The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller, a Book Review

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, a Book Review

Saturday, February 2, 2013

5:21 PM

Luke 15:20 -"And he arose and came to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."


The Prodigal God by Tim Keller is an absolutely amazing book.  It is a book that I would consider to be life changing because it is filled with the life  changing teaching of the word of God.  It is a book that will challenge you, convict you, and ultimately comfort you.  It is also a book that I almost decided not to read because of the title.

I knew some of Dr. Keller's works and I have a deep respect for them, but there was something about this title that I couldn't get past.  I had always believed that the word prodigal meant someone who walked away and who by inference of the Scripture eventually came back.  In reality that is not what the word means. 

The word "Prodigal" means simply to be reckless in spending.  Keller's lets us know early on that that not only applies to the younger son but to the father as well.  The father in the story (Luke 15) was reckless in spending in that he allowed the younger son to come home, and spent a lot on a feast.  He was also reckless in that he did not demand that the younger son repay for his sins.  He truly was a prodigal father, and as all of us know who have grown up reading the parable of the Prodigal Son (as we call it, I like Keller's title better, the parable of 2 lost sons), the father is representative of God, our heavenly Father.  Hence the name The Prodigal God.

As I said Keller refers to the story in Luke 15 as the parable of the 2 lost sons, and I think this is what it should be called.  It is obvious from reading the story that the younger son is lost because he goes out and spends everything that he has in wild living.  He is lost because he disregards his father in asking for his inheritance before the father is dead.  Keller makes the point that the elder brother is also lost because even though he had been obedient to the father, his obedience was based out of pride ("I have done everything you asked of me") and out of need to control the father.  In the parable  he basically says to the father when the younger brother returns, "how dare you have him a party.  You should have had me one, I've never rebelled, I've always been the good son."  And it is there that you see his motives, obedient to the father? Yes, but obedient for the wrong reasons.

Obedient because of pride and a need to control.  Keller unpacks this by comparing it to many attitudes of our day, and he makes the point that many people are just like that older brother.  Seemingly good people, but still lost and in need of the grace of God.  They are lost in their goodness, lost in their pride, lost in their self-righteousness, lost in their control.  Lost in themselves and still desperately in need of a Savior.

Younger brothers are easy to spot, but older brothers are more difficult to see.  In fact if the truth is known there is some of the older brother and some of the younger brother within all of us.  That part was certainly convicting to me and hopefully to anyone else who reads it.  If someone reads Keller and doesn't feel conviction at some point, they may very well be in danger of elder brother syndrome.

This book convicted me, but only after it challenged me.  It challenged my thinking on a parable, a story that is very familiar to me.  It challenged the way I viewed the older brother, how I viewed the father and how I viewed a brother that we don't see in the story (more on this in a minute).

It convicted me because it reminded me of the trap that we can so easily fall into, the trap of being like a Pharisee.  The trap of feeling morally superior to other people.  The trap of seeing other people's sins without seeing our own.  This can so easily happen.

Thankfully Keller is quick to point out that the father runs to the younger brother out of love, but that he also goes out to the older brother out of love.  "(Jesus) not only loves the wild living, free spirited younger brothers, but also the hardened religious older brothers as well," Keller says on p. 84.  That is eye opening isn't it.  Eye opening to the grace of God and the extent of that grace.  He loved the younger brother and the older brother.  And that is the good news of the Gospel.

Keller does a great job of not only unpacking this parable but also of setting it within the framework of Luke 15, of Luke's Gospel, and of the totality of the Bible.  In Luke 15 there are three stories told where something is lost and becomes found (a sheep, a coin, and a son), but in the first two stories someone goes looking for what is lost.  If we were present when Jesus told this story we would have been expecting someone to also go out and look for the younger son.  Yet no one did.  The elder brother certainly would not have.  Culturally it would have been his responsibility and yet he doesn't.  Keller says that Jesus is making a point by the older brother's absence.  A point that in reality says there is an older brother looking for you and that older brother is Jesus.  He is looking for you, He is searching so that you may be found.  That is the good news of the Gospel.  Jesus is willing to come and look for us at a great cost so that we can be found.  This is extremely humbling to think about. 

It is a book that ultimately causes us to look at our own lives and our motives for doing the things that we do.  It is a book that forces us to see that we really are sinners in need of salvation, and it is a book that reinforces the goodness of Almighty God in providing that salvation for us.  It challenges us,  it convicts us, it humbles us, it leaves us thankful, and it leaves us anticipating a great banquet.  Think for just a moment about that parable in Luke 15, how does it end? It ends with a feast.

The point is made, those who are children of the Father have a feast waiting on them.  Keller ties this in to the whole of Scripture very well when he talks about the celebrations of the Old Testament, the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, the Lord's Supper, Jesus eating with His disciples after the resurrection, and the coming marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19.  We as followers of Christ have this great feast to look forward to, a feast on a new heaven and a new earth.  A feast that we remember every time we meet for worship and for the Lord's supper. 

Keller's book is a fascinating look at a familiar story.  It is a book that I believe  every Christian should read.  However it is a book that will challenge, confront, and convict.  It is a book that will also humble you and leave you thankful for the grace of God.  It is a book that will leave you anticipating the return of Jesus and the marriage supper of the Lamb.  It leaves us looking forward to the great feast and that leaves us saying, "I want more of Jesus."

(9 out of 10 stars)