The Insider and Outcast by Timothy Keller, a book review

The Insider and the Outcast, by Timothy Keller, a book review


John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The second installment in Timothy Keller’s “Encounters with Jesus” series is titled, The Insider and the Outcast, and it details the story of Nicodemus from John Chapter 3 and the woman at the well from John chapter 4.  Obviously the woman at the well in the outcast and Nicodemus is the insider.

Keller contrasts them and the different lifestyles that they have lived.  Nicodemus is of course well known, he is part of the established religious class of that day.  People know his name, they know his character, they know what he stands for.  He is a good moral person, who is respected in the community.

The woman at the well seems to be just the opposite.  She is well known in the community as well, but probably for the wrong reasons.  She has lived a sinful lifestyle and most people know it.  We are not even told her name, but she is certainly an important Biblical figure.  In fact she was one of the first people that Jesus revealed Himself to as the Messiah. 

They are people that seem to be polar opposites.  One is insider as Keller describes him, a leader “in the civic and religious establishment.”  The other a social, moral and religious outsider. An outcast.  Both known in the community, one for what seems to be good reasons, the other for bad reasons.  We know their stories well, John gives us a great description of them and we learn about them through their conversations with Jesus. 

Keller says that we know their stories and we hear their stories.  He says that countless sermons have been preached on the woman at the well on the one hand and Nicodemus in John 3 on the other hand, but we never hear the stories put together.  We never hear anyone preach a sermon on the woman and Nicodemus.  And yet John puts their stories close together in his gospel.  Remember his writing in the Gospel of John in not in chronological order but rather grouped together by themes and by stories, and here John puts the story of Nicodemus in John 3 and the story of the woman at the well in John 4, why did he put them back to back?  Why put these 2 totally different stories that close together? 

Because in reality they may seem to be radically different people but they are not.  They are both lost and in need of Jesus.  Keller brings this truth out in a very powerful way in his book.  The book is extremely short but also extremely informative and convicting.  It shows us that we look at people and group them in to categories, such as he’s a good person, or well they are a little questionable.  But in reality there is only two groups of people – saved and lost. 

A person can seem to be a good person and be lost, just like a person of questionable character can be.  We would do well to remember this truth for a number of reasons.  One of which is that our goodness will never give us salvation, being “good” (whatever that means) does not mean you are saved.  Keller brings that out very well in his book. 

It is also a truth that we need to remember because it reminds us that a person can be good and lost.  There is only one way to heaven and if a person does not have a relationship with Jesus, no matter how good they are, they are still lost, and they need to be saved.  Saved from what? From the wrath of God, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

Keller’s main point in the book is that all people, good, bad and in between need the love and forgiveness of God that is only available in Jesus Christ.  It is a book that causes you to look at your own life, to make sure that you have that relationship with Christ, but it also causes you to look at your life and how you make judgments about other people.  The book is a great reminder of the sinfulness of humanity and the love of God.  It is a great reminder not only of the love of God, but of the holiness of God.  It is a book that all Christians need to read, and it is one that is readable for the majority of people.  I would say that it would be a great book for a lost person to read as well, especially a lost person that thinks they are “good enough” to get into heaven.  Keller’s work is Jesus centered and Gospel saturated, and because of that it serves as a powerful notice for Christians today. 

8 out of 10 stars.