The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller

I rarely do back to back posts.   It’s been a long day, and I just did the post on Vinoth Ramachandra and others. The long list of titles I want to tell you about is growing (and there are some really outstanding new ones, too) but today, we got our shipment of the brand new Tim Keller, The Prodigal God.  We’ve had customers waiting for almost a year for this!  We had to tell you about it right away.  I had an advanced draft version so have been ready to write about this. I can assure you it is thoughtful, concise, and wonderful.  It is smallish in size, handsome, hardcover. I think you’ll agree that it would make a lovely gift.
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Keller’s book from last winter, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton; $24.95) is one of the most talked about books of its kind, the best general book to serve as an apologetic for faith that we’ve seen in quite a while.   We have discussed it here before, and we like his ReasonforGod website, with a handy video clip of him speaking about the book.  Do check it out. The oodles of articles and reviews on the internet are mostly very useful, too.  His success in Manhattan is fascinating (no other evangelical church has been anywhere near as effective, especially reaching out to artists and Wall Street workers.) The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have even asked if maybe, just maybe, we’ve found the one to whom the mantel of C.S. Lewis might pass. 

Reason for God is good, but half the story is the backstory;  Reverend Keller himself is a great speaker, a much-listened to preacher, a rock star in the podcast world, a church planter in New York City.  Redeemer has reached out effectively without edgy or weird innovations, just solid and articulate care for the city, openness to seekers, and a wholistic embodiment of historic, classic Christianity.  Keller is respected by the literati, at least those who know him, and has a huge following among younger, urbane, and thoughtful Gen X and Millenials.  Workers seeking to relate faith and career, artists, and cultural creatives of all types find Keller and the Redeemer movement to be inspiring in profound, life-changing ways.

And now comes The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Dutton; $19.95), a book inspired by Keller’s own mentor, Edmund Clowney.  Those of us who had heard Dr. Clowney preach—his Christ-centered hermeneutic is explored in several books about preaching the Older Testament—will understand how that thoughtful saint could have such an impact on Keller.  For a season or so at Westminster Theological Seminary they co-taught a course on preaching, working out this historically-redemptive approach.  In those same years, Keller wrote Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, an excellent book on how to reach out to the poor, an orthodox, solid missional guidebook that drew upon Harvie Conn’s amazing Evangelism: Doing Justice & Preaching Grace.  With sophistication and seriousness, Keller has done just that.

Although Keller says he is indebted to Clowney (and to the Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 and other books of Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian Bible scholar who lived most of his adult life in the Middle East) his take on this classic “prodigal son” parable of Jesus is his own.  It is clear, balanced, provocative, yet sweet.  It is this kind of preaching that has drawn seekers to Christ and (as he explains) has helped those who were marginally churched and disillusioned, find their way back to–or hearing really for the first time–the message of grace.

You see, Keller reminds us (in prose that is thrilling for its weight and clarity, nearly chatty at times, but carrying much substance) that the story is mostly about the older son.  It is evident in the text to whom Jesus is speaking, and why. (The self-righteous Pharisees wanted to know why he ate with sinners.)  So the story is about the lostness of those who think they are moral, those who think that they are good, those who don’t get that they need a Savior or Lord.

Yes, it is about the younger, prodigal son, and yes it is even more about the other older son.  His reflections on the temperaments and the cultural forms of these two (the bourgeois and the bohemians, groups he knows well in Manhattan) is brilliant.  But, finally, the story is about God, and God is the prodigal.  In only 130 some pages, Keller elegantly explains the goodness of God, redefining sin, lostness, grace, and salvation, so that all can find a personal, restoring, life-transforming relationship with the God of sovereign grace.   Yes, it is God who fits the dictionary definition of prodigal.  That is, recklessly extravagant, having spent all.  This, dear friends, is the gospel. Thanks be to God.

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8 thoughts on “The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller

  1. Good to read of this new book, thanks for telling the world about it. Yes, Tim Keller has gained a hearing among a wide spectrum of people, certainly one of the most culturally relevant voices for today, with keen sense of the culture milieu as well as a solid theological foundation. A rare mix indeed.
    The comment that Keller is “a rock star in the podcast world” surprises me a little bit, since there’s not a Tim Keller podcast. Or is that something new?

  2. DJ: Hey, great to hear from you! I was browsing your good posts on and with Keller just last night! You’ve helped make him an internet sensation. You are one of the good guys behind the man!
    We’ll, this just shows how dumb I am about such things. Folks are always listening to his sermons, downloading and uploading and ipodding and such. That isn’t a “podcast” really? Just audio versions you can subscribe to? Sorry about that slip o the lingo.
    So, if anybody is reading, we get it from this very reliable source that, once again, I don’t know precisely what I’m talking about. Many who listen to stuff on line love getting his sermons, and I know a lot of folks who listen in regularly. It just ain’t called a podcast. Sorry about that.
    Thanks, again, DJ. Go to his blog, you won’t regret it!

  3. How would you compare/contrast Keller’s new book with Henri Nouwen’s classic, “The Return of the Prodigal”?

  4. Steve,
    What a great question…one that I was going to write about, in fact. I think it will be the subject of my next, brief post. Have to think of something to say, now that you wrote. Interestingly, Nouwen also drew upon Ken Bailey’s seminal work. THANKS for asking!

  5. Suzanne,
    Thanks so much for trying to track down more info on Keller. I don’t think I said he has a blog, did I? I did say there was a website dedicated to the last book, and I had a hot link there that should take you right to it. That is the site that I mentioned had a video clip of him.
    I did say he had a podcast, but I took that back after the first commenter noted that he has on line sermons, but that isn’t quite the same as a podcast. (In my reply to him, DJ, I told folks that might be following along that he (DJ) has a cool blog. He’s a pretty well respected blogger. I don’t know if he has a blog, but a lot of bloggers cite him, and connect to him. Redeemer has a cool website, too.

  6. It would be neat if he did have a blog. We use Redeemer’s website to order Keller’s Bible Studies. His church did a very wise thing when they chose to let people download the studies, print them, and pay for the right to print a certain number of copies (rather than print and mail them themselves).
    Have you read his Galatians study? I know you’re busy, but I thought I’d mention it. Prodigal God is actually an expansion of one of the lessons from that study.

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