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Book Review of Tim Keller’s The Prodigal Prophet

Jonah  is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, but you may not have heard it like this.

Timothy Keller examines the story from a different perspective and applies this story to not just people in general, but Christians who think that they don’t have their own cultural, racial, and ethnic biases and hidden agendas.

Title:                           The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy

Author:                      Timothy Keller

Publisher:                 Viking, 2018

Reviewer:                  Omar Miranda

What are the main concerns being addressed?

The main concern being addressed is simply that Keller wants Christians to understand, examine, and resolve their own “hidden” cultural, racial, and ethnic biases and hidden agendas.

Were those concerns clearly stated?

Yes. Timothy Keller clearly demonstrates his comprehensive and authoritative knowledge about the topic.

What are the book’s strengths and contributions?

The book’s strengths are two-fold:

  1. Keller clearly and powerfully “gets into the head of the reader” by masterfully decoding and effectively applying all the cultural specifics of this story, allowing the reader to clearly understand the importance of this story.
  2. Keller effectively applies all the cultural specifics and the lessons and principles learned from this story to today’s modern life and culture in which the reader inhabits.

Keller also contributes a deeper understanding of the unwritten, unresolved cliff-hanger of the “second-half” of this unbelievable story to show how it applies to every single human on earth—but especially to Christians.

What do you wish the author would have added?

I wish Keller added discussion questions at the end of each chapter. This is a short, succinct, and physically small book. But each chapter is immensely dense! Discussion questions would be helpful in allowing the reader to further and more effectively apply or live out the powerful principles brought out in each chapter.

What do you wish the author would have left out?

Nothing. The book was perfect! I actually wish it was longer.

What were some good conscience quickening quotes from the book?

“The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be ’in mission’ in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our own lives and hearts. Grasping these insights can make us bridge builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour” (5).

“We are taught that our problem is a lack of self-esteem that we live with too much shame and self-incrimination. In addition, we are told, all moral standards are socially constructed and relative, so no one has the right to make you feel guilty. You must determine right or wrong for yourself. In a society dominated by such beliefs, the Bible’s persistent message that we are guilty sinners comes across as oppressive if not evil and dangerous. These modern cultural themes make the offer of grace unnecessary, even an insult” (74).

“How can a God relent from judging evildoers? How can he forgive and not punish sin? Many people in the modern West are not troubled by God’s mercy because they don’t accept the idea of a God who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves…[it] is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her. As some have pointed out, you have to have had a pretty comfortable life—without any experience of oppression and injustice yourself—to not want a God who punishes sin” (125-126).

“It is an understanding of God’s grace that removes our burdens. Religious people often invite nonbelievers to convert by calling them to adopt new sets of behaviors and new ritual practices, all the while redoubling their efforts to live a virtuous life. That, however, is to load more burdens on people. The Pharisees did this, laying ‘heavy, cumbersome loads’ on people (Matthew 23:4), and so they sank. All other religions put on people the burden of securing their own salvation, while God provides unearned salvation through his son (cf. Isaiah 46:1-4). While the gospel must lead to a changed life, it is not those changes that save you” (207).

What was so liberating about the book?

The most liberating thing about this book is that the author identifies the chief point of this book: that, if someone is a Christian, and recognized that they have been saved solely by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, then they are no better than non-Christians. And due to that, Christians, more than anybody else, should treat others—everybody with the same love, grace, and mercy that they, themselves have received from God!

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

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