The Prodigal Father

How many times have you read the story of the Prodigal Son?  How many sermons have you heard about it?  Do you think you have seen everything there is to see in that parable?  Well, check out what Pastor Douthwaite did with this text in his sermon to our congregation yesterday.  Go here.

I was struck with the vividness with which he described  the family situation with the two sons  (including that added speculative detail at the very end of the father now looking out, waiting the arrival of the good son); the depth of the application; and, in the biggest surprise for me, the thought that we enact the story of the Prodigal Son every time we come to divine service, in which we confess that we have sinned before heaven and earth and are received back by our Heavenly Father who puts on for  us the Feast of Holy Communion.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Pastor Douthwaite and you are guilty of semantic gimmicky. Prodigal can mean lavish. However, prodigal, as historically associated with the parable of The Prodigal Son, is defined as being prone to wasteful expenditure. The father is never wasteful and the Savior’s love is not wasted.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Pastor Douthwaite and you are guilty of semantic gimmicky. Prodigal can mean lavish. However, prodigal, as historically associated with the parable of The Prodigal Son, is defined as being prone to wasteful expenditure. The father is never wasteful and the Savior’s love is not wasted.

  • Tickletext

    No, not gimmicky at all. It’s a valuable reminder about the munificence of God’s love.

    Incidentally, Tim Keller makes this very point in his recent book, The Prodigal God.

  • Tickletext

    No, not gimmicky at all. It’s a valuable reminder about the munificence of God’s love.

    Incidentally, Tim Keller makes this very point in his recent book, The Prodigal God.

  • trotk

    Daniel, your heart must be really hard if the only thing you have to say about God’s lavish and undeserved love towards us is that it shouldn’t be described as prodigal. Clearly the secondary definition of the word is used purposefully to make us think, not because the pastor was confused.

    Besides, although it is never in vain, we waste God’s love towards us all the time, and the Bible is clear that God is grieved by it. You reduce the God of the universe to a machine.

  • trotk

    Daniel, your heart must be really hard if the only thing you have to say about God’s lavish and undeserved love towards us is that it shouldn’t be described as prodigal. Clearly the secondary definition of the word is used purposefully to make us think, not because the pastor was confused.

    Besides, although it is never in vain, we waste God’s love towards us all the time, and the Bible is clear that God is grieved by it. You reduce the God of the universe to a machine.

  • fws

    No. Daniel is exactly right!

    The richest gift here is the love of the Father that he wants his older son to receive. Will it be wasted on the younger son or the older son? The audience and context for this story is that Jesus is telling it to the Pharisees. So who are they in this story?

    The story ends unfinished.

    The finish would be resolve here: Will the Pharisees come to the feast the Father has prepared, where we can feast on the body and blood of the Lamb who was slain just so the prodigals can have a feast?

    There are, in fact, two prodigal sons, but the one who returns is like the sinners Jesus chose to hang out with. They were already being embraced by the Father by those arms outstreached on Good Friday. The name card is at the empty place at the table for those who don´t think that the church should include those others. People like homosexuals who only maybe returned to church because life has beaten them up to the point where there is no other good alternative but to return and accept a servants position. People like me can´t even get credit for going to church: truth be told, I would like to feel welcome. If I could I would probably, to my shame, go somewhere else where people accepted me like just another person.
    But where else would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. But then churches don´t really accept people like me unless we constantly, constantly evidence shame. I am not talking about the general confession and absolution we all confess. More is demanded quite often. Example: When was the last time someone asked you deeply personal questions about your sex life to determine if you qualified as a christian?
    The good pastor misses one more prodigal point! His father give his son with the bad track record full power of attorney over all he possesses! So dear brother Daniel, you are even MORE correct aren´t you? God recklessly seems to waste all he has, his only beloved Son on who? Homosexuals like me who need to constantly repent of their sins. I wish sexual sins were the ONLY sins I had to repent of! Those are quite trivial compared to the depth of my other sins. How I treat others badly in thought, word and deed, or fail to attend to their needs. I am deeply ashamed. I am worse than that smelly son. That God has given me his power of attorney in my baptism is something I could not believe if my Lord had not commanded me to eat his body and drink his blood every sunday.

    So. I wept when I read this sermon. Why was that?

  • fws

    No. Daniel is exactly right!

    The richest gift here is the love of the Father that he wants his older son to receive. Will it be wasted on the younger son or the older son? The audience and context for this story is that Jesus is telling it to the Pharisees. So who are they in this story?

    The story ends unfinished.

    The finish would be resolve here: Will the Pharisees come to the feast the Father has prepared, where we can feast on the body and blood of the Lamb who was slain just so the prodigals can have a feast?

