I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith by Lecrae. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2020
This well-written book is Lecrae’s follow-up to his 2016 book Unashamed (see my review of that book here). This new book expands on some of the topics the author touched on in his first book, such as trauma from sexual and physical abuse, and being abandoned by his father. The book also addresses criticism he received for collaborating with mainstream (non-Christian) rap artists, for speaking out about police brutality, beginning with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and his “loosening ties” with white evangelism. The book deals with serious issues such as trauma, loss of faith, deconstructing his faith, hurt from the church, politics, substance abuse, depression, and ultimately restoration. The book is a good companion to his Restoration album. See my review of the original album here, and the additional songs included on the expanded new Deluxe Edition here.
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I was introduced to Lecrae’s music by John Piper and blogger Tim Challies. His music was like a breath of fresh air to me. Here was a rapper who was shining his light for Christ in the mostly dark world of rap music, and his lyrics were often sprinkled with biblical, reformed theology. I have seen him in concert three times, the last one coming in April, 2016 in Peoria, in front of an embarrassingly small crowd. I originally blamed the small turnout on a lack of promotion, but based on this book, now believe it was based on the reaction of Lecrae’s fans to his speaking out on social issues and loosening ties with white evangelicalism mentioned above. I was familiar with a part of Lecrae’s story that he tells in this book through his social media posts and his lyrics, as well as a social media interaction I had with him, in which he gave me a list of books to read to help me understand his “loosening ties” with white evangelicalism. That list included the excellent book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
The book is organized into three parts:
Part 1: Facing My Own Chaos
Part 2: Reckoning with the Chaos Around Me
Part 3: Finding Hope in the Midst of Chaos
The first part of the book addresses Lecrae’s dealing with the trauma in his life that he experienced many years after the sexual and physical abuse took place, along with the lack of a father figure in his life. He writes that he was broken and suffering dysfunction that was luring him into a pit of chaos. His life was a wreck, filled with addiction to alcohol and self-medication. He writes that he didn’t understand how the context of his past led him to the choices of his present. He realized early on in his journey out of chaos that what he needed most was a therapist, not a theologian, as most of the theology he had learned was missing the right categories for handling trauma in a healthy way.
He writes of romanticizing street life early in his life as he spent summers with his uncle, getting tough, running the streets, and searching for significance. When he found hip-hop, he felt like it was all he needed to fill in any of his life gaps.
He writes of being introduced to reformed theology, and devouring books from authors John Piper, J. I. Packer, John MacArthur and others. He would later incorporate this theology into his music. He writes that inwardly, without a father in his life, he was being consumed with the desperate desire to be affirmed by other men. His life changed when some of the white heroes whose works he’d read were now publicly embracing and affirming his artistry. Without being specific (and I would have liked to have known more about this painful time), he said that he let his guard all the way down with this group of people, and that he was “the slave who had been accepted into the master’s house”.
He writes about his “tribe” being fixated on his collaborations with mainstream artists. He states that he was slowly becoming disillusioned with a group of believers (reformed theologians), who were so sure of themselves, and were convinced that they had cornered the market on truth. As a result, he felt that he needed to deconstruct his faith to ground zero in order to reestablish his faith.
He tells of being referred to as “a mascot for white evangelicalism”, being a breaking point for him, a moment of clarity that began a long process of deconstruction and moving away from the evangelical traditions that he was discipled in. He writes that he never wanted to be a puppet, never wanted to be used by others as a tool for their agenda, but he feels that is exactly what happened. Again, I would have liked to have known specifics of what he was writing about in generalities, as these are serious charges. It may have been around this time (the book doesn’t address this), that he publicly indicated that he was going to “loosen ties” with white evangelism. Read John Piper’s thoughtful response to that here.
He writes that systemic evil is baked into the fabric of our country, and that the American church was late to the party in condemning racism. He goes on to state that he felt like the white American church turned its back on him. As a result, he started to expand his reading and listening to include more voices from the margins, and it was like a community started to organically form around him.
He addresses his political views (supportive of Barak Obama and Joe Biden, and very much opposed to Donald Trump). He writes of being shocked to see “Trump 2016” bumper stickers and signs everywhere near a venue he was playing, and realizing that Trump was who most evangelicals, including many of his fans, supported in the 2016 election.
He writes positively about the protests of Colin Kaepernick, and that when he spoke about social justice issues on social media, he faced death threats, threatening letters sent to his home, and racial slurs. His hope is that his white fans will consider the depth of their own privilege. He indicates that they have in front of them an opportunity to use their influence to create more just, equitable systems and to prioritize voices of color.
At this point in his life, he got to the point where he came to a crisis of faith. He felt trapped in a cycle of bondage. Uncovering the wounds of his childhood left him confused and in pain. He was traumatized from decades of rejection. All he wanted to do was be affirmed by people who loved all of him, not just his music. The one place that he knew would accept him was the mainstream music scene.
