Keller’s excellent book is well worth the read for new and seasoned Christian alike. It can be read in a few hours and marinated in for a month. Keller aims to confront the ‘elder brother’ and ‘younger brother’ in us all by portraying a Father of lavish grace, our God.
His thesis reads:
Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.
And more than ‘proving’ his thesis, he helps us to feel it—engaging the whole human: mind, body, and soul. Of course, that’s an ‘insiders’ opinion; Keller didn’t have to convince me of anything. But when I see other reviews marked at 3 stars or less, I am perplexed. What exactly were the readers anticipating in this book?
Keller offers sound exposition of the parable in question, and although he occasionally makes inferences without detailed argumentation, Keller isn’t writing for the Law Firm Partner; he’s writing for the majority American populace… many of whom would be dissuaded with frequent or lengthy debate or footnotes. Is it true that the ‘careful reader’ should assume someone is supposed to leave and search for the younger brother? Well, I think so, and you may not; but this book is an exposition, not an exegetical debate—the difference: presenting the [understood] intent in a way that has a similar effect rather than arguing minutiae for objective content’s sake.
I think readers will find themselves within these pages. As Keller describes the Christian life as a lake and this parable as the clear, deep section to see all the way to the bottom… I believe readers will also see this parable as the way to see all the way to the bottom of their soul. And after all, isn’t that what Calvin opens the Institutes with: to know God & self, but how one without the other? Truly the gospel is good news to us because it concerns humanity. How valuable, then, a book which confronts the depths of humanity, plumbs its intents, and reveals the infinite goodness of a God who redeems those depths and alters its intents! “Know thyself,” says Socrates; “Yes,” say I—and then read, meditate, repent, and rejoice over the parable of the Prodigal God, because knowing myself leads only to despair until I also know this God. The One who is prodigal toward us. Until I know this elder brother, who sought me in the mire.
Indeed, it is always difficult to get ‘outside of yourself’ to get a better look at your weaknesses and tendencies. So I thank Tim Keller for doing it for me. The dichotomy of ‘older-younger brother’ traverses the book, and although some might find it repetitive; I found it to be a helpful tether to my heart—constantly reminding me, “Now, look… you agree with what he just said, but do you recognize the implications for your faith? Your relationships? Your behaviors?”
Prodigal God shown forth a few new insights I did not expect. And so again my pride is condemned—I thought I knew this parable. And although my understanding didn’t shift from the ‘point,’ I found new shades of color in the tapestry. Historical-Cultural (‘everything I have is yours’), contextual (‘went out to search for it’), personal (‘home’), and spiritual (‘celebrate’) nuance which I found beneficial for my life in Christ.
A worthy introduction to the Christian faith. A worthy discussion platform for small groups. A worthy annual re-read. I give this book 5/5 stars, and commend it to all as young as junior high, and as old as this sinful flesh takes you.
This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.