Wise Words from Pastor Jonathan: A Review of ‘Prototype’


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
This is what I do to books I like. 

This is what I do to books I like. 

I like Jonathan Martin for a lot of reasons: he’s funny; he’s an excellent writer; he celebrates and affirms the equality of women and speaks highly of his wife; he’s humble; he’s whimsical; he’s quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. 

But one of my favorite qualities about Jonathan is his wisdom. 

We got a little taste of this wisdom when we interviewed Jonathan for “Ask a Pentecostal…,” one of my favorite installments in our interview series thus far. And if you follow Jonathan’s blog or listen to his sermons online you will know exactly what I’m talking about. 

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I think of Jonathan as one of my pastors.  I have many pastors in my life—from my local pastors here in Dayton, to my “remote” pastors like Nadia Bolz Weber, Brian McLaren, Eugene Peterson, and Greg Boyd who have influenced me through their writing, speaking, and correspondence. They are Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Pentecostals, and I have benefitted from their insights and shepherding in ways too numerous to name. 

Well today I am pleased to report that Pastor Jonathan’s wisdom is on fine display in his debut book, Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think? In it, Jonathan explores what it means to be God’s beloved and to completely trust, as Jesus did, that God loves us. 

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I confess that, even as a fan of Jonathan’s, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It is rare to encounter a pastor who is as good at writing as he/she is at preaching, but Jonathan is laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, well-read (expect quotes from Flannery O’Conner, Henri Nouwen, and Frederick Buechner), appropriately self deprecating (“I know it’s a huge cliché for a thirtysomething pastor to be a massive U2 fan. But I don’t care”), prophetic, and at times startlingly poetic.

A third-generation Pentecostal preacher and the founder of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jonathan has taken the Pentecostal heritage with which he was raised and made it his own in some surprising and inspiring ways.  In Prototype, he writes about his childhood, about the South, about identity, calling, and community, about pulling together a ragamuffin group of liars, misfits, and dreamers to form Renovatus, about introducing weekly communion to his community. While the overarching theme of the book is indeed the love of God and the security and freedom we find in it, each chapter really stands on its own with insightful and challenging reflections on ideas like “obscurity,” “resurrection,” and  “wounds.”  (The chapter on obscurity is worth the price of the book. Really. I’ve read it three times over.) 

But as good as the writing is, and as compelling as the stories are, you don’t walk away from Prototype thinking about Jonathan Martin. You walk away from Prototype thinking about your own relationship with God and with the Church. You walk away thinking about the people of Renovatus—Blake, Teddy, and Sally. You walk away thinking about Jesus. 

And in a Christian culture bulging at the seams with celebrity pastors who seem as impressed with their own words as the words of Jesus, I can think of no higher compliment.

I underlined paragraph after paragraph in Prototype, and at times found myself wondering how someone from such a different background and with such different life experiences could know exactly what I’m going through, exactly what I hope for, exactly what I worry about, exactly what I fear, exactly what I love. Jonathan is Pentecostal, so there are indeed references to the devil and demons and healing and whatnot, (topics that sometimes make me squirm, I confess), but Jonathan puts a different spin on each. For example, he likens the cacophony of voices competing for our attention in our hyper-connected world to the demon Legion from the New Testament.  And the comparison works. 

I’ve already quoted from Prototype in a lecture at an event, and I suspect you will see more quotes appearing here on the blog and in future books. So the best I know to do is to share some of my favorite quotes here, in hopes they will encourage you to pick up the book for yourself: 

From “Obscurity”: 

“In our culture of constant access and nonstop media, nothing feels more like a curse from God than time in the wilderness. To be obscure, to be off the beaten path, to be in the wilderness feels like abandonment. It seems more like exile than a vacation. To be so far off of everyone’s radar that the world might forget about us for a while? That’s almost akin to death…[But] far from being punishment, judgment, or a curse, the wilderness is a gift. It’s where we can experience the primal delight of being fully known and delighted in by God.” (p. 50) 

***

“Obscurity is where God sends all His favorite sons and daughters. Our society tells us that if and when we get ‘there’—the job or position or degree we’ve always wanted, the notoriety we’ve always dreamed of—that’s when all the important stuff will start happening. Not so. All the good stuff happens in obscurity.” (p. 65) 

***

“If you haven’t been riled up about injustice lately, consider this: Around the world right now, every three seconds, an impoverished child is exposed to Nickleback.” (p. 46)

From “Wounds”: 

“We have always been inclined to worship people or things we perceive as being great. So we exaggerate our own greatness, inflate our successes, downplay our weaknesses, and hide our scars. Thus human history is largely the story of people who say, ‘My god can beat up your god, my king can beat up your king, my army is more awesome than your army,’ and then attempt to prove the point to each other. All in the name of greatness….So what do we make of a God who is worshipped not for His might but for His weakness, even for His wounds? Not a human wearing the medals of military conquest to convince us He is a god, but a God who wears His suffering on His sleeve to convince us He is human? Instead of ‘my god can beat up your god, my king can beat up your king,’ Jesus’ path to kingship comes wrapped in a very odd strategy indeed: He is the King of kings largely because He lets himself get beat up. He is victorious not despite his scars but because of them…By allowing His own life to be taken, Jesus exposed the pitiful ‘power’ of the bullies and disarmed it.” (p. 92-93, 95)

***

“Because John’s apocalypse uses war imagery, people often mistakenly assume that somehow the victory of God was incomplete on the cross, that the real victory comes when Jesus arrives with a sword and finally fights fire with fire, finally overcomes force with even greater force. But a careful reading shows that this is far from the case. For example, when Jesus comes riding in on a white horse with a sword, wearing a robe dipped in blood, it is not the blood of his opponents—it’s His own. There is no battle scene, because Jesus has already defeated the powers (and all the bullies) through His sacrifice on the cross.” (p. 97) 

***

When responding to the pain of others: “Sometimes, the sacred thing, the wise thing, the compassionate thing, the best thing, the anointed thing is simply to shut up. I learned a long time ago that there are some things in life so dark that if an answer is asked for, the only reply we are able to give is our tears or our presence. Sometimes the best response is in the courage and wisdom to say, ‘I don’t know,’ but then don’t walk away. Some questions are not opportunities; they’re temptations—to play God, to play the expert, to play doctor, to build a platform or reputation. If there is anything that would scare me, it would be to utter words in a scenario where God Himself would not speak.” (p. 103) 

I’ve been quietly mulling over these words since I first read them in Prototype, and am so very grateful for the wisdom of Pastor Jonathan. I hope you will learn as much from him as I have. 

Get your own copy of Prototype here. Find Jonathan's blog here. 

Also, be sure to check out our interview with Jonathan for "Ask a Pentecostal…

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