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on November 1, 2008
"This short book is meant to lay out the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel." So begins Timothy Keller's new book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. Keller targets both seekers who are unfamiliar with the gospel and longtime church members who may not feel the need for a primer on the gospel.

Keller's book, as the provocative title suggests, is built on one of Jesus' most famous stories: the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). Keller consents that "on the surface of it, the narrative is not all that gripping." But, he contends that "if the teaching of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous Parable of the Prodigal Son would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way to the bottom." Keller has taught from this passage many times over the years, and says, "I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by any other text."

The book is laid out in seven brief chapters which aim to uncover the extravagant (prodigal) grace of God, as revealed in this parable. Keller shows how the parable describes two kinds of "lost" people, not just one. Most people can identify the lostness of the "prodigal son," the younger brother in Jesus' story, who takes his inheritance early and squanders it on riotous living. But Keller shows that the "elder brother" in the parable is no less lost. Together, the two brothers are illustrations of two kinds of people in the world. "Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery." Both brothers are in the wrong, and when we see this, we discover a radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. "Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors may be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? 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." As these quotes hint, Keller's exposition of the two sons lays the groundwork for a penetrating analysis and critique of both moral relativists on the liberal left and religious moralists on the conservative right, showing that the latter are just as lost as the former. What both need is Jesus, whom Keller presents as "the true elder brother," the one who comes to our rescue at his own expense. Through his grace, we are given hope and invited to the great feast of the Father.

As with Keller's preaching, this book is intelligent and winsome, combining thoughtful reflection on both text and culture with searching heart application. Keller's book is effectively illustrated with a liberal use of stories and quotations from literature, movies, and the arts. Most imporantly, the book orients the reader's heart to the hope of the gospel of God's grace revealed in Christ.

One more note: for readers who may have felt intimidated by Keller's recent book The Reason for God, don't shrink away from The Prodigal God. It is probably only 1/3 of the length and much easier to read. I highly recommend it to unbelievers, seekers and established Christians.
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on April 23, 2017
I enjoyed this book not sure I can put it in words... for it spoke to me in so many ways. Growing up in a church that was built on following rules and regulations making you feel like a failure or sinner each time you broke either one. Never taught on how much God loves me ... How he wants ME my heart my thoughts not just a friendship or partnership but an intimacy relationship with me so I can see life through his eyes and live out my purpose in him and for him.
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on May 19, 2015
A lot of the books I read on here are for my personal study, and my personal interests, hence the chess books, but this book was for a sermon series that I have developed on the Prodigal Son parable. I have planned a years worth of sermons, so before I start a new series of lessons, I begin to read about the topic. This was why I selected to book. I wanted to blend something that was popular level with some scholarly reading on this parable. This book was insightful, and practical, and easy to read. I have never read any of Keller's material before, and left this book impressed. He is a good author, and does his homework in the text. The book tells the story of the Prodigal Son, though he notes that this is perhaps not the best title for the parable. The book looks at the major characters of the parable, which was helpful because that was the way I developed the series of lessons. He does a good job of highlighting the point of the parable within the attitude of the older brother, and using some of Willimon's material, of preaching to the baptized, this created a lot of connection to the text. A lot of the people in church will agree with the sinner coming home, but demonstrating the attitude of the older brother is the common sin in numerous church pews. The book does a good job of bridging the ancient social context with the modern world. This book helped with the sermon series and it would be a good book just to read on its own. It is short, interesting, and good.
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on March 24, 2015
Yes, if you are a Christian. Yes, if you are not and are philosophically inclined. The parable of the prodigal son is well known: A son wants his inheritance and asks for it while his father is still alive. Even in our days, inheritances are received after the death of the parent, so asking for it before its time is at least disrespectful. The son goes on to squander his wealth and ends up taking care of pigs and desiring to eat the pigs' food. That is to say, he went low. He came back to his father with a humble attitude but from afar, his father saw him and run to him and threw a party.

The analysis of the love and forgiveness that God has for those who wish to come back to him is the main point of this parable. Or isn't it?

Timothy Keller, who gets his theology from a very solid tradition of Biblical study, makes the case that sure, for all the ones who had gone the road of obvious and maybe degrading sinning, the message is clear, come back and God will have no reproaches, but relief and open arms, He loves you.

