Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
By Jonathan Martin
An Interview with author Jonathan Martin
What inspired you to write Prototype?
Most of all, finally coming to understand the resurrection of Jesus in revolutionary terms—as I believe the Gospel writers intended. Jesus is raised from the dead, and you've got dead people walking around Jerusalem and earthquakes going on—it sounds like a zombie movie. I think the idea is that when Jesus rose from the dead, the whole world convulsed and saw what it could one day become. It wasn't just about the resurrection of one man—the whole world had been altered. The thrust of the New Testament for me now is that the same thing that happened to Jesus will one day happen to us. Hence both Paul and John use curious, almost science-fiction language, describing Jesus as the "firstborn of the dead." Jesus was unique as God's only begotten Son, but His experience of resurrection was not intended to be unique. Nor was His experience of being God's beloved. He was just the first—He was the prototype. Now we can become human in all the ways He was and said we could become. That idea arrested me a couple of years ago, and I've never been able to get over it. Nor do I want to.
What does it mean to be "beloved" by God? Wasn't Jesus the beloved?
Being the beloved of God means you get to be infinitely, ridiculously, and absurdly loved even though we are each infinitely small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We are smaller than we can fathom and yet more loved than we can fathom. We are loved no less than Jesus was and is. Jesus was God's beloved, but the revolution of the Gospels is that the same way of knowing God that we see in Jesus is made available to us.
The declaration of God that Jesus is "[His] beloved Son, in whom [He] is well pleased" is the hinge point of Jesus' life and ministry. Everything about the life He leads from there forward hangs on those words. He is defined by God, He is defined by love. And unlike the rest of us, He never forgets who He is. He lives every moment of His life out of that sense of identity. The provocative message of Prototype is that since we are also the beloved of God, we can learn to live from this same sense of identity, which opens up whole new possibilities for how we might be human beings, of how we might be alive to God, to others, and to the world.
Who did you write this book for?
I am going to give the pretentious answer, the answer I would hate to read. I can't think of anyone of significance in my life, whatever their religion or lack thereof, that I was not writing for. I presume no sort of particular background. I wanted to write something big and sweeping that spoke to universal human experiences of suffering and heartache and loss and joy and restoration. I kept thinking about Henri Nouwen's books, how he seemed to be able to speak the language of the human spirit. He had a way of getting to the kernel of our shared experience that was so intimate and so personal that it transcended all the other boundaries. His books never felt dated and never felt like they could not be claimed for a particular demographic. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and write a book that refused to be restricted to a certain niche, a book that blurred all the lines. I have no idea if I was successful or not, but that's what I was swinging for.
What was the hardest thing about writing Prototype?
Maintaining the universality I described above. I wanted to preserve the language of the church, but ruthlessly avoid jargon. Every time I found myself starting to talk shop or inside baseball, I started deleting things. There is a certain kind of tender vulnerability to the book too. And when I felt myself writing with too much confidence, as if I knew what I was doing, I scrapped that too. I knew that for this book to work, it was going to have to be a fragile, delicate thing that was all heart and soul. That's extraordinarily hard to maintain.
Tell us a little bit about the church you lead in Charlotte ... Renovatus.
Renovatus is Latin for "renovation"; we call ourselves a church for people under renovation. We are a church for liars, dreamers, and misfits. Our church is beautiful in all the ways that churches can be beautiful and messy in all the ways that churches can be messy. It's full of people who continue to teach me how to live the gospel in the trenches of real life. They are such genuine people—they break my heart in the best possible way. There is very little in this book that I do not owe to them in some way.