I’m a Tim Keller fan. So it was with some interest that I got round to reading this, almost the slimmest of his various books. “The Prodigal God”, with the bold subtitle “Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith”, is a brilliant usage of the story of the Prodigal Son to give a new window on the beautiful person of Jesus Christ.
A hint as to the picture of God that this book brings into beautiful perspective is before Keller has even recounted the parable he uses as a springboard;
“prod-i-gal / prodigal – adjective
having spent everything“
This opening ‘definition’ underlines the thrust of Kellers writing here: God loves you enough to be recklessly extravagant, spending everything on you. This is of course an allusion to salvation, and over a few pages Keller explores what this means, turning a lot of preconceptions about both the parable and faith on their heads. This is not a book of easy answers – but it is a book that grabs on to truth and presents it brilliantly.
Keller, amongst his retelling of a classic parable, also offers three ‘redefinitions’ of important concepts. Firstly, “Redefining Sin”, which forms the third chapter of this book. Here Keller shows the error of the two sons, and concludes that they are “Both Wrong; Both Loved“. In the fourth chapter Keller engages with “Redefining Lostness”, which is a beautiful exploration and explanation of the dynamics of Anger/Superiority and Slavishness/Emptiness. His penultimate chapter is particularly beautiful; “Redefining Hope”. Echoing, often, C.S. Lewis, Keller writes wonderfully of the hope we have in Christ, with the concluding section here called simply “The Feast at the End of History“.
The final chapter of this slim and excellent book is titled “The Feast of the Father”, and is an unpacking of the joyful and biblical doctrine of salvation that Keller would love us to engage with, and accept. Keller explains the radical reality of Christian salvation, and closes with the beautiful story of Babette’s Feast, which if you haven’t read it (you should) can be found here.
This is a great introduction to the kind of Christianity that brings life, rather than a dead religion which restricts and oppresses. I think this book is as useful for the older Christian as it is the seeker, and it is particularly helpful due to the story-nature of Keller’s writing here. I really cannot recommend ‘The Prodigal God’ enough.