If you have a spare $20 and an extra 2 hours to go with it I have a great idea on how to use that cash and time.
Buy and read Tim Keller's little book, The Prodigal God. I read it on a return flight to Wellington last week. It has been around for a couple of years and is the author's second best-seller after The Reason for God, which I reviewed here.
And then if you have more money and more time there is a bit of an industry that has developed around the book. There is a teaching film on DVD ... also a step-by-step guide to offering the Prodigal God Church Experience ... the Prodigal God Curriculum Kit ... or, you could listen to Keller preach the Prodigal God series here.
But don't let the industry put you off. This is a seriously good little book and Keller is as close to a 'full of grace, full of truth' preacher as there is today. But as I read I found myself jotting down the things I'd love to chat with Keller about in an imaginary conversation about the book. I have a few questions for him! Here goes with a handful...
1. Yes, I can overhear Kenneth Bailey's material in your writing (as you acknowledge). The evangelical world took about two decades to wake-up to Bailey's work - but people got there in the end. But what I want to know is did you have an eye on Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son and Marsha Witten's All is Forgiven as well? It is these two authors who have arrested me in more recent years, with Witten's book being a most uncomfortable read. She examines the finest sermons on Luke 15 from some of America's most unimpeachable evangelicals and finds more than a trace of pure secularism as the urge to be relevant has overwhelmed them.
2. What about the parable that annoys people the most today: The Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20)? To what extent does it contain the same message as A Man had Two Sons in Luke 15? One parable set in the world of work and the other set in the world of family - but the same message? What do you think? I find the continuities in the messages to be intriguing - and maybe the discontinuities as well!
3. Yes, I understand the 'all is grace' message. There is nothing we can do to merit God's favour. Understood. The elder brother and the pharisees struggled to get this. If walking through the door marks the process/time of conversion then before the door there is nothing we can do to usher ourselves through the door. Yep. Got it. But what about after the door? How do we know we are through the door? This one troubles me deeply. I think the New Testament teaches that it is actually good works that demonstrate we are through the door. That is the reason James is in the New Testament, isn't it? Using a cricket analogy (which your English connections may help you to understand - kinda like baseball but far better - the New Zealand team is playing in Florida next month so keep an eye out for them) I tried to make a case for this here. I can't help thinking that in trying to expose the errors of the elder brother you have left this truth understated - apart from a few paragraphs related to Matthew 25 on p111f.
4. You close with the illustration of the plotline in the Danish film, Babette's Feast (by the way, your illustrations in this book are simply masterful). Ahh - a slow-moving movie of such beauty. But what do you think about Chocolat? Lacks the same charm - but does it cover the same plotline - or do you think there are significant differences?
5. As you did in The Reason for God, you put your finger on this problem of self-centeredness. We are at the centre of our world. Contrary to Rick Warren's opening line, Western Christianity points to the truth that "it IS all about me". But as you say, "We must learn to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness - the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord." (78) How do we help people towards a deeper conversion so that their world revolves around God, rather than God being one of many who revolve around them?
nice chatting, in an imaginary sort of way