    There are, in fact, two prodigal sons, but the one who returns is like the sinners Jesus chose to hang out with. They were already being embraced by the Father by those arms outstreached on Good Friday. The name card is at the empty place at the table for those who don´t think that the church should include those others. People like homosexuals who only maybe returned to church because life has beaten them up to the point where there is no other good alternative but to return and accept a servants position. People like me can´t even get credit for going to church: truth be told, I would like to feel welcome. If I could I would probably, to my shame, go somewhere else where people accepted me like just another person.
    But where else would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. But then churches don´t really accept people like me unless we constantly, constantly evidence shame. I am not talking about the general confession and absolution we all confess. More is demanded quite often. Example: When was the last time someone asked you deeply personal questions about your sex life to determine if you qualified as a christian?
    The good pastor misses one more prodigal point! His father give his son with the bad track record full power of attorney over all he possesses! So dear brother Daniel, you are even MORE correct aren´t you? God recklessly seems to waste all he has, his only beloved Son on who? Homosexuals like me who need to constantly repent of their sins. I wish sexual sins were the ONLY sins I had to repent of! Those are quite trivial compared to the depth of my other sins. How I treat others badly in thought, word and deed, or fail to attend to their needs. I am deeply ashamed. I am worse than that smelly son. That God has given me his power of attorney in my baptism is something I could not believe if my Lord had not commanded me to eat his body and drink his blood every sunday.

    So. I wept when I read this sermon. Why was that?

  • Booklover

    Thank you for the good sermon. I cried all the way through it because, with four sons, I have at least one example of both types.

    I would also like to add that it is the best outside-of-my-church sermon I’ve heard on the Prodigal Son, and I’ve heard many. Every other sermon I’ve heard on the radio presented the oldest son as “lost” and needing to be “saved.” I guess they totally left out the words that the father says: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

  • Booklover

    Thank you for the good sermon. I cried all the way through it because, with four sons, I have at least one example of both types.

    I would also like to add that it is the best outside-of-my-church sermon I’ve heard on the Prodigal Son, and I’ve heard many. Every other sermon I’ve heard on the radio presented the oldest son as “lost” and needing to be “saved.” I guess they totally left out the words that the father says: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

  • EGK

    I first heard a sermon preached with that title 24 years ago (1986) and it has stuck with me ever since. I used the basic idea myself yesterday, speaking of “the lavish love of the Father.”
    One other point that could (and should be made) is that the cross is present here in the fact that the father shames himself by acting in an undignified manner. In Kenneth Bailey’s work, he notes that the neighbors would have been lining the streets ready to put the son to shame, pelting him with garbage, dung, etc. The father runs the gauntlet and takes the son’s shame upon himself, and the the son then receives the father’s honor in exchange. That’s the scandal the world fails to understand, as Paul notes in the Epistle for the day.

  • EGK

    I first heard a sermon preached with that title 24 years ago (1986) and it has stuck with me ever since. I used the basic idea myself yesterday, speaking of “the lavish love of the Father.”
    One other point that could (and should be made) is that the cross is present here in the fact that the father shames himself by acting in an undignified manner. In Kenneth Bailey’s work, he notes that the neighbors would have been lining the streets ready to put the son to shame, pelting him with garbage, dung, etc. The father runs the gauntlet and takes the son’s shame upon himself, and the the son then receives the father’s honor in exchange. That’s the scandal the world fails to understand, as Paul notes in the Epistle for the day.

  • J

    This past weekend I went to Masses in two different churches and thus heard different Catholic priests preach from this parable about God’s love for us in Christ, despite our sins. It’s plain why this gospel reading belongs in Lent.

  • J

    This past weekend I went to Masses in two different churches and thus heard different Catholic priests preach from this parable about God’s love for us in Christ, despite our sins. It’s plain why this gospel reading belongs in Lent.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Tickletext @2 opines, “No, not gimmicky at all. It’s a valuable reminder about the munificence of God’s love. Incidentally, Tim Keller makes this very point in his recent book, The Prodigal God.”

    Tim Keller does not define prodigal as munificence. His definition of prodigal is on page 1 of his book: “1. recklessly extravagant 2. having spent everything.” Neither definition is a proper adjective for God or for God’s love.

    I find it very sad that so many pastors and laymen are utilizing a book that improperly defines both the true nature of God and His love for men. Semantic gimmicky is dangerous. It can lead to false doctrine .

  • Daniel Gorman

    Tickletext @2 opines, “No, not gimmicky at all. It’s a valuable reminder about the munificence of God’s love. Incidentally, Tim Keller makes this very point in his recent book, The Prodigal God.”

    Tim Keller does not define prodigal as munificence. His definition of prodigal is on page 1 of his book: “1. recklessly extravagant 2. having spent everything.” Neither definition is a proper adjective for God or for God’s love.

    I find it very sad that so many pastors and laymen are utilizing a book that improperly defines both the true nature of God and His love for men. Semantic gimmicky is dangerous. It can lead to false doctrine .

