The Prodigal God :: book review

There’s something so fulfilling about finishing a good book, isn’t there?

Yesterday I finished reading The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller.

the prodigal god

This little book takes a deeper look at the parable of the two lost sons found in Luke 15. Keller breaks the book up into 7 sections:

  1. The People Around Jesus
  2. The Two Lost Sons
  3. Redefining Sin
  4. Redefining Lostness
  5. The True Elder Brother
  6. Redefining Hope
  7. The Feast of the Father

Keller’s main message in The Prodigal God is that Jesus is not just reaching out to younger brothers who are running from Him, but also to older brothers who are trying to earn their way to Him through moralistic living. He continually points this lesson out throughout the book, but most poignantly in chapter 3, Redefining Sin:

“The brothers’ hearts, and the two ways of life they represent, are much more alike than they first appear.
What did the younger son most want in life? He chafed at having to partake of his family’s assets under the father’s supervision. He wanted to make his own decisions and have unfettered control of his portion of the wealth. How did he get that? He did it with a bold power play, a flagrant defiance of community standards, a declaration of complete independence.
What did the older son most want? If we think about it we realize that he wanted the same thing as his brother. He was just as resentful of the father as was the younger son. He, too, wanted the father’s goods rather than the father himself. However, while the younger brother went far away, the elder brother stayed close and “never disobeyed.” That was his way to get control. His unspoken demand is, “I have never disobeyed you! Now you have to do things in my life the way I want them to be done.”
The hearts of the two brothers were the same. Both sons resented their father’s authority and sought ways of getting out from under it. They each wanted to get into a position in which they could tell the father what to do. Each one, in other words, rebelled – but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons.
Do you realize, then, what Jesus is teaching? Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently.”
[The Prodigal God, pages 35-37]

The phrase there – “neither son loved the father for himself” – has been ringing in my mind ever since I read it. Because isn’t it easy to get distracted? Distracted by both the loveliness + ugliness in life? And what am I pulling my eyes from when I dwell on either of those things? I’m pulling them from Christ – the loveliest of all.

One last quotation from The Feast of the Father:

“If we say “I believe in Jesus” but it doesn’t affect the way we live, the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith so much as that we haven’t truly understood or believed in Jesus at all.”
[The Prodigal God, page 124]

God used this book to work in my heart and draw me closer to Himself. If you want your heart to be challenged, The Prodigal God is an excellent book to put on your wishlist. Or check your local library. That’s where I found my copy. Gotta love FREE!


  1. Andrea says:

    This is one of my favorite books! It’s been awhile since I looked at it and loved re-reading the quotes you shared. I just got Tim Keller’s new book Prayer and am excited to dig in!

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