'm wakin' up
Now I'm makin' up for lost time."
That is the positive message that runs throughout this challenging album: Take up your cross and, through you, Jesus will transform our communities.
This message runs through the song "Take To the World:"
"Go in peace to love and to serve
And let your ears ring long with what you have heard
May the bread on your tongue leave a trail of crumbs
To lead the hungry back to the place that you are from
"And take to the world this love hope and faith
Take to the world this rare relentless grace
And like the three in one
Know you must become what you want to save
'Cause that's still the way
He takes to the world"
Webb is careful to remind us that the Church plays a pivotal role:
"I haven't come for only you
But for my people to pursue," Webb says in "The Church"
"You cannot care for me with no regard for her
If you love me you will love the church"
Al Boyce is a former writer and reporter for The Associated Press. He lives in Raleigh, NC, where he now writes for God.
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