What Happened to Derek Webb?
by Steve Fraley
Reblogged by permission from the blog site: That’s What Steve Said!
On this night, “unknown” singer/songwriters Jill Phillips and Bebo Norman set the stage for Caedmon’s and their faith-filled “coffeehouse” music. The band, featuring three alternating lead vocalists, delivers solid renditions of their best-loved songs, and a cover of “Walk On the Ocean” for good measure. Between songs, singer Derek Webb steps forward to deliver a rant a la Rich Mullins about Joshua Harris’ book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Clearly he is not a fan, and by the sound of it, neither is the audience. This is what we love about Derek. He is willing to speak his mind and challenge the status quo. He’s authentic, and this comes through in his songs. Whether he is writing about his struggles with temptation (“Standing Up For Nothing”), or the frustration of being single and waiting (“Table For Two”), we feel like we know Derek, and Derek knows us. The band closes the night with the biggest hit of Webb’s career, “Thankful,” an encapsulation of Reformed theology in just over 4 minutes. “Yes, by grace I have been saved, through faith, it’s not my own…” This is the anthem of the serious-minded Christian, the one who gives God all the glory.
Fast forward to 2017, and Derek Webb releases his latest solo album, “Fingers Crossed,” announcing to the world that he is no longer a follower of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but he is now boldly proclaiming the “gospel” of atheism. How did this happen? How could someone who so passionately devoted himself to Christianity make such a sharp turn? What happened to Derek Webb?
There are a number of things we could point to, most obviously his recent divorce from his wife of 13 years, to which he accepts responsibility. He fell into sin, and sin is deceptive (Hebrews 3:12-13). Yet many believers who do so recognize their need for Christ and repent. Derek took the opposite route. In the wake of his sinful choices, he has come to see that he is a better man by embracing his freedom apart from Christ. In his mind, free will and Christianity are incompatible. In a recent interview on the ex-Christian podcast, “The Life After,” Webb talks about how he now has victory over pornography after 20 years of struggling. He credits his ability to choose to do what is best for himself, rather than to wait on God to make the changes in him. And here it becomes clear where he went wrong in his theology. It all comes back to that line, “through faith, it’s not my own.” Derek Webb never took responsibility for his faith.
For many Calvinists, faith is the gift of God spoken of in Ephesians 2:8, which reads: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” The interpretation offered by Webb in “Thankful” is one that is proven false through analysis of the original Greek pronouns used by the Apostle Paul. When Paul speaks of what is “not of yourselves,” he refers back to the whole equation of salvation that precedes it, not specifically to faith. Therefore, Paul is saying that we are powerless to save ourselves, and in combination with verse 9, “not of works, lest anyone should boast,” he is driving home the point that the works of the law are not meritorious for salvation, but it is by God’s grace that we can be saved through placing our faith in the work of Christ. Webb’s interpretation is a common mistake, and sadly, it illustrates where his philosophy went wrong. He saw faith as something that was happening to him. He didn’t have faith. Faith had him. And as such, when doubts emerged, it was evidence that he wasn’t given the gift of saving faith.
Consider these lyrics from the song which closes his new album, “Goodbye For Now:”
“So either you aren’t real
Or I am just not chosen
Maybe I’ll never know
Either way my heart is broken
As I say, goodbye for now”
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is a central tenet of Calvinism, representing the “P” in the acronym “TULIP.” It is commonly credited with giving the believer assurance of salvation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the one who is chosen from eternity past for salvation (unconditional election) will be regenerated (irresistible grace), and their faith, because it is the effectual work of God, will persevere to the end. Therefore the Calvinist can rest in the assurance that because they are chosen, they will remain faithful. Unfortunately, while the intent is to give the believer assurance that he/she is saved, the opposite is often the case, and we see this evidenced in the lyrics above. Derek is convinced that he wasn’t chosen because his faith did not last. Lack of assurance is nothing new for the Calvinist, or any believer for that matter, and was even the basis for another Caedmon’s Call song, “Prove Me Wrong,” written and performed by other members of the group:
“Sometimes I fear, maybe I’m not chosen
You’ve hardened my heart like Pharaoh
That would explain why life is so hard for me
And I am sad that Esau hated
Crying against what’s fated
Saying father, please, is there any left for me
Cast out my doubts, please prove me wrong
‘Cause these demons can be so headstrong
Make my walls fall, please prove me wrong
‘Cause this resentment’s been building
Burn them up with your fire so strong
If you can before I bail, please prove me wrong”
These lyrics are haunting now that Derek has in fact bailed. So why then has he bailed entirely? Why not simply believe that Christianity is true, but he is on the outside of it, needing to get in? Listening to his interviews, it seems that much of his rejection of the faith is based on practicality. Because he now finds life so much more livable by taking ownership of his actions, it shows that something is horribly false about the claims of Christianity. Though he doesn’t believe in God, he remains a Calvinist. He likens his views on theology to his views on Star Wars or other works of fiction. It is a source of conviction, and in his mind, the Bible is solidly on the side of a deterministic God who elects some people to eternal glory, and others to hell. From his perspective, if God is real, He is a horrible monster (his interview comments use much harsher terms) responsible for all the evil in the world, and Derek is a “reprobate,” created specifically to glorify God in his never-ending torment for the sins that he has been determined to commit. Honestly, I can’t blame him for rejecting such a god. I can’t think of a good reason why a “reprobate” should worship someone who has made him for such a reason. This is such a tragic misunderstanding of the character of God!
So what do we conclude from this?