Monthly Archives: June 2009

A Review: The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

By Timothy Keller


Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. 133 pages.


Timothy Keller


He “was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989, he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has nearly six thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world.”1


Summary:


Keller addresses the well known parable of the prodigal son in this new book “The Prodigal God.” Naturally he comes across as a very logical intellectual that consistently makes valid conclusions about the text. He addresses the younger and older sons with a fresh approach deriving meaning from the text. Keller uses illustrations and cultural and historical background to support his points about this well known parable. The chapters are telling as three, four, and six, all start with the word “redefining.” The focus of the parable in his argumentation is both brothers but primarily the older brother due to the audience. Both are lost and need to be found in Christ alone. The thesis of the book is that both brothers are lost and need to find righteousness and salvation in Jesus Christ the true older brother.


Main Supporting Arguments:


Keller elucidates the parable commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son. From the audience and the context Keller derives that the primary intended audience was the “religious elite.” “The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him.”2 With the context and audience of the parable would be best titled “the parable of the two sons.” The audience was both sinners (that he was commonly seen with) and the religious elite that looked down on Jesus.3

According to Keller there are two lost brothers in this parable but one of them does not know that they are lost. Clearly from the text and the audience he concludes that it is the older brother—the religious elite. “…the younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not.”4 Even further he makes this emphatic by saying, “If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don’t know you’re sick you won’t—you’ll just die.”5 The resulting conclusion is that being “the elder brother” is much more dangerous than being “the younger brother.”

Clearly Keller defends that there are two wrong ways to attain salvation and both brothers have a mistaken relationship with God. They have misconceptions of what is a right relationship with God. “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.”6


Logical Reflection:


Keller uses logic when he makes conclusions about the primary audience and uses the previous and following passages. With his understanding of the near-east culture of the first century, he easily supports his conclusions. Even the most generous of conclusions that Keller makes has the intellectual and logical fortitude to stand up to criticism.


Theological Reflection:


I will let Keller speak for himself.

“The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal son is about every one of us.”7

“Jesus did not come to simply deliver one nation from political oppression, but to save all of us from sin, evil, and death itself. He came to bring the human race home. Therefore he did not comes in strength but in weakness. He came and experienced the exile that we deserved. He was expelled from the presence of the Father, he was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation—in our place. He took upon himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could not be welcomed into our true home.”8

“We habitually and instinctively look to other things besides God and his grace as our justification, hope, significance, and security.”9

Conclusions:


Keller makes a delightful contribution to the study of the parable of the prodigal son. He concludes that Jesus is the ultimate older brother, and that the older brother in the parable (not Jesus but the “religious elite”) is truly lost. Keller brings all of this back to Gospel living. “We can only change permanently as we take the Gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts. We must feed on the Gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of ourselves.”10 The Gospel is central to the two sons and the father’s response to them. Bravo, Timothy Keller for a lifelong study of a commonly misaccentuated passage. I would recommend this to the pastor and layperson in the church as well as the biblical scholar.

In Christ alone, John

___________________________________________________________________________________

[1] This is from the “about the author” section in the book.

[2] Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 14-15. See also Ibid. 28. “It is because the real audience for this story is the Pharisees, the elder brothers.”

[3] Luke 15:1-2

[4]  Keller, Timothy. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 66.

[5] Ibid. 66.

[6] Ibid. 29.

[7] Ibid. 97-98.

[8] Ibid. 101-102.

[9] Ibid. 115.

[10] Ibid. 115.

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A GRACIOUS READING OF SCRIPTURE

Studying Scripture is hard work. Obeying Scripture is, perhaps, an even harder work. In reading Scripture, it is easy to think that our obedience depends on our own careful efforts. Yet, even our diligence can disappoint us at times. We are prone to distraction and sin. Thankfully, our sanctification is not dependent on our own efforts any more than our justification was. Without the grace of God, we could never have been declared righteous before God. The same is true of our sanctification. Without the grace of God, we will neither be conformed to His image nor spend eternity offering our worship to Him.


