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Tim Keller – Prodigal God

December 17, 2008

 I wouldn’t say that this book radically changes my view of the gospel, I have been on a journey of discovering the true gospel for a few years now, and I assume that this journey will continue my entire life. However, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller’s latest, definitely sharpens my view of the gospel. 

 Keller clearly gets at the heart of the Christian faith using Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, or as Keller calls it, the Story of Two Lost Sons. Keller chooses to aim much of his attention towards the “elder brother,” who is equally as lost and unworthy of the father’s love as the openly rebellious younger brother. The younger brother and the older brother are archetypes that Jesus uses to point out the route to spiritual fulfillment taken by all people. They either follow the quest for fulfillment in personal discovery and the pursuit of passions or they follow the road of moralism and duty. Neither is the answer, according to Christ, and both are worthy of the wrath and disinheritance of the father, yet the gospel is that the father goes to each one and initiates restoration.

Keller describes why each son, and why everyone who seeks happiness through either spiritual path, is lost. He writes, “Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.” The younger brother sought to find salvation for himself through seeking external pleasure and satisfaction through self-discovery. The older brother sought to find salvation through personal morality and effort. He was was angry because he felt he was owed the inheritance of the father. When the father invited the younger brother back into the family it came at great cost to the older brother, a cost he was not willing to pay since he felt he has earned his inheritance. The older brother attitude, to Keller, is more dangerous than that of the younger since the younger knows he is lost, while the older thinks he is saved by his own merits.

One of the most important contributions of Keller’s book is the idea of the “True Elder Brother.” Keller notes that commentators and teachers of this parable often say that the forgiveness of the father was free and use it as an offer of free grace to all who would believe. While the grace was free to the younger brother, it was costly indeed to the older brother. All that remained of the fathers wealth rightfully remained to him, so it was at his expense that the younger brother was brought back into the family. Keller writes that although the older brother resented this, Jesus point in telling the parable was to point to the “True Elder Brother,” himself. Jesus is the older brother who paid the price for the inheritance of sinners. That is a truly beautiful picture of the gospel.

This is a short (133 pages) and easy to understand book. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Christian faith, to new believers and to long-time Christians who think they have the gospel figured out. It would be equally beneficial at clarifying the heart of Christianity for all three parties.

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