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Beautiful Masterpieces

Bob Kilpatrick, professional musician and pastor and his son Joel have written a timely and well written book on living as God's masterpiece. Part of the central thrust of the book's message is "Too often, instead of enjoying the beauty our Maker is creating in and through us, we view God through the lens of personal weakness. Our theology is shaped by what we lack than by who God is" (11). Kilpatrick goes on to frame the idea that many believers think of God like a senior mechanic trying to fix what is broken rather than an amazing artist, crafting his work to display. The difference is one between math and art. Math is an equation to be solved, it is much more likely to arrange and account for information rather than create a new piece of work (15). In the end, God is much more concerned about the masterpiece you are being shaped into then the list of vices that you avoid and virtues that you extol. In what remains of my review I hope to engage four areas that were of importance to me when reading the book: mainly, what was good about the book, what was excellent, what was confusing/puzzling, and what could use some work.

First, the section on Art and Limitations was a breath of fresh air. Writing about the poisonous platitudes we are given by people who say, "You can do anything you want," Kilpatrick writes, "I can't do anything I want, no matter how hard I try. And neither can you. Rather, God has outfitted each of us with a few certain things we can do well. He has put boundaries on us" (142-3). Growing up I heard the same stupid piece of advice about doing anything if we put our minds to it, which in the end is a setup for failure. Kilpatrick is exactly right. We are given a small set of gifts, talents, and passions that we are to put in place and use for the glory of God. A plumber is made in such a way to fix broken pipes in houses. His craft is not that of a master carpenter. In much the same way, if we are spending all our time ministering to high school students but have a great passion and gift for teaching through the Bible to the elderly, we are out of place in ministry. Secondly, Kilpatrick notes that these limitations are not sinful but are God-given (146). Not only this, but when we get frustrated with others because they have different gifts or passions, we should readily admit that they too are given limitations.

Alongside this section, another part that was good was his unartistic examples of evangelism. Too often, in para-church organizations and church led evangelism groups, we are told that street evangelism is the best way to share the good news. Reel them in and God will take care of the rest. Yet, the sinner's prayer and the moment of conversion are part of the parcel of our everyday evangelistic lingo. Rather, "Jesus did call us to tell the story and make disciples -which is not to be confused with making converts" (119). Through examples and illustrations of life stories and the Bible, Kilpatrick bears witness that many believers stake their claim as disciples through seeing a community, through tragic events, even through a long wrestling with questions of faith. Lastly, the street evangelism approach fails to take into account the need for life long followers, people who are more interested in the growth of character than a one time decision.

The part that I felt was excellent is found in the section Art v. Anti-Art. Kilpatrick speaks of how God has made us to be beautiful and then goes on to say, "As with all art connoisseurs, the worth of his art is in the price he is willing to pay for it. He gave the very life of his Son to redeem and remake us!" (57). Yes!! God was willing to send his Son Jesus to endure the shame, suffering, and pain of being put to death on the cross for us. Through death, God has brought about life, life that shines forth in the masterpieces of His holy ones. We need to stop believing that we are bad material for God, for he died for the ungodly, he went to such great depths that no one has even done close what he has done for us. There is no scrap metal in God's people.

The puzzling part for me involved the lack of any good discussion of the study of God's word as a spiritual discipline. I was hoping for even an encouragement to see the Bible as a storybook with a plot looking ahead. The little discussion on the sacraments was not enough. Yet, I did enjoy his high sacramental understanding of the mystery of these sacraments, a view that is seldom understood in the evangelical world.

Lastly, there was one section that I thought could use some more nuance or work. Kilpatrick's section on Art and Pain was sincere in its ideas did not take into account the path of suffering and pain that many face. Kilpatrick writes about his sister-in-law Shelley and her turbulent life. At the end her response is to ask herself, "What can I make of this?" "That sounds a lot different than, "Why, God" (193). I get the point that goal of pain is not to wade in it so long that we begin to lose sighty of reality. Yet, asking the question is of why is a normal human response to great tragedy and suffering. Pain and grief are part of what it means to be human in a fallen world, sometimes it can take times of healing to have a healthy perspective. We should not overspiritualize pain and not deal with the emotional blows many people face who deal with pain. Just because we cry out for an answer does not entail that we are not open to God making us into his masterpiece. It is never the questions and feelings that arise from these situations, but what we finally do with them (let them dominate us or allow healing to take place). Asking the question why is not part of the math equation, at least in my mind.

Overall, this is a book for those seeking to follow Christ who need a breath of fresh air. Not all its ideas you will agree with, but many you will find as good applications.

Thanks to Zondervan for the copy to review.


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