He writes of a three-month period in which he suffered from a clinical depression that robbed him of his happiness. His poor decisions and self-medication only made his situation worse than it already was. Darkness overtook his mind and infected every relationship he held dear. He was at the peak of his mainstream career (his September, 2014 album Anomaly debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart), and at the same time he was deeply sick. Yet, at that time, he wondered if this was all there was to life.
To make matters even worse, during the cycle of depression, Lecrae was spiritually malnourished. He writes that his depression was dangerous, but his spiritual condition was deadly. He even thought about leaving both the faith and his wife.
In writing of his restoration, he began to see some proof that he shouldn’t completely abandon the faith. He states that he already knew God was real, but he needed intellectual proof that Christianity wasn’t just some Western religion drenched in white supremacy.
An Egypt vacation was a key turning point in his life. He writes that he wasn’t fully healed, but had started the process of healing. He would go back to traditions he learned when he was being discipled (reading the Bible, leading family devotions, etc.), but the motives of his heart were self-righteous. He writes that whenever his devotion to Jesus was consistent, everything was fine. But when his devotion failed, he felt like a failure. His self-righteousness could take him only so far. Without grace, he would only continue to stumble in pursuit of personal health. Eventually, he came face-to-face with his own self-righteousness and realized that he had lived this way for his entire life. He had tried to find his hope in affirmation and the satisfaction of others, but that was an empty proposition.
He shares his steps toward restoration, which included a four-month sabbatical and seeking mental health counseling. He writes of how God met him on the way back to him, and how he was overwhelmed by his grace and love. He was also overwhelmed by how deeply his community loved him. He confessed everything to his wife, who affirmed him at his lowest and loved him at his worst. He also had hard conversations with his friends, the men in his life whom he had spent years evading. In the midst of his trauma, God healed him. He writes that for the first time in a long time, he now feels healthy enough to flourish in all areas of his life. He ends the book by sharing a few mental perspectives that have proved to be invaluable in this season of his life.
You may not agree with all of Lecrae’s views on theology, politics, social justice issues, the role of women in the church, etc., and that’s OK – I don’t either. The Body of Christ is wide and broad. If you don’t like what he stands for, you don’t have to listen to his music or read his books. I appreciated the transparency he demonstrated in telling his journey from brokenness to restoration.
Below are some of best quotes from the book:
- Through my journey to restoration, I’ve learned this simple truth: we can face our past willingly, or our lives will force us to face it. It’s really that simple.
- Over time I have become convinced that God had a script for me to follow. His script is simply to love him completely, love my neighbors faithfully, and navigate life in light of these two commands.
- I’ve learned something when it comes to racism in America: it will find you.
- I spent years being more devoted to my devotion for God than to God’s devotion to me. I was committed to loving my service to God rather than loving how God had already served me. I was addicted to my own self-righteousness. It was the root of all my ills.
- No matter what we think, there is no way we will drift toward healthy living. Rather than drifting toward better lives, we will always drift closer to unhealthy habits and stagnancy.
- God is making a masterpiece out of my mess. God’s masterpieces are unfinished products.
- Instead of denying my weaknesses or the things in my life that were hard, I needed to embrace them to become the best version of myself, to flourish as God had created me.
- God brought me out of my pit. Because he redeemed me, I’m convinced that everyone who has fallen short can find redemption.
- Jonathans are essential. We all need those people who will be a constant well of encouragement and side with us even in difficult circumstances. We need Jonathans, but we also need some “Nathans.”
- More “Favorite Books of 2020” Lists. Here is Russell Moore’s list, and Kevin Halloran’s list. From his review of 20-25 “Best Books” lists, Tim Challies shares the consensus six best books. Here are books that the Gospel Coalition Editorial Staff enjoyed.
- Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts. Kevin Halloran reviews Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragements for Your Marriage When Life Hurts by Jeff and Sarah Walton. He writes “Together Through the Storms is part biography, part book on suffering, part book on communication in marriage, and part book on living out the gospel. Reading it with your spouse will help you process past difficulty and prepare for the future. It’s a very practical book too, with ten-page chapters that end with reflection questions, a prayer, and related Scriptures.”
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?
This week we look at the final chapter in the book, Chapter 24: Tetelestai! The Triumph is Complete. Here are a few takeaways from the chapter:
- Jesus’ death was an act of the Son’s submissive obedience to the Father’s will. And Jesus Himself was in absolute control.
- When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant it. Nothing can be added to what He did.
- No works of human righteousness can expand on what Jesus accomplished for us.
- This, then, is the gospel our Lord sends us forth to proclaim: That Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, humbled Himself to die on our behalf. Thus, He became the sinless sacrifice to pay the penalty of our guilt. He rose from the dead to declare with power that He is Lord over all, and He offers eternal life freely to sinners who will surrender to Him in humble, repentant faith. This gospel promises nothing to the haughty rebel, but for broken, penitent sinners, it graciously offers everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
Next time, we’ll begin looking at the book’s three appendices.