Monday, December 08, 2008

Reading Again

I have struggled to get back into my routine with reading again after being in the hospital, and the pace at work has kept me from reading as much as I usually do at the office. But I did have a few hours to read through Timothy Keller's new book, The Prodigal God. You may remember that I read Dr. Keller's first book, The Reason for God, earlier this year while we were on vacation in May. As I mentioned in a earlier blog posting, Dr. Keller's first book is on eof the best apologetics books I've ever read. I was so encouraged by reading it that we gathered five neighborhood couples together in our backyard to read through it with us and dicuss its impact on our thinking.

So, when Keller released his second book, The Prodigal God, I quickly ordered a copy. Keller's heart for the gospel is so clear in this book, and as was evident in his first book, he enjoys a firm command of the English language and utilizes clear, lucid thinking in putting his ideas together. He is truly a joy to read.

In this work, Keller writes about the heart of the gospel from the angle of the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Instead of emphasizing the younger son, however, as is normally done, Keller writes that Jesus' original intent was to shock his listeners in his description of the heart of the Father, who quickly welcomes back the younger brother and invites the older brother to come in and celebrate with Him. This is a "prodigal" love - extravagant, over-the-top - hence the name of the book. Keller makes a great argument that the real target of this story is not the younger brothers of the world, but the older brothers of the world - those who believe that their self-righteousness is sufficient to have earned them God's favor.

In reality, the gospel message is that all people (regardless of the conformity of their ethical behavior to the law) need the life-changing grace of the Father. We all need to be converted from the inside out, and this only happens when we see our need for a Savior (which generally is a difficult step for us when we see ourselves are righteous people who have made good decisions throughout our lives). In this, Keller helps to remind us that the gospel is good news because it is so different from religion. Religion (of all stripes) teaches us to live well and keep the rules, and then we will enjoy the blessing and favor of God. The gospel of Jesus, however, shows us that God loves us in Christ before we do anything to serve or love Him. He moves toward us in grace, and we live for Him in response to this amazingly undeserved compassion at work in our hearts.

Keller goes on to argue that our main struggle as Christians is that we have not truly understood the depths of the gospel message. He argues that even if we have believed it so that we can go to heaven, most of us do not live daily in such a way that acknowledges that we have been captured by God's grace. We get into the rut of thinking that God's grace is sufficient for my eternal salvation, but not for my complete transformation. All this does is add religion to the gospel, creating many Christians who live as "older brothers," condemning others for not living as they have, believing in their hearts that somehow they have come to deserve the Father's love.

How incredible and life-changing is the message that Jesus the Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a undeserving death, rose again from the chains of the grave, and ascended to heaven so that I could become a son of His Father. May He in His grace help me not become an older brother but to remember my daily need for His mercy and compassion.

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