I’ve just finished reading Prototype by Jonathan Martin. As the author himself admits, it’s not a book that breaks new ground theologically. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed reading it and it’s delivered a few “Aha!” moments. Martin is good at finding real-life illustrations that breathe fresh life into old ideas. And his passion is evident throughout, so that by the time you’ve finished, it’s almost impossible not to feel that some of his enthusiasm has rubbed off on you.
I’ll give you a couple of tasters from the final chapter, entitled “Witnesses”. Let’s start with this one (emphasis added):
What the world needs now are signposts of what’s ahead, markers for the new world just around the corner. The world does not need heroes; the world does not need more messiah complexes. The world does not need Christians who want to ride in on a white horse to save the day. What the world needs are witnesses. Nothing more and nothing less. The earth needs people who can bear witness to the ways in which the world has already changed through the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
This triggers a couple of responses in me. First, what Martin is emphasising here is tremendously freeing to someone like me who was trained to think that “witnessing” is giving out tracts or any other “formalised” mode of evangelism. Such activities clearly have their place, but they aren’t the kind of witness Martin is calling for here. He’s calling for lives that demonstrate the present inbreaking of the future kingdom of God: lives where it is evident that the death and resurrection of Jesus has already made a tangible difference.
Second, while I believe the church cannot do too much to help the poor, the needy and the disempowered, and thus am very supportive of the many forms of social action organised and resourced by the church, I wonder whether there is a danger that such action can become just the kind of hero/messiah complex or “white horse” that Martin is referring to. however laudable and necessary social action is, what a broken world desperately needs to see is individual believers who are very aware of and transparent about their own faults and failings, but who are quite evidently living in the healing and restoring love of God and sharing that love with others.
There is something unique you have to do for Him in establishing His futuristic Kingdom of peace in the world. We have the prototype, Jesus, who has shown us the way. It’s time for each one of us to embrace the identity we were given before the world was made. He wants to make our wounds a resource for the healing of others. He wants to make His resurrection power known through our real, day-to-day lives. Do you have any idea what’s at stake in your understanding who you really are?
This paragraph in fact encapsulates the whole premise of the book: that Jesus came to inaugurate a new way of being human, in which we are set free from the enslaving power of sin and shame and enabled to live from our true identity as image-bearers of a loving and almighty heavenly Father.
Everyone is afraid of the apocalypse; everyone is afraid of the end of the world. But the old world ends and the new one begins when you finally awake to hear your true name. Arise from your slumber, beloved. The future is at hand.
I really like this. As you may know, I’ve been working my way through Tom Wright’s Simply Jesus, which is all about how and why Jesus ushered in God’s peaceable kingdom – a kingdom that is destined to subvert and overthrow the kingdom of this world. What I like in the above excerpt is the way the author essentially takes this same concept and makes it deeply personal: God’s kingdom must first come in my heart, in my personal decisions and choices, before it can begin to break out in my home, my family, my neighbourhood or my place of work. And the way it begins to come for me personally is through me hearing my true name and beginning to live from my true identity as a redeemed son of God, not as someone who has to prove himself to or prevail over everyone he comes into contact with.
Overall, Prototype has been a worthwhile and stimulating read. The challenge, as always, is to let the message it carries take root and produce fruit. The slogan of The X-Files was “The truth is out there”; I’m increasingly aware that I can seek all the truth in the world, but unless and until it moves from “out there” to “in here”, I’m treading water.