Book Review: THE PRODIGAL GOD/RECOVERING THE HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
by Timothy Keller
“…one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do.”
In his book, The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller unpacks lessons to be learned from the familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Keller’s approachable and non-technical style open up the parable and help the reader interpret the story in a way that lays out the essentials of the Gospel message.
Keller suggests that although the parable is most often entitled “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”, it might more aptly be called, “The Parable of the Two Lost Sons.” In seven short chapters Keller illustrates the prodigal (defined as recklessly extravagant) grace of God as it relates to both the moral bankruptcy of the younger brother and the self-righteous moralism of the elder brother.
Most people can readily see the lost condition of the younger brother, but Keller brings out the fact that the elder brother, relying on his own righteous behavior, is just as lost. He tells us that the world is full of “younger brothers and elder brothers,” people who attempt to find their “salvation” either by rejecting any moral restraints or by living lives of moral uprightness. Both ways end in failure and have dire eternal consequences.
Whether we can identify with the younger brother or the elder, both rebelled against their father as we have rebelled against our Heavenly Father. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller reminds us that unlike the younger brother in the story, we have been given a true and perfect elder brother in Christ, “one…who will come all the way from heaven to earth…one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater” (p 94-95).
My favorite part of the book is the last chapter entitled “The Feast of the Father.” Here Keller reminds us that salvation is experiential, material, individual, and communal. These four ideas correspond to the way the Gospel shapes and changes our lives.
I enjoyed this book very much. So much so that although I quickly read through it in 3 sittings the first time, I plan on re-reading it, slowing down and chewing on some of the timeless and glorious truths Timothy Keller draws from in this well-known Bible story. I highly recommend it for unbelievers who might be interested in exploring what Christianity is all about and for believers who will be challenged to re-think the familiar story and how it applies to the Gospel.
The book is thoughtfully written, intelligently laid out, and sets forth the Gospel message in a fresh and relevant way.
By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel