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on 25 February 2009
Whether you have been a Christian for decades or just interested in the real message of Christianity this book is worth every penny. Keller has the gift of being able to explain the message of the Bible in ways that grip you and challenge the way you think.

Looking at the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son Keller opens up the story to show Jesus' message of the three ways to live, and dismantles misunderstandings that many hold about the message of Christianity.

This book is a very easy read - my two teenage sons couldn't put it down.
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on 28 October 2008
The short version of the review is:
This book may transform your life because it presents the only message in the world capable of bringing about such change - namely, the Bible's message of God's extravagant love for undeserving bad people.

I WOULD RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO ANYONE...
Why?

In this book, Keller, in his classic simple yet intelligent way, offers a fresh presentation of the message of the Christian faith - not by devising a new message, but by going back to the Bible (mainly focusing on the parable known as "The Prodigal Son" - or as it should be put - "The Parable of the Two Lost Sons") and showing that its message is sadly quite different from the moralism many religious church-goers present. In this sense, the book challenges and shocks Christians as it reminds them of the wonder of the love God freely shows to bad people. In doing this, the book will also provide the sceptic with a clear presentation of the message the Bible presents of God's free offer of his extravagant yet undeserved love.

All readers - both Christians and sceptics alike - will be pointed to the true heart of the Christian faith in a way that does bring challenge, but also a thrilling sense of refreshment and hope. While it will involve everyone admitting to failure, it is then that it can take all readers to experience and enjoy the free love of God and to see what it cost Him in sending Jesus to pay with his life - buying us back - it's a love that is free for us yet was so costly for him. As mentioned above, this is the only message that can bring real change in someone's life - Keller also explains how and why this is the case is a most helpful way.
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VINE VOICEon 3 November 2009
I was recommended this book by my Pastor, as a resource for a talk on Grace that I will soon be giving. I am so glad I made the time to read this book - and you don't need a whole lot of time!

This is probably one of the easiest books about Grace you will ever read. I found the Discipline of Grace The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holinessa fantastic read. I have also read Terry Virgo's book God's Lavish Grace. Both are excellent and I highly recommend them as well.

However, this book is almost less theoretical and gets to the HEART of Grace.

You will be challenged to look at your thought process, whether it is about the Parable of the Lost Son, or as Tim Keller calls it 'the Parable of the Two Lost Sons', or your thought process about how God deals with us, how we deal with other people and how we deal with ourselves with regards to grace.

I would recommend buying it because it is a short book and I know that I will get things out of it from a second and third reading, or just dipping into it that I didn't pick up on the first time round.

I agree with one of the other reviewers - regardless of your interaction with Christianity, this is a book you should read.

If you want to get a good understanding of what Christianity is about then this is a great book to start with (other than the Bible!).

If you have been a Christian since you were a young child (like myself) then this is a fantastic book to read to be reminded about Gods amazing love for us and how we need to protect ourselves from the elder-brother mentality.

If you have recently become a Christian then this is a must-read as it will help to prevent you from falling into the trap of becoming an 'elder brother'.

One of the things I really like about this book is its SIMPLICITY. It takes a very famous passage of Scripture and then walks us through it. We get historical insight into the story which helps us with modern application.

I also like that it is EXEGETICAL. It is clear throughout the book that Keller is not using the passage as an excuse for some form of self-help. Rather this book is very firmly grounded in Scripture.

So please, please read it. In fact, spend the few quid and buy it because it will be like a refreshing pool that you constantly find yourself dipping into when the busyness of life starts making things go out of perspective.
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on 15 March 2013
I'm really grateful to Tim Keller for this little book on Jesus' parable of the Lost Sons.

Rejecting the traditional reading of the parable as being primarily about 'The Prodigal Son' - the younger brother who insults his father, squanders his inheritance, and then returns to find a surprising and shameless embrace - Keller focusses on the older brother - the joyless, self-righteous 'Pharisee' whose loyalty is exposed as purely self-serving.

Though a well-rehearsed reading of the story, Keller's insights and focussed writing style bring it powerfully alive.

But it is Keller's deeper insight on the older brother that really got to me. Comparing this parable to the two that precede it - the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin - he notes how this third parable lacks a figure who drops everything to recover what was lost. In the first, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in order to find the one that got away. In the second, the woman drops everything to find her lost treasure. But here, the Father in this story waits at home.

Why is this, asks Keller - what did we expect to happen? His answer: it is the older brother whom we expected to seek out his sibling. However, in contrast to this Pharisaic brother, says Keller, Jesus is the older brother who searches us out, whether we are the younger brother lost in our wayward life, or the older one lost in our religion.

Hence the title, the Prodigal God, the God 'who spends everything'.

It's a radically personal metaphor for the theological idea of 'atonement', a cornerstone of Christian faith that is often hampered by legal metaphors, which - sometimes inadvertently - reduce God to a hamstrung judge who has to play by the loveless abstract rules of the cosmos rather than illustrating the loving, dynamic creator who makes them.

In this metaphor the Father has already given everything to his sons, at great personal cost (the request of the younger son for his inheritance is equivalent to saying he wishes his dad was dead). This in itself is a very different image to the wrath-filled God whose only 'just' response to sin is to annihilate the sinner. But then there is Jesus, as the older brother who spends all of the family's remaining cash and reputation to rescue the brothers and sisters who - in our myriad ways - have found ourselves lost. This, says Keller, is what the Apostle Paul means when he writes that on the cross God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19)

As someone who has played both these roles of older and younger brother through the course of my life, and who grew up with a theology of the atonement that left me believing that on the cross Christ was reconciling God to me, I found Keller's insights deeply moving and lovingly profound.

