The Prodigal God Book Summary - The Prodigal God Book explained in key points
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The Prodigal God summary

Timothy Keller

Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

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    The Prodigal God
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    The parable of the prodigal son is an ancient tale of familial estrangement.

    Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that Jesus didn’t discriminate. He broke bread with everyone: kings and Pharisees, sinners, refugees, sex workers, and the desperately poor. That stance garnered a lot of criticism at the time: How could sinners be treated the same as those who observed God’s laws to the letter?

    In response, Jesus faced the critical religious leaders, and told them a story. This powerful parable, found in Luke: 15, is commonly known as the story of the prodigal son. 

    The key message here is: The parable of the prodigal son is an ancient tale of familial estrangement.

    The parable tells the story of a wealthy father who has two sons. One day, he’s confronted by his youngest son who wants his share of his inheritance, and now! This was, for the time, a very unusual and disrespectful request to make of a powerful Middle Eastern patriarch. Essentially, the son was saying he wanted to be rid of his father and have the freedom to spend his wealth immediately, instead of waiting for him to die. A typical father might have violently kicked him out of the house with nothing but the clothes on his back. But this father concedes and sells enough of his estate to give the younger son his share. 

    The son takes the money and goes on a wild spending spree, frequenting brothels and partying until there’s nothing left. He’s left so broke he can't even afford to eat. He ends up working in a pigsty, so hungry that he envies the pigs for their feed. Thinking about what he’s done, he repents for his earlier actions and decides he’ll go to his father to try to make amends. 

    As soon as he sees him, his father throws his arms around the younger son. He covers him with hugs and kisses and tells his servants to dress him in the finest robes they can find. Then he orders them to prepare a feast to celebrate the son’s return, slaughtering the fattest calf for everyone to feast on. 

    When the older son hears about all of this, he’s furious. “I’ve been here for you all these years, obeying your every rule”, he says. “And you didn’t even slaughter a scrawny goat for me. Now my younger brother comes back after years of living in sin, and he’s treated like an honored guest?” He refuses to join the party, even after his father begs him to.

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    What is The Prodigal God about?

    The Prodigal God (2008) is a new interpretation of the classic parable of the prodigal son. Rather than focussing on the reckless rebellion of the younger son in the story, it focuses on the dutiful older brother who sins through obeying the rules for the wrong reasons. It shows us that we all have these problematic tendencies to be righteous and superior, but that’s not what the Christian faith is really about. 

    Who should read The Prodigal God?

    • Christians who’ve become alienated from the church but still believe in the gospel 
    • Anyone who feels like their faith is dead in spite of all their devotional efforts
    • Bible lovers looking for an original interpretation of a classic parable

    About the Author

    Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, a church with a diverse community of 5000 weekly worshippers. His New York Times best-selling books The Reason for God and The Prodigal God have sold over two million copies.

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