  • ptl

    to fws above…..there is a bible verse (sorry can’t remember how it goes exactly) about tears in the nite, but joy comes in the morning? if we look at ourselves for our salvation, we won’t find it, but if we fix our eyes on Jesus, all will be fine as HE has already done it all… for YOU! Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s intention to give you the Kingdom!

  • ptl

    to fws above…..there is a bible verse (sorry can’t remember how it goes exactly) about tears in the nite, but joy comes in the morning? if we look at ourselves for our salvation, we won’t find it, but if we fix our eyes on Jesus, all will be fine as HE has already done it all… for YOU! Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s intention to give you the Kingdom!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Daniel,
    I don’t know this book everyone’s talking about here. But I am wondering, about the position you have taken here. Why do you say it is wrong to consider God’s love a reckless expenditure, or a squandering?
    I perhaps could quibble here with the words. I would agree with you that his love is not wasted, but I don’t think that is exactly the sentiment that is being aimed at here. Evidently you read this book and have taken offense to it. could you articulate this offense?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Daniel,
    I don’t know this book everyone’s talking about here. But I am wondering, about the position you have taken here. Why do you say it is wrong to consider God’s love a reckless expenditure, or a squandering?
    I perhaps could quibble here with the words. I would agree with you that his love is not wasted, but I don’t think that is exactly the sentiment that is being aimed at here. Evidently you read this book and have taken offense to it. could you articulate this offense?

  • http://www.simdan.com SimDan
  • http://www.simdan.com SimDan
  • Tickletext

    Daniel, I agree that “Semantic gimmicky is dangerous. It can lead to false doctrine .” But this is no case of gimmickry or verbal prestidigitation or etymological mountebankery. That’s a rather unhelpful intimation. To go around accusing respected pastors of gimmickry–a term which often connotes a level of deception or ulterior motives–is a less than satisfactory manner of illuminating the nature of God’s love, no matter what one believes as to the merit of particular points or illustrations.

  • Tickletext

    Daniel, I agree that “Semantic gimmicky is dangerous. It can lead to false doctrine .” But this is no case of gimmickry or verbal prestidigitation or etymological mountebankery. That’s a rather unhelpful intimation. To go around accusing respected pastors of gimmickry–a term which often connotes a level of deception or ulterior motives–is a less than satisfactory manner of illuminating the nature of God’s love, no matter what one believes as to the merit of particular points or illustrations.

  • Tickletext

    Furthermore, not to digress too much, but the quotation Daniel gives is accurate in that it is taken from Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, but it cannot be considered a fair representation of Keller’s understanding of prodigality. Here is a useful summary Keller gives of his meaning (pardon the lengthy quotation):

    The word ‘prodigal’ is an English word that means recklessly extravagant, spending to the point of poverty. The dictionaries tell us that the word can be understood in a more negative or a more positive sense. The more positive meaning is to be lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving. The more negative sense is to be wasteful and irresponsible in one’s spending. (Some people think prodigal means ‘wayward,’ but there is no dictionary that indicates that the word means ‘immoral.’) The negative sense obviously applies to the actions of the younger brother in the Luke 15 parable. But is there any sense in which God can be called ‘prodigal’? I think so.

    First, the elder brother is offended by the father’s extravagant and (to him) irresponsible welcome of his younger brother. The father, of course, represents God, and legalists are always offended by the gospel of free grace. They see it as wasteful and unfair. After all, they worked for their acceptance. These are the people to whom Jesus was telling the parable in the first place—the Pharisees who objected to Jesus’ lavish grace to tax collectors and sinners. They certainly thought Jesus was being far too free and irresponsible with the love and favor he was promising them from God. Jesus depicts them in the parable as the elder brother upset with his father’s prodigality.

    Second, the positive meaning of the term ‘prodigal’ is definitely true of God. He spent himself to the uttermost on the Cross. He did so ‘recklessly’ in the sense that he did not reckon the cost to himself. Jesus was someone who spent himself into helpless poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9) and was ‘in want’ in the most extreme way.

    So the title ‘Prodigal God’ calls attention not only to the mistaken way that legalists regard God’s gospel of grace, but also to how Jesus, though he was rich, spent everything without thought for himself, that we might be saved. Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on this text was entitled ‘Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son,’ which sums up well all the senses of the word in one sentence.

    I think it pretty clear that Keller is not saying God’s love is “wasteful” in the negative sense Daniel assumes–to the contrary, the legalists are the ones who lament the “waste” of His love on the undeserving! More accurate to say that Keller’s definition of divine prodigality is being “lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving.” Which seems well-stated, quite reasonable, and perfectly consonant with historical Christian thought and teaching. And what else could we say of Christ, who “made himself nothing,” if not that in his sacrifice He “spent everything”?

