Wow. In just 130 pages, Tim Keller makes the Gospel so fresh again for me, and so compelling. He has been called the C.S. Lewis of the 21st Century, and while that’s a huge call (and one he’d probably be quick to talk down!), I can see why it’s come about. This book is simple yet profound, easy to read yet intellectually robust, and I think is rare among Christian literature in that it is equally thought-provoking for believers and unbelievers alike.
In the book, Keller takes Jesus’ most well-known parable – that of the Prodigal Son – and uses it to express the heart of the Christian Faith, the Good News of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and what that means for us as individuals and communities.
Keller’s main message is that while traditional tellings of the story have focused almost exclusively on the younger son and his alienation from his father, this is really the tale of TWO alienated sons. While the younger son’s brand of alienation is obvious and easy to identify in ourselves and in those around us, the elder son’s alienation is more insidious – and therefore potentially more deadly. The younger son is alienated from his father by breaking all the rules, while the elder son’s alienation comes from his keeping of them all.
I won’t say more, because I can’t do it any better than Keller has (read it for yourself!) – it’s enough to say that I was hugely convicted when I came to realise that much of my heart attitude and my behaviour resemble that of the elder brother’s, as Jesus exposes him in this parable.
The climax comes when Keller invites us to identify ourselves with the younger son, and explains that unlike the younger son in the parable, we don’t have an elder brother who sits at home with the father and looks at us in contempt, but One who left His Father to come in search of us. When this reality hit home (again) for me, I was left in a place of awe and worship.
Sure, it’s just the same old Gospel we know and love, but I don’t think our minds and spirits can ever be exposed to it enough. Taste and see…
For the unbeliever (seeker or sceptic) I think this book clearly demonstrates the difference between the Gospel on one hand, and mere moralism or religiosity on the other, as offered by other belief systems. I will definitely be passing this around for my non-Christian friends to read, and I look forward to the ensuing discussions.
For a brief, easy to read, worship-inspiring presentation of the Gospel, you won’t do much better than this.