Derek Webb has been making “Christian” music for a long time. He helped found the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) band Caedmon’s Call back in 1993. All this experience has given Webb a unique voice within CCM. In 2003 he left the band and started his solo music career. He has been engulfed in controversy since then.
Webb’s distaste for the “Christian” music industry drove him to write prophetically about the church and brokenness of the world. As this topic was unacceptable in industry circles, he gained a following of fellow travelers (for a time labeled the “emergent” church) who also felt the tension of being a Christian while also keenly aware that sin indeed affects the church as much as it does the rest of the world. This rather simple theological insight has created a significant community within Christianity and Webb is now the head music director of the movement.
His first solo album, She Must and Shall Go Free, was almost exclusively about the church. Using the language of Hosea, Webb compared the church to a whore. In his albums since he has remained engaged in conversations about Christianity and the broader culture. On 2009’s Stockholm Syndrome he has an open letter to Fred Phelps. Phelps is the head pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, famous for it’s public protests, especially around the issue of homosexuality. The song “What Matters More” (which only appears on the explicit version, it contains the word “s***”) confronts the church with the hypocrisy of preaching love and grace, but being unable to show that to gay and lesbian people.
With the recently released Ctrl, Webb’s 7th studio album, which is significantly less controversial, Webb is still able to encompass a bigger theology than a Jesus-per-minute gauge can measure. They lyrics are much more introspective. On “Can’t Sleep,” Webb speaks to the tension we feel between reality and our hopes and dreams for our life and world.
i can't sleep
i am overwhelmed with grief
every time i wake
that i must face the thief
who takes away my face
the place where i exist
the real me, not a fake my hands
on the controls
till the moment i awake
Ctrl is solidly in the singer-songwriter folk genre. Mostly sticking to soft guitar to accompany Webb’s voice. On the latest tour he is backed up by the members of Page CXVI, a hymns side project of the band The Autumn Film from Denver, Colorado. Webb is worth a listen for those who want to hear a more critical perspective on life and faith, and the struggle that is being a Christian.
- Greg Veltman