The Prodigal God
Timothy Keller 2008, Riverhead Books, NY, NY USA
This book examines the Scriptural passage of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Jesus relates this parable after the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep. In his book, Keller gives consideration that the parable may also be called the Parable of the Lost Sons. He elaborates that the father had two lost sons, the son that had demanded his inheritance and left, typically known as the prodigal son and the son that remained on the home-front largely for his two-thirds birth-right.
Keller gives the reader an analysis of the second son, the one that remained, as just as disrespectful to his father as the younger son. He refuses to go into the feast his father has made for the return of the younger brother. Here, Keller’s analysis hits me. I am not an older brother or sister, but I have often counted on my ability to skate, so to speak, by doing what is right rather than what is true. I appreciated his thoughtful approach, because it allowed me to insert myself in either role with abandon. Further, Keller develops a new reading, at least for me, which is spectacularly relevant in today’s currency and in many Christians’ well-tended, isolated world.
From the vantage point of either younger or older brother, the reader follows the author to the fact that we are all sinners, without argument, and that the real prodigal is God. God loves us radically, whether we’ve demanded our inheritance and left for better pickings, or stayed the course and waited for eventual lordship, in effect, waiting for God to die so we might have our way. Here, I am stunned. How could I have missed my own part in the passage? But more importantly, how sweetly is our sin revealed? Don’t read me incorrectly, I find no sweetness in sin, but in Keller’s gentle hands, in fact Jesus’, we may hate the sin and love the sinner, including ourselves.
After redefining sin, Keller moves to redefine lostness. Here, the author uses lostness as a call to confession, and, at least for this reader, the call was effective. It seemed the natural progression after hearing Jesus’ words newly and understanding they were spoken in love to any follower who would listen. Keller separates the discussion by chapters, but ends the following sequence which covers the true older brother with these words, “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.”
In redefining Hope and the feast of the Father, Keller encourages us to seek Him and follow; that we are included in the feast of the Father and there we will be home.
This short book reads in a way careful of the reader. Keller treats his readers as his pastorate with compassion and charity in the old sense of the word, in a way reminiscent of James Montgomery Boice’s commentaries, not showy or cloying, but with great respect for humanity and the mission. Thank you. I will probably return to this book often.