The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

January 30, 2017 at 8:57 pm | Posted in God's Love | Leave a comment

I read this short little gem in just one night as I was teaching through Jesus’ famous parable often called The Prodigal Son.  This book is a commentary on the story.  I’m not a fast reader, so many of you could read it in one night as well.  It is well worth the time.

Keller focuses much of his book on the role of the older brother, the less famous and often overlooked part of the story.  Keller’s contention is that both brothers are lost, not just the younger one.

In fact Keller tells us these two sons “portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery.”  Each is a way of “addressing the ills of the world and determining right from wrong.”  “The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity.  .  .  .  The younger brother in the parable illustrates the way of self-discovery.” (pp 29-30)  It’s Keller’s contention that Western society is divided between these two ways, so much so that most of us cannot conceive any other way to live.

The moral conformists say, “The immoral people — the people who ‘do their own thing’ — are the problem with the world, and moral people are the solution.”  The advocates of self discovery say: “The bigoted people — the people who say ‘we have the Truth’ — are the problem with the world, and progressive people are the solution.”  (32)

The message of Jesus’ parable is that both of these approaches are wrong.

Keller spends a big chunk of the book comparing the older brother to many religious people today.  We often play the role of the big brother.  For instance we seek to control God through our obedience.  Older brother types “obey God to get things.  They don’t obey God to get God.” (42)  “Though  the older son stayed home, he was actually more distant and alienated from his father than his brother, because he was blind to his true condition.” (47)  And there are many more examples.

In spite of the fact that both sons’ ways were wrong, the father accepted and loved both, and God accepts and loves us no matter which son we act like, even when we sometimes act like both!  In a twist I’ve never heard before, Keller contends that children of God have a true older brother who accepts them and celebrates their return to the Father.  That true older brother is Jesus.

As Keller’s book title indicates, the often used title “The Prodigal Son” is misleading.  Prodigal means extravagant, even wasteful, and certainly the younger son in the story was extravagant and wasteful when he left with his father’s money, but that didn’t last long.  The real extravagance is the father’s treatment of the younger son when he comes home and his treatment of the older brother who doesn’t want to welcome the younger.  Just so our heavenly Father treats us with extravagant grace!  Amen.

Great little book.  Pick it up for a quick and encouraging read.

Best Books of 2016

January 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

Each year I try  to write an article about the best books I’ve read in the previous year.  The biggest chunk of my reading in 2016 was novels, and I discovered some authors these past twelve months that I have enjoyed and want to read again.

First, I need to mention Kristy Cambron.  I read her first book The Butterfly and the Violin early last year, and it was a great book.  I had to immediately check out the sequel A Sparrow in Terezin, and it was just as good.  These two novels give readers a different picture of the cruelty of the Nazi concentration camps than they’ve probably seen before — how camp officers used talented prisoners for entertainment purposes.  A sad but revealing side of history presented through characters with incredible strength.  Already this year, I have read Cambron’s newest book, The Ringmaster’s Wife, an historical novel about the wife of John Ringling.  With this week’s news that the Ringling Brothers’ Circus is shutting down forever, you might find this a fascinating read.  I will watch for more from this author.

Second, I have discovered Michael Neale.  His name has been known in Christian music, but his first novel is a masterpiece of Christian allegory. The surface story of The River is a young man named Gabriel Clarke who is transformed from a boy afraid of water because of an awful experience into a white water adventure guide.  In itself it is a captivating story.  But it’s the metaphorical meaning about spiritual life that makes the story especially good.  After reading it myself, I set it aside to read aloud to my family over Christmas break.  It was even better the second time through.  I can’t say much more without giving too much away, just get it and read it.  I am looking forward to the sequel Into the Canyon.

Finally, I have to mention Randy Alcorn.  His novel Safely Home is not just the best book I read in 2016 (nonfiction included), it has been added to my life’s most influential books list.  I have read some of Alcorn’s nonfiction works, but this was the first novel I’ve read.  You can read my review here.

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