Category Archives: Book Review

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 3)

This is the final post in a series evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

In the first post, I explained how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinvention of the Christian gospel. The second post addresses one of Keller’s more serious falsehoods, his redefinition of sin to include obedience to God, which in turn subverts the gospel. Here, I correct Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and conclude the series.


In part one and two, we’ve exposed significant errors in The Prodigal God.  The author, Timothy Keller, completely misinterprets the Parable of the Prodigal Son, wrongly claiming that the elder brother is lost. Building on this faulty foundation and attempting to pervert the gospel, Keller redefines how we understand sin—twisting it from being disobedience to include godly obedience. Completely unhinged from biblical truth, Keller reveals that his new “gospel” actually condemns those who do what is right–those who keep God’s rules. Of course, sin has always been just disobedience. And the gospel has always been a message of reconciliation, calling those living in sin to repentance. I have corrected Keller’s teachings in the first and second posts. No need to retread the arguments here.

Since Keller’s “gospel” condemns the righteous, so too must Keller innovate a solution for this unique (and unbiblical) form of being lost. The solution he offers is a significant alteration to biblical repentance. In the Gospels, we read that both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed the good news, which included repentance from sin in light of God’s coming kingdom. (See Matt. 3:2; 4:17) However, Keller undermines this, significantly departing from scripture and misrepresenting the gospel in the process.

Keller’s Teaching on Repentance
As I’ve repeatedly shown, Keller incorrectly argues that the elder-brother is spiritually lost, excluded from the father’s love. He is excluded, not because of rebellion, but because of his obedience. With this in mind, Keller raises a question:

What do we need to escape the shackles of our particular brand of lostness, whether it be younger-brother or elder-brother? (Keller, 73)

Reading on, we discover Keller’s solution, an altered and altogether unbiblical understanding of repentance. This new form of repentance is presented as the way to become “a Christian indeed.” (78) Specifically, Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.

Keller teaches that salvation precedes repentance. Keller states that, “The first thing we need is God’s initiating love.” (73) This is a true statement if we understand it in light of Jesus’ death on the cross and continued drawing all men to himself through the Holy Spirit. However, Keller doesn’t seem to be using “initiating love” in this sense. Rather than talking about God’s universal act of love and drawing of all mankind unto His Son, He is teaching that God accepts us before we respond to His call in repentance.

Keller bases this on the father’s reaction to the returning younger son:

He [the father] runs and kisses him before his son can confess. It’s not the repentance that causes the father’s love, rather the reverse. The father’s lavish affection makes the son expression of remorse far easier. (Keller, 74)

Earlier, on page 24 of The Prodigal God, Keller expounds upon this “lavish prodigality of God’s grace.” Again, it is clear that Keller teaches that repentance is not necessary for salvation. Now, he cloaks this in a veneer of the unmerited favor of God. However, Keller is clear that the younger son is accepted back (i.e. saved) before he expresses remorse over his sins. This is a false understanding of God’s grace.

Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart, but even before he can recite his repentance speech. Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free. (Keller, 24)

Keller argues, contrary to scripture, that the father accepts (symbolic of receiving salvation) the younger son before he repents.

Thus, the first error is introduced, that salvation precedes repentance.

Keller teaches repentance of “reasons” for obeying. This repentance, according to Keller, is more than simply “regret for individual sins,” because the elder brother has “never disobeyed” the father. (76) The elder brother’s problem is his “pride in his good deeds, rather than remorse over his bad deeds.” (77) The proposed solution, which is incorrect, is to “repent of reasons we ever did anything right.” (78)

Keller believes we must repent of trying to save ourselves by doing good, “of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.” (78) Keller goes on, “It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed.” (78)

Keller is essentially attacking those who do good, saying they are really trying to control God and save themselves through their obedience. The solution is to repent, or turn away, from trying to live godly lives. He mixes in unfounded psychological reasons for this, but that is the core of his intention—to call Christians away from trying to please God and to repent of doing good.

Correcting Keller Based on Scripture
As I’ve just documented, Keller falsely teaches that (1) salvation precedes repentance, and that (2) repentance is not from sin, but from doing good. Now let’s allow scripture to do the talking.