  • Tickletext

    Furthermore, not to digress too much, but the quotation Daniel gives is accurate in that it is taken from Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, but it cannot be considered a fair representation of Keller’s understanding of prodigality. Here is a useful summary Keller gives of his meaning (pardon the lengthy quotation):

    The word ‘prodigal’ is an English word that means recklessly extravagant, spending to the point of poverty. The dictionaries tell us that the word can be understood in a more negative or a more positive sense. The more positive meaning is to be lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving. The more negative sense is to be wasteful and irresponsible in one’s spending. (Some people think prodigal means ‘wayward,’ but there is no dictionary that indicates that the word means ‘immoral.’) The negative sense obviously applies to the actions of the younger brother in the Luke 15 parable. But is there any sense in which God can be called ‘prodigal’? I think so.

    First, the elder brother is offended by the father’s extravagant and (to him) irresponsible welcome of his younger brother. The father, of course, represents God, and legalists are always offended by the gospel of free grace. They see it as wasteful and unfair. After all, they worked for their acceptance. These are the people to whom Jesus was telling the parable in the first place—the Pharisees who objected to Jesus’ lavish grace to tax collectors and sinners. They certainly thought Jesus was being far too free and irresponsible with the love and favor he was promising them from God. Jesus depicts them in the parable as the elder brother upset with his father’s prodigality.

    Second, the positive meaning of the term ‘prodigal’ is definitely true of God. He spent himself to the uttermost on the Cross. He did so ‘recklessly’ in the sense that he did not reckon the cost to himself. Jesus was someone who spent himself into helpless poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9) and was ‘in want’ in the most extreme way.

    So the title ‘Prodigal God’ calls attention not only to the mistaken way that legalists regard God’s gospel of grace, but also to how Jesus, though he was rich, spent everything without thought for himself, that we might be saved. Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on this text was entitled ‘Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son,’ which sums up well all the senses of the word in one sentence.

    I think it pretty clear that Keller is not saying God’s love is “wasteful” in the negative sense Daniel assumes–to the contrary, the legalists are the ones who lament the “waste” of His love on the undeserving! More accurate to say that Keller’s definition of divine prodigality is being “lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving.” Which seems well-stated, quite reasonable, and perfectly consonant with historical Christian thought and teaching. And what else could we say of Christ, who “made himself nothing,” if not that in his sacrifice He “spent everything”?

  • inexile

    fws @4. “The story ends unfinished.” Or, maybe just a delayed finish. The open question is, ‘how will the older son respond to the father’s love?’ The answer comes on Good Friday – “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Then Jesus ends the story – “It is finished.” You could call it an eschatological finish.

  • inexile

    fws @4. “The story ends unfinished.” Or, maybe just a delayed finish. The open question is, ‘how will the older son respond to the father’s love?’ The answer comes on Good Friday – “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Then Jesus ends the story – “It is finished.” You could call it an eschatological finish.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Bror Erickson asks, “Why do you say it is wrong to consider God’s love a reckless expenditure, or a squandering?
    I perhaps could quibble here with the words. I would agree with you that his love is not wasted, but I don’t think that is exactly the sentiment that is being aimed at here. Evidently you read this book and have taken offense to it. could you articulate this offense?”

    I didn’t get past page 1. The offense is against the first commandment. The “Prodigal God” as defined on page 1 is not God.

    Tickletext opines, “I think it pretty clear that Keller is not saying God’s love is “wasteful” in the negative sense Daniel assumes–to the contrary, the legalists are the ones who lament the “waste” of His love on the undeserving! More accurate to say that Keller’s definition of divine prodigality is being “lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving.” Which seems well-stated, quite reasonable, and perfectly consonant with historical Christian thought and teaching. And what else could we say of Christ, who “made himself nothing,” if not that in his sacrifice He “spent everything”?”

    Here comes the gimmickry! After defining “prodigal” on page 1 as “1. recklessly extravagant 2. having spent everything”, Tim Keller performs a bait and switch to “lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving.”

    As a PCA Presbyterian minister, Tim Keller can not teach God “made himself nothing” and “spent everything.” Hence, the bait and switch. Spoiling Presbyterians for gimmickry can lead Lutherans into a false doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Bror Erickson asks, “Why do you say it is wrong to consider God’s love a reckless expenditure, or a squandering?
    I perhaps could quibble here with the words. I would agree with you that his love is not wasted, but I don’t think that is exactly the sentiment that is being aimed at here. Evidently you read this book and have taken offense to it. could you articulate this offense?”

    I didn’t get past page 1. The offense is against the first commandment. The “Prodigal God” as defined on page 1 is not God.

    Tickletext opines, “I think it pretty clear that Keller is not saying God’s love is “wasteful” in the negative sense Daniel assumes–to the contrary, the legalists are the ones who lament the “waste” of His love on the undeserving! More accurate to say that Keller’s definition of divine prodigality is being “lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving.” Which seems well-stated, quite reasonable, and perfectly consonant with historical Christian thought and teaching. And what else could we say of Christ, who “made himself nothing,” if not that in his sacrifice He “spent everything”?”

