A Review of Derek Webb’s “A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear”

This article continues our review series on Derek Webb’s latest CD. We are reviewing and practicing cultural analysis on every song from the “The Ringing Bell.” This post is written by Southern Seminary student Trevin Wax from Kingdom People. Previous posts from this series can be found under the category Derek Webb.

A Love that’s Stronger than our Fear” strikes against the notion that an action can be justified based on its intended outcome. The first verse throws down the gauntlet by forcing the listener into a situation where one must choose to lie or face death.

what would you do
if someone put a gun to your head
and ask you to tell them a lie
what would you say
if you were pushed that way
to betray yourself to keep yourself alive
is life worth so much

Is staying alive worth “betraying yourself?” At what point do the ethical lines get blurred? Do they get blurred at all? The second verse reverses the situation. Here Webb goes after “torture” as a way of coercing someone to tell the truth. The first verse is questioning. The second is more dogmatic.

what would you do
if someone would tell you the truth
but only if you torture them half to death
tell me since when do the means justify the ends
and you build the kingdom using the devil’s tools
can time be so short

Webb decries torture as one of the “devil’s tools” and disagrees with the notion that time is so short one must resort to torture to resolve a situation. In the first verse, the listener is a victim being forced to deny something true. In the second, the listener is the torturer seeking to elicit truth from the victim.

there’s got to be a love that’s stronger than our fear
of everything being out of control
everything being out of control

The chorus provides the beginning to the answer which ultimately comes out only in the bridge. Webb believes there has to be “another way,” and he sees Christian love as the answer. The new day has been inaugurated, but is not yet here fully (Webb doesn’t find a more creative way to describe the “already-not yet” paradigm of eschatology.) Our job is to “proclaim” this love by “showing that there’s a better way.”

there is a day that’s been inaugurated but has not yet come
that we can proclaim by showing that there’s a better way

Musically, “A Love that’s Stronger than our Fear” is more rock-based than most of Webb’s previous work. The lyric sits well on the catchy melody, though the five-syllable word “inaugurated” from the bridge sounds a little contrived. The ending is abrupt, but fits the message of the song well.

When I listened to this song, I couldn’t help but think about the television show 24. It seems like Jack Bauer is always doing terrible things “for the greater good.” The goodness or badness of any given action is based on the way things turn out – including torture and murder. Of course, 24 is simply a fictional expression of what is actually allowed and condoned in a time of war.

I understand Webb’s reticence to embrace torture as a legitimate method of interrogation. But I am confused at the reference about “building the kingdom” with the devil’s tools. Is there a place where Christians are seeking to build the kingdom of God by employing torture as a methodology? Where is this happening? What Christians are condoning this? Or is the “kingdom” a reference to earthly empire – namely America?

Webb asks good questions in this song. But many of his questions leave the listener with more questions rather than answers.

Posted by Trevin Wax

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7 Responses to A Review of Derek Webb’s “A Love That’s Stronger Than Our Fear”

  1. Matt H says:

    I understand your questions, namely that of associating the building of the kingdom with with torture. Yet, I think this problem stems from the curious way in which this song has been “reviewed” here. As a seminary student myself, I understand the temptation to exposit and exegete everything that comes across my path. But perhaps if the reviewer allowed himself to simply experience the song, rather than scrutinize and exegete it, he would get the picture that is being painted and such particulars as those found in the second verse would not obscure the forest.

    That said, let me make it clear that I appreciate what you guys are doing here. My only problem is that a line-by-line exposition of a piece of music necessarily defeats the purpose of that piece of music and circumvents its intended effects. It’s just not how music is supposed to be experienced.

  2. Tony Kummer says:

    Matt,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree that our project will tend toward over-thinking Webb’s lyrics. That is one reason why I put together the guys to pull this off. By practicing ‘cultural engagement’ in this open forum we can discover our faults and be better off for it.

    You said, “My only problem is that a line-by-line exposition of a piece of music necessarily defeats the purpose of that piece of music and circumvents its intended effects.” I think you may have overstated your point. Words have meaning – even when expressed through a poetic and musical genre. If the medium of Webb’s message includes words, then we must examine words. I regret not having more interaction with the musical mood of the songs. But such a project would require an off line event.

  3. bryan says:

    i’m enjoying reading these, even if i dont agree with everything.

    regarding the torture verse, i dont think that derek is specifically thinking of specific instances where torture has been employed to build the kingdom. i think he is maker a broader point that the means do not always justify the ends.

    it’s a point he made on mockingbird as well. on his last record he posited that “peace by way of war” might not be the best way to go about it. i think here he continues in that vein by saying that it’s not just important where we get to (that someone is telling the truth) but how we get there as well (they’re telling the truth only by torture).

    it’s a good dialogue to have…

  4. Matt H says:

    I realize the difficulty involved in reviewing music, especially music with such provocative content as Webb’s. Every singer/songwriter (who cares about his craft) struggles with the dialectic between words and music. What’s more important, content or form? As a singer/songwriter myself, I am convinced that, because the form is the content (cf. McLuhan), the struggle is not so pronounced as most think. Songs (music and words) are meant to be experienced as a whole. A proper hermeneutic (as you know) takes into high account the author’s intent. And if the author’s intent is that you simply experience the words as they are mediated through music through a set amount of time (as it is for most songwriters), perhaps even leaving you with no more than an impression, then I think listeners must do their best to experience it that way. Perhaps there is a time for exegeting the lyrics of a song, but certainly not until the exegete has first deeply imbibed the experience of hearing the song.

    I hope we are not speaking past each other. Part of what informs my thinking about the purpose and intent of music is speech act theory. Two important theologians today who would be more than happy to acquaint you with speech act theory, if you are not already, are Kevin Vanhoozer and Michael Horton. I, however, am not well-versed enough to give a good summary here. I don’t believe anyone has written on relating speech act theory to other forms of communication (i.e. music), but I believe there are some important connections to be made (at a later time).

    Given my frame of reference, I do not think I have overstated my point. If you read the lyrics of a song (at least a well-written one) you will NOT receive the same effect as hearing the song performed (whether you realize it or not). A good songwriter is able to craft a song in such a way that it achieves a particular or general effect in its hearers WHEN HEARD AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE HEARD…as a whole, through time.

    Yes, words have meaning, but any student of poetry, even Old Testament poetry, will recognize that words achieve meaning differently in poetry. Prose is, if you will, more scientific; it abides (by and large) by a set of rules of grammar and syntax that govern meaning. Poetry, however, communicates much of its intended meaning precisely by BREAKING the rules of grammar and syntax. I am not being postmodern (or what have you) by saying that words can carry completely different meaning in poetry than in prose. Sometimes particular words exist in a piece of poetry only for the sake of building a general sense (as they are heard in time), not for communicating a set of literal predications.

    I apologize for the lengthy diatribe far afield from the original post. Thanks for the time and opportunity for discussion.

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  7. phil m says:

    I think that when he says “building the kingdom by using the devil’s tool” he could very well be referring to the actions (torture) that our country (the US) and it’s current administration have been taking in the name of “good” triumphing over “evil” and protecting our way of life.

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