Jonathan Martin’s Prototype: Salvation as the Restoration of Humanity

It’s a strange and beautiful thing to hear someone preaching your own thoughts in a sermon. That’s what happened for me last summer when I heard Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin‘s sermon series “The Songs of Ascent” about King David and the Psalms. My whole life, I have been on a journey of trying to understand the nature of worship. Growing up Baptist, I was instilled with a zeal for sincerity in worship. What is the difference between truly worshiping God and putting on a performance? In one sermon last summer, Jonathan said that King David’s worship was to delight in the discovery of God’s delight in him. This beautiful way of framing things is at the heart of Jonathan’s new book Prototype, which I would buy and ship to every Christian who has been wounded or disillusioned by the church if I had the money.

The ancient church father Athanasius described the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation using the metaphor of a painting. Humanity had been made in the image of God, but over time the image was covered in dust, smudged, and partially erased, so that it was no longer recognizable. Jesus is the permanent repainting of this portrait, the prototype of what humanity was always supposed to be. To be saved by Jesus is to have our portrait repainted, to have our humanity fully restored. Instead of defining true humanity as the Adam who fell, Athanasius would say that Jesus is what real humanity looks like.

In Prototype, Jonathan relates the experience of riding his bike as a young kid and inhabiting a world of delight that he didn’t realize was the essence of worship. As children, we all have some kind of place or experience of beauty where we radiate underneath the watchful smile of a God whose name we often haven’t yet learned. Jonathan writes: “We were conceived in delight and baptized into wonder before we even had a name” (22). This existence of wonder is what is most perfectly human, more so than our intellect, our self-awareness, ability to walk on two legs, or any other distinguishing feature of our species.

The problem is that we lose our innocence as we listen to the voices of serpents who try to tell us who we are and what we’re supposed to be, creating the neurotic defensiveness that Genesis 3:7 calls “nakedness,” so that thereafter we live in fear and defensiveness. As Jonathan puts it, “Becoming an adult in our culture is synonymous with being perfect in fear” (24).

As I’ve written before, there is a Biblical kind of “fear,” which is wonder, but when Jonathan speaks of fear, he’s talking about the dread that caused the third servant in the talents parable to bury his coin (Matthew 25:25) and hate his Master. The problem is that many Christians conflate these two fears and opt for a safe, predictable gospel that stunts their growth and baptizes their neurotic existence rather than embrace the full mystery that exposes their nakedness but brings them into full worship.

When many evangelical Christians today talk about salvation, it’s salvation from an angry perfectionist God who can only tolerate our mistakes if we demonstrate that we have “faith” in Jesus’ cross. When Christians from the ancient church like Athanasius talked about salvation, it was often described more as liberating captives from an evil power who had enslaved them, along the lines of Colossians 1:13: “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Jonathan’s account in Prototype follows the more ancient understanding.

Jonathan describes this power of darkness using the imagery from Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5, a man who was filled with a legion of demons: “My identity was wrapped up in the legion of voices assigned to me, each with its own set of expectations and its own opinions about who I am and who I’m called to be. Even if at times I feel overwhelmed by them… surely there is a part of me that finds the voices of the legion seductive. Instead of being repelled by all the clamor, I rather enjoy being the center of my own universe” (59).

When the problem is framed in this way, hell is being trapped in a legion of demonic voices that tell us lies about who we are and keep us neurotic and eternally isolated from other people. Heaven is what happens when Jesus is able to break through these voices and dismantle their power “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). I don’t want to go too far afield from Jonathan’s book in this post to put together a robust scriptural defense of these last two sentences, but I did preach a sermon series on this and did some exegetical work on Jesus’ blood if you’re interested.

In any case, the way that Jonathan describes Jesus’ mission through His life, death, resurrection, and continued intercession is to “awaken us” to God’s love. In one sense, it’s a restoration of who we were, but it’s also something new because we are given a “new set of lenses and a new language” (14) for explaining and comprehending the delight we experienced in our innocence that we come to understand as being authentic worship of the living God:

Coming awake to God’s infinite love can seem so foreign and yet feel as if it’s where we’ve always belonged, because God, in His hovering delight, knows every boy on a bike and every girl on a trampoline… 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. [15]

I’m sure that there will be Christians who really don’t like what Jonathan has to say because it doesn’t sound mean or tough enough, but this is not Joel Osteen by any means. I just flipped to a random page and Jonathan gave me the perfect response to Christians who might view this book with suspicion:

These days, people who claim to be followers of Jesus may be “scary” in all the wrong ways. They may act in the same kind of aimless panic, fear, and accusation as the rest of the world. But what if these people instead began to experience the power of resurrection in such a way that they, like the man who once had the legion of demons, were distinguishable precisely because they were so authentically human in such an increasingly inhuman world?… In a world where anger and blame and rage and condemnation are normal… there is nothing nearly as frightening as an authentic human being. [171]

Indeed. And that’s why the understanding of the gospel that the Lord has been breathing into Jonathan and others like him is a real danger to those who depend on panic, fear, and accusation for their power whether inside the church or without. Please get this book. You really will be blessed by it.

3 thoughts on “Jonathan Martin’s Prototype: Salvation as the Restoration of Humanity

  1. Pingback: Transit Lounge: Protoype by Jonathan Martin | Kelley Nikondeha

  2. I think, as a Christian, you have to believe that what you see is real with another person and not a performance. Plus, who are we, to judge anyone. As Christians, we are not supposed to judge whether something is a performance. I think that you have to think positive and have faith and believe that God is in control in situations and you are to do whatever God leads you to do, as everyone is. I know that my experience this year has been hard, probably the hardest thing ever I have ever been through , and I have been through a lot in my life. But, I have a motto that I say, “through crisis comes growth.” I am continuously struggling with the facts of I have been hurt and I have hurt others, but am I going to let it make me bitter or am I going to let it make me better. My faith in God is stronger than ever and I feel real empathy for others rather than judging others. I used to be so judgmental and now I think that I know nothing about what led them to their choices or decisions and who am I to judge anyway? This may not pertain to this exact post but this is how I feel after reading several of your more recent posts. God Bless!

    • Ah… Have I been judging and presuming? If so, then I’m grateful for your pointing that out to me. If you weren’t pointing anything out on purpose, God did anyway. It’s hard as a writer and social theory nerd to know how to describe underlying cultural subtleties that shape us without saying that people are being disingenuous. I was actually going to write a piece about that challenge in and of itself. Because it isn’t fair to say things like people who live in suburbia like us all think and act a certain way even if there are currents in the air that influence us which have historical origins that can be traced. So I need to develop a more just and accurate way of writing. I am grateful for the privilege of our shared journey.

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