Repentance must precede salvation. This is a core teaching of Christianity. Like faith in God, which is absolutely necessary, so too is repentance from a past life of sinful living. Repentance, in this context, means not only remorse, but a determination to stop sinning in light of His grace. True repentance will continue into action, getting rid of actual sin in our lives. As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8)

Verse after verse makes it clear that repentance—basically returning to God—is a condition upon receiving salvation. (This does not mean it merits salvation in and of itself, but rather that God graciously saves those who repent and put their faith in Jesus.)

There are more verses than I can share here that express this universal truth. One such example is found in Ezekiel, where the prophet clearly communicates what true repentance looks like, and God’s response:

“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.  Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

This truth, that the wicked who repent will be forgiven, continues to be consistently taught all over the New Testament. Peter, preaching the gospel to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, called them to repentance.  He preached, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

Paul preached this same message. When Simon the Magician attempted to purchase the Holy Spirit with money, Paul rebuked him, saying, “Repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:22) Repentance precedes forgiveness and salvation, contrary to Keller’s claims.

This teaching—that repentance must occur before forgiveness—is central to the gospel, as Jesus himself taught. At the very end of Luke, Jesus gives the disciples a summary of the gospel:

Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:47)

Could it be any more simple? We are to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Repentance is a condition upon receiving forgiveness. It is not—as Keller wrongly teaches—something that occurs in response to our being saved. Rather, we repent and thus are forgiven freely by God. Without such conditions upon receiving God’s grace, all humanity would be saved regardless of their response towards God. I’m sure Keller would not want to be associated with universalism, but that is essentially the root of his false teaching.

Repentance is from sin. Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong. What do we repent of or turn away from? Keller suggests that we need to repent of doing good, or at least of any wrong motivations for doing good. What does scripture say?

Logically, we have two options. One can either turn from evil and begin to do good. Or, one can turn away from doing good, and do evil instead. The prophet Ezekiel presented both these options and their consequences:

When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. (Ezekiel 18:26-27)

Scripturally, God commands us to repent of our sins for salvation. If one were to “repent” from righteousness by starting to do evil, the punishment is death. We can be sure God commands repentance from sin, definitely not from righteousness. Only repentance from sin leads to salvation. This is the fundamental basics, but it needs to be said in light of Keller’s confusing comments.

Throughout The Prodigal God, Keller has attacked those who live obedient, self-controlled lives. As we’ve seen, Keller believes that obedience can separate us from God. However, Keller also believes that people are obedient out of some attempt to save themselves. Thus, Keller believes we must “repent of reasons we ever did anything right.” (78)

This is where Keller’s logic falls apart. If obedience is the core problem, as Keller repeatedly asserts that it is, then one would need to repent of this very same obedience, not just of “reasons” for obedience. Of course, we’ve shown in scripture that obedience is not sin and that repentance from obedience is itself an abomination.

If, however, there is indeed “pride” for doing good works, what does God call us to? Is the problem that we are trying to please God through good works? Should we “repent” of trying to please God? Of course not. The problem would be the sin of pride in our lives. The solution is to repent of pride (which is indeed a sin), while continuing to do good. God delights in obedience. (See 1 Samuel 15:22)

To return to Keller’s argument, do we need to repent of doing good, or even “reasons” for doing good? Absolutely not! We must repent of sin, while continuing to do good. As Peter told the gentiles assembled in Cornelius’ home, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,  but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35) God welcomes those who do what is right. Sin has always been the issue. That is why Jesus came to earth, to rescue us out of sin and redeem a holy nation for His glory.


Concluding Thoughts
Do you remember what Satan said to Adam and Eve?

Satan deceived Eve, asking “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1) The same lie is still proclaimed today, although many do not recognize it. The great lie, just as it was then, says, “Did God really say, ‘You must obey Me’?”

Keller is proclaiming this same lie. In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller offers a new gospel, a gospel that will “reveal the secret heart of Christianity.” (XIII) He wants us to forget anything we’ve ever heard or read about the gospel, and accept what he’s offering. The only problem is Keller offers a twisted and perverted gospel that is no gospel at all.  It’s actually a message of condemnation for those saints who are living obediently to God.

Keller calls good evil and evil good, redefining sin to include righteous living. He suggests that repentance is not necessary for salvation, and that we should instead repent of any motivation for obeying God. Much of what we’ve covered is so basic, but Keller has managed to mangle beyond recognition the most fundamental of gospel truths.

