The Prodigal God marks the third Tim Keller book that I’ve read this year. All three books (The Reason for God, Counterfeit Gods, and now The Prodigal God) were gifts from my brother Andy and his family. They’re all worth your time.
A Revealing Twist on a Old Favorite
Tim Keller has an uncanny ability to take Bible stories that you’ve heard many, many times before and reveal their relevance in previously unthought of ways. The Prodigal God is a striking example. The entire book explores the parable of “the prodigal son,” or as Keller likes to call it, “the parable of the two lost sons.” As Keller’s renaming of the parable might suggest, he finds as much meaning and significance in the story about the older brother as he does in the story about the younger brother.
The title, “The Prodigal God” is also a bit of a twist on the normal understanding of this parable. The word “prodigal,” according to Keller, means “recklessly extravagant,” or “having spent everything” (1). And he aptly applies this title to God, who recklessly loves His people and who spent the life of His son for our redemption. Keller claims that he has “seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when he explained the true meaning of it, than by any other text” (XIII).
I don’t think Keller is stretching the meaning of this story. I think He’s right, and it’s amazing to see all the applications that this story entails.
For me personally, I can identify with “the older brother” in this parable. I know my standing before God is one based on Jesus’ performance and not my own performance. But sometimes, in the midst of life, I find myself believing that my performance is the ground upon which God is either proud or disappointed. Sometimes in these moments, especially when I think I am excelling in my pursuit of God, I am the most judgmental person you’d ever want to meet. I start expecting people to live up to my standards. This is pride, and it’s older brother syndrome. The Prodigal God, and about ten other things in my life right now, have helped remind me that I have plenty of faults, and I need to be humble. After all, when I am humble, I am most useful to God.
This is a good book. Easy to read. Life-changing. I wish it weren’t twenty bucks, because I’d buy about fifty copies and give them away.