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The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith Paperback – March 1, 2011
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Newsweek called New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller a "C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation for why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, Keller takes his trademark intellectual approach to understanding Christianity and uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation. Within that parable, Jesus reveals God's prodigal grace toward both the irreligious and the moralistic. This book will challenge both the devout and skeptics to see Christianity in a whole new way.
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So to the book. I did not get beyond the `Introduction,' nor do I ever intend to. The word `prodigal' means `recklessly spendthrift,' says Keller on page xvii. Then comes the sleight of pen: "It means to spend until you have nothing left." No, Mr. Keller, my dear scholar, it means to spend `recklessly' until you have nothing left. You `forgot' a key word. And therefore the term is not "appropriate for describing the father in the story."
Why is deception (to the point of defending blasphemy) like this done? It is done because the author and the publisher are so lacking in faith that they have to rely on a novel title to make the sale. It doesn't matter to them if God has to be presented as reckless in order to do it. It doesn't matter to them that `prodigal God' connotes that God must be as recklessly sinful as the son in the parable was. It doesn't matter to them if God is called by the title of a man who is said to have wasted his substance on `riotous living.' The author and the publisher would argue, I suppose, that what matters are the souls that might be saved through a reading of the book. No, Mr. Keller, and you, Mr. Publisher, even that doesn't matter beside the reverence that we owe God! You'd think that a man who went to seminary would at least have his theological priorities in order! That is far too much to hope for these days. These days you can't expect a seminary graduate and leader of a church to have learned even the most basic principles of religion. What is more basic than to not take God's name in vain? If a modern atheist had come up with `The Prodigal God,' I would not be so indignant about it. Such a thing, though evil, should be expected. But do we not have a right to expect something better from a Christian writer who is front and center before the world and representing the Church? We do have the right to expect better from such a man. And the Bible obliges us to condemn insults to God's name, especially when the offence comes from inside the Church from one of its officers! "Do not ye judge them that are within?" (1 Corinthians 5.12.) Yes, you Christians who support this book. Do ye not judge? The Bible says you should. If we're not going to do some judging when a Christian writer takes the name of God in vain, then when will we do it? When will we begin to frown on these reckless `evangelical' writers who are so worldly as to be praised by The New York Times and The Washington Post? There's your reward, Mr. Keller, for your prodigal endeavor. You've been praised by various princes of the world through your compromising, opportunistic, blasphemous effort. Expect to receive no reward for it in the Great Hereafter!
What an ignominious distinction for the following institutions to have: Timothy Keller once studied here! Hurray for Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary! Yes, they were proud to pass him, no doubt! And yes, they must be so proud of this here book of his! They can remain as proud as peacocks in full dress for raising this prodigally shapen excuse for a Christian writer! Yes, display all of your feathers for the success of your prodigal disciple!
Timothy Keller is just as devious as the picture of him on the back cover intimates. The proof of it is in the title that he chose for his book and his deceptive attempt to justify his repugnant choice. Do you want to learn about the parable of the prodigal son? Do not rely on a man who is prodigal with God's name to show you. Do not go to a man who uses God's name in vain before the world! Find a Puritan who has preached the parable. No doubt, in light of its importance among the stories in the Bible, many of them have preached it well. I can guarantee you without even looking that not one of them came up with a title for the parable that drags God's name through the mire of a moral pigsty. The last thing the Church needs is another Max Lucado. I, for one, renounce Timothy Keller's book, and I have ample reason to do so based on the blasphemous title and the deceit that is done to justify the blasphemy.
More readers like this book than hate it. I will not say that those who like it are not Christians. But I reckon that the numbers on the one side and on the other are more proportional than people think to the numbers of Christians true and false. It is usually only a remnant of professing Christianity that opposes the open disrespect of God's name. If Christendom possessed more sensitive Christian readers than the undiscerning majority that presently predominates, the negative reviews of a book like this would overwhelm the positive ones, and the world would see that Christians are persons who will not tolerate their God being dishonored from within their Camp, and then many unconverted persons would be convinced that there is a substance to Christianity after all.
This review is already drawing negative votes, as I suspected would happen. That's okay--I'm not into gaining rank, but growth in truth and service. Listen to me, dear reader, and look me straight in the eye, as it were. Let me reason with you. Do you know what a prodigal person is? There is no positive spin to be put on prodigal behavior with the parable of the prodigal son for our guide. Do you love God? Are you not offended by God being called `prodigal,' which word means `recklessly wasteful'? If you are not offended by this shaming of his name, why not? Is God not worth more honor to you than a person who is reckless and wasteful? If you love God, should not his being labeled prodigal, even with the best of intentions, greatly offend you? Will you be so bold as to pray, `Dear Prodigal God'? If God is the Being that you trust your salvation to, he cannot be lovingly addressed by a name so disgraceful as `Prodigal.' God may be your heavenly Father. I hope that he is. But he is a prodigal God to no one, for he is not prodigal at all. Far from being reckless and wasteful, God is careful and economical. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father," said Jesus (John 14.9.) What did he mean by this? Well, for example, consider the baskets of food that were leftover from his miracle. He commanded his disciples to gather what remained (John 6.12.) This conservative behavior can hardly be called prodigal conduct. Jesus exercised careful economy, not wasteful recklessness. The Father is just like Jesus. The Father did lavish his love upon humanity by giving his only-begotten Son. But that lavish love was neither reckless nor wasteful. The love of God may be inexhaustible; but it is never prodigal.
While my original review of this book still stands, and my view of the shortcomings of the book is unchanged, I had the privilege of hearing Tim Keller speak at my church (Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, TN) two weeks ago as part of our global missions conference. He spoke about the gospel in our work, the gospel in doing justice for the poor, and the gospel in evangalization. Very powerful messages. I strongly encourage Amazon readers to go to the web site, below, and listen to all three messages.
Original Review May 7, 2009:
I will acknowledge up front in this review that there may be something I'm missing here. It's been known to happen (all too often).
This book has >40 Amazon reviews that result in a five-star rating. I don't see it.
This is a book that takes a short passage, the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15:11-32) and presents 130 pages of Tim Keller's opinions. I am reminded of "The Prayer of Jabez", though there's not near as much eisegesis in Keller's book.
Most of Keller's analysis is dedicated to a critique of the older brother's attitude, which he (Keller) finds self-righteous. Keller staes that this attitude indicates a "moralistsic", self-saving, view by the older brother.
The only problem here is that Keller's asessment of the older brother does not square with that of the father in the parable. Here it is from the ESV, picking up after the celebration of the younger brother's return begins:
25 "Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"
There's not one word of objection or correction here from the father toward the older brother and his complaint. The father's lack of response almost implies sympathy. In fact, the father affirms the older son's position in relationship to himself and affirms the older son's continued inheritance. The father's only reaction is to accentuate the need to celebrate the return of the younger son.
So, Keller's analysis on this point(and others)is interesting, but extra-Biblical. And the reviews here remind me of the emotion-driven analyses that were so evident in response to "The Shack"; lots of good feeling but very little Bible.