Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Recommended Read - The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God
by Timothy Keller
The Penguin Group, 2008
Non-Fiction, 133 pages

As suggested by the title, Keller’s Scripture base for The Prodigal God is the story of the Prodigal Son. But I thought prodigal meant someone who was wayward—someone who didn’t show proper respect or love. The title confused me.

It turns out, prodigal means rashly or wastefully extravagant. And according to Keller, this describes our God who, in a rashly and wastefully extravagant manner, loves His children.

Keller identifies the two sons as representatives of the two types of people in our world—both lost. And he points out that the story is pointed not toward the younger son who rashly and wastefully spends his inheritance but on the elder son. Jesus’ parable condemns the elder brother’s moralistic life in the strongest terms. (p. 10)

What? Condemns a moralistic life?

Yes. Step by step Keller explores motives in the section titled Redefining Lostness. The elder brother’s motives are revealed by his response when the younger brother comes home. As a type, he represents people who do good not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of people or the pleasure of God. [When they do good works] they are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, they are feeding and clothing themselves. (p. 62)

This section is actually quite frightening because it exposes the anger, bitterness, and prejudice that pervades elder brothers. Keller's experience in ministry has led him to believe many people break ties with churches because the elder brother's problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievement and performance, so he must endlessly prop uyp his sense of righteousness by putting others down and finding fault. (pg. 77)

With our human duplicity exposed, Keller offers an alternative—the person missing from the story: Jesus Himself. In the section titled The True Elder Brother, we have a presentation of the gospel of grace that cost the father and elder brother everything. Looking at the customs of the time, he informs, The younger brother’s restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother. (pg. 84)

The problem is pervasive. Keller says, We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ. (pg. 89)

Then Keller suggests that regardless of our position as elder brothers, all contain within themselves an element of the younger brother—a longing for home. This leads into Keller’s understanding of the father’s feast at the close of the parable.

The feast is not glossed over lightly. It depicts the life we have when united to the true elder brother—an experiential life that impacts human interaction with the world at every level.

In many ways the book is an easy read. It's not long, and the text on the page is not dense. Also, Keller writes so well—presents things so clearly. A person could race through the book, identify its value, and move on. Don’t. This is a book worth thinking about and praying through.

I have not received compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned or pictured. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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