Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Prodigal Son? The Prodigal God? Does repentance happen in the pigsty or in the Father's embrace?

Everyone (well Tim Keller and Glen Scrivener) is writing about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:
When we sin, do we consider ourselves to be in the pig sty - the long journey back home stretches ahead of us? Or do we consider ourselves to be already in the Father’s arms? There’s a big difference. I remember speaking with a Christian man about his extra-marital affair from years earlier. As he spoke about the pain of those memories I said to him “You realise that in the midst of the very worst of that, Jesus was rejoicing over you as a Bridegroom rejoices over His bride.” He paused for a long time and said “That makes it a hundred times worse!” I said “Yes it does. A thousand times worse.”
Painfully, I've stopped buying books for now (to save money for nappies) so if anyone wants to donate a copy of Keller's book to me...


  1. To be honest, if Glen Scrivener and Tim Keller are talking about it, that is pretty much everyone in my book.

  2. Keller is awesome. I went into the bookshop for Driscoll, came out with Keller - not the worst compromise ever.

    I remember hearing a CD of his EMA talk on Luke 15 when I was on Relay, and it turned things upside down. I'm really glad he's put it all in a book. Shame it's hardback though - it's quite expensive.

  3. BTW I meant the book by Keller is awesome. He's a dude too, but it wasn't just gratuitous hero worship...

  4. Paul,
    Can I quote that as my blog strapline?


  5. Scrivener is a hero. You can quote that if you like.

  6. alas, i have already given away my copy of the keller. it's a while since i read it but i don't think it addresses this issue all that much. i suppose one could say it's in the Father's embrace because the point of it happening in the pig sty in the parable is to challenge the pharisees. the elder brother should have gone to get him but didn't. at least that's what keller focuses on.

  7. I guess in reality I've heard several versions of Keller's preach on Luke 15 so I can probably live without the book... fascinating to see it taught well and really engaged with, and so heart-piercing.

  8. 2 brief comments on luke 15
    (a) let's not miss how israelite it is before we allegorise, exile theme "far off country" etc; after all, which son is Jesus in the story if it's supposed to be a trinitarian analogy? If anything, Jesus is the Father, the Shepherd King of Israel...
    (b) OT called Israel to turn to God (eg Joel 2:12f cf Acts 3:19)& forsees the conversion of the gentiles (Isa 45:22 cf Acts 15:3-19, 26:18-20). Hebrew "shubh" (ie conversion more broadly than repentance), means "(re)turn". For Israel languishing in exile, this meant a return to God's reign in the land, but Zechariah 1 says they returned to the land but not to God, and God hadnt returned to them. I think that continued spiritual exile is the context for the NT (Isa 2, Zc 10), sinners finding a royal welcome home laid on for them as Jesus seeks & saves them.

    2 comments on repentance/faith
    (a) John the Baptist's words, "who warned you to flee from the wrath of God?" (Lk 3:7) tell me that any brood of vipers can flee from wrath. Calvin comments on 2 cor 7:10 that "by godly sorrow [Paul] means not only any trembling at the thought of
    punishment but also our hating and abhorring the sin, because we know
    it is displeasing to God"
    (Inst 3.3.7). In other words, you don't need a reoriented heart to "flee from wrath", or to realise even servants get better food than you. You're still thinking of yourself, right? Paul picks the same idea up & tells me it's God's kindness that leads me to repentance (Rom 2:2-4). That's why repentance is a gift (Ac 11:35), consequently I think "repentance", ie the rethink, comes when The Father bears the scorn, puts a ring on his "dead & lost" son's finger & lays on a banquet.

  9. It's a stonking post. Really great stuff. I know Dave you've said you're having a halt on book buying but one that almost all of the many current books and preaching around references a brilliant book by Kenneth Bailey called: "The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants”". It's really worth it's weight in gold.

    Any thoughts anyone about why so many people are preaching it at this moment in time?

  10. quick question, without the text infront of me, so my bad...

    why do we think the son/coin/sheep are pictures of repentance?

    maybe they're all telling the good news to the pharisees about God, and concluding therefore repent (you pharisees) - I guess it does say "over one sinner who repents", but i'm remembering luke 3 where John the baptist says something like "who warned you to flee from wrath? bear fruit in keeping with repentance" Ie here is Jesus not modelling repentance, but calling for repentance, which he models with the father pleading with the older son (ie jesus pleading with pharisees to repent)??

  11. Dave - Now that's worth a widget: A Bish "Hero" endorsement. The blogger's Michelin star! ;-)

    Hi Chris. I agree that Jesus is the father in the story. I think verses 1-2 are the context. Pharisees grumble that Jesus weclomes sinners and eats with them. So Jesus tells a story where an older brother grumbles about a father who welcomes sinners and eats with them. Jesus is the dad of the piece. Plain and simple.

    I also agree that the 'repentance speech' of the younger son is very much like worldly sorrow. And I couldn't have put it better than your sentence here:

    "[Repentance is] the rethink, [that] comes when The Father bears the scorn, puts a ring on his "dead & lost" son's finger & lays on a banquet."

    That's the point of my post. True repentance happens in the father's embrace not in the sty. I'm not saying the parable's mainly about repentance. It's about Jesus' welcome for sinners and how we respond to that. But if we perhaps sidestep the language of 'repentance' and just talk about change I think we can fruitfully ask this question:

    Where does change happen?

    Well the prodigal is truly changed (both in status and, we can guess, in heart) in the embrace. And that's where the elder brother should have been changed also, but he spurned it and remained slaving.

    That kind of thing.

  12. Hi Dave,

    just send me an email with your address. I'd be glad to donate a copy of this book to you. You can consider that a christmas gift.

    I listened to various sermons on Luke 15 by Keller. And it blew me away! Simply awesome!

    I just bought two copies of this book to give them away as christmas gifts. And if you can assure me that you gonna read it just tell me and I send you a copy. ;-)

    In Christ
    Thorsten Wiediger
    (that means 'crucified' in german)

  13. Thorsten - thank you. Someone else got in ahead of you. Wonderful to bless people with books.