Caedmon’s Call will carry on. This year marks the 25th anniversary of their self-titled album, and the acoustic band that specialized in thoughtful lyrics and singable melodies has announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise support for rerecording those early songs. (The album is out of print and not available on streaming platforms.)
My History with Caedmon’s Call
I bought the Caedmon’s Call CD in the summer of 1997. I was 16, and it showed up in a bin at Tower Records. Although a bit pricey for me at the time (I was just starting to earn cash on my own, McDonald’s being my first job), the album had “Lead of Love” at the top of the track list, an acoustic-driven song I enjoyed when played on the radio. I hoped I’d like the other songs, too. (You see, kids, this took place in the days before you could stream or purchase just the song or two you liked from a band. If you wanted a song, you had to drop $17–18 and hope there were more like it on the rest of the CD!)
Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. Over the summer of 1997 and into the fall, I listened to that album enough to scratch it up. I fell in love with “Hope to Carry On,” which renewed my appreciation for Rich Mullins, whose death that September shocked me, just days after losing my best friend and next-door neighbor to suicide.
Music ministered to me during this season. I knew the lyrics by heart, feeling the songwriters’ sense of spiritual angst and watching as they probed into deeper theological issues related to sin, salvation, and sovereignty. Songs like “This World” captured the feeling of living in a society with “nothing for me” and “everything”—“all that I could want and nothing that I need.” The album’s closer, “Coming Home,” expressed the frustration and exhilaration of seeking to live for Jesus while stumbling in obedience:
You say You want a living sacrifice
Well I am a burnt offering
Crawling off the altar and back into the fire
And with my smoke-filled lungs
I cry out for freedom
While locking and chaining myself
To my rotting desires.
The next album, 40 Acres, was released in 1999. By that time, I was a senior in high school and a devoted fan. I remember visiting different colleges, listening to the album with headphones—those words and melodies pressing into my adolescent mind. I marveled at the sovereignty of God in making good of our messes, and then looked up the word “ineffable” (from “There You Go”). I felt the longing and loneliness in “Table for Two.” And I was puzzled by a theology that would lead a singer to offer thanks for being “incapable of doing any good on my own.”
The contemporary Christian music scene in the late 1990s was at its high-water mark of creativity . . . and in the deepest pools of kitsch—at the same time. But Caedmon’s Call combined earnestness and profundity in a way that charmed you and brought you into a deeper conversation. Listening to a Caedmon’s Call album made you want to lean in, to ask the big questions, to mourn your sin and marvel at God.
Sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine remarked on how we pray and sing our way into the faith. There’s no question that Caedmon’s Call prepared the way for me to arrive at a richer and fuller understanding of theology by raising big questions and singing big praises to God for his sovereignty in salvation. I know people my age who became part of the “young, restless, reformed” movement, and who credit the influence of Caedmon’s Call’s music in their theological development.
Derek Webb and Deconstruction
C. S. Lewis once commented on how the apologist for Christianity is never more susceptible to doubt than when he or she has just successfully argued for the Christian position. In that moment, the faith seems to rest on the strength of the argument, which for the apologist suddenly seems “no stronger than that weak pillar.”
Derek Webb was an artistic apologist for Reformed theology in his work with Caedmon’s and then in his solo albums. But several years before “deconstruction” became a topic of conversation, Derek publicly renounced his Christian convictions. Today, he doesn’t consider himself a believer, although he holds open the possibility that being an atheist in regard to the Christian God doesn’t mean he’ll remain an atheist related to any and every God. He sometimes revisits his old songs, and he’s connected to a church (albeit one that falls outside of historic Christian orthodoxy in both theology and ethics).
And now, Derek is part of the Caedmon’s Call reunion and Kickstarter campaign. It would be impossible to do this project without him, as his voice and lyrics were so prominent on the album they hope to rerecord.
But Derek’s presence has left some Caedmon’s Call fans conflicted about this new campaign.
Should Christians support a reunion effort by contributing funds to a group with a member who no longer holds to the faith? Can Christians enjoy a concert with someone “standing up for nothing”? Should we in good conscience support unbelievers singing Christian songs?
Now, I could point to numerous examples of common grace in which Christians enjoy Christmas music or gospel albums performed by singers who show no evidence of saving faith. But I get it—the Derek Webb departure feels different, more personal. It still stings. We are always more inclined to show grace toward people making their way into the great city than those who have left it (and cursed it on their way out).
Hope to Carry On
It’s not my place to tell people if they should be excited about the Caedmon’s Call reunion or reject the campaign. That’s for the individual to consider and discern. All I’ll say is this: Love hopes all things.
Whether you get involved or skip the new album and concert, don’t miss the opportunity to pray for these band members as they renew their friendships.
What if the beautiful truths once expressed by Derek Webb became a boomerang of grace back to his heart? What if the albums that helped a generation of young people sing their way into Big-God theology became the catalyst for a wanderer to sing his way back into orthodoxy?
Naïve, you say. Improbable, you think. Perhaps. But isn’t every conversion improbable, a miracle of grace? At the very least, we can hope and pray that God in his gracious sovereignty might say over Derek Webb: “He must and shall go free.”
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