Uses the biblical tale of the prodigal son to provide both an introduction to Christianity and a clarifying primer on the nature of the gospel for believers, in a resource that reveals how Jesus's essential message is revealed by the story in ways that can enable greater understandings of the Christian faith.
A must read for for anybody. It's just that amazing. :)
I found in The Prodigal God an unfortunate weakness in its presentation of man's sin problem. When comparing the plights of the two brothers Keller contrasts the younger son's prodigious sinful life with the self-righteous Pharisies who were equally lost. So far, this is fine. But when describing the condition of the Pharisies, Keller made it seem as if they actually did keep the law of God perfectly. Jesus debunked this faulty approach to the law and salvation through outward piety in his Sermon on the Mount which exposed the wicknedness of the heart which causes every man to violate the law of God even in our thoughts. Keller failed to show this and, by implication, failed to show the depths of fallen man's condition before God.
What disturbed me most, however, was Keller's reinforcement of a dangerous false dichotomy that is so prevalent in society and even the evangelical world today. One may have religion or one may have Jesus. The Pharisies were deeply religious but lost in their religiosity; therefore religion is bad. Although in the last chapter Keller urges believers and seekers to belong to a church, he only stresses the need for community. Keller is right about that but he ignores the necessity of partaking in the "religious" activities - the means of grace - that are available only through the Church by Christ's appointment. These are not options but Christ's requirements of all believers. To be Christian requires us to be religious, but with our hearts engaged along with our tongues, hands, and feet. Keller misses this and subsequently encourages an antinomian approach to the Christian life which the Scriptures condemn.
Had it not been for these two detractions, I would have a much easier time in recommending The Prodigal God, for there remains within its 135 pages a very powerful message that is often overlooked in expostions of this great parable.
Key quote = "Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God's reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life changing experience, and the subject of this book."
Keller's book, as the provocative title suggests, is built on one of Jesus' most famous stories: the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). Keller consents that "on the surface of it, the narrative is not all that gripping." But, he contends that "if the teaching of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous Parable of the Prodigal Son would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way to the bottom." Keller has taught from this passage many times over the years, and says, "I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by any other text."
The book is laid out in seven brief chapters which aim to uncover the extravagant (prodigal) grace of God, as revealed in this parable. Keller shows how the parable describes two kinds of "lost" people, not just one. Most people can identify the lostness of the "prodigal son," the younger brother in Jesus' story, who takes his inheritance early and squanders it on riotous living. But Keller shows that the "elder brother" in the parable is no less lost. Together, the two brothers are illustrations of two kinds of people in the world. "Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery." Both brothers are in the wrong, and when we see this, we discover a radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. "Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors may be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life." As these quotes hint, Keller's exposition of the two sons lays the groundwork for a penetrating analysis and critique of both moral relativists on the liberal left and religious moralists on the conservative right, showing that the latter are just as lost as the former. What both need is Jesus, whom Keller presents as "the true elder brother," the one who comes to our rescue at his own expense. Through his grace, we are given hope and invited to the great feast of the Father.
As with Keller's preaching, this book is intelligent and winsome, combining thoughtful reflection on both text and culture with searching heart application. Keller's book is effectively illustrated with a liberal use of stories and quotations from literature, movies, and the arts. Most imporantly, the book orients the reader's heart to the hope of the gospel of God's grace revealed in Christ.
One more note: for readers who may have felt intimidated by Keller's recent book The Reason for God, don't shrink away from The Prodigal God. It is probably only 1/3 of the length and much easier to read. I highly recommend it to unbelievers, seekers and established Christians.
There have definitely been times in my life I would have identified with the wayward son....and times, I am sorry to say, that I was the proud son as well. How often I have wanted to live life on my own terms - either by throwing caution to the winds and trying to imitate the world in my quest to find pleasure; or by being the good little Christian girl who would receive good things because of what I had done...not because of what Jesus has done for me. The word "prodigal" is defined as recklessly extravagant - Keller teaches us that it is our heavenly Father, reckless in His love, extravagant with his grace, who is truly the prodigal of the story. How thankful I am for His extravagance! This book was a beautiful reminder of God's love for his broken people, no matter how broken we are.
Today Indigo Books had its wonderfully awesome 30% hardcover sale so when I saw this baby sitting on a rather picked over dedicated endcap I quickly swiped up his new book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith and it has proven to be a tiny nugget of masterfully written truth-revealing literature. I only call it a tiny nugget because I was able to read it in less than two hours. But like its more robust “elder brother” (sorry, couldn’t help myself), The Reason for God, it is chock full of truth and beauty and graciously dispersed conviction for both the wayward and the self-assured alike and, despite its diminutive size, will likely draw its readers in for a second helping of the same stuff.
