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The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith Kindle Edition
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Newsweek called renowned minister 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 of 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.
"Thrilling . . . Brilliant. Keller elegantly explains the goodness of God, redefining sin, lostness, grace, and salvation." —HeartsandMinds.com
"An amazing, thought-provoking, illuminating work." —Examiner.com
"The insights Tim Keller has about the two individuals in the story, and about the heart of God who loves them both, wrecked me afresh. Tim's thoughts deserve a hearing worldwide." —Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church
"Explain, explode, expose, explore—all of these Jesus did by telling the parable of the prodigal son. In this book, Timothy Keller shows us something of how this story actually reveals the heart of God, and, if we read it carefully, our own hearts. This brief exposition is unsettling and surprisingly satisfying. Like seeing something as your own home, or your own self, with new eyes. Enjoy and profit." —Mark Dever, senior pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.
"When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, Timothy Keller is simply brilliant." —Mark Driscoll, pastor, Mars Hill Church and president, Acts 29 Church Planting Network
"Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians." —Christianity Today magazine
"I thank God for him." —Billy Graham
About the Author
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. His first pastorate was in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has nearly six thousand regular Sunday attendees and has helped to start more than three hundred new churches around the world. He is the author of The Songs of Jesus, Prayer, Encounters with Jesus, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Every Good Endeavor, and The Meaning of Marriage, among others, including the perennial bestsellers The Reason for God and The Prodigal God.--This text refers to the hardcover edition.
- ASIN : B0017SYNZM
- Publisher : Penguin Books (September 25, 2008)
- Publication date : September 25, 2008
- Language : English
- File size : 1595 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 172 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0525950796
- Best Sellers Rank: #18,473 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- #5 in Women's Spirituality
- #6 in Spiritual Gifts
- #8 in New Testament Criticism & Interpretation
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The answer is in that key word in the subtitle, recovering. Yes, the "heart of the Christian faith" has been lost like a prodigal son over the centuries. Not that Keller is the only one to attempt to recover it in recent days. But he works within the realm of an orthodox, conservative reading of the Bible and shows how many--both inside and outside the church--have failed to grasp the essence of Jesus's message.
The first thing one will want to know about this book is why it is entitled The Prodigal God when it is based on Jesus's parable traditionally known as "The Prodigal Son." The answer is twofold. First, the traditional name of the parable does not do justice to the focus of the story. It is not a story about one son, a so-called prodigal, but rather a story about two sons (Luke 15:11). Second, the word prodigal does not simply mean "wayward" but rather "recklessly spendthrift." And so, Keller argues, it is just as appropriate to use it to describe the father in the story (who obviously represents God) as the younger son (p. xv).
In the first chapter the author discusses the setting for Jesus's parable. There were two kinds of people who gathered around to listen to Jesus on this occasion, and the two are represented by the two brothers in the story. The "tax collectors and sinners" were despised by the "Pharisees and the teachers of the law" who were the morally upright people in society. But it is to this second group of people that Jesus's teaching in the parable is directed. Their attitude toward the "wayward sinners" is what Jesus is attacking. This is not because Jesus approves of the behavior of sinners but because Jesus disapproves of the moralism of religious people. This parable will not allow either side to claim God's approval!
Everyone seems to understand in general that God does not approve of immoral behavior. But when the younger son returns home, the fact that the father does not allow the son to earn his way back into the family demonstrates that "nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God" (p. 24). God does not demand that sinners become morally acceptable before he will accept them. Instead, we find Jesus here "redefining everything we thought we knew about connecting to God. He is redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved" (p. 28).
Keller argues that sin is not only rebellion against God's moral commands; it is also pride in one's moral record. At the end of the story, the elder brother loses the father's love not in spite of his goodness, but because of it (p. 35). In other words, all people are in rebellion against God, either through self-discovery or through moral conformity. Both sons in the story wanted the same thing--the father's possessions. They just took different paths to get there. In other words the elder son, who represents the religious elite, was just as "lost" as his younger brother. Keller contends, "Careful obedience to God's law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God" (p. 37) 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" (p. 43).
Thus we can see that the path of moral conformity may be even more dangerous than the path of self-discovery because the former is more blind to his soul's condition than the latter. And we can see why many people who have turned their backs on religion generally have no interest in Christianity: the Christian message has been confused with religion. Keller explains, "Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness" (p. 67).
In Chapter Five, Keller makes what I found to be the most interesting observation in the story. By comparing and contrasting the parable of the lost son with the other two parables in Luke 15, we find amid the obvious similarities one striking difference. In this final parable, no one goes to seek out that which is lost. But someone should have and the answer is quite obvious. The younger son needed an elder brother who understood his responsibility to keep the family intact and so would have, at his own expense, done whatever was necessary to bring his wayward brother home. Instead, the younger son got a Pharisee for a brother who grumbled at the idea that God would receive such sinners. But in the Christian gospel we find that all humanity has a "True Elder Brother."
