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The Prodigal God
Book Review: Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. New York, N.Y. Penguin Group, 2008

Reviewed by Ron Aguilera

     Some of you know that I have chosen what I call Life Verses from scripture that are at the core of my values and beliefs, and that drive my decision making. Well, if I had to pick a Life Chapter from scripture, it would Luke 15, and specifically what we call the parable of the prodigal son. Well, this book, The Prodigal God, is the best book I have ever read on the parable of the prodigal son. I would say it is a must read! It is a short book (133 pages) and an easy read, but for me, it is one of those books to be read over and over.
     Tim Keller explains that this book is based on a sermon first preached by Dr. Edmund Clowney, and that it’s fresh take on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Keller says it changed his life, and in many ways shaped his ministry. He comments that the word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward”, but instead means “to spend until you have nothing left”. This is actually a description of the Father, so Keller suggests that the parable should be called the parable of the Two Lost Sons.
     Often, readings or teachings on this parable have focused on the younger son and his reconciliation with his father, and then applied to God’s willingness to receive all those who wander from him. Often overlooked is the third character, the older brother. But, if the story is only about the father and the younger son, the Pharisees would have reacted with joy. Yet we know from Scripture that they walked away in disgust and disbelief. Why? Because the parable pointed to them as examples of the older son.
     Keller begins the book by reminding the reader of Jesus’ original audience. There were two groups near Jesus at the time. The first was the tax collectors and sinners, while the second was the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The tax collectors and sinners correspond to the younger brother, while the religious are represented by the older brother. While Keller focuses attention on both of the brothers, he gives more time to the elder brother. He challenges Christians with the fact that churches tend to be full of the older brother kind of believer. He reminds us that Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. Unfortunately, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to our churches. We tend to draw conservative, critical, judgmental people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. This is how Keller puts it, “If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners doesn’t have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.”
    I loved the book. It challenged me to remember to be the kind of Christ follower that attracts people to Jesus, and to preach the same message Jesus did while he was on this earth. I would highly recommend you add this book to your reading lists.