The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

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by Timothy Keller

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Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller "a C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, he uses one of the best-known Christian parables to reveal an unexpected message of hope and…  See more details below


Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller "a C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, he uses one of the best-known Christian parables to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation.

Taking his trademark intellectual approach to understanding Christianity, Keller uncovers the essential message of Jesus, locked inside his most familiar parable. Within that parable Jesus reveals God's prodigal grace toward both the irreligious and the moralistic. This book will challenge both the devout and skeptics to see Christianity in a whole new way.

Look out for Timothy Keller's latest book, The Songs of Jesus, coming from Viking on November 10, 2015.

From the Hardcover edition.

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This short book is meant to lay out the essentials of the Christian message, the gospel. It can, therefore, serve as an introduction to the Christian faith for those who are unfamiliar with its teachings or who may have been away from them for some time.

This volume is not just for seekers, however. Many lifelong Christian believers feel they understand the basics of the Christian faith quite well and don't think they need a primer. Nevertheless, one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do. Sometimes longtime church members find themselves so struck and turned around by a fresh apprehension of the Christian message that they feel themselves to have been essentially "re-converted." This book, then, is written to both curious outsiders and established insiders of the faith, both to those Jesus calls "younger brothers" and those he calls "elder brothers" in the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son.

I am turning to this familiar story, found in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of St. Luke, in order to get to the heart of the Christian faith. The parable's plot and dramatis personae are very simple. There was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father. This reception alienated and angered the elder brother greatly. The story closes with the father appealing to his firstborn son to join in the welcome and forgiveness of his younger brother.

On the surface of it, the narrative is not all that gripping. I believe, however, that if the teaching of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous Parable of the Prodigal Son would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way to the bottom. Many excellent studies have been written on this Biblical text over the last several years, but the foundation for my understanding of it was a sermon I first heard preached over thirty years ago by Dr. Edmund P. Clowney. Listening to that sermon changed the way I understood Christianity. I almost felt I had discovered the secret heart of Christianity. Over the years I have often returned to teach and counsel from the parable. I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by any other text.

I once traveled overseas and delivered this sermon to an audience through an interpreter. Some time later the translator wrote to tell me that, as he was preaching the sermon, he had realized that the parable was like an arrow aimed at his heart. After a period of wrestling and reflection, it brought him to faith in Christ. Many others have told me that this story of Jesus, once they came to understand it, saved their faith, their marriages, and, sometimes literally, their lives.

In the first five chapters I will unlock the parable's basic meaning. In Chapter 6 I will demonstrate how the story helps us understand the Bible as a whole, and in Chapter 7 how its teaching works itself out in the way we live in the world.

I will not use the parable's most common name: the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is not right to single out only one of the sons as the sole focus of the story. Even Jesus doesn't call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but begins the story saying, "a man had two sons." The narrative is as much about the elder brother as the younger, and as much about the father as the sons. And what Jesus says about the older brother is one of the most important messages given to us in the Bible. The parable might be better called the Two Lost Sons.

The word "prodigal" does not mean "wayward" but, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "recklessly spendthrift." It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as his younger son. The father's welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to "reckon" or count his sin against him or demand repayment. This response offended the elder son and most likely the local community.

In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well. St. Paul writes: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses" (2 Corinthians 5:19 – American Standard Version). Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God's reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.