You simply must read it. I don’t care who you are. You really must. It’s small and easily digestible so there should be no arguments on the “it’s too long and involved” front and it has a great price-tag, especially over at Amazon right now. Tim Keller’s demeanor is humbly gracious and respectful, as usual.
This book may transform your life because it presents the only message in the world capable of bringing about such change - namely, the Bible's message of God's extravagant love for undeserving bad people.
I WOULD RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO ANYONE...
In this book, Keller, in his classic simple yet intelligent way, offers a fresh presentation of the message of the Christian faith - not by devising a new message, but by going back to the Bible (mainly focusing on the parable known as "The Prodigal Son" - or as it should be put - "The Parable of the Two Lost Sons") and showing that its message is sadly quite different from the moralism many religious church-goers present. In this sense, the book challenges and shocks Christians as it reminds them of the wonder of the love God freely shows to bad people. In doing this, the book will also provide the sceptic with a clear presentation of the message the Bible presents of God's free offer of his extravagant yet undeserved love.
All readers - both Christians and sceptics alike - will be pointed to the true heart of the Christian faith in a way that does bring challenge, but also a thrilling sense of refreshment and hope. While it will involve everyone admitting to failure, it is then that it can take all readers to experience and enjoy the free love of God and to see what it cost Him in sending Jesus to pay with his life - buying us back - it's a love that is free for us yet was so costly for him. As mentioned above, this is the only message that can bring real change in someone's life - Keller also explains how and why this is the case is a most helpful way.
He considers the parable as much about the "elder brother" as the "younger brother," and his analysis is weighted far more toward the "elder brother." He demonstrates how the Pharisaic attitude of expecting things from God because of being good is no better than the attitude of the rebellious which it condemns, and how true discipleship/servanthood is the middle road of serving God for His glory.
Keller's analysis of how the "elder brother" syndrome has caused great difficulties in the church is probably too accurate. His demonstration of Jesus as the ideal elder brother-- the one suffering loss so that the prodigal can be restored-- is excellent.
Unfortunately, the analysis defends the "faith only" Protestant position, even if it gets fairly close to what the Bible really teaches (the expectation that faith -> obedience and that obedience is an aspect to faith).
Nevertheless, a book worthy of consideration.
Keller dissects the parable of the prodigal son. He introduces the subject as if he has some new and profound revelation, but actually most of the material has been documented before. The things that were new have, in my opinion, been found as a result of Keller reading far more into the parable than was intended by Jesus. John MacArthur once mentioned that numerous preachers had spent a lot of time considering what various characters in the parables may have been intending/thinking. He points out that none of them were thinking anything because they were fictional! Sometimes, it's best just to take the story at face value. It can be worth looking at the cultural context but going beyond that and seeking hidden meanings can lead to some dubious places.
Keller reintroduces a lot of the material found in Desiring God by John Piper. I didn't rate this book either. He focuses on affections as being triggered by an emotional response to God/Jesus. He makes this an essential part of salvation. He doesn't back this up with Scripture. In fact, I found that a lot of what he said wasn't backed up convincingly with Scripture....He does talk about obedience but fails to mention that we are told in John 14 vs 15 "If you love Me, you will obey My commands." There is nothing in this verse or elsewhere about manipulating emotions or affections.
Someone else commented in their review that Keller is trying to get us to worship God for Who He is. Obviously this should be our goal, but the reviewer pointed out that God encourages us to look for eternal rewards. (Store up treasure in heaven etc) He points out that if the hope of eternal life was removed then it would leave people desperately trying to force themselves to worship God with no expectation of reward. How can any of us be expected to do that especially with fallen hearts....? I think Keller may be setting a lot of people up for disappointment when they can't find the experiences or emotions they have been told to seek...
A pastor I know once said that he thought Keller was a dangerous man. Now, I can see why. He has enough intelligence for his opinions to be adopted and to become mainstream. I will stick to the likes of MacArthur who quote Scripture throughout. He has also written a book on the prodigal son which I highly recommend; A Tale of Two Sons.
But the father loves both, and pleads for both of them to return. Keller takes things a step further when he points out a faulty elder brother sets us up to long for a true and rightoues older brother, who longs for us to return home as well,and joins in the party when we do. Jesus is the true and better older brother.