Today I have the honour of reviewing the new book by Jonathan Martin, titled How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help Is on the Way and Love Is Already Here.
Jonathan Martin is a self-described “hillbilly Pentecostal” who currently serves as teaching pastor at Sanctuary Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prior to that, he founded Renovatus church in Charlotte, North Carolina – known, rather appealingly, as “a church for liars, dreamers and misfits” – where he served for ten years. How to Survive a Shipwreck is his second book, the first being Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think?
I first came across Jonathan Martin two or three years ago when I began listening to his podcasts from Renovatus church. Beyond his unarguable skill as an spellbinding orator, I was drawn to him by the fact that, as a fellow Pentecostal, he spoke my language, yet at the same time expressed a shared yearning for something richer and deeper than the sometimes superficial approach to faith found in charismatic Christianity.
In How to Survive a Shipwreck, Martin uses the image of a shipwreck as a metaphor for what happens in those times when our lives are overwhelmed by forces beyond our control, and we find ourselves cast adrift from all that we have known to be familiar and secure. However, lest you imagine that this book might offer a detached analysis of such crises and a formulaic recipe for how to overcome them, let me reassure you: nothing could be further from the truth.
Indeed, the one thing you will not find in these pages is cold detachment, for one simple reason: Martin draws on his own very personal and painful shipwreck experience – a shipwreck of his own making which, while he doesn’t recount the gory details, he lets us know cost him at the very least his church and his marriage. As such, he speaks to the reader with an unvarnished rawness and immediacy which, surprisingly in a genre cluttered with so much pablum, lends his writing a refreshing vitality and an undeniable ring of authenticity. What we find here, far from being a token life vest thrown to us amid the broiling waves, is someone who is in the water with us, empathising and offering much-needed words of hope and encouragement.
I could give you a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the subject matter, but in doing so I fear I would fail to do the book justice. Instead, I will simply attempt to summarise the overall thrust: for all its horror and fearfulness, in the hands of our redeeming God even the worst shipwreck can become the very experience through which we find both God and ourselves in a new and deeper way. And, as I indicated above, you will find no cheap platitudes or false comfort here; what you will find is a voice of hope and light in the midst of the harsh reality of whatever kind of storm happens to have engulfed you.
There are books that speak to our minds, giving us language to name and articulate thoughts and ideas that might be of use to us. Such books are of little use when all around is tilting and whirling and the waves threaten to overpower us. The kind of book that is needed at such times is one that wastes no effort on abstractions or ideologies, but rather speaks directly to the heart, in language the soul can understand and heed. In How To Survive a Shipwreck, Jonathan Martin deftly and sensitively speaks to our hearts with a combination of sharp scriptural insight, disarming vulnerability and achingly poetic prose.
As Providence would have it, I began to read this book while still reeling from the aftermath of my own crisis. As I do with all books I’m reviewing, I tried at first to approach it with an analytical, objective eye. However, within the first page it was clear that this would not be possible: Shipwreck grabbed me by the heart and swam with me amid the swirling debris of my own shipwreck. Through its pages, Jonathan Martin became a trusted voice that God used to breathe new life and hope into my wounded, fearful heart. I pray it will do the same for you too.
[How to Survive a Shipwreck is published by Zondervan and releases on 7 June 2016. I was provided with a review copy by the author. I was not required to write a positive review.]