There is a brief moment where, in summary, he steps back from the metaphor created by the parable to use more traditional legal language about the atonement. I was surprised and a little disappointed by this. It is not that such language is necessarily inappropriate; simply that when it so dominates discussion, making space for fresh metaphors is vital, and to my mind this nod to legal language undermined his central idea - by turning the father figure in the parable into someone who excludes based on sin.

But overall I have been deeply affected by this very human account of a divine relationship. It has helped me better understand why I really need God.
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on 23 March 2013
A lot of peole will at least have heard about the story of the prodigal son of the New Testament. This book goes a lot further and does so in just 168 pages with not a wasted word.
It takes a fresh look at the message of the parable, examines ALL the charactersand their parts in it, goes considerably deeper than anything I'd ever really considered and - and this is really brilliant -gently but firmly makes it personal to each one of us.
Timothy Keller teaches without preaching, challenges without guilt, encourages without overwhelming and has really made me think about my faith, life and how I'm living it.
His style isn't heavy with indigestable theological terminology whilst being soundly Biblical and reading it feels like an invitation to explore together the message and its relevance to us in the 21st century.
It has also made me want to read other books by him and I'd highly recommend "The Freedom of Self Forgetfullness"
which is an even slimmer volume (48 pages) but, as with "Prodigal God", every word counts and it's definitely a case of quality over quantity.
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on 26 August 2011
Tim Keller writes in a clear and engaging style. I particularly like the way that he illustrates his points by drawing on other writers. The overall effect is quite persuasive.

However, some of the clarity comes at the expense of over-simplification. I think most of us can identify with the older/brother categories, but people are far more complex than that. In this case, two sizes do not fit all. As it is, the first part of the book feels like a sermon on the dangers of dry, uptight religiosity. It is a good sermon, but I wonder how urgent a pastoral issue this is outside the US.

Keller goes on to broaden his message from this one parable without considering whether Jesus's original listeners would have heard it in that way. He does, rightly, locate the parable as a parable of exile and homecoming, but seems to struggle to make up his own mind as to precisely what the homecoming is. Did Jesus inaugurate the kingdom - albeit with a future consummation - or is it a still future event, as the final chapter implies. In which case, what exactly did Jesus achieve? On the one hand. Keller says that Jesus defeated the power of "death, disease and disorder" generally (nice alliteration), but on the other hand, this is BECAUSE (my capitals) Jesus died to pay the price for MY sin. Keller has smuggled in an atonement theology judicial role for God; a role that sits uncomfortably with the scandalously extravagant love of the father of the prodigal (Deuteronomy laid down a death penalty for stubborn and rebellious children). As a minor quibble, I was disappointed that he omitted the critical qualification that SOME (again, my stress) "Christian theologians have spoken" about Jesus's sacrifice securing the necessary not guilty verdict.

There is good practical advice within the book, but, in contrast to the essentially corporate nature of the kingdom, Keller's vision feels very individualistic. It's all about my relationship with God, my "inner-heart conviction", me sensing God's forgiveness, me "absorbing" the gospel. He skips over the role of the Spirit in both calling people to faith and equipping them for life within the body of Christ. For Keller, church (or at least the right kind of church) is primarily a useful support to us in our development rather than the purpose for which we are called and equipped, and the place in which the present inauguration of the kingdom should be experienced. The role of the sacraments is dismissed in a single sentence.

Lastly, an author ought to be careful about quoting another writer to support one point in isolation if this is inconsistent with the author's overall arguments. CS Lewis did speak of Sehnsucht, but held a quite different understanding of salvation from Keller. Bonhoeffer addressed worshipping communities (in established sacramental churches) in the face of the pressing evil of Nazism. He wasn't advising individuals on their spiritual development.

This is not a bad book. Maybe it will encourage some readers to come to faith for the first time because it is such an easy read. My feeling, however, is that, fundamentally, it only preaches to the converted. They seem to love it. I'm not one of them. There are better books on basic Christianity, including CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity". The style may now be less engaging, but there's more substance behind it.
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on 20 August 2013
It is hard to find anyone serious who dislikes Tim Keller. Prior to this though, the only book I've read of his was the excellent 'The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism' 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 marvelous 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 (C. S. Lewis Signature Classic) (C. Lewis Signature Classic) 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.

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 buy them a copy, though I'll hold on to mine for future reference!
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on 15 October 2009
When I read this I thought 'how obvious was that?' or probably more accurately 'how did I miss that?' Let me explain. Tim Keller points out something very obvious at the start of Luke Chapter 15. That is that this set of well known parables (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son(s)) are directed at the Pharisees and teacher to whom he is speaking in response to their attitude that Jesus is hanging around with 'sinners'. The end result is that 99% of the sermons you hear on the parable of the prodigal/lost son have the wrong emphasis. Jesus is not focusing on the son that takes the money, wastes it and then returns repentent and is welcomed back. NO, he is looking more at the older brother, the one that never left (the pharisees and teachers). 'How did I miss that?' I do have a question though - I know we do not go into the minutia of a parable but I would still like to hear someone explain v31 in a little more detail 'my son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours'.
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on 1 November 2010
Such a superb book - completely challenging an up-till-now understanding of this well known parable. A classic book. High recommend.
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on 23 April 2010
Having been taught this story seemingly forever and having taught it as a Sunday School teacher and a Religious Education teacher in a secondary school, I self-righteously (the 'Elder Brother' in me) thought I knew it back to front, but Timothy gave it a fresh perspective and really challenged me to look at the significance of the parable and my concept of God in a fresh way. Ok, I give in, as I have said to OTHERS so many times, there is always something to learn....
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