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The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  31,116 ratings  ·  1,728 reviews
Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller "a C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century" in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, he uses one of the best-known Christian parables to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation.

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Hardcover, 139 pages
Published November 1st 2008 by Viking (first published 2008)
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Edwin D. Fischer The elder brother is bearing the cost just as Jesus bears the cost, the punishment of our sins, only Jesus’ selfless love is the motivation not obedie…moreThe elder brother is bearing the cost just as Jesus bears the cost, the punishment of our sins, only Jesus’ selfless love is the motivation not obedience for the hope of personal gain. Also, there clearly was immense family wealth remaining, more than anyone needed or could reasonably use. In God the Fathers case that remaining inheritance (wealth) is unlimited, infinite in bounty. If the elder brother’s love for the younger brother was like that of his father’s, would there have been reluctance to celebrating the return? I see the reluctance to celebrate very understandable in the context of my self-love being greater than my love of others, born out of my selfishness. This I believe is God’s desire for us, a greater, selfless love. An infinite love like His.
Lastly, the inheritance was still the property of the father, not yet the elder son’s. If the elder son truly loved his father, not the father’s estate, could he not set aside whatever bad feelings he might hold against the younger, and revel in the joy of his father?
This parable is a call to a higher, more gracious way of living and loving that is simply humanly possible. It requires God alive in us.
I see so much of myself in both of these sons; their hopes, their fears, their motivations, and their resentments.(less)

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Greg Balzer
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Greg by: Annie
If you think something is wrong with today's Christianity, and you can't exactly put your finger upon the specific problem, then this may very well be a book that provides profound insight. If I had more time I would try to draw out the distinctions between authentic Christianity and its impostors, but let me share a single quote to give you the flavor of this book:

The gospel of Jesus is not religion or irreleigion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism. Nor
Natalie Vellacott
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
I didn't get on with this at all. It started with the title and although someone tried to persuade me not to get distracted by it, it is on every page! Choosing a less offensive title, however, wouldn't have made this a better book.

Keller dissects the parable of the prodigal son. He introduces the subject as if he has some new and profound revelation, but actually most of the material has been documented before. The things that were new have, in my opinion, been found as a result of Keller readi
Jason Sixsmith
Mar 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Like many people, I assumed the word prodigal meant "wayward or wasteful." So when Timothy Keller's book first hit the book shelves, I remember looking at the front cover, noticing the "NY Times Bestseller" sticker on the label and thinking to myself, "Bah, this must be another self-help 'spiritual' book about a god who wants to be in a relationship with man in order to bless him but needs some help finding his way." But after noticing this book under the arms of men whose faith I admire and see ...more
Angela Blount
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing

For such a relatively small tome, the impact it's left on me has been tremendous.


1. recklessly extravagant
2. having spent everything

(The duality of that definition never occurred to me before I got a hold of The Prodigal God.)

This book dissects one of the most oft-recited parables in all of Jesus' ministry: The Prodigal Son. Though the author is quick to point out that the story Jesus used as a teaching illustration wasn't named that by Him...he simply started out
Mike E.
Oct 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
It is hard to imagine a person who loves God, or a person considering the existence of God, not benefitting from reading this beautiful exposition of the parable of the two lost sons (aka, the prodigal son). The book is simultaneously short and simple, deep and profound. It is one that I will return to again and again. God used this book to penetrate my soul deeply resulting in personal confession and worship.


If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you
Cindy Rollins
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Short treatise on the parable of the prodigal son. Excellent points about not only what we often think of as the point of the story, the son who goes astray 'the prodigal', but also a great point about the dangers of being the 'elder son', but the best thing of all about the book is a short look at the word 'prodigal'.
It is God who is the lavish giver in this parable. He lavishly gives to his undeserving sons, both of them.

spending money or resources freely and
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
2011: I finally read my first Tim Keller book! Excellent, very engaging. His main point -- there are two brothers in the parable, not just one. And thus, moralism is just as bad as the behaivour we normally call sin. Which means that both the 'sinful' person and the 'moral' person are both far from the Father, because neither is relying on his grace to meet their true need. I also loved the chapter on hope, where he presents the biblical theme of exile and homecoming. This chapter was where I mo ...more
Darby Stouffer
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A balm to my soul. A compassionate, joyful, fleshed out reminder of the Gospel. I can see why Keller is compared to a modern Lewis. This was my first book of his but it won’t be the last. And you cranky people can put that in your pipe and smoke it. ;)
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Quick read. Small book (both physically and in its 148 pp). Whole thing is based on the parable of the prodigal son. Most of us just think it's about forgiving Rowdy Roddy (#2 Son), but Keller spends 150 pp. telling us, "Nope. Wrong." Nicely, I mean.

