Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Prodigal God

I keep meaning to read The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, but simply haven't gotten around to ordering it yet. Instead, I found The Prodigal God, in which Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to discuss our failings as younger and elder brothers, as well as our hope in Christ.

It is superb. I wasn't so sure at first. I didn't know what I was getting into, and at first I wasn't completely sold on it, but by the time I arrived at the end of the book I was thoroughly convicted not only of my sin but also of the grace of God.

In this book, Keller focuses on the shortcomings of both the elder and younger sons in the Prodigal Son parable. In most discussions, the author (or preacher) picks one to highlight, but here Keller is quick to mention that neither son is living in the fullness of grace the father offers. Each one spurns the grace. The younger does so by his pursuit of the pleasure of the flesh, but the elder does the same, only by pursuing a life lived by rigid rules rather than free grace. The Father loves each boundlessly, but they see that love in different ways.

Keller spends quite a bit of time convicting the elder brothers of their sins. It is easy to see the elder brother as the faithful one, but in the brother's response to the father Keller sees a life lived without a full acceptance of grace. Keller views the elder brother as the one who tries to earn grace by following all the rules to the letter, despising those who have failed.

Keller concludes with a discussion on grace. I kept reading portions out loud to Rachel, not simply so she could hear them, but also because I wanted to enjoy the sensation of reading and hearing ideas so packed with grace. An excerpt:

She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, "That is a scary idea! Oh, it's good scary, but still scary."

I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: "If I was saved by my good works--then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace--at God's infinite cost--then there's nothing he cannot ask of me."

This book is full of tiny moments like this, when the grace I thought I understood is revealed to be deeper still. Thanks be to God for expanding my vision once more!

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