Book Review: The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

It is hard to find anyone serious who dislikes Tim Keller; I am frequently recommended his books and various quotes of his regularly crop up in my Twitter timeline, possibly only behind direct bible quotes, CS Lewis and Nietzsche. To date, the only book I’ve read of his was the excellent ‘The Reason for God‘ to which The Prodigal God is the follow-up. Effectively, having established the groundwork that one may rationally believe in God, Keller is here laying out what he sees as the heart of the christian message.

Keller acknowledges in the notes a debt he owes to Kenneth Bailey, upon whose work, amongst others, Keller has leant on heavily. So those familiar with Bailey’s take on the Prodigal Parable may well find themselves on familiar territory. He is also quick to clarify the use of the word “prodigal” in the book title does not refer to a God who has abandoned us and gone away, but rather it is to someone who is “”recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left.” So his reference is here to God’s extravagant grace.

His focus is on the parable known as ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son’ – which Keller points out is a bit of a misnomer, in that it is really the story of two lost sons – but lost for different reasons. As such, much of the book explores the roles of “younger brother types” and “older brother types” – with a quite pointed critique of the latter. His point is that the older brother of “religion” has missed the point and wrongly views the younger brother in a loveless way. It’s a marvellous exposition on why christianity should not be regarded as a religion, but acknowledging that religiosity has the capacity to alienate both christians and non-christians alike.

As a basic introduction to the christian faith, this is right up there with C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or Tom Wright’s Simply Christian. As with the others, I don’t agree wholly with the author’s outlook. Though considerably more liberal than a lot of American evangelicals, Keller’s reformed orthodoxy is a still little too conservative for my taste. But this only comes to light towards the very end of this short and highly readable book.

Having finished it a little over a week ago, I have had a little time to reflect on it. I was thinking who I would or wouldn’t recommend it to. While I thought of plenty in the former category, the latter was virtually empty. As a long-time christian, I found the book shone light on the object of my faith with a fresh angle. For those wanting to explore the basics of christianity, then I would happily give them a copy, though I’ll hold on to mine for future reference!

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