Author: Timothy Keller
This is one of the first books that I have read and loved. We often hear the story of the prodigal son, where the son took all of his inheritance, spent it foolishly, became broke, and went back home. The typical sermon where a sinner goes home to God. But the author, Timothy Keller, tells another part of the story, the story of the elder brother. He wrestles with the story of both sides, telling about grace and salvation and also reasons out the problems Christians face today.
I. The Book
The retelling of the story of the Prodigal son, and can be renamed into The Parable of the Two Lost Sons. For this review, it will be separated into the Younger brother and the Elder brother.
For the most part, this is the foretelling about the sinner saved by grace. That God waits for you to go back home to him. That whatever errors you have done, He is still ready to accept you back. A story of love, mercy and grace.
Act 1 (the return of the son), then, demonstrates the lavish prodigality of God's grace. Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of hear, but even before he can recite his repentance speech. Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father's love and acceptance are absolutely free.
In the book, Timothy Keller gives you a reason to re-evaluate your "Christian Life." In a Christian world of different views and denominations, there goes the ego of "Our faith is better because we follow the Bible." Or "Our standard is the Bible" which likely incites that their faith is better than others because of these kinds of reasons. Elder brothers keep the law to feel good, to feel better than others.
Elder brothers may do good to others, but not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of the people or the pleasure of God. They are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, they are feeding and clothing themselves. The heart's fundamental self-centeredness is not only kept intact but nurtured by fear-based moralism.
You can be lost two ways by having a "holier-than-thou" mentality. One is that by relying on your works as a means for your salvation. Two is that by being a "holier-than-thou" person, you think that you can gain God's favor, or you are closer to God than others.
This is where self-righteousness emerge. It may be unconscious, but you might be blinded by your moralistic ego due to the fact that you are more active than others in the church, or you follow a set of rules, and etc. Because of this blindness, you forget about God's grace to sinners - sinners just like you.
Timothy Keller does not say that because salvation is free, we should not serve God or we should not obey the laws. He is challenging you to change your view, your perspective.
What is the point? What makes you faithful or generous is not just a redoubled effort to follow moral rules. Rather, all change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting.
II. The Verdict
I recommend this book for Christians to rediscover and challenge their faith. I had a journey while reading this, and even though I know the dangers of being an elder brother I did not know that I was actually being one at times. Reading this book changed my outlook on Christianity itself. In the Christian realm that puts up standards and morals, I learned to think and evaluate first before giving out a final judgement on a person, or group, etc.
I also recommend this book to skeptics and non-believers alike and let Timothy Keller challenge you himself with your outlook in life.
III. Notable Quotes
“If you think goodness and decency is the way to merit a good life from God,
you will be eaten up with anger, since life never goes as we wish.”
“People whose lives remained unchanged by God’s grace didn’t really
understand its costliness, and therefore didn’t really understand the gospel.
They had a general idea of God’s universal love,
but not a real grasp of the seriousness of sin and the
meaning of Christ’s work on our behalf.”
"The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price
- someone has to pay.
There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family
unless the older brother bore the cost himself.
Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place."
“If we say, 'I believe in Jesus,' but it doesn't affect the way we live,
the answer is not that now we need to add hard work to our faith
so much as that we haven't truly understood or
believed in Jesus at all.”