Lecrae’s newest album is his most controversial. Some suggest a transition beyond “Christian music” (a label Lecrae himself rejects). Mainstream musicians such as Ty Dolla Sign and Tori Kelly collaborate on several songs. He vocalizes frustrations with evangelicals—among others—wanting him to be a “religious puppet.” He raises issues of social justice. Lecrae questions his faith, admits his depression and doubt, and confesses his sins. Does this album reflect the same values, theology, skill, and expression of biblical faith that drew so many Christians (including white evangelicals)?
While that will be determined by many other listeners, I can say without hesitation that this album offers a great deal for Christians to enjoy, find hope in, and receive benefit from. All Things Work Together offers what we expect from the Grammy-winning Lecrae: reflective biblical wisdom fused with a legit rap record. There’s no drop in the quality of a musical album produced nor is there (for me) a significant shift in the message. This might not be the positive, cuddly, cozy Christian music played on the radio but it offers a more robustly biblical Christianity that holds in tension our pain and hope, darkness and light, struggling and greater grace, and gratitude and confession. Here are three of the many reasons to listen to All Things Work Together.
- For Perspective
Whether or not you like rap, like “Christian rap” or not, listening to voices different from your own provides perspective. While reading Movies are Prayers by Josh Larsen I was reminded that one benefit of movies, music, tv shows, and books is they can put you in another person’s shoes. Stories transport us outside of self and into a new environment. It does this without us thinking. It catches us off-guard as our defenses are down. We begin feeling and thinking with new eyes in a way that might not happen otherwise. This new perspective might not lead to an agreement all the time, but it at least allows us to listen, to give recognition to another, and to consider. But the key, as Larsen notes, is that we introduce ourselves to films, literature, and music that aren’t echo-chambers of our own lives. We must watch shows, listen to music, and read books where the setting and characters aren’t like us.
In Lecrae’s new album, All Things Work Together, he offers us a unique and needed perspective. Part of the album’s depth is the pain, searching, and loneliness Lecrae experiences as a misfit walking in rare territory as a “black evangelical,” a “Christian rapper,” and a “mainstream theologian.” Misunderstood and attacked on all sides and from all colors of skin in recent years, we can sense him wondering where he belongs. Who are his people? Which views and songs get him in trouble with what group?
Listening to these tracks gets us inside Lecrae’s heart and soul and we sense the strains from many sides. His Christianity gets him in trouble. His relationships with celebrities bring him heat. His views on unjust violence against black men, his theology, the sound of his music, and his relationships with the Church all stir up frustration for someone.
This album gives you a palpable sense of what a black Christian aligned with many white Christians feels in today’s climate. Unfortunately, the uncertainty, anxiety, and disappointment are justified. Too many are eager to listen to the truth of his theology but want to avoid the truth behind his social concerns. This is a biographical album. A story of what it looks, sounds, and feels like to be a black Christian living in a white Christian’s evangelicalism. This work, far from entertainment, allowed me to hear again some of those fears and frustrations.
The album also helps us see that Lecrae is still on this journey, trying to discover both who he is and where he does and doesn’t fit. Even if his exact struggles seem foreign, the search for identity and community he’s been on will remind you of your own journey. I felt myself learning to see with new eyes through the voice of someone whose experience is not like my own, and yet he’s a brother. We need this voice. We need this perspective.
- For Breadth
Much of the “Christian music” found on Christian radio has been tuned out by many of us. One reason is because of the dissonance between the words you hear from your radio and your life behind that steering wheel. Christian radio often portrays a Christianity that’s a little too sappy, overly optimistic, catered to white suburban moms (no really, this is the target audience), lacking emotional complexity, and eager to cover our struggles and sorrows under a blanket of clichés.
This looks nothing like the book of Psalms, which is so beautiful and beneficial in part because it connects with the whole range of human emotions, thoughts, desires, victories, and failures. For instance, the Psalms give us many prayers and songs of lament, confession, praise, thanksgiving, contrition, and even imprecatory psalms seeking God’s justice and vengeance against the wicked. However, Christian radio today seems to sing with one note: praise. How can we recover music that speaks to the breadth of human experiences?
Rap lends itself to lost expressions of biblical worship, namely confession and lament. All Things Work Together excels here as Lecrae and contributing artists sorrowfully, authentically, and tearfully give voice to suffering around us and sin within us. In interviews, such as this one with Billboard, Lecrae shares about the darkness, doubt, depression, and discouragement he lived in leading up to this album.
While the first half of the album constellates around Lecrae’s journey mentioned above, the second half (especially songs 9-14) shows us how a Christian can be honest about their pain while fighting to hold onto hope. To mention just one song, “Cry For You” captures the ongoing battle of indwelling sin, both temptation from sin and the devastation of sin. While Romans 8 supplies the album’s title, this single reminds us of the Romans 7 back-and-forth, up-and-down reality of wrestling with the flesh in the power of the Spirit. Here, as throughout All Things Work Together, tone matches content. It’s the combination of Taylor Hill’s pained voice with Lecrae’s vulnerable plea for relief that I found so moving. This is what good music does. It speaks to us and grabs us in a way our books sometimes can’t. If you’ve walked through dark and disappointing days but held onto—or been held by—the hope and grace of Jesus, Lecrae’s message to keep believing All Things Work Together will resonate.
Lecrae teaches us how to sing and how to pray in this album if we have ears to hear him. While we cannot ignore praise and thanksgiving (and as demonstrated in “Blessings,” he does not), we also must learn how to confess and lament. We must know how to bring our pain and our struggles to God rather than hiding them from him. This is the kind of faith that Christian radio lacks, and yet this is the faith-battle we live in. Lecrae serves the Church well by bringing back a breadth of biblical expression of faith.
- For Instruction
While Lecrae leads us into confession and lament, he does not leave us in the darkness. Light finds its way in throughout this album. Hope never comes easy, but it’s there. At times, it must be fought for. At times, we must preach to ourselves rather than listen to ourselves. Lecrae models for us the Christian life where we not only talk to God but where must talk to ourselves. In “Can’t Stop Me Now,” he doesn’t let his depression rule him with its discouraging and accusing whispers. Instead, he speaks over it with truth and gospel. He doesn’t let doubt linger and spread its roots. He tells it to leave. This project wasn’t just biographical; it’s also instructive. It encourages and exhorts.
We are thinking, feeling, desiring beings. We swing from fear to faith, from questioning God’s love to basking in it, and from unity with those around us to deep hurt from them. This is the normal Christian life and we must learn how to let our thinking guide our feeling. We don’t deny our emotions but we don’t succumb to them. Lecrae’s attempt to remind himself of what is true amidst conflicting feelings shows us how to do so in our own life. Stop listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself.
Lecrae’s album seamlessly takes us from giving thanks for our blessings to confessing our failures. It moves from wondering how things can happen as they are and yet trusting God’s plan in the midst of confusion. We have pasts we can view with new eyes (“Broke”). In the present, we feel things sincerely but we don’t let these feelings become ultimate (“Can’t Stop Me Now”). And our future is ultimately bright as we anchor ourselves in the sure, steady, and unchanging promises of God (“8:28”). It allows us to be honest with our doubt, sins, struggles, disappointments, and pain, but it doesn’t leave us there. It points us to a sovereign, gracious, kind, ever-present God who is working all things together for good. There is hope and there is light for us in our dark days. All things do work together for the good of those who love God.