    Here comes the gimmickry! After defining “prodigal” on page 1 as “1. recklessly extravagant 2. having spent everything”, Tim Keller performs a bait and switch to “lavishly and sacrificially abundant in giving.”

    As a PCA Presbyterian minister, Tim Keller can not teach God “made himself nothing” and “spent everything.” Hence, the bait and switch. Spoiling Presbyterians for gimmickry can lead Lutherans into a false doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ.

  • Dan Kempin

    Fws, #4,

    “The name card is at the empty place at the table for those who don´t think that the church should include those others. People like homosexuals who only maybe returned to church because life has beaten them up to the point where there is no other good alternative but to return and accept a servants position. People like me can´t even get credit for going to church: truth be told, I would like to feel welcome. If I could I would probably, to my shame, go somewhere else where people accepted me like just another person.
    But where else would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. But then churches don´t really accept people like me unless we constantly, constantly evidence shame. I am not talking about the general confession and absolution we all confess. More is demanded quite often.”

    Great comment. I think it goes to the heart of the parable. Thanks for sharing this insight from your own experience.

  • Dan Kempin

    Fws, #4,

    “The name card is at the empty place at the table for those who don´t think that the church should include those others. People like homosexuals who only maybe returned to church because life has beaten them up to the point where there is no other good alternative but to return and accept a servants position. People like me can´t even get credit for going to church: truth be told, I would like to feel welcome. If I could I would probably, to my shame, go somewhere else where people accepted me like just another person.
    But where else would I go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. But then churches don´t really accept people like me unless we constantly, constantly evidence shame. I am not talking about the general confession and absolution we all confess. More is demanded quite often.”

    Great comment. I think it goes to the heart of the parable. Thanks for sharing this insight from your own experience.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman,

    If it compromises the doctrine of the two natures in Christ to make a play on the word “prodigal” in order to illustrate the Father’s lavish love, then you have not made the case. “Prodigal” seems to precisely describe the image of the Father’s providence in the 23rd psalm, “My cup runneth over.”

    What, precisely, is your objection, and how does it impact the doctrine of the two natures?

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman,

    If it compromises the doctrine of the two natures in Christ to make a play on the word “prodigal” in order to illustrate the Father’s lavish love, then you have not made the case. “Prodigal” seems to precisely describe the image of the Father’s providence in the 23rd psalm, “My cup runneth over.”

    What, precisely, is your objection, and how does it impact the doctrine of the two natures?

  • Don

    I don’t believe Keller is using “gimmickry”. Quite the contrary, he brings out another facet of the true gem that has been provided. It brought out an entirely different view than what I had been taught in church for the last 50 years.

    In regard to “God’s love a reckless expenditure, or a squandering”, from a human (cultural) perspective it is enlightening. Who would waste Love, much less a Son, on something so worthless?

    Only a Prodigal God.

  • Don

    I don’t believe Keller is using “gimmickry”. Quite the contrary, he brings out another facet of the true gem that has been provided. It brought out an entirely different view than what I had been taught in church for the last 50 years.

    In regard to “God’s love a reckless expenditure, or a squandering”, from a human (cultural) perspective it is enlightening. Who would waste Love, much less a Son, on something so worthless?

    Only a Prodigal God.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    That he spends his love lavishly, recklessly is one thing, but I think God would tell you it is not wasted, not even if only one sinner repents. He isn’t wasting his grace and love. No we don’t deserve it, but he seems to think we are worth the expenditure, and who am I to argue?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    That he spends his love lavishly, recklessly is one thing, but I think God would tell you it is not wasted, not even if only one sinner repents. He isn’t wasting his grace and love. No we don’t deserve it, but he seems to think we are worth the expenditure, and who am I to argue?

  • Tickletext

    Daniel, you say you “didn’t get past page 1″ of The Prodigal God. I suspected as much, because I was quite puzzled how someone who had read the book could mistake what Keller is saying. Here is what page one looks like. This quotation isn’t really even part of the text, and is not “Keller’s” definition but the dictionary’s. It’s no bait-and-switch to cite a dictionary definition and then work out a scriptural application. Pastors and theologians do this all the time. It’s very useful to establish for the audience or reader the common meaning of a word before working out a scriptural principle involving similar words or concepts.

    I may be wrong, but it looks to me like you are allowing some Lutheran/Presbyterian argument to obscure Keller’s plain meaning here. Honest disagreements are one thing, but intimations of gimmickry, sleight-of-hand, bait-and-switch etc. are just the sort of accusations that, because they impugn motives for believing, tend to inflame passions, sew needless resentment, and obscure the real areas of disagreement. This is especially the case on the internet.