But here comes the brilliance (Thimoty Keller's or other scholars I do not know), the parable tells a LOT about the older son, the one who stayed with his father, the one who obeyed, the one who "didn't sin" (in his own eyes), the religious, rule obeying one. Read the book to find out who is more lost, the lost sinner or the obedient religious son?
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on July 28, 2014
I never understood the full implications of the parable of the prodigal son. I appreciate getting the full story in a beautifully written book. The last part is about the necessity of faith.This is a little harder to like, because the author says that you cannot fully be a good person if you do not accept Jesus as your god. Perhaps this is true but if it is, than that's how it goes. In this case, I can not realize my full potential, since nothing but worshipping Jesus, accepting the Bible as the holy word of god, and belonging to a church can get you there.
If you see nothing that you recognize as proof of something, than you don't.
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on October 27, 2016
As a father of a prodigal, I picked this up expecting this to be a book that would encourage me in praying for my lost son and his return.
What this book is is so much more. It is about a loving father who lavishes his love on his children...even the wayward sons. And notice that was sons plural. Both sons in this famous story were far from God, but in different ways. We focus on the one who left, but even the one who satyed was far from God.
This is an excellent book to explore the love of the Father and the two hearts that lead us away from His.
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on December 31, 2016
Amazing! I read this little book in an afternoon, and wish I could convince everyone I know to take a few hours to read it too. I have recently been disillusioned with the view of Christianity that, as I've described, puts God "in a box" as this nice, neat little easily-defined idea that just needs a passing nod or an occasional "thanks!" or which does little to inspire awe and all-consuming love and humility. This book addresses both those Christians, as well as the wayward self-indulgent ones... how both miss the entire point of the Gospel, and how much life and joy and thankfulness there is when we break away from either of the sides we tend to lean. This has given me so much more insight into the Gospel, the entire story of the Bible and man's redemption from this one tiny parable, and the hope that God gives us to redeem us unto him.
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on November 14, 2012
Book Highlights

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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on June 26, 2012
The parable of the prodigal son is oft explored as an affirmation of God's love, particularly toward those who have been reckless but now recognize Him as the source of salvation and fulfillment. Keller, then, opts not to repeat and rehash the exposition of other teachers. Rather, he looks at the character often ignored: the elder brother. In his book, Keller makes the case that the elder brother necessarily deserves at least equal emphasis as the younger brother, particularly in light of the fact that with this parable Jesus was addressing the Pharisees, whom the elder brother represents. From this he teaches about the elder brother's role in the story, his heart, his response to the father, and the applicability of the elder brother to Christian life.

Keller spends the first five of seven chapters diving into the younger-elder brother contrast in detail. He shows the error of legalism, how it is a symptom of pride, and how it leads to a sense of entitlement. Elder brothers adhere externally and joylessly to the law in exchange for favors owed. But God is prodigal--that is, "reckless"--and He is merciful to save worldly younger brothers and moralistic elder brothers alike.

But the final two chapters are where I think this book truly comes into its own. After talking about the problems--sins, really--of the two sons, Keller finishes his book with a look at the father. He looks at the parable's relation to the gospel, as well as a look at what a believer's life should look like in light of the gospel and this parable. God the Father sent His Son to pay the price for our homecoming. He crushed His Son on the cross so that we might be welcomed into heaven, and eventually the new earth, to live in an eternal home with God. And in that eternity, there will be great feasting (Rev. 19, Is. 25, Matt. 8:11). His last chapter, focusing on the "Feast of the Father," shows how we ought to live in experiential enjoyment of God. Keller does a good job of tying all the previous material back to applicability and how it works for God's glory. I found that these two chapters helped me understand more the grace of God, our subsequent gratification in God, and how they glorify God.

Who is this book for? I think this book is best suited for non-believers and new believers, to correct any misconceptions they have about how to live the Christian faith. It clearly demonstrates the folly of legalism and introduces how we ought to live in enjoyment of God and the gospel. This book contains a good presentation of the gospel, which will be of great benefit for non-believers. For believers who are older and more mature in the faith, this book is a welcome reminder of why God does not accept legalism. I do have to note that I don't think this will be as substantive for older, more mature believers. Since the final chapter of this book covers, briefly, the same material as John Piper's "Desiring God," I find that they pair very well together. I happened to be reading "Desiring God" at the same time as "The Prodigal God," and I found this book's final chapter to be an excellent introduction to the principles explained in "Desiring God." More mature believers may benefit from the greater extent to which Piper discusses the enjoyment of God. Still, this book is helpful at causing us to search ourselves to see if we have become complacent and legalistic in our faith.

This book is not dense. It is not a multi-hundred page exposition and exploration of this parable. It is a concise look at the tale and its implications for the life of a true Christian. Neither is any of the material particularly groundbreaking, but it is solid teaching and a good reminder of the fact that elder brothers in the church, proponents of pride and legalism, are wayward sons. "The Prodigal God" is a quick and helpful read examining and denouncing pride and legalism and exalting the all-surpassing love of the Father.
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on October 27, 2017
Good book. Author pulls much more out of the passage in Luke often titled "Parable of the Lost Son" or "Parable of the Prodigal Son" (Luke 15:11-32) than the common interpretations we usually hear. I won't give away all the insights but there are two "lost" sons.
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