The Prodigal God, is the latest book by New York Times best selling author and New York pastor Timothy Keller. Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, has been called a “C. S. Lewis for the 21st century” as his books are for thinking people, Christian and irreligious alike. Keller’s previous book, The Reason for God, was named book of the year by World magazine.
Exploring the familiar New Testament story of the son who asks for his inheritance and then proceeds to squander it on wine, women and song (well, mostly wine and women), The Prodigal God uses historical and cultural realities to bring out nuances in the story that the modern reader might easily overlook.
Moving the emphasis of the story from the rebellious younger son to the “obedient” elder brother, Keller demonstrates that the true focus of the parable is not on the “prodigal” at all, but that both brothers had, in their own way, rejected the love of the father. And it is the love of the father toward each brother, offering each the redemption that they need, that reveals the true Father of the story, God. The lostness of both sons relates to the people who were in and around Jesus’ ministry. The younger, rebellious son with the drunkards, prostitutes and thieves that were entering the kingdom of God, and the prideful, older son with the Pharisees and religious hypocrites who refused to enter God’s kingdom and who made up the actual audience for the parable in Luke 15.
After exploring the family dynamic in its cultural sense and it’s relation to the kingdom of God, the story turns to a person who is missing from the narrative, but would have been expected to be there if the story was fully joyful: a true older brother–an older brother who would have left home to find his life-wasting sibling and spared no expense to return him to his father. This true older brother, who was absent from the story, is present for every believer. He is Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ message, which is ‘the gospel,’ is a completely different spirituality. The gospel of Jesus is not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism. Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles–it is something else altogether.
It is Jesus’ saving work available to the younger and the elder, pictured by the Father’s lavish party, that is the ultimate focus of the story and of the book. The Prodigal God is an amazing, thought provoking, illuminating work that demands beneficial self examination from the reader.
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