Book Review: The Prodigal God

Rosie de Jong writes:

The parable of the lost son, or the prodigal son, is Jesus’ best known parable. However, according to Timothy Keller, it is also his least understood.


It’s so easy to let a well-known story wash over you and not make the slightest difference. But it’s so dangerous to do that with the Bible. Keller doesn’t allow us to remain in a contented state of familiarity for long. His fresh look at the parable invites us to stand among the people who were listening to Jesus, hearing the parable for the first time.


In lots of books and sermons there has been an emphasis on the wayward younger son. Keller turns that tradition on its head. He explores, in a way which forces us as readers to examine our own hearts, the fact that it also concerns a judgmental older brother. This parable is not aimed only at the irreligious, but also at the Pharisees, the super-religious elite. To put it in 21st century terms, it is aimed at church-goers, conference junkies, Extratime attendees, people potentially like you and me. He exposes the dangers of elder brother tendencies in our own lives, dangerous because they are often unnoticed—even praised—but ultimately lead to death.


Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself—in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him. So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Saviour and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.


As you read, pray that God would open your eyes and your heart to elder brother and younger brother tendencies in your life.


Most importantly, the parable is also about a loving father. Throughout history, the word ‘prodigal’ has been used to describe the younger brother. However, in the first few pages Keller relooks at the definition of ‘prodigal’:


prod-i-gal /pr?d???l—adjective

  1. recklessly extravagant
  2. having spent everything


At the heart of the book is the fact that ‘prodigal’ also accurately describes the father in the parable. Overwhelmingly, that father is representative of our Heavenly Father:


Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience […]


Just as you might be over-familiar with this parable, so maybe you are also over-familiar with what is at the centre of the Christian faith. If you want a book that will challenge you and warm your heart to the beauty of God’s amazing grace, then this book is one to pick up. Written both for believers and for people curious about the gospel message, Keller invites us to come to a fresh and powerful understanding of the gospel message. I challenge you not to be challenged by Timothy Keller’s The Prodigal God.