When we read our Bibles we ought to see God’s grace as foundational. It is present from beginning to end, and is central to a proper understanding of Scripture. What God has done for an undeserving creation has always preceded what He has expected from it. In other words, the indicative (God’s grace) always precedes the imperative (God’s command). There is a progression in Scripture that evidences the gracious activity of God as coming before the expression of His expectations to man. Five examples will serve the purpose of illustration:

  • First, God’s creative work recorded in the early chapters of Genesis precedes His command for man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “cultivate and keep the garden.” What God prepared for them and how He designed them enabled them to fulfill His commands to them.
  • Second, the giving of the Law in Exodus 20 illustrates how God’s deliverance preceded God’s law. Before issuing the Ten Commandments, God reminds the people of Israel who He is and what He has done: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (20:2).
  • Third, in the first eleven chapters of Paul’s letter to Rome, he describes how God has provided salvation for sinful man. In the last five chapters, he describes how man ought to live in response. Romans 12:1-2 marks the transition, “therefore… in view of God’s mercy, present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and blameless for this is your spiritual act of worship…”
  • Fourth, in the first three chapters of his letter to Ephesus, Paul explains what God has done for sinful man. Being dead in his sin and unable to save himself, God provided to man the only possible solution—salvation by grace through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ. The proceeding chapters provide the explanation of how the believer is to live in response.
  • Fifth, in Philippians the command to “have the mind of Christ” as one living in imitation of Him (2:5) is made possible through the gracious work of Christ who humbled Himself by taking on flesh and endured the Cross. Through His obedience to the Father and His death on our behalf, the Father highly exalted Him and delivered us from the power of sin.  The “Christ hymn” in Philippians 2 describes the activity of God’s grace.

What God has done for us always comes before what He demands of us (even though it’s not always to be found in the immediate context or preceding passage). His greatest display of grace was through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through whom our obedience has been made possible. Enjoying God’s grace without obeying His commands leads to license. Attempting to obey God’s commands without realizing our dependence on His grace leads to legalism. When reading God’s commands to us, we must remind ourselves how God has already provided, through Christ, all that we need in order to live in obedience. Discovering this tension in Scripture, our responsibility and God’s provision, will guard us from a man-centered reading of Scripture and guide us toward a gracious reading of it.

Blessings in Christ, Gabe

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Under Construction

This blog is under construction and may take several weeks before it is up and running in the manner that we desire.  Our hope is to write book reviews, short expositions of Scripture, highlights of current and past evangelical leaders, and other miscellaneous things that pertain to the gospel, the ministry, and evangelical life.

Thanks for your patience.

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Why Solum Evangelium?

Solum Evangelium is the Latin phrase for “the gospel alone.”

  • It finds its root in the Greek word euangelion, which means “good news” or “gospel.”  We have chosen this phrase to be the emphasis of our blog, because we believe the gospel to be the crux of Christianity.  In Romans, Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16).  In our estimation, it is the gospel that draws the dividing line between true and false Christianity.  The same line can often be found between Catholics and Protestants, Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals, and conservatives and liberals.  What one sees as foundational to faith makes all the difference.  Emphasizing (or failing to emphasize) the gospel reveals much about how that person views God, mankind, life in this world, and life in the next.

  • We think the gospel is central to orthodox Christian belief, and we see all of Scripture through the lens of that gospel.  Therefore, our desire is to focus on the one, and only, gospel of Jesus Christ as we think, write, and live.  This blog is simply our meager effort to grow in our understanding and articulation of the gospel as we work to harness our words and hone our skill at using them to portray it with brevity, clarity, and conviction.  To read an explanation of what the gospel is, click on the following link:  “What Is The Gospel?”

Semper Reformanda comes from the Latin phrase “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” that was used during the Reformation.

  • It means “the church reformed, always reforming.”  We have chosen to identify with semper reformanda, because we are two sinners being transformed by the grace of God.  He commenced this work by reviving us from spiritual death and by renewing our hardened hearts and softening them with the gospel.  Each and every day, He continues the work of conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ, that we might reflect the image of God more clearly (Rom. 8:28-30; Ez. 36:26-27; Phil. 1:6).

  • “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).  We have been “reformed” and are “always being reformed” until we shall one day fully reflect the glorious image of Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

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