Monday, February 1, 2010

Four Reasons I like the Prodigal God

Well I finally finished Keller's Prodigal God. And like the rest of the world, I liked it. To be honest, I've got a bit of a contrarian streak, so I considered writing about the things I didn't like in the book. But, to be honest again, I really really liked the book, and I'd rather rave about the good features than try to be really picky and find something bad. So here we go, the things I liked about Prodigal God.

1. Keller doesn't preach to the choir. I find that many popular books and blogs spend a lot of time saying things that their audience already agrees with. Its easy for conservative authors to rail against homosexuality or abortion, just to name two examples, because we conservatives all hate those things. But not Keller. Knowing that his book will likely be read mainly by conservatives, Keller goes after the conservative sins of spiritual pride and self-righteousness. Keller takes us all down a few notches. And yet somehow, every conservative person I know who's read the book has loved it! This speaks highly of Keller's pastoral skill.

2. I liked it because I'm one of those self-righteous conservatives who needed to hear Keller's pastoral, Biblical, loving, straight forward, rebuke. Beyond simply calling conservatives proud, which would have been true, Keller insightfully exposes some of the more subtle ways that we "elder-brother" types rely on our own spiritual accomplishments for our standing with God, rather than relying on the righteousness of Christ.

3. Keller demonstrates both explicitly in his teaching, and implicitly in his message, how to apply the gospel to heal a sinful heart. In other words, having diagnosed our condition, he applies the remedy. And the remedy is not trying harder, or knowing better, but knowing and relying on the grace of Christ in the gospel.

4. Keller is a skillful writer and a polished communicator. What I really need is the truth, and Keller makes the truth both accessible and inviting. This particularly stood out to me late in the book when he notes that his main point had been made two centuries earlier by Kierkegaard, in a comparison of the 'aesthetic' and the 'ethical.' I can only imagine that a book discussing Kierkegaard's conception of the aesthetic and the ethical would fly off the shelves like a nice cold cup o' plague. But Keller pleasingly drew me in, taught me, and let me go before I ever even suspected I was being served reheated Kierkegaard. Well played, Keller.


Carol said...

I read the book and loved it, but I've heard of a couple people who weren't fans of the book because they felt like Keller was reading too much into the passage. How would you respond to such a criticism?

Jeff said...

Carol - thanks for the comment and the question. I think its important to distinguish between what Keller presents as the teaching of the passage, and then the many many ways he expands on, and illustrates that teaching.

In other words, I think Keller had a good, honest insight about the heart of the elder brother. He then fills out the picture of how that heart manifests itself in our culture. I don't think that's "reading into" the text, I think that's teaching and applying what the bible says.

Carol said...

Thanks, Jeff. That's helpful.