Keller seems to be quite wise in his own eyes, but his teachings stand condemned by scripture. Of Timothy Keller and his false gospel, the Prophet Isaiah’s words ring true:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight! (Is. 5:21-22)

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 2)

This is the second of several posts, evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

In the first post, I explained how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinterpretation of the Christian gospel. Here, I address one of Keller’s more serious falsehoods, his redefinition of sin to include obedience to God, which in turn subverts the gospel. The final, third post corrects Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and concludes the series.


Introducing Additional Errors in Keller’s Teaching
In The Prodigal God, Keller seeks to redefine the gospel by revealing “the secret heart of Christianity.” Keller bases his teaching solely on a false interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32.

He argues that not only was the younger brother lost, but the elder brother was lost as well. Keller’s reinterpretation regarding the elder son is unequivocally wrong (this is discussed in the first post). Jesus is abundantly clear that the elder son has always been with the father and is a true heir, just as Christians are heirs of God.

Timothy Keller uses this misinterpretation of the parable as a springboard to support even more serious errors. He (1) changes the definition of sin, thus subverting the message of the gospel, and (2) twists the biblical understanding of repentance.

At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus began to proclaim the good news saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) To accurately understand the full gospel, one must realize their own sin and their need to turn away from their sin towards God. Thus both sin and repentance are indispensable. Any alteration to this foundation perverts the gospel’s truth and power, rendering it ineffective.

In this post, I’ll correct Keller’s redefinition of sin, which undermines the gospel. The final, third post will deal specifically with Keller’s error regarding repentance.

Keller’s Redefinition of Sin and the Gospel
The main focus in The Prodigal God is on the elder son. Keller describes him as dutifully obeying his father in every sense. He is “fastidiously obedient to his father and, therefore, by analogy, to the commands of God,” while also being “completely under control and quite self-disciplined.” (34) Yet, Keller still incorrectly insists that “there is not just one lost sinner in this parable–there are two.” (34).

Keller justifies his tenuous position by redefining sin. Keller argues that even though the elder son is completely obedient, this goodness is actually sin(!). Keller writes on page 37:

The hearts of the two brothers were the same. […] Each one, in other words, rebelled–but one did so by being very bad and the other by being extremely good. Both were alienated from the father’s heart; both were lost sons. (Keller, 37)

The word rebellion, as Keller uses here, is simply another term for sin. Keller is stating that the older brother sinned—“rebelled”—by being extremely good, by being obedient.

This redefinition of sin—from disobedience to obedience—is stated repeatedly in The Prodigal God. On page 35, he writes that the elder brother “is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” And also that, “It’s not his [the elder brother’s] wrongdoing, but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.” (35)

This faulty reasoning—that obedience is the real problem, not just disobedience—continues to be reinforced:

This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience of God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God. (Keller, 37)

Since “careful obedience of God’s law” is supposedly a form of rebellion “against God,” Keller’s false gospel naturally condemns moral behavior:

Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness. (Keller, 67)

Keller teaches that obeying God is sin, and that—as a result of this premise—“the gospel” condemns the obedient. Apparently Keller believes his “secret heart of Christianity” involves bringing condemnation upon the righteous, rather than calling sinners to repentance.

This absolutely mutilates any semblance of biblical teaching, so let’s address what scripture actually says.

Scripture vs. Keller’s False Teachings

Is obedience sin, like Keller says? As I’ve shown, Keller believes that you can “rebel against God and be alienated […] by keeping all of them [God’s rules] diligently.” (37)

This couldn’t be more wrong. The Apostle John defines sin for us. He writes, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4)

So scripture defines sin as lawlessness. Lawlessness means a complete disregard for the rules (the Greek noun is anomia; without law). That one can break the rules (or sin) by obeying the rules is complete foolishness. Just as light doesn’t equal darkness, neither does rule keeping equal rule breaking. One rebels against God by breaking His rules, not keeping them. Only lawlessness is sin, not law keeping.

The Apostle John couldn’t have said it better. “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

Does obedience alienate us from God’s love? Keller asserts that the elder brother who carefully obeyed the father was “alienated from the father” and excluded from “the feast of his love.” (34) The elder brother “is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it.” (35) Essentially, Keller is arguing that obedience to God separates us from God’s love, which again is false.

Jesus plainly refutes this in the gospel of John:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:21)

The one who keeps and obeys Jesus’ commands “will be loved” by God the Father. Obedience to God does not cause us to “lose the father’s love” as Keller suggests, but unites us with His love.

