Most people who read the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) focus on the younger brother who left home. Keller, however, suggests that this neglects the elder brother. The parable “reveals the self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother’s moralistic life in the strongest terms. Jesus is saying that both the irreligious [sinners, represented by the younger brothers] and the religious [Pharisees, represented by the elder brother] are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends” (pp. 10–11).
Keller points out that both sons rebelled; “each wanted to tell the father what to do” (p. 36). The elder brother sought by his morality to use God (p. 39). But he was blind to his lost condition as he rebelled against his father’s authority and love (p. 47). Like many people today, the elder brother thought that if he lived a life of morality, then God owed him a smooth path in life (pp. 49–50).
Keller draws several parallels between the need of the elder brother and the need of people today. The elder brother operated on the principle of “I obey—therefore I am accepted by God.” But “the basic operating principle of the gospel is ‘I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus Christ—therefore I obey’ ” (p. 114).
Keller frequently brings the reader back to the gospel. “The sensual way of the younger brother and the ethical way of the elder brother are both spiritual dead ends. [Jesus] also shows us there is another way: through him” (p. 132).
Anyone teaching or preaching on this parable will benefit from the insights Keller presents in this book.
Keller has an unusual ministry as the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Each week the church has nearly six thousand attendees in five services.