  • Tickletext

    Daniel, you say you “didn’t get past page 1″ of The Prodigal God. I suspected as much, because I was quite puzzled how someone who had read the book could mistake what Keller is saying. Here is what page one looks like. This quotation isn’t really even part of the text, and is not “Keller’s” definition but the dictionary’s. It’s no bait-and-switch to cite a dictionary definition and then work out a scriptural application. Pastors and theologians do this all the time. It’s very useful to establish for the audience or reader the common meaning of a word before working out a scriptural principle involving similar words or concepts.

    I may be wrong, but it looks to me like you are allowing some Lutheran/Presbyterian argument to obscure Keller’s plain meaning here. Honest disagreements are one thing, but intimations of gimmickry, sleight-of-hand, bait-and-switch etc. are just the sort of accusations that, because they impugn motives for believing, tend to inflame passions, sew needless resentment, and obscure the real areas of disagreement. This is especially the case on the internet.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Dan Kempin asks, “What, precisely, is your objection, and how does it impact the doctrine of the two natures?”

    Tim Keller presents two definitions of prodigal: “1. recklessly extravagant 2. having spent everything.” These definitions are in reference to human not divine attributes. Inferring that human attributes of “being recklessly extravagant” or “spending everything” are divine attributes creates a false god made in the image of man (Idolatry).

    On the other hand, in the union of two natures, what is attributed to the Man is also attributed to God. The Man spent everything; therefore, God spent everything. However, the sinless Man was never reckless according to the dictionary definition of reckless. Therefore, God was never reckless.

    But reckless doesn’t really mean “careless” or “irresponsible” according to Tim Keller. It really means “not reckoning the cost to Himself.” At best, “The Prodigal God” is semantic gimmickry.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Dan Kempin asks, “What, precisely, is your objection, and how does it impact the doctrine of the two natures?”

    Tim Keller presents two definitions of prodigal: “1. recklessly extravagant 2. having spent everything.” These definitions are in reference to human not divine attributes. Inferring that human attributes of “being recklessly extravagant” or “spending everything” are divine attributes creates a false god made in the image of man (Idolatry).

    On the other hand, in the union of two natures, what is attributed to the Man is also attributed to God. The Man spent everything; therefore, God spent everything. However, the sinless Man was never reckless according to the dictionary definition of reckless. Therefore, God was never reckless.

    But reckless doesn’t really mean “careless” or “irresponsible” according to Tim Keller. It really means “not reckoning the cost to Himself.” At best, “The Prodigal God” is semantic gimmickry.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman, #21,

    You are correct that it is wrong to ascribe sin to the godhead, and I commend your vigilance. I would, however, add a few points in defense of pastor Douthwaite’s homiletical art:

    First, I have not read the book by Tim Keller, and I do not concede to him the right to define words. My dictionary (Webster’s unabridged, 1956) defines prodigal as, “Given to extravagant expenditures; expending money or other things without necessity; profuse; lavish; wasteful; not frugal or economical.” The secondary definition is, “Profuse; lavish; expended to excess or without necessity. The tertiary: ” Very liberal; profuse.” Clearly, while the word can refer to sinful waste or recklessness, the primary sense is extravagant generosity. To use this word with reference to God does not require semantic “gimmickry.” The son in the parable was foolishly and wickedly prodigal. The Father is lovingly prodigal. (You might even say that His love is “prodigious.”)

    Second, in order to truly impact the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, one would have to be speaking of the Christ. This discussion is about the prodigal father–as in the Father, the first person of the holy Trinity.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman, #21,

    You are correct that it is wrong to ascribe sin to the godhead, and I commend your vigilance. I would, however, add a few points in defense of pastor Douthwaite’s homiletical art:

    First, I have not read the book by Tim Keller, and I do not concede to him the right to define words. My dictionary (Webster’s unabridged, 1956) defines prodigal as, “Given to extravagant expenditures; expending money or other things without necessity; profuse; lavish; wasteful; not frugal or economical.” The secondary definition is, “Profuse; lavish; expended to excess or without necessity. The tertiary: ” Very liberal; profuse.” Clearly, while the word can refer to sinful waste or recklessness, the primary sense is extravagant generosity. To use this word with reference to God does not require semantic “gimmickry.” The son in the parable was foolishly and wickedly prodigal. The Father is lovingly prodigal. (You might even say that His love is “prodigious.”)

    Second, in order to truly impact the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, one would have to be speaking of the Christ. This discussion is about the prodigal father–as in the Father, the first person of the holy Trinity.

  • Tickletext

    At best, “The Prodigal God” is semantic gimmickry. Daniel, isn’t this a rather brazen pronouncement considering you haven’t read the book, only a few words on a single page, according to your own admission? What if someone appeared on this thread and said “Now, I haven’t read anything Daniel said here except for a single word. But what he is saying is nothing more than verbal parlor tricks.”

  • Tickletext

    At best, “The Prodigal God” is semantic gimmickry. Daniel, isn’t this a rather brazen pronouncement considering you haven’t read the book, only a few words on a single page, according to your own admission? What if someone appeared on this thread and said “Now, I haven’t read anything Daniel said here except for a single word. But what he is saying is nothing more than verbal parlor tricks.”

