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.

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