Rather than being alienated, the obedient believer abides in God. As John writes, “The one who keeps His [God the Father’s] commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:2) Those doing God’s will are members of His family, enjoying His presence and love. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”(Mark 3:35)

Does the gospel condemn the righteous? Keller writes that Jesus’ gospel “condemns the moralistic elder brotherness.” (67) Does the gospel really condemn those who are living morally?

First of all, the gospel was not a message of condemnation, but rather a call of reconciliation. Yes, God will one day condemn the world for its sin, but Jesus came not “to condemn the world, but to save the world.” (John 3:16)

Secondly, this call of reconciliation was not aimed at the righteous who were already with God, but for the lost sinners. That’s not to say the righteous never previously sinned, but rather they repented at some point and were now reconciled with God. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) All of heaven rejoices when someone repents of their sin and returns to the Father. Jesus came to earth for this exact purpose. The Parable of the Prodigal Son so beautifully illustrates God’s love for a lost humanity and His desire for true reconciliation.

Clearly, the gospel does not condemn the righteous at all. Scripture teaches that (1) the gospel is not a message of condemnation, but of reconciliation and (2) this reconciliation is for the sinners, not the righteous who have no need of repentance.


Post Summary
Keller argues that the older brother is lost (and continues to be lost), which is completely erroneous. He redefines sin to include obedience to God, teaching that this obedience separates us from the Father—clearly another serious perversion of truth. And as a consequence of this redefinition, Keller’s gospel falsely condemns those who obey God.

The truth is Jesus came to graciously call the sinners to repentance, not bring condemnation upon the righteous. You’ll be hard pressed to find any biblical support in The Prodigal God. And it’s no wonder, since scripture consistently teaches the opposite. Even a little light goes a far way in exposing the darkness.

Next I’ll reveal where Keller deviates from scripture in regards to repentance and salvation. Repentance cannot be ignored or perverted if the true gospel is to be preached.

Timothy Keller’s False Gospel in “The Prodigal God” (Part 1)

This is the first post of several, evaluating the teachings found in “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller. “The Prodigal God” is based off of the well known parable found in Luke 15:11-32, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Despite being a very popular author and teacher, in this book, Keller attempts to redefine the gospel and in the process severely distorts scripture. His arguments are so contrary to the truth, that I felt the need here to correct some of his more egregious errors.

I explain below how the entire foundation of Timothy Keller’s teaching is based on a wrong interpretation of the parable, thus invalidating his entire reinvention of the Christian gospel. In the second post, I expose specific errors of Keller that are a part of his newly invented “gospel.” The final, third post corrects Keller’s false teaching regarding repentance and concludes the series.


Introduction
Timothy Keller opens The Prodigal God by making it clear that his short book is meant to present the Christian gospel. However, he immediately clarifies this by saying, “Nevertheless one of the signs that you may not grasp the unique, radical nature of the gospel is that you are certain that you do.” (XI)

It’s a strange statement. Logically, the correctness of one’s beliefs regarding the gospel are not dependent upon how certain we are, but if we are in agreement with scripture. Why then does he begin with this misleading statement?

The answer is simple. This initial assertion by Timothy Keller in The Prodigal God is designed to convince us to change our understanding of the gospel. He’s telling us to forget anything we’ve ever learned in the past. The goal of The Prodigal God is to “correct” (or subvert) the teaching of the gospel with Keller’s own teaching, a unique perspective (or perversion) that we haven’t heard before.

That Keller aims to change something as central as the gospel should set off alarm bells. A godly, biblical teacher should aim to reinforce what was handed down by the Jesus and the Apostles, rather than introduce some novel teaching almost two thousand years later.

Timothy Keller’s teaching is entirely focused on the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32. He’s taken this parable and reinterpreted it to present a completely new teaching. This new interpretation will redefine, not only how we understand Jesus’ parable, but also how we understand sin and salvation itself. This isn’t speculation. Keller himself writes on page 10 of The Prodigal God that, “Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation.”  Later, in chapter 3, he again repeats this assertion, “He [Jesus] is redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved.” (28)  The “redefining” of the Gospel is unashamedly and clearly evident in The Prodigal God. Even two of the chapters are entitled, “Redefining Sin” and “Redefining Lostness.”

