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

(bridge)
‘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.

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10 Questions…

Every once in a while I get an email (usually from my lovely wife) that asks a bunch of fun little questions (my favorite food, etc.). I tend to find such quizzes silly and I always wish I was as witty and quick as my friends who twist every one of their answers into some hilarious (though often crass) pun. What I really don’t like about these emails is that the questions are rather mundane and don’t really tell you much about a person. I have decided, therefore, to create my very own 10 question quiz designed to tell you something about me. I’m not emailing this to anyone, but my readers are welcome to publish their own answers to these 10 questions (or any 10 questions really) on their own blogs or in the comments. Off we go.

1. Who is your favorite existentialist philosopher?

Soren Kierkegaard. I should provide the caveat that I haven’t read an awful lot of what people call existentialist philosophy, but I’ve read Kierkegaard and he is often considered the father (or perhaps grand-father) of all existentialist philosophy. Nietzsche gets similar credit at times, but I’ve read him too and tend to think he’s something of an evil bastard, so Kierkegaard wins. For the record I’ve also read some Heidegger and like most people I’m just proud to have understood most of the sentences.

2. What is your favorite literary guilty pleasure?

Harry Potter. I know these books are intended as children’s literature, but I love them. These are some of my very favorite books in recent years and the fact that they’re a little cotton-candy just makes them more fun to read again and again. I also tend to think that Rowling hits some pretty deep and important themes in her work. See my GAHP post below.

3. What is your favorite Clint Eastwood movie?

Unforgiven. This is, quite simply, the ultimate western.

4. Who is your favorite Harry Potter character?

Neville Longbottom. If I ever get to posting more of my GAHP series you’ll get to know why. If not it will remain a mystery forever.

5. What are your hobbies?

I like to cook, I like to read and I like to write. For the time being these are all hobbies, though if I have my way they will all, someday, be things I get paid to do.

6. What is the best book you’ve read recently?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I’m actually still reading this book and I simply can’t put into words what a wonderful writer Dillard is. This book is pure brilliance and everyone should read it.

7. What is your favorite blog?

Slacktivist. I’ve plugged Fred Clark’s blog quite a few times before and I’m sure I’ll do it quite a few times in the future. He is a magnificent op-ed writer, a very talented amateur theologian and his brilliant and scathing critiques of pre-millenial dispensationalism and the Left Behind books should be mandatory reading at every Bible College in North America.

8. What is the worst book you’ve ever read?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. This book was awful. The prose was awful, the plot was awful, the characters were awful, and the pseudo-history was simply laughable. Though I am against all book burning in principle this literary turd may just be exception-worthy.

9. Who is your favorite British Science-Fiction author/humorist?

Douglas Adams. Everybody should read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and the Dirk Gently series. If you haven’t read them yet go out and read them now. I have only one warning: read these books alone. If you don’t you’ll feel like a tool for inexplicably laughing out loud every ten minutes or so.

10. Who is your favorite person in the world?

My wife, Jinny. She is beautiful, loving, brilliant, fun, kind, responsible and (not at all surprisingly) a damn good mommy. I should note that my little boy, Liam, runs an unbelievably tight second to his mommy in this race.

Drumroll Please…

It is my great pleasure and honor to finally announce the birth of our first child, our new son Liam Milton Toffelmire. Sorry but no pics right now, I’m a tool and forgot the camera at the hospital. Liam was born at 4:30pm, August 13th by emergency c-section. He and Jinny are both doing wonderfully now, though Liam had a bit of a rough start. He coded in the operating room and spent the first hour or so of his life with a tube down his throat. He’s doing great now and shows all the signs of a happy, alert little baby. He’s even starting to breastfeed pretty well. Incidentally the pregnancy, imminent birth and last minute renos on the house (which were because of the imminent birth) are the reasons I’ve been away from blogging for so long. I’ll probably be off for a little longer, but I’ll try to keep Liam updates coming. Cheers all.

Update: I’ve uploaded a whole bunch of pictures to our family blog. Check out the link on my sidebar.