Review: Prodigal God

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On my vacation I am reading! It’s great!  I just finished The Prodigal God by Tim Keller and am going to wade into Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places next. But, I wanted to get some thoughts out about Prodigal first.

Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is beginning to expand his ministry influence through writing over the last couple of years.  He hit the scene popularly with his book The Reason for God. He has recently published a new book entitled, The Prodigal God. This is a short read (I read it in about two and a half hours) but the substance is much weightier (I have pondering it for three days!).

In a nutshell Keller tells and teaches the parable of the “Lost Son” from Luke 15:11-32. However, this is not your typical flannel-graph retelling.  Keller takes the parable and flips it upside down, left, right, and under. The transformation of our understanding of the parable comes quickly when he challenges the typical understanding of the term “prodigal”.  We usually think about it as a negative term which has come to mean someone leaving or running away.  However, Keller redefines (or educates us about the true definition) as one who, “1 spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant, 2 having or giving something on a lavish scale.” These definitions are often spun negatively and only applied to the younger son.  However, it is the father of the story who is truly living out this reality.

Our understanding of the parable of the “Lost Son” has always focused on the younger son who wasted all that the father has given him.  We shake our head at the older brother and his lack of grace. Keller wants us to see that the younger brother is the “tax-collector or the prostitute”, the older brother is the “religious person” and the father is “God”.  These are common enough.  However, the twist comes when he makes an excellent case for the fact that the key to the parable is the response of the father to the OLDER brother.  Read the passage again.  Notice, it is the OLDER brother that misses out on the banquet and grace of God.  He has lost his soul by obeying.  Keller spends most of his time driving this home.  The more insidious sin of the parable is the hard-hearted, legalistic, arrogant, obedient, heart of the older brother.

The exegesis of the passage is well done.  The target audience is broad so you won’t get the nuts and bolts of how Keller came to his conclusions.  I would love to see an exegetically driven text from Keller that helps us understand how he came to his conclusions.  That being said, this is a must read for anyone who is trying to understand the gospel and how it applies to their lives.

By means of application and conclusion, I will share with you what I am wrestling with. Friends, most of you reading this are of my ilk, the older brother.  The prideful, arrogant, do-it-yourself, know-it-all, obeying-in-all-things, hard-hearted older brother. What happens when the father comes to us and invites us insider to celebrate the grace he has bestowed on another? Will we celebrate? Or will we stand outside in righteous indignation?

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