Thrice Says Goodbye... For Now - An Interview with Dustin Kensrue
Our interview with worship leader and hard rock singer Dustin Kensrue.
Though you are a Christian, your music hasn’t ever been direct about that. How have you ridden that line and where does that desire come from?
Well, first of all I’m not trying to write about anything necessarily. I’m not sure I have a goal of writing this or that song, I just write about whatever is important to me and my personality is very black and white, big picture questions are what interest me. So, I tend to write about those kinds of things; life, death, God, whatever. I think I’ve probably been influenced by CS Lewis and his thoughts on writing in particular and creation of different art in general. He has an essay called “On Writing Children’s Stories” and it’s really good, really helpful for I think any artist to read, not just someone of faith. This idea that he has is to not try to artificially instill a moral into your work. That will just come across as a platitude or a cliché. It won’t be in there naturally, it won’t sit with it, it will be alien to it. He basically says that if you are transformed at a deep level by whatever truth you believe then that’s going to work itself out into your art.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Weiner
A good example of that is how all of Narnia came not from what people would assume; that he wanted to teach people certain things about Christianity and teach it to children so he wrote it in a certain form. He wrote it from an image that he had had in his head since he was a little boy of a fawn in a wood, in a snowstorm, carrying a parcel and an umbrella. That image had just been with him for a long time and that’s where the whole thing spun out of because he loved that image and he wrote from it. So, I try to do something similar where I have an image or a line, and I just write. At certain points you are kind of guiding where it ends up and fine tuning it, but you’re not starting out with this “I need to get this idea across in this kind of song.” Just letting it flow a little more naturally is really helpful.
Have you always written that way?
It’s hard to look back and dissect when I consciously started observing certain things about why I did things, but generally I’ve always written that way. I think I’ve understood it better in later years.
So, what is your specific faith background?
I was raised in a non-denominational Christian Bible church. My mom was a believer, my dad was not until I was older, maybe ten or eleven. I grew up in the church and was kind of the kid with all the answers in Sunday school. So I was really proud of my knowledge of theology at a young age but that really was not a healthy thing. I was always very critical of my faith, making sure that it warranted belief and testing it, finding evidence for it or against it. That had gone fairly well until I was in my early twenties. I had a couple of years that were rough because I had come to realize that I didn’t have all of the answers and that really freaked me out. Through that I really was taught what Biblical faith looked like. Nowadays we kind of contrast faith and reason, but that was never the way that it’s used in scripture. Faith is closer to what we would call trust, so whenever the biblical authors would talk about faith, that entailed trust based on good reason. So, like you would have trust in maybe a friend or your parents because you knew their character so that was good reason but you might not understand what they were doing at any given time but you still trusted them. So, in the same way we have good reason, I would say, to trust that God is who He says He is revealed in scripture, but we’re not always going to have every answer to every question.
So that was kind of a big milestone, and then coming to a more reformed or monergistic view of Christianity maybe five, six years ago was another big milestone. I hesitate to say certain names just because they become like fighting words or divisive things, but generally stuff that would fall more in a Calvinistic scheme than an Armenian one. Like the idea that God is sovereign over salvation and that basically we’re incapable apart from His regenerating of our hearts. That we’re sinners in that apart from changing our hearts, changing our desires we can’t rightly choose Him. So there are a lot of reasons why I hold to that now but the reason I think it is important is that it completely changed the way that I view my faith from top to bottom. Just because it then becomes not about me working to please God, which I would have never put in those terms but functionally that’s how I lived, and now I work out of gratitude for what God’s done for me.