A Review of Derek Webb’s “I Don’t Want to Fight”

This article continues our review series on Derek Webb’s latest CD. Over the next two weeks, we will review and offer cultural analysis on every song from the The Ringing Bell. This post is written by Southern Seminary student Matthew Wireman from Off The Wire. Previous posts from this series can be found under the category Derek Webb.

Webb uses war as a metaphor for what modern-day evangelism typically looks like. The music on this song is reminiscent of The Beatles and the drum cadence is memorable. However, lyrically, the song seems forced at times. It is as though he wrote the score and the placed words in to fit (tenable at times). I have done this in my song writing and the effect is similar – syllables are rushed, stress of words seem off. Perhaps the genius of the forced nature of the music with the words is that Webb is aiming for the dissonance present in the emotions of someone who is tired from arguing. Words are slurred and rushed.

I would think that the latter would be the case for him since he is a highly intelligent musician. Some may say that he is just trying to produce enough songs for an album. I disagree.

Webb is not directly speaking against the war in Iraq. We know he is using it as metaphor because of the third verse where he speaks of not being the Holy Ghost. However, he is also jabbing at the notion of pacifism since he doesn’t introduce the Holy Spirit until the third verse. Since he is unknown to us until this verse, we continue in ambiguity – thinking of the problems with war and fighting. Much of the first part is a polemic against the wars the persist.

I don’t want to be right anymore
I don’t want to be good
I don’t want to change your mind
to feel it like I do

This is emotional pleading. Surely, we want to be right. Surely, we want to have the truth in our possession. Simply put, once we fight for long periods of time we just get tired. We are willing to throw in the hat and say, “I don’t care anymore. Just don’t be mad at me anymore.” While the desire to be reconciled with another is commendable, it is far from what we need to be doing as Christians. Paul persuaded people.

To defend Webb, much of our evangelism these days is not persuading. It appears like coercion and arguing. It is not reasoning with people, it is flying high-browed slogans (Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve, etc.). Have Christians become lazy in their defense of the truth? Rather than listening to why the atheist can’t believe in a God who allowed his father to be killed in a car accident when he was young, we look at them in amazement and call them idiots. We stomp our foot and raise our fist and say, “I’m right and I’m not going to Hell.” And so we come to the second verse:

I don’t wanna sell graves
peddle them door to door
a little something to ease your mind
and prepare you for what’s in store

So much of the evangelist’s tool is frightening. While it is true that those who die without the righteousness of Christ in their stead will go to Hell, the whole part about eternal life being given now is diminished. Instead of helping people see the treasure that is hidden in the field, we press on them their mortality. Again, this is right and good to do this, but to say this while abandoning the fabulous claims of the Christ, is hollow and dark. We need to shed light on people.

I don’t want to fight
brother I’m not joking about peace
we can have it here tonight
it all comes down to you and me

I pray that Webb is not moving in the direction of the proverbial religious dialogue (everyone is right in their own path; let’s just sit down over coffee and ga-ga over the beauty of each other’s faith expression). This song gives me no confidence that he’s not, but in light of other things he has sung and said, I am sure that he is not.

This serves as a word of caution to us: do not just a book by one chapter. That is, if you were to talk to me one hour in one day each week, you would have a warped view of my beliefs. We are fickle people. While we long for integrity in all areas of our lives, our beliefs do not dictate all that we do in a day. So let’s not pass judgment too quickly. I don’t take offense at Webb’s strong language. I let it work itself into the dough of my thoughts. I say, “Okay, he’s angry about this. Have I been guilty of such and such a crime?”

you never asked me to save anyone
not in whole or in part
like I was some kind of Holy Ghost
come to change their hearts

This is true; God has never asked us to save anyone. However, this pithy statement must not serve as a cop out to persuade people to repent. God has employed means in his plan. He has ordained all that is and is not, and part of his ordination is the use of people’s mouths and hearts and hands. Rom 10.14 is the clearest example of this: But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?.

