The Prodigal God – Tim Keller

By now I will assume you have heard of Tim Keller’s NYTimes bestselling book, The Reason For God. We have talked about it widely here at The Crossing, featuring it for a book discussion as well as devoting a Connections Class series to its content.

Good news people: Keller’s next book, The Prodigal God was released last week.

At first glance, The Prodigal God may seem like a very different book from Reason for God. It is shorter, less apologetic in nature, and you will not have to read very many sentences twice to understand them (as some of us did in Reason).

However, the books may be more similar than you think. Keller explains, in a press release about the book, that he worked on both simultaneously over the past few years and that his working titles for the two books were: “The Gospel for Non-believers” (The Reason for God) and “The Gospel for Believers” (The Prodigal God.)


The Prodigal God is a reflection on the famous parable Jesus told about 2 brothers and their father, most commonly known as “the prodigal son.” Keller takes some exception to this title, however, explaining that the story is really about both sons and if we had to decide which was more central we would have to say the older son, not the younger, more boisterous brother. A better title for the parable might be “The 2 Lost Sons.”

Keller explains that there are really 2 ways to run from God. Everyone recognizes the wild-living younger brother kind of disobedience as ungodly, but many people, especially many Christian people, do not see the older brother kind of Pharisitical hard-heartedness as equally ungodly. Keller explains, “Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself.”

Though their lives were radically different, Keller claims, “The hearts of the 2 brothers was the same. Both resented their father’s authority and sought ways of getting out from under it.”

Luckily, Jesus’ parable and Keller’s book are not ultimately about the 2 main categories of human sin against God but about God’s rescue of us by His costly love.

Why name this book The Prodigal God? Keller points out that the term ‘prodigal’ does not mean wayward or disobedient as most of us assume. It actually means ‘recklessly extravagant’ or ‘having spent everything.’ That term, then, is equally true of the father in the story as it is of the younger son. The younger son spent all his father’s money on the wild life, while the father absorbed all the cost of his decisions AND the cost of his elder son’s rejection in order to win them back. The truly reckless giver in this story is the father.

Keller writes:
“The choice before us seems to be to either turn from God and pursue the desires of our hearts, like the younger brother, or repress desire and do our moral duty, like the older brother. But the sacrificial, costly love of Jesus on the cross changes that. When we see the beauty of what he has done for us, it attracts our hearts to him. …
We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the word of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.”

Keller’s insightful thesis is that there are really 3 ways to live, not just 2 as so many people assume: we can indulge our own desires, we can repress our own desires in an attempt to earn God’s favor, or, by the grace offered us in Christ, we can rest in Gods extravagant, prodigal love.

The book is available in our bookstore for $15.

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