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Friday, March 15, 2019

"The Prodigal Prophet" by Tim Keller. A Review.

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's MercyThe Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy by Timothy J. Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tim Keller preached his way through Jonah in 1981, 1991, and 2001, and so this 360 page hardback flows from Scripture, seasoning, and years of service in pastoral ministry. Readability is easy, which makes reception feasible. It is a thoughtful book packed with application, and material for prayer and reflection.

But "The Prodigal Prophet" is also a book that doesn't shy away from challenging readers. For example, sin "always begins with the character assassination of God...One of the main reasons we trust God too little is because we trust our own wisdom too much" (138-9). Keller allows Jonah to challenge our idolatries of unrestrained patriotism and anti-patriotism; ethnic bigotry and dis-attachment to our heritage; heartlessly preaching God's wrath and heartlessly preaching a God who has no wrath; to name just a few.

The book left me with one question. Early on Keller happily affirms "that God did not create the world and the human race for suffering, disease, natural disasters, aging and death. Evil entered the world when we turned away from him" (29). My question arises because the author once presented a paper that maintained the historicity of a real Adam and a real Eve, but opened the door wide open to biological evolutionary processes ("Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople," February 23, 2012, which can be accessed at BioLogos dot org). Though he never said in the earlier paper if he personally agreed with macro-evolution or not, I did wonder how his paper of 2012 and his assertion in the book in 2018 interacted with each other?

"The Prodigal Prophet" is also an easy source for grasping what Keller means by social justice, and what the foundation is for Christians. The reader will find places in the manuscript where he lays some of this out, but they will also need to examine the end notes on pages 246-51. The reader will also benefit from reading the author's opposition to both progressivism and conservativism, utopianism and nostalgia that lead to extreme political views, which are also in the end notes on pages 252-4. Though I don't always end up agreeing with Keller in the applications he makes in these areas, I do appreciate many of his thoughtful warnings and encouragements, for example: "Christians have every right, as individual citizens, to seek social policies based on their own beliefs, just as all other citizens inevitably will be doing...but the institutional "gathered" church and its leaders should not be aligned with particular political parties and leaders" (247).

In the end "The Prodigal Prophet" is a worthwhile read, not too heady, but very healthy. It makes for great devotional reading, but also would be an aid in sermon and Bible study preparation. As I close my review and recommendation, allow me to leave you with this point Keller makes about God and Jonah: "[God] is both too holy and too loving to either destroy Jonah or to allow Jonah to remain as he is, and God is too holy and too loving to allow us to remain as we are" (132).


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