Prototype: a book review

Jonathan Martin is a pastor of a church with a trendy name (Renovatus) which ministers to people on the margins in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a great head of hair, tells poignant stories of his own spiritual journey and those of his faith community. He cries a lot for kind of a big guy, quotes all the right books and likes all the right music (i.e. Bob Dylan, U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.). These are all the sort of things that should make me suspicious. But then I found myself really enjoying his new book Prototype: What Happens When You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think.

Prototype: What Happens When You Are More Like Jesus Than You Think by Jonathan Martin

The underlying premise of Prototype is that believing in Jesus means being like Jesus. Not a new concept right? But this isn’t just a WWJD-knock-off. Martin argues that Jesus, the prototype of the new humanity, came to show us how to be really human. That means getting in touch with our true selves and not operating out of our fractured identity. Jesus is our exemplar and following him means discovering what we were meant to be.

Prototype begins with two stories. The first story comes from Mark 5 where Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac who said his name was Legion. Martin observes that this fractured man who had been bound in chains and lived naked among the tombs did not frighten the Gerasenes.  Nor were they afraid when their pigs rushed over a cliff. The frightening thing for them was seeing this man fully clothed and his  right mind (Mark 5:15). Martin observes:

In a world where self-destructive behavior has become commonplace, the most frightening scenario may not be a global apocalypse. Perhaps the most startling thing to see is someone whom we have come to expect to be as fragmented, fractured and self-destructive as we are, transformed into the epitome of sanity, peace, and purpose (5).

The second story which frames this book is a story about Martin himself. He talks about how as a fearful and anxious child (raised on Pentecostal apocalyptic literature and movies),  he experienced freedom from his anxiety during the countless hours he rode his blue-and-silver Schwinn bike around his cul-de-sac. While riding he made up stories, talked to himself and felt free. As an adult, Martin was praying with one of his friends who pictured  the boy Martin riding his bike, talking to himself, making up stories and alive with freedom and creativity. Martin had not told his friend about his childhood bike riding, but six months later when Martin was on a bike the image arrested him and he felt the intensity of God’s overwhelming love for him in the same way he experienced that freedom and life as a child.

In the pages that follow Martin unfolds our true identity in Christ–our belovedness. He talks about how God shows us who we are in the obscurity of the wilderness and  how God’s love can pour through our wounds and bring healing to others.  He talks about the nature of doubt and faith (using Thomas’s hopeful doubting from John 20). And he paints a picture of community in all its wonderful, aggravating glory. He weaves together Biblical reflections with personal anecdotes and stories of those in his church.

I loved this book. Martin comes from a Pentecostal heritage and his reflections are amenable for Charismatic Christians.  However this is a little more substantive than books you will find in the Charismatic section of your Family Christian Bookstore. Martin is a graduate from Duke Divinity and his book is peppered with references to Stanley Hauerwas, Herbert McCabe, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner and Eugene Peterson. Yes, Martin reads my favorite authors [note: I haven’t actually read anything from Herbert McCabe: he is my favorite author I haven’t read].  But the theological depth he brings to his prose is unobtrusive because mostly Martin is just a  good storyteller. You find yourself drawn-in by his humour and grace.  So this is a great read which will challenge you and help you discover your identity and calling in Christ.  I was personally encouraged by Martin’s chapter on “Obscurity” which is where I feel like I’m living right now.

On the ministry side:  I liked what I learned about his church and their vision for ministry and will likely look for more from Martin and Renovatus.  His great hair still makes me suspicious. I give this book 4.5 stars!

Thank you to Tyndale Momentum for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.

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