Thursday, August 30, 2007

Redemption, Dependence and Question Number 11...

When I first conceived of the previous post, 10 Questions, one of the questions that I was planning to use was, Who is your favorite obscure bluegrass/gospel musician? For some reason I just forgot to include the question. The answer is Derek Webb. A little while ago I decided to stick one of Webb's songs on a mix CD. I hadn't listened to that song or any of Webb's solo music for a long time and I started jonesing for some more Webb. Consequently I've been listening to Webb's first solo effort, She Must and Shall Go Free, while driving to and from work.

There are very few musicians, particularly musicians who have come up through and become famous in the Contemporary Christian Music industry, who have the ability to create deeply meaningful lyrical creations. Derek Webb is one of those few. Listening to a Derek Webb song is a lot like reading Bonhoeffer or Barth or Grentz or Chesterton, but with a catchy guitar lick in the background.

My favorite song on She Must and Shall Go Free (for the time being) is called Nothing (Without You). Check out the lyrics:

I’ve got the dress, i’ve got the ring
i’ve got a song that i can sing
i’ve got the bread, i’ve got the wine
but i’ve got the life i’ve left behind
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

i’ve got the law on my heart
i’ve got your love tearing me apart
i’ve got a vow that i can’t keep
but i’ve got your promise getting me to sleep
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

i’ve got your works, i’ve got my faith
i’ve got all the wine that you can make
i am the kiss of your betrayer
but i’ve got your grace on every layer
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

‘cause you see it’s all just a show
you either hate it or you don’t
and only time will tell the difference
if you get it clearly or with interference

i’ve got the race, got the election
but win or lose, i’ve got protection
i found a lobbyist in the devil
but i got salvation in a rebel
i’ve got everything, but i’ve got nothing
without you

What Webb understands about Christianity, and what he communicates so powerfully with all of those familiar inconsistencies that often devour our lives, is that the redemption promised in the Scriptures absolutely requires dependence. By this I mean to say that I cannot redeem myself.

In the letters of Paul the English word redemption is a translation of the Greek apolutrosis (anybody have a good Greek font that works in Blogger?). What many people don't know is that the origins of the word are found in the slave trade of Jesus' day. At that point in history slavery was simply a cultural fact. Slaves were everywhere. Anybody could become a slave if his or her life just took the wrong turn.* But any slave could be freed if his or her life just took the right turn. The act of freeing a slave generally involved purchasing the slave (you really can't free what you don't own), and that is where the word apolutrosis comes from. It means the act of buying back, or redeeming, a slave. This is the concept that Paul is co-opting in Ephesians 1:7 when he says that in Christ we have "redemption through his blood." He is saying that we were captive, held in slavery, and have now been redeemed, purchased and set free. The cost of this freedom was the life of Jesus. This is why I can't redeem myself. I just don't have the requisite capital.

When Derek Webb sings "I've got everything, but I've got nothing without you," this is, I think, what he is trying to say. He is saying that the brokenness of the world, the brokenness in my heart and my life, cannot be healed by my efforts or yours. The redemption, the release from slavery, is dependent upon Christ. I am, and must continually remain, dependent upon Christ.

*For an entertaining (albeit horribly violent) look at pre-Christian culture, including the practice of slavery, check out HBO's hit-series Rome.


Philbert said...

I just saw Derek Webb at a Christian music festival this last weekend in South Dakota. Among the crass Christian commercialism and "pep-rally" Christianity, it was refreshing to hear him speak and sing. I view him as a modern day prophet, speaking truth into the Church.

Colin Toffelmire said...

Ya, I can only agree. The comparison to a prophet is especially accurate if you think in terms of the poetic prophets like Isaiah who used verse, imagery and truth as equal partners in an attempt to challenge the crass Israelite idolatry of their own days. I'm jealous you got to see him, that would be a great show.

Kelly said...

Oh, Colin...

hey, sorry to show up so randomly here on your blog, but facebook led to bloggerdom, and so now here I am, reading your thoughts in the vast anonymity of the interweb. (You're welcome to return the favor and snoop through mine... I apologize because it's been sorely neglected of late.)

Anyways, that was leading to a real point. Which is this: One of my great dissatisfactions of the moment (not that there are many) is that I haven't really gotten into Derek Webb's solo stuff yet, which is a shame, because I am pretty much in love with Caedmon's Call, and mostly for the reasons you blogged about, those being the ability to avoid the trite and cliche in Christian music and say something useful. (I'm definitely taking some para-phrasing liberties here).

And from what I've heard of Derek Webb, I have seen that there too... which was why I was incredibly excited to see him back with Caedmon's Call for their latest album, Overdressed. SO good.

Anyways, some random interjections of thoughts from me... carry on.