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Prototype (An Illustrated Review)

“I believe that somewhere, somehow, you’ve heard the music. Distant or close, you’ve heard the song of your belovedness. It’s a song of unrestrained joy, a song of hope and belonging. A song that calls you into the future. Can you even imagine what it would be like to dance the dance of children, the dance before innocence was lost?” – Prototype

I can’t remember now where I first heard of Jonathan Martin.

Looking back, it seems as if he’s always been there. Like Jesus, or Will Smith.

All I know is that sometime last summer, I stumbled across him on Twitter: @RenovatusPastor  – this tall, Pentecostal(?) preacher with Inigo Montoya hair, who kept dropping truth bombs as if there was no tomorrow. Everything he said landed in my heart and exploded with reverberating thunder. It was the Gospel I had always known, but spoken in a way that made it seem a bit more alive, a bit more expansive, a bit more exciting every time I thought about it.

Above the post-apocalyptic landscape of the religious blogosphere, Renovatus Pastor rose as a beacon of beauty and hope, inviting us all to follow him toward Jesus. (He might cringe at this grandiose description, but if you’ve read his stuff I know you’ll agree with me.)

I Am Legend. Jonathan Martin. Prototype.

So you can imagine that I was pretty excited to get my hands on a copy of his book. No longer would I have to scroll through my Twitter feed to find his truth bombs – they were all available in convenient book form for less than $15. When Prototype finally showed up in my mailbox yesterday, I started reading almost immediately. With excitement and tired eyes, I flew through the pages – underlining and circling and Tweeting and scrawling “THIS!” and “LOLZ” in the margins. I think I may have even drawn a few smiley faces, but I’m not sure. It’s all rather a blur.

Really, Prototype is like a sermon.

Not a boring, doodle-on-the-bulletin, fall-asleep-in-church sermon. It’s the kind of sermon where it feels like he’s preaching straight to your heart, weaving stories and truth together seamlessly. The kind of sermon where you lose track of time.

I have to admit, I came into Prototype with pretty high expectations (what with Jonathan Martin being like Will Smith and all). The first chapter or two, while solid, didn’t amaze me. There were a lot of paragraphs of “What if…” questions, a phrase that’s become worn with overuse in Christian writing.

But I kept reading. And like a beautiful sermon, or a song, Prototype soon found a rhythm. I started turning the pages faster. On occasion I nearly stood up and shouted “Amen”, as if my living room was suddenly an old-timey revival tent. By the end, when the preacher began the invitation, I wanted to be the first out of my seat and up the aisle. It’s a simple invitation but it tugs at my heart as he repeats it over and over on the last pages of the book – whispering at first, but then shouting (as a good preacher does):

“Come up here… Come up here… Come up here… Can you see that’s where the music’s been headed all along?”

I’m terrible at reviewing books. I have no idea what I’m doing. I know that if I say “This is the best book ever! Everyone should read it!” that will probably make you less likely to read it. Probably the best thing I can do is let the book speak for itself. Look at this. How could you not want to read a book like this?

“This book is not about finding religion. It’s not a self-help manual. I don’t have seven habits or twelve steps to take you anywhere. This is about becoming awake to God. And if we become awake to God, we become awake to everything and everyone around us.” 

A few highlights: The story about the boy on the bike. This is where it starts, and without it the picture of Jonathan riding his bike into church last Sunday doesn’t make any sense. The chapters about “Sacrament” and “Community”. They’re so full of big ideas about how we relate to God and each other, they both deserve their own books. The reference to “Doubting Thomas” and “Wedgie Martin”. That was the first time I wrote “LOLZ” in the margin. Also, the story about finding God at the beach. As a guy who has often found God at the beach, it was all I could do to not take off right then, running toward the East Coast. (I wouldn’t have gotten very far.)

Jonathan Martin on a Bike

picture via @renovatuselder

Jonathan Martin is a smart guy, with degrees from Pentecostal Theological Seminary and Duke University Divinity School. There’s a lot of theology in this book, but it doesn’t feel like “theology”. It feels like a friend talking to you over coffee, about the God he knows and loves. It’s tangled up with true stories, from Jonathan’s life, from his community, from Renovatus Church. I’ve known a lot of theology that made God seem far away and abstract, hidden behind big words and complex theories. But Prototype is about a God who is near, whispering love to you, inviting you to resurrection.

From the beginning to the end, much of what Jonathan Martin wrote resonated with the things God has been whispering to my heart recently. About freedom. About a God who bleeds. About my identity as Beloved. Reading it today, I felt like I wasn’t alone.

I think I’ll be sitting with this book for a while. Join me?

buy Prototype ]


And now, truth bombs (a.k.a quotes from Prototype) :

Over and over again, I sensed Him reminding me that I was His beloved son – and that He loved me exactly as I was.

If God is love, and perfect love casts out fear, then fear is the opposite of everything that God is.

Scars tell the story of who we really are and where we’ve really come from, even when we refuse to speak the truth with our eyes.

This is what resurrection does to a person – it doesn’t make you “religious,” it makes you attentive to beauty on an unprecedented scale.

The story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is only one story; but it’s such a sweeping story that it’s big enough to fit all of our little stories into it.

If we listen attentively to the Spirit, we hear God singing. If we listen a bit closer, we hear Him weeping.

Prototype Book Motorycle

I’m a boy on a bike, reading about a boy on a bike. Don’t try this at home.

published May 1, 2013

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