Review Details

The Mud and the Masterpiece

Product Review (submitted on February 27, 2015):
Mud and the Masterpiece by John Burke, recently re-released under the title Unshockable Love, is an important book. Somewhat lost in the mass of books written by celebrity pastors of influential churches to address the various shortcomings of American Christianity, Mud and the Masterpiece aims to re-teach us how to love like Jesus. Burke’s primary method in Part 1 of the book is telling stories. He highlights stories from the gospels in which Jesus recognizes the humanity of a sinner and loves them despite the “mud” of their sin. He also gives examples of similar encounters in his own church, which is composed mainly of new converts to Christianity.

I have read a few critics of Burke that claim he is “soft on sin.” I didn’t get that impression at all from his writing. In trying to imitate Jesus’ example, Burke acknowledges people’s sin, offering no rationale for it, but strives to point the reader to the inherent nobility and dignity in each person. Granted for some people it will be hard work to see past the mud to the masterpiece, but Burke is persistent and encouraging. Always positive, he displays an earthy compassion through his writing that is staggering. Stand-out chapters for me were “Unshockable,” “Calling Out the Masterpiece,” and “Respecting Freedom.” These chapters stand out because I disagreed with many things in them at first, only to be won over by Burke’s insistent focus on grace and love.

The book takes a startling practical turn in Part 2, where Burke begins to lay out a blueprint for forming a community of faith that will love those on the fringes. His primary illustration is that of an ocean wave, with individual people represented by water molecules gaining energy, contributing to a larger movement. As a church leader, I would have loved to hear more about how the “faith networks” Burke describes in this section fit into the overall ministry of the megachurch he pastors, but he doesn’t really go there. The focus is on laypeople beginning a grassroots movement, which I found inspiring. This is unique stuff to be found in a book like this. Very practical. I especially appreciated the chapter entitled “Everyone Can Develop Someone.”

I am so glad Burke himself narrated the audiobook version. His tone and humor really come through in a way that couldn’t be approached by a different narrator. Burke even stumbles over his words sometimes, making this book feel more like a conversation with a man whose passion and compassion are infectious. It’s impossible to not like Burke.

I recommend this book to any and all church leaders who want to have churches that better reflect the heart of Christ when it comes to loving hard-to-love people. I also recommend it to those who aren’t in vocational ministry but are thinking about starting a movement in their neighborhood or town, as this book offers a compelling blueprint for that.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.