For him, the parable is about equally bad bros -- both the prodigal who burns through Dad's money and then comes back as a penitent AND the elder, who resents the fact that his father welcomes Rowdy home. Guess who comes out smelling like a Biblical
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: "Good" Christians
Shelves: christian
Nearly every Christian knows, in an obvious way, that he most repent of his rebellious sin and loose living. But, repenting of good works? This is almost completely foreign. Good works are what Christians are supposed to pursue, right? How can they be a bad thing?

In this book, Tim Keller excellently demonstrates how good works without a proper gospel foundation are damnable before God. Keller elaborates on what he calls "Elder Brother-ness," referring to the elder brother in the parable of the P
David Steele
Oct 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sometimes big things do come in small packages. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller is one of those “big things.”

Keller tackles the Parable of the Prodigal Son. His approach confronts the typical interpretation that fixates on the sin of the younger brother in Christ’s parable – the prodigal son. Keller does not minimize the sin of the younger brother. Rather, he emphasizes the heinous nature of his sin and explores the sin of the older brother as well – w
Josh Miller
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The title of this book intrigued me. We normally entitle the story from Luke 15, the "Prodigal Son." However, Keller names his book, "The Prodigal God." And in the first part of the book, he defines the word prodigal. It means "recklessly extravagant, having spent everything." And then he drops the hammer - that is our God when it comes to the grace and what He offers! He is and has been recklessly extravagant (who would give their only Son to die for wicked sinners?) and spent all that He had.

Oct 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Keller has been called the C.S. Lewis of our day, and I agree they are similar in clarity of thought and expression. (Keller's work is not as dense or full of useful illustrations as Lewis'.) In this book, he discusses the parable usually referred to as the prodigal son, but focuses on the "prodigal" (reckless) love of the father in the story, which of course is really about God's reckless, pursuing love of us. He talks a lot about the older brother and how we might be more like the older brothe ...more
Mike Knox
Jul 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, non-fiction
A great introduction to Jesus and Christianity for moderns and postmoderns. Keller takes us deep into the heart of one of finest stories ever told by Jesus. The self-righteous will squirm as Keller points out that there are two prodigals, not one, in the story. But both kinds of people—religious and rebels—will feel the attractive pull of Christ when they discover what kind of elder brother He is.

Following Clowney, Keller has seen deeply into this parable. His skill and scope in applying its tru
Jody Sloan
Mar 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
I had heard from at least three people who read this book that it changed their lives. I was curious. I don't like Timothy Keller's books and have to say that this one didn't give me warm fuzzies about him either. The preface and first chapter set it up like he knows this great new way of looking at the prodigal son.

I am one who believes that Jesus gives parables to those who have ears to hear. He says Himself in Matthew 13 that there would be some who persisted in unbelief. The purpose of the p
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A compelling sermon drew this book to my attention. Much of Keller's commentary on the Parable of the Two Lost Sons (aka The Prodigal Son) has crept into evangelicalism in the almost decade since it's publication. But his insights into the sanctimonious legality of the older brother and licentious profligate adventures of the younger brother remain convicting. In the spirit of confession, I acknowledge that I am firmly in the older brother's camp of pharisees.

Yet the broader, tougher teachings o
John Boyne
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christianity
Keller's little book does an excellent job at expositing the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. The first thing he does is to correct the error in how we've titled this parable. The Prodigal Son is only half of the story as Keller, more accurately names the parable as "The Parable of the Lost Sons" as the second son is as much a part of the story as the first who leaves his father and wastes his money. Keller defines the two lifestyles as shown in the story between the two brothers as ...more
Jan 21, 2015 rated it liked it
I genuinely liked this book. I think the best thing about it is the prose style. Keller is one of the cleanest prose writers I've read in a long time and even the pages look undaunting.

I have been grappling with Jesus and Paul a bit more recently so this was good as it most definitely offers an "Old Perspective." While I suspect further study will reveal a bit more precision about what Jesus was talking about (for instance Jesus talks more about sins of honor, shame, and oppression than about "s
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional. A fairly quick read through the parable of the prodigal son, but per usual Tim Keller infuses a cultural context for today with many readers in identifying as a 'younger son'--those who are free spirited and want no other control in their life but their own, and the 'elder brothers' many people who may in fact be practicing Christians, but are relying on their moral performance and control of their own lives to save themselves.

