Friday, January 2, 2009

Book Review: The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

This is the first book of Timothy Keller's that I have read. Keller started the now 6000+ member Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. I heard of him on various blogs and websites I frequent and I decided to put this book on my Christmas wishlist.

To be honest, before reading a word, I was disappointed. When I compared the price tag on the back with the scarcity of words on the pages and pages in the book I was frustrated. The book is just shy of 150 small pages with big margins. In books of all things, quality should trump quantity; so. I started reading.

From the very beginning, my frustration and disappointment began to subside. In the foreward Timothy gives full credit to others for much of the book's content. He also explains why the title The Prodigal God. I have shared that tidbit in an earlier post. He also alerts the reader that he plans to focus on the overlooked brother in the parable; the elder brother. Keller points out that despite the fact that the parable is commonly called "The Parable of the Prodigal Son" that Jesus actually begins that parable saying "There was a man that had two sons". Keller has some other interesting ideas that he pulls out of the parable. He suggests that the parable highlights the two main ways people "try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery" (p29). The moral conformity path is represented by the elder brother where as the self-discovery path is represented by the younger brother. However, "The message of Jesus's parable is that both of these approaches are wrong" (p33). I think we all recognize the wayward son's faults, but sometimes we overlook that "The elder brother is not losing the father's love in spite of his goodness, but because of it" (p35). These thoughts lead well into his fourth chapter which is aptly titled Redefining Lostness.

The author discusses other nuances of the parable that were sometimes a welcome reminder and at other times were fresh insights. The book really soars in my eyes when Keller speaks of the gospel; "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. The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches (that of the younger and elder brother): In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change" (p45).

The final chapter, The Feast of the Father, is excellent. Keller writes on four aspects of salvation:Salvation is Experiential, Salvation is Material, Salvation is Individual, and Salvation is Communal.

The angst I encountered when I first handled the book has been replaced by an admiration for the author and an interest to read more of his works. And the content of the book has caused me to examine my own "elder-brotherishness" as well as remind me of the glory of the gospel and the salvation won for us by Christ.

Worth every penny!


  1. Nice review! Certainly make me want to read it!

  2. You can borrow it and have it read in a couple of sittings! Plus, I need to borrow your Moreland book on loving God with your mind.