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Prodigal God 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Georgiatucker More than 1 year ago
The Prodigal God finds you where you are and tugs you gently back to where you need to be. For anyone who finds relief in the wrong things -- be it compulsive shopping, workaholism, alcohol or other drugs, worrying, preocuppation with self or family, etc. etc. -- this book is a must read. Not preachy, but written with a warmth and conviction that draws you further through the book. I have given copies to friends and recommended it to acquaintances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In a world full of mixed messages and conflicting narrative, Tim Keller boils down one of the most well known Bible stories, the Prodigal Son, in a practical and insightful manner. Sermons and stories about this beloved parable often spend the majority of their time focusing on the plight and peril of the younger, wayward son. This is not the case in this book. As with most of His parables, Jesus was targeting the selfishness and elitist mentality of the Pharisees. The older brother sat in judgment and allowed his perception of justice to leave no room for grace, resulting in jealousy and bitterness. This book will take you on a journey to better understand yourself and those around you. It will challenge you to open your mind a little wider to the true meaning of Scripture and Jesus' message to love one another as we love ourselves. This is a great read for anyone struggling as wither the older or younger brother in the parable. And it will ultimately lead you to a better understanding of the Father. Enjoy and may your heart be challenged!
GrammiDH More than 1 year ago
I have searched for information related to knowing when the end is approaching to no avail until this book. I truly want to know what to expect as I find that takes some of the fear and anxiety away. It was what I wanted, frank and straightforward.
LarryDEllis More than 1 year ago
This is a refreshing discussion about Jesus's teaching about a man who had TWO sons. The meaning of the word prodigal takes on a new perspective with this book. I had always thought "prodigal" meant wasteful and particularly wayward. Keller explans that the only prodigal is not the younger son, who squandered his inheritance, but the father as well who gave all he had pointing to our Heaveny Father who gave his most beloved son. The author points out that the more well-known, younger son, who wastes his inheritance and comes home to his loving father is not the main character. Keller looks in depth to him, of course, but also at his older brother, who has many self-centered perspectives. Finally Keller examins the father in the parable, who lovingly extends love to both his sons,despite their rejection. We are challenged to see how much of both sons are in ourselves. What we find can be particularly disturbing to the faithful church-goer, who lives a sacrificial life serving God and others in the church. I highly recommend this book to those who think they have mastered the meaning of Jesus' parable. There is always more to learn.
abondurant More than 1 year ago
Definitely a book that all Christians should read, whether you are a new Christian, or have been in the church your entire life.
critch More than 1 year ago
This is not a book that looks in depth at the story of the prodigal son. It offers what might be a totally different perspective on the parable but is very much consistent with the gospel message.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is very well written and not what I expected. I saw some of the older and younger brother in myself and found many parts that touched my heart and gave me a greater realization of God's love for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keller captures the essence of the parable of the Prodigal Son, as well as much of what it means to let God transform our lives. This book is an easy short read, and yet well worth taking the time to contemplate what is being said.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Timothy Keller's book, The Prodigal God, is a well written explanation of a very old story. Many of us know the story of the prodigal son, but the author provides the reader with a different perspective. He thoroughly analyzes the behaviors of both brothers and offers us a thoughtful lesson on self-righteousness. The Prodigal God is short in length and long in its content. The book is appropriate for use in a Bible study group.
BelieverUSMC More than 1 year ago
The author really uses his knowledge of ancient culture to explain a parable that I had read and never truly understood until reading this book. This book has enhanced my jouney in this life.
CeeLove More than 1 year ago
The unconventional approach to how we see the "parable of the prodigal son" is excellent and lots to chew on if you've never looked at a parable from the points of view of the various "players." I enjoyed it a lot. It'll preach.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Refreshing and great wisdom!
AAR More than 1 year ago
THE PRODIGAL GOD: RECOVERING THE HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH by Timothy Keller is an interesting Religion book.It is an amazing book on the essential message of Jesus.It helps explain the goodness of God,redefines sin,lostnes,grace and salvation. Every Christian should read this throught provoking book.The author uses one of the best know parables to show a message of hope,peace, and salvation.This is a quick,educational read that will help explain some of the Bible.I would recommend this little book for all Christians for it will help recover your faith.TThis is an insightful,written with frankness,and straightforward.This book was received for the purpos of review from the publisher and details can be found at Riverhead Books, published by Penguin Group and My Book Addiction and More.
LucyBH More than 1 year ago
An Amazing and refreshing view on Christianity and it's principles. I have never been exposed to this angle of Christianity in church settings, even thou in my heart I always felt that too much "religion" is not healthy for anyone. I was raised in chuch of too many "big brothers" and not enough grace. This book has opened my eyes to a different perspective that is based on true love and grace instead of fear and obligation based faith. THank you Timothy Keller for writing openly of new revelations of God's true character!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a powerful reminder of God's love for us all. If you ever questioned God's will or struggled to understand it, this book puts that understanding in your grasp. I'd also recommend that you buy "When God Stopped Keeping Score," which takes an intimate look at the power of God and forgiveness. This book too will change your life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Using the biblical account that we call "The Prodigal Son", Timothy Keller once again does a wonderful job of clearly and easily cutting to the heart of an issue in revealing sin in the heart of the believer. His writing style is easy to understand, but by no means shallow. His theological depth and the scope of application is very well done and will find a point of application with every reader. Read with an open heart and an open mind, and God can use this book greatly in your life. For anyone who feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain, I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score." I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. I was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it. Buy it here on
leedeleon More than 1 year ago
The Prodigal God is one of the best books I have ever read. I am buying it for others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, it looks at the other son not just the prodigal son not the one that most people centered on. I found myself in that son. It is an eye opening read that really makes you think about life as a christian, are we just going through the motions for all the wrong reasons? I would highly recommend this book to anyone willing to see themselves in a different light. The way this book puts it you can actually see yourself in each son, however the insights to the other son (the son that stayed) are very valuable for us as "good" christians. I loved it and will read it over again, something I don't do too often.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is easy to read and understand. It provides you with a new perspective about one of the most read parables (the parable of the prodigal son).
NancyLibrarian More than 1 year ago
"Prodigal" nowadays is taken to mean one who ran off and wasted his resources doing stupid, self-indulgent things, as in the Prodigal Son parable. But Keller uses another legitimate definition, "extravagant", as he writes of God's amazing love for us, deep, strong, and enduring.
Grace4all More than 1 year ago
Looks at the parable The Prodigal Son as revealing not only the hearts and character of both the younger and elder sons, but most importantly what this reveals about the father... a father of extravagant love and generousity for both of his sons. A different point of view for a familiar story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader of various religious traditions and fiction and non-fiction works. I found that the time invested in this book is well worth the effort and the reward of satisfication is high. I recommend this book highly to anyone who is looking for an uplifting and thought provoking read. It is worth the short period of time it takes to read this one. As a result of this one, I ordered The Reason For God by Keller, which just came in yesterday. I look forward to seeing if his style is consistent or not.
calvinhobbes More than 1 year ago
comfort for the soul
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In this book Timothy Keller challenges all of us to consider how we seek to find meaningful, fulfilling lives. By careful, inspired study of the parable of the lost sons, Keller has recovered the messages that Jesus was sending to "sinners", but more importantly, to the religious leaders that came to violently oppose him. This book can revolutionize your life whether you are pursuing your own pleasure or living a very moral life. Keller uses the powerful images of the parable to show us the incredible love of God for all types of people and the way He has provided for us to find ultimate acceptance and satisfaction. Keller communicates in a gracious, carefully reasoned manner that God sacrificially loves all people, sending his Son Jesus to bring all of us back to Himself. While reading this book I was shocked to realize that I was living like a Pharisee, a religious bigot, thinking that I could somehow earn the love and blessings of God. So, by the grace of God, I am changing, being more convinced than ever how much God loves me, whether or not I try to follow rules. Because I know how much God loves me it is a blast to follow Him and serve people. Buy this book for yourself and for those you care about. That's what I'm doing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome! Recommend this book about unconditional Love and Forgiveness. Good examination of the older brother.