In the end Tim brings us back to the gospel...whether we
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This tiny book conveys deep truths in a way that would be easy for just about anyone to follow. It serves as a great reminder of the costly grace Jesus has offered us, and what that grace means as we pursue salvation.
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
I would compare this book to the equal of 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis. This book is amazing and deals with the establishment of Christianity on the basis of its own merit. I found my understanding and faith renewed as I went through it.

"The word prodigal does not mean “wayward”, but according to Merriam Webster’s collegiate dictionary: “recklessly spend thrift”. It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the father in the story as hi
Tracy Duggan
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Tracy by: Simon Genoe
Within our book group this threw up lots of topic for conversation. We spoke about serving the Lord. How we should feel about that service. We spoke about religiosity. How going to church no more makes you a Christian the same way as a mouse that lives in a biscuit jar doesn’t become a choco-chip cookie! What should a proper elder brother have done? Wouldn’t he have searched long and hard to find his brother and try and bring him back to the family? How far do we go as individuals to bring peopl ...more
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
prod-i-gal --adjective
1. recklessly extravagant
2.having spent everything

"The word 'prodigal' does not mean 'wayward' but, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, "recklessly spendthrift". It means to spend until you have nothing left.

It has been awhile since I've read such a powerful book. Keller, one of my favorite theologians, clearly explains that while most recognize the selfish behavior of the younger brother in this well-known parable, that of the so-called prodigal son, it
Michael Escalante
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faith-religion
Absolutely beautiful. Keller captures much of what I find hopeful and inspiring about Christianity. Keller discusses the radical ways in which the parable of the prodigal son redefines 'sin'. His ideas echo and add color to some of my favorite thoughts regarding sin from Adam Miller (see chapter on sin from "Letters to a Young Mormon") and Terry Warner (see "The Bonds that Make Us Free"). Christian concepts of sin and redemption infuse me with love and compassion for others. Keller's ideas certa ...more
Ernest Wamboye
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you don't understand the gospel, this book is for you! I was humbled and repented for my elder-brotherliness! Humility and love echoes in this book. This is the gospel.
Bryan Kane
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
"If you are filled with shame and guilt, you do not merely need to believe in the abstract concept of God's mercy. You must sense, on the palate of the heart, as it were, the sweetness of his mercy. Then you will know you are accepted. If you are filled with worry and anxiety, you do not need to only believe that God is in control of history. You must see, with the eyes of the heart, his dazzling majesty. Then you will know he has things in his hand."

"Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is pu
Lara Lleverino
I have had several of Tim Keller’s books sitting on my shelf for a couple years and just have never gotten to them till a friend mailed me this and my husband I read a chapter each morning before he headed out to work. We both loved it. Keller puts words to the narrow path of Christianity that is not obedience to a strict set of rules but is the balance between sensuality and asceticism between love and duty. I especially loved the description of the value of friendship that he quoted CS Lewis d ...more
Renee Williams
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing!! I read this book as part of a neighborhood book/bible study. When I first read the title The Prodigal God, I was confused... how can God be a prodigal; however after discovering the definition of Prodigal (spending freely and extravagantly)I was intrigued. This study was indeed about the parable of the prodigal son(s). It was portrayed in a way I hadn’t considered and made me evaluated myself and my heart towards others , especially others in the church, and God. Thought provoking and ...more
Chris Harrod
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really loved Tim Keller's approach to one of my favorite stories in the Bible.

I would highly recommend anyone to read this. A relatively quick and easy read, as Keller writes in such a way that makes complex truths easy to understand and read.

Keller does a remarkable job of highlighting God's unimaginable love and faithfulness and also exposing the wicked hearts of man, regardless of how we disguise it. I won't read this parable the same again.

Lauren Muller
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I can't think of a Keller book that I haven't loved or that hasn't made me think deeply and learn new perspectives on my faith. This one didn't disappoint! Although a shorter read than others of his I've read, this one still took a while to get through because I'd find myself frequently pausing in the midst of reading to consider new insights.
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Christian Fiction...: February/March - The Prodigal God 25 58 Mar 26, 2013 07:12PM  

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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000.

He is also Chairman of Redeem

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