"Think of the kind of brother we need. We need one who does not just go to the next country to find us but who will come all the way from heaven to earth. We need one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but, at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God's family, for our debt is so much greater. Either as elder brothers or younger brothers we have rebelled against the father. We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price--someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place." (pp. 84-85)
Keller concludes the book by showing how the parable of the lost son fits the larger context of the entire Bible. This is why it is his contention that in this one parable we have the rare opportunity of seeing clearly, all the way to the bottom, of what the Christian gospel is. All of us find ourselves longing for home--we instinctively know that the way the world is now is not the way it ought to be. Indeed the Bible teaches that we feel this way precisely because we have left "home." We were meant for life in the Garden of God but because of our rebellion against the father we find ourselves in a distant land far from home. But we have a "True Elder Brother" who has come to bring us home, to a real, material world absent of evil and disease and suffering where we can enjoy the feast the Father has prepared in celebration of his children who were lost but have been found.
The Prodigal God will most assuredly challenge your fundamental beliefs about the Christian gospel, yet it would be hard to be anything but satisfied by what you begin to see more clearly.
This book is an exposition of sorts centered around the Parable of the Prodigal Son as it is comonly known (or the Parable of the Two Sons as Keller likes to name it). The parable is only found in Luke 15:11-32. It is a familiar parable to many Christians, being found in works of literature, stage productions, art and popular music.
The basic story is that of a father and his two sons; and the younger son decided to ask for his share of the inheritance and decided to go and make a life on his own. He ends up squandering everything and eventually comes back to his senses and returns to his father. The father forgives him, but the older brother who did not rebel, does not. The story illustrates both the futility of sin and the futility of unforgiveness.
Tim Keller does an amazing job of explaining the meaning of this parable. He teases out the nuances of the story and helps the reader face the story on a personal level. One of his main points is that there are many "older brothers" in our churches today, just as there are many younger brothers who are estranged from the church. They stay away because they want to avoid the older brother and reject his judgmental attitude and lack of compassion.
Keller helps the reader to see themselves in the story. He writes that many of us are close to the older brother in our attitudes. What keeps us separated from God is not so much our moral failures, but our self-righteousness. We think that by "being good" that we deserve God's blessings and a relatively trouble free life. What we need to realize is that we are just as bad off as the younger brother in the story.
In the context of when Jesus originally told this parable, he was probably referring to the Pharisees. They were like the older brother in that they looked down on others and did not care for the lost sheep. The parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep show the priority of Jesus. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus cares for the lost one. He seeks to save them from eternal death.
I thought that this was a wonderful book. Tim Keller is a talented writer. While the book is based on a sermon, it certainly does not read like one. It flows very well and tends to draw the reader into the story. This book made me think more deeply about a very familiar parable. In the end, Keller encourages us to appreciate the importance of the gospel every day. We are all sinners in need of the grace of God. We will not experience freedom from sin through our own efforts, but only as we are transformed in our thinking by the gospel. God's undeserved grace towards us and the high price that he paid is what motivates us to live in gratitude to God.
I would agree with Keller's assertion that "Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them. It is a mistake, then, to think that Jesus tells this story primarily to assure younger brothers of his unconditional love...Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong." (page 11)
In the end, I found this book very helpful. I was challenged and encouraged at the same. Any book that can do that is definitely worth a read.
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It's quite true the elder son is the focus of the parable and the pharisees, scribes, and their modern counterparts of all shades the Lord’s target for gentle reproof.
However read Ps. 19 or better Ps. 119 to see the ugly and antichristian* spirit of this book exposed. The author has wickedly conflated loving Divine Law with self righteousness. This is a common charge levelled by the ungodly at the saints, Job’s three Satanic ‘counsellors’ did the same. Only Elihu knew how to justify Job by exposing his utter vileness, vindicate God's Law and remind of His gift of a sinner’s ransom, Keller on the other hand has chosen to undermine and disqualify the Law severely. Elihu was angry with Job & the three counsellors for their inept & harmful remediation, so was God, he'd be angry with this companion too. When Paul explains free justification without works, he adds, 'Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law' (Rom. 3.31).
Never does the Lord endorse the pharisees as wholly, properly or fully keeping the Law. The author however continually chooses to differ describing them as ‘extremely good’, ‘living very moral lives’, as ‘virtually faultless regarding the moral rules’, ‘ethical’ or exhibiting ‘careful obedience to God’s law’. On the contrary the Saviour exposes them repeatedly for misuse or mishandling of the Law’s probing, convicting & spiritual character, and for hypocritical pretence that harbours a deep hostility to the commands of God's kindness. Isaiah writes of such religious hypocrites, ‘From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.’
