Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Prodigal God

A few month's ago, one of the publisher reps was making a call and a book caught my eye. I knew it wasn't a book that Eisenbrauns would carry, but I casually mentioned that it looked interesting. Low and behold, the next time he came around he brought me an advanced reading copy (ARC in industry parlance). The book is titled The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller and I will be offering extracts from the book for the next week or so. Because it is an ARC, the page numbers might not match the published version when it appears on October 30.

Keller's basic thesis is that we have misnamed the parable of the prodigal son and caused the word prodigal to morph into meaning “wayward.” In actuality, prodigal means recklessly extravagant, which defines God's relationship with us; scripture calls the parable “the parable of the two sons,” since there is an elder and younger brother. With that as background, I present you with the first excerpt:

Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners doesn't have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we'd like to think.—Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, pages 15-16

<idle musing>
Ouch! Many of us (me included) started out as younger brothers whom Jesus went looking for. Once he found us, he cleaned us up. Problem is, we think we cleaned ourselves up and we look down on the very people we used to be—and still would be but for God's mercy and grace being manifested to us and transforming us.
</idle musing>


Joel Brueseke said...

"Recklessly extravagant." Wow... awesome! I've heard some say that the story isn't really even about the sons, but it's about the Father. That is, from the perspective that salvation is all about the extravagant, reckless grace of God.

But to the main gist of this post, I think it's true that there are far more elder brothers in the contemporary church system. The younger brothers are either left out completely, or have to "return" to their Father in one way or another outside of the church system.

jps said...

Watch for more from the book over the next week...


Free Spirit said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Love the truth of this statement:
"Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day."

As a former very religious person, I am just now "getting" this truth.

Anonymous said...

I've been seeing Dr. Keller's sermons on this the past few weeks.
Wow, such an awesome, eye-opening series!
Can't wait for the book!