I have heard people say this phrase, “I’m not the Hoy Spirit.” Yet, this is not the whole truth, is it? Does not the Holy Spirit reside in all believers? Granted we do not convict men of sin, but our words are used to convict – by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul even says, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1Cor. 9.22). May those who delight in the pervasive sovereignty of God not use such an expression to justify their lack of persuasion or conviction that God uses them to bring about his purposes.

you know the tree by the fruit
but just between me and you
I never do what I want
I do what I’m taught
and I’ve been learning a lot
about the violence I’m capable of

The third line is a clear reference to Rom 7. This is where I resonate with Webb the most. I want to present the Gospel so clearly that it takes deep root in their lives, but my pride all the while is strangling my own good intentions. “Oh how I desire that this person be saved.” Turns into “Does he think I am an idiot?” Which then becomes, “He is such a fool to not believe this! (said out of spite, although the truth of the matter is that those who do not place faith in Christ are fools (Rom 1.21-22; Titus 3.3)).

“I do what I’m taught.” Wow, this hit me hard. I was raised in an evangelistic college ministry that had a certain way of sharing the Gospel that seemed clear and effective. While it is good that we have the Gospel packaged in nut shells so that people can comprehend and not have their head swimming with all that we might feel like sharing, we do need to mold and make what we say pertain to the person we are speaking with. We might highlight the New Heavens and New Earth to someone or the injustice present in the world.
All those who desire to be effective evangelists would do well to learn the violence they are capable of. That is, before we open our mouth, we must pray and think. Rather than spewing forth truth with venom, and saying that we are just telling the truth, we must listen before we speak.

so I’m walking away from this
before I hurt someone
’cause I’m facing enemies
on both sides of the gun

Sometimes in evangelism, our greatest enemy is us. We say a myriad of unnecessary things. We say a multitude of hurtful words. Pride and sloth have made us robotic in our presentation of Christ crucified. May we put down our holy guns and take up plowshares and pruning hooks.

Posted By Matt Wireman

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4 Responses to A Review of Derek Webb’s “I Don’t Want to Fight”

  1. bryan says:

    Matt, i enjoyed the review.

    One thing i disagree with, though, is that you seem to be analyzing the whole song through the lens of evangelism. That Derek was singing all verses and choruses about interactions with other believers.

    I think it’s clear that in parts of the song he is talking about evangelism, but i also think that he’s talking about interactions with other christians as well. i think that’s what he’s talking about when he opens the song “i dont want to be right anymore” and later when he says “i don’t want to fight, brother i’m not joking about peace”

    to hear derek intro this song live, he talks about how he wrote it on his way back to the hotel after a show where he had gotten into an argument with some believers about theology and doctrine.

    to paraphrase his thoughts about it he said, “if my arguments and ideas are more important to me than the people i am arguing with, then i’ve completely missed the point.” (again, that was a paraphrase). so i think he’s saying that if we want peace on a global level, it’s gotta start with me first, in my personal interactions with others. some have taken this to mean that he no longer wants to defend truth, but i do not think the song is saying that.

    i appreciated your thoughts on not judging a book by its chapter, and your honesty in sharing some of the things that hit you the hardest in the song.

    thanks for taking the time to review, you’re a great writer.

  2. Wireman says:

    Thanks, Bryan, for the clarifcation and help. Like you mentioned, it is always good to add more context to what we hear, read, and see. I did not know Webb introduced the song like this. It helps make sense out of ambiguities in the song I was concerned about – namely, not wanting to fight.

    I, like Webb, get exasperated by the in-house arguments. It seems so inconsequential to argue and fight over fine points of doctrine. There are hills to die on, but not on whether someone is a supra-lapsarian or infra-lapsarian. I have heard men gripe about these issues that are deduced and speculative with regards to the text. Webb is right that Christians speak of world peace (sometimes), but they are not able to speak to those of the same fold with the same kind of respect necessary for peace outside of the Christian family to happen.

    Thank you for your comment, it brings me comfort that Webb is consistent with his theology. That is, he is not going the way of the buffalo by affirming inclusivism.

  3. dave says:

    I would just like to say that we have NO responsibility to persuade people to repent. ABSOLUTELY. We have responsibility to live our lives seeking to really know God, and to share that in word and action with those around us. The entire work of convincing and saving someone is God’s work, not yours. He will use your words as He sees fit, he doesn’t need you to choose which words will make the most impact on someone’s heart, because you don’t know that, He does. Yes, it IS the whole truth that you are not the Holy Spirit. “If you listen, the Holy Spirit will direct you.” That is VERY DIFFERENT from saying “You are the Holy Spirit.”

    I’m also not sure what in this song would lead you to think that he was being relativistic or saying that anything anyone believes is right…

  4. Joshua says:

    The buffalo are actually doing quite well.

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