Keller however has constructed a wholly false dichotomy between lovers of Law and lovers of sin, in the guise of the two sons. He thus violates the Lord's Law, not honouring it, as is the common task of those at enmity with it. By eschewing the instrument of diagnosis, he has also rejected the kernel of its root remedy, and the means of validating cure. He is opening the gate to freer sexual licence, the public practice of homosexuality, easy divorce and a multitude of worldly snares within the church, in express opposition to apostolic teaching. He has, as Jude warned, subtly turned grace into licence (v. 4). He is sowing tares which will be quickly evident in the tragic congregations that follow this pernicious doctrine. This is of a piece with the Christian hedonism of his school, (see Christian Hedonism by E S Williams Christian Hedonism?: A biblical examination of John Piper's teaching
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The cross delivers us from sin and into not from purity and holiness, it writes the Law in our hearts and does not in the least efface it. Real disciples love & delight in the heart, spirit and letter of the commandments far more than the scribes and legalists. It is the cherished manifesto of their Lover (Matt. 5.17-19; Jn. 14:15,21; 15.10; Rom. 13.12-14; Gal. 5.21; 1 Jn. 2.2-3; 3.22-24; 5.2-3; 2 Jn. 6; 3 Jn. 11). The Gospel makes us cheerful servants of righteousness, not shifty excusers of sin. It shatters the chains of our depravity, not merely explaining them away. Ultimately the cross serves as a strong barrier to the impenitent fornicator, adulterer or homosexual, thief or extortioner, just as much as it serves as a door to the brokenhearted forsaker of his wickedness, for it removes all our excuses (1 Cor. 6.9-11).
As well as proposing to redefine sin, the estate of the lost, and the character of their hope, it is no wonder the telling original subtitle for this work, since withdrawn, was ‘redefining Christianity.’ This is a heretical and a poisonous book, for all its sweet expression, read it if you must with care, go back often to the prophets, psalms and Gospels to see just how widely it errs. Isaiah predicts the Messiah will 'magnify the law, and make it honourable'.(Isa. 42.21)
Mr Keller has done quite the opposite.
Hear Psalm 112, ‘Blessed is the man that fears the LORD, that delights greatly in His commandments.’ Here is the character of real joy and communion.
*(ἀνομία = without law, a key characteristic of enemies of the Lord, 2 Thess. 2.7)
After the scene is set, Keller goes on to redefine sin and lostness. This is when I feel Keller may be less then his best in expounding the root cause of our common sinfulness. The focus is still too much on the outward appearance - the wrongdoings or not. He mentions nothing about our original sin. Our original sin means that there is no righteousness in us. This is why when the elder brother uses God's laws to earn his own righteousness by "never disobeying" them, his self-righteousness turns out to be hideous - more detestable than the waywardness of the younger brother because at least he is saying openly he is sinning. This is why the elder brother is hypocritical, bitter, resentful, loveless, joyless, judgemental - but above all, he serves his father grudgingly, and he hates his father rather than loving him. Keller does not say that there is only one kind of righteousness acceptable to God which is through Christ (Phil 3:8-11) because as soon as we try to get right with God by ourselves, we are our own saviour, as we worship ourselves, breaking the first commandment.
Keller also uses the term 'pardon our sins' but Christ does not just die to pardon our sins. How does he wash our guilt away? It is not teased out, and can be confusing.
When talking about the difference that salvation makes to us, I am quite shocked by what he implies with what he writes. 'Jesus not only preached the word, but also healed the sick, fed the hungry, and cared for the needs of the poor. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes Judgement Day. Many will stand there and call him "Lord," but Jesus says, stunningly, that if they had not been serving the hungry, the refugee, the sick, and the prisoner, then they hadn't been serving him (Matthew 25:34-40). There is no contradiction to what we have heard from Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He is not saying that only the social workers get into heaven. Rather, he is saying that the inevitable sign that you know you are a sinner saved by sheer, costly grace is a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor. Younger brothers are too selfish and elder brothers are too self-righteous to care for the poor.' (p.111-112)
This sounds great but when we think deeper, it is wrong. Having broken down elder-brotherness in the book, it is surprising that Keller gives us another yardstick to meet in order to be recognised by Christ on the last day - service to the poor. No, the sign that we are saved is not a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor. Our response to the costly grace is obedience in taking up our cross. Our cross is assigned by God, whatever it might be for his kingdom. The citation of Matthew 25 is inaccurate. Verse 40 actually reads, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' It sounds to me that Christ is talking if we cares for his sheep, not social welfare in general.
For me, I find Keller in this book is not theological precise. As the book develops it gets more confusing. When the application goes broader from the parable, I cannot agree with all that he is saying. For this reason I will not recommend the book, especially non-believers in their formative age.
It takes a fresh look at the message of the parable, examines ALL the charactersand their parts in it, goes considerably deeper than anything I'd ever really considered and - and this is really brilliant -gently but firmly makes it personal to each one of us.
Timothy Keller teaches without preaching, challenges without guilt, encourages without overwhelming and has really made me think about my faith, life and how I'm living it.
His style isn't heavy with indigestable theological terminology whilst being soundly Biblical and reading it feels like an invitation to explore together the message and its relevance to us in the 21st century.
It has also made me want to read other books by him and I'd highly recommend "The Freedom of Self Forgetfullness"
which is an even slimmer volume (48 pages) but, as with "Prodigal God", every word counts and it's definitely a case of quality over quantity.