  • ptl

    Honestly Tickletext, how could any book with a title “Prodigal God” be anything but “semantic gimmickry” when the very definition of “prodigal” includes “recklessness” (our God is not reckless, excuse me!) and “having spent everything” (our God’s love is infinite and therefore there is no end, interpretation: he cannot spend it all!)….clearly a title to attract “itching ears!” and a plausible candidate for semantic gimmickry. What do you think of at least the possibility?

    And consider the sermon…who says the second son was a slacker? He could have admired his older, perfect brother and tried all his life to live up to those standards. Many of us perhaps, as myself, have had older “perfect” siblings who set the standard for us, and whom we tried to emulate…who says the second son wasn’t a perfect son, modeling himself after his older brother, until there was something that threw him “off the mark” and he began his life of rebellion? Sometimes, it doesn’t unfortunately take much… a girlfriend who has certain ideas, some friends who have experience the other side and noticed how restricted your behavior has been trying to live up to your Father’s expectations? Indeed, there probably is more evidence to suggest this picture of son number two is at least plausibly true, rather than the picture of a slacker – that’s what we call more dramatic, and unsubstantiated sermon gimmickry! If you doubt it, think of poor old Adam…up until the fall, a perfect, obedient, loyal, faithful, believer, and then boom! A sudden, dramatic, 180 degree about face….it can happen to the best of us! We don’t need to start out as slackers to end up in the gutter!

    It would be easy to criticize other dramatic “gimmicks” in this sermon, as well as the title of the book, but that is a matter of taste, most likely? At least be open minded enough to allow the possibility of different opinions on the matter, and respect their legitimacy without jumping to conclusions and appearing to be so judgmental about them all. We’ll have “prodigious” amounts of time in the next kingdom to discuss the pros and cons of each and figure out which was number one, and which was number two :)

  • ptl

    Honestly Tickletext, how could any book with a title “Prodigal God” be anything but “semantic gimmickry” when the very definition of “prodigal” includes “recklessness” (our God is not reckless, excuse me!) and “having spent everything” (our God’s love is infinite and therefore there is no end, interpretation: he cannot spend it all!)….clearly a title to attract “itching ears!” and a plausible candidate for semantic gimmickry. What do you think of at least the possibility?

    And consider the sermon…who says the second son was a slacker? He could have admired his older, perfect brother and tried all his life to live up to those standards. Many of us perhaps, as myself, have had older “perfect” siblings who set the standard for us, and whom we tried to emulate…who says the second son wasn’t a perfect son, modeling himself after his older brother, until there was something that threw him “off the mark” and he began his life of rebellion? Sometimes, it doesn’t unfortunately take much… a girlfriend who has certain ideas, some friends who have experience the other side and noticed how restricted your behavior has been trying to live up to your Father’s expectations? Indeed, there probably is more evidence to suggest this picture of son number two is at least plausibly true, rather than the picture of a slacker – that’s what we call more dramatic, and unsubstantiated sermon gimmickry! If you doubt it, think of poor old Adam…up until the fall, a perfect, obedient, loyal, faithful, believer, and then boom! A sudden, dramatic, 180 degree about face….it can happen to the best of us! We don’t need to start out as slackers to end up in the gutter!

    It would be easy to criticize other dramatic “gimmicks” in this sermon, as well as the title of the book, but that is a matter of taste, most likely? At least be open minded enough to allow the possibility of different opinions on the matter, and respect their legitimacy without jumping to conclusions and appearing to be so judgmental about them all. We’ll have “prodigious” amounts of time in the next kingdom to discuss the pros and cons of each and figure out which was number one, and which was number two :)

  • ptl

    to fws above…..no answer from you, either from other folks who replied to your comment, or on your own question :( Enquiring minds want to know, you did cry, why is that? Please share :)

  • ptl

    to fws above…..no answer from you, either from other folks who replied to your comment, or on your own question :( Enquiring minds want to know, you did cry, why is that? Please share :)

  • Daniel Gorman

    Dan Kempin opines@22, “Second, in order to truly impact the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, one would have to be speaking of the Christ. This discussion is about the prodigal father–as in the Father, the first person of the holy Trinity.”

    Idolatry is ascribing human attributes to the first person of the holy Trinity. The Father did not become poor for our sakes, only the Son. If this discussion is about the Father, then the book violates the first commandment: Thou shalt have no others gods.

    I have put the best construction on the confused semantics of Tim Keller. His title must refer to the Son of God. The fact you believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that “The Prodigal God” is in reference to the first person of the holy Trinity demonstrates how dangerous this book really is.

    Pastor Douthwaite uses a definition of prodigal that is consistent with divine attributes (i.e., lavish). Still, I think it was unwise of him to enter this semantic briar patch.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Dan Kempin opines@22, “Second, in order to truly impact the doctrine of the two natures in Christ, one would have to be speaking of the Christ. This discussion is about the prodigal father–as in the Father, the first person of the holy Trinity.”

    Idolatry is ascribing human attributes to the first person of the holy Trinity. The Father did not become poor for our sakes, only the Son. If this discussion is about the Father, then the book violates the first commandment: Thou shalt have no others gods.

    I have put the best construction on the confused semantics of Tim Keller. His title must refer to the Son of God. The fact you believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that “The Prodigal God” is in reference to the first person of the holy Trinity demonstrates how dangerous this book really is.

    Pastor Douthwaite uses a definition of prodigal that is consistent with divine attributes (i.e., lavish). Still, I think it was unwise of him to enter this semantic briar patch.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman, #26,

    First, to repeat and amplify: I did not read the book by Tim Keller. I was not talking about the book by Tim Keller. I have no interest in the book by Tim Keller. This post and your initial reply do not mention the book by Tim Keller, so please . . . do not reply to me about the book by Tim Keller.

    Your initial objection was to the use of the word “prodigal,” since it could connote the sinful weakness of the first son, thus ascribing those flaws/sins to God. That is a valid point. Still, the word itself does not mean reckless or sinful (per my post at #22) and pastor Douthwaite has the latitude as a preacher to “flip” it to a gospel word. Could he have been more clear and careful about how he handled it? Absolutely. He, and every other preacher who has ever handled the Word of God. If that’s your point, then fair enough.

    I still don’t see the issue with the two natures in Christ.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman, #26,

    First, to repeat and amplify: I did not read the book by Tim Keller. I was not talking about the book by Tim Keller. I have no interest in the book by Tim Keller. This post and your initial reply do not mention the book by Tim Keller, so please . . . do not reply to me about the book by Tim Keller.

    Your initial objection was to the use of the word “prodigal,” since it could connote the sinful weakness of the first son, thus ascribing those flaws/sins to God. That is a valid point. Still, the word itself does not mean reckless or sinful (per my post at #22) and pastor Douthwaite has the latitude as a preacher to “flip” it to a gospel word. Could he have been more clear and careful about how he handled it? Absolutely. He, and every other preacher who has ever handled the Word of God. If that’s your point, then fair enough.

    I still don’t see the issue with the two natures in Christ.

  • Tickletext

    ptl,
    I have tried to “be open minded enough to allow the possibility of different opinions,” which is indeed a helpful admonition. As I said earlier, “honest disagreements are one thing.” But this is not an honest difference of opinion. Open-mindedness toward opinions ceases to be an imperative when those opinions are formed, and formed quite decisively, against a book the opinion-maker hasn’t even read.

    “What do you think of at least the possibility?” I might have thought the same thing had I not read the book or listened to the sermons from which the book came. So I have no problem at all with someone saying it’s a possibility (though I think they would be wrong). The injustice is impugning a pastor’s motives on the basis of a book one has not read. Granted, denouncing books one has not read is one of the internet’s more fashionable interpretive injustices, but it is an injustice nonetheless.

    The crazy thing about it all is I believe there is actually no real theological dispute between Daniel and Tim Keller, at least on this particular point. But clarity is always obscured when there are axes to grind.

  • Tickletext

    ptl,
    I have tried to “be open minded enough to allow the possibility of different opinions,” which is indeed a helpful admonition. As I said earlier, “honest disagreements are one thing.” But this is not an honest difference of opinion. Open-mindedness toward opinions ceases to be an imperative when those opinions are formed, and formed quite decisively, against a book the opinion-maker hasn’t even read.

    “What do you think of at least the possibility?” I might have thought the same thing had I not read the book or listened to the sermons from which the book came. So I have no problem at all with someone saying it’s a possibility (though I think they would be wrong). The injustice is impugning a pastor’s motives on the basis of a book one has not read. Granted, denouncing books one has not read is one of the internet’s more fashionable interpretive injustices, but it is an injustice nonetheless.

    The crazy thing about it all is I believe there is actually no real theological dispute between Daniel and Tim Keller, at least on this particular point. But clarity is always obscured when there are axes to grind.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Dan Kemplin@26, “I still don’t see the issue with the two natures in Christ.”

    That isssue concerned Tim Keller’s book not Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon.

  • Daniel Gorman

    Dan Kemplin@26, “I still don’t see the issue with the two natures in Christ.”

    That isssue concerned Tim Keller’s book not Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman, #29,

    Oops! Sorry I missed that, considering my rant about not reading the book.

  • Dan Kempin

    Daniel Gorman, #29,

    Oops! Sorry I missed that, considering my rant about not reading the book.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There are too many people named Dan talking.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    There are too many people named Dan talking.

  • Dan Kempin

    And I was just about to share what my OTHER friend Dan said.

  • Dan Kempin

    And I was just about to share what my OTHER friend Dan said.


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