Timothy Keller claims this redefinition of the Gospel reveals “the true meaning” of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He says that it changed the way he “viewed Christianity” and it reveals “the secret heart of Christianity.” (XIII). Both are quite bold statements. The only issue is that this supposed “true meaning” doesn’t agree with scripture or even a careful reading of the parable itself.

How can we know if Timothy Keller’s new version of the “gospel” is correct? Do we take him at his word? Of course not. We study the scripture, and compare it directly against what Keller writes in The Prodigal God. We’ll use the light, the word of God, to expose the darkness and deception in Keller’s teaching.

Keller’s False Teaching: Both Brothers Are Lost
Keller summarizes his new interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in this way:

“Most readings of this parable have concentrated on the flight and return of the younger brother–the “Prodigal Son.” That misses the real message of the story, however, because there are two brothers, each of whom represents a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.” (Keller, 7)

He believes that both brothers represent two different ways to be “alienated from God.”  Timothy Keller teaches that both the younger and elder brother are “lost,” although for different reasons. The younger brother is lost because of his rebellious, disobedient behavior towards the father. The elder brother is lost for the opposite reason, by being completely obedient. According to Keller, each is trying to gain salvation through these different paths.

As one reads through The Prodigal God, it becomes abundantly clear that Keller is far more concerned about the obedient “elder brothers” than the rebellious “younger brothers.” He writes, “While both forms of the self-salvation project are equally wrong, each one is not equally dangerous.” (46) And a page later, “Being an elder-brother Pharisee is a more spiritually desperate condition.” (47)

As we see, Keller believes that the elder brother is more lost than the younger brother.

Biblical Truth: The Elder Brother Was Never Lost
Is this true? Is the elder brother in Jesus’ parable lost?  Is he in a “spiritually desperate condition?” Of course not. The elder brother has always been with the father, unlike the younger brother. He has no need to return in repentance and remorse, simply because he isn’t lost. This is based on scripture, so let’s take a look.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is the last of three consecutive parables Jesus gives that all teach the same lesson. Jesus makes essentially the same point in each of the parables, so we can compare them to clarify Jesus’ true message and intent.

The First Parable. Jesus begins with the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). We’ve all heard the story:

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:3-7)

Jesus clearly explains what the parable means in the last sentence. Just as the lost sheep that was found resulted in great rejoicing, in the same way, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (v. 7) The lost sheep symbolizes a sinner who repents.

But what about the ninety-nine sheep that were not lost? Are they considered by Jesus as sinners too? Not at all, Jesus says they are “righteous persons who need no repentance.” So there are both sinners and the righteous in Jesus’ parable.

The Second Parable. Reading on, Jesus gives a second parable about the lost coin that reflects the same basic teaching:

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)

The parallels to the first parable are obvious. Once again, there is great rejoicing over the lost being found. Just as in the first parable about the lost sheep, the lost coin here represents the “sinner who repents.”  Because the second parable closely mirrors the first, we know that the coins that were never lost represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The Third Parable. The final parable is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It is in this parable that Keller incorrectly asserts both sons are lost and alienated from the father, who represents God. Although the third parable is longer than the previous two, it has the same structure and message. We’ve already seen how the first and second parables have both lost sinners and also the righteous who were never lost. We’ll see the same here in the third parable.

To summarize the story, the younger son takes his share of the fathers inheritance and wastes it in sinful living. After a severe famine, the son is starving and returns to the father with a repentant heart. The father welcomes his lost son with open arms and great joy, giving him a celebratory feast. Jesus concludes the parable by repeating the theme of being lost and found. This is expressed through the father’s words to the elder son.

The father answers the elder son who questions why he has never received a feast:

“Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. We had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

Jesus is clear that the older son has (1) always been with the father (thus never lost), and (2) is a legitimate heir. He is enjoying the full rights as a true son. He is not lost at all, but “with the father” in every sense. Just like the older son, Christians are co-heirs with Jesus, being born again into the family of God. As Paul writes to the Romans, we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) The elder son represents those who are heirs of God, true spiritual children of the Father.

So, to recap, the younger son represents sinners who repent (paralleling the lost sheep and lost coin), and the older son represents the “righteous persons who need no repentance” (paralleling the ninety-nine sheep and nine coins).

Implications of Keller’s Error
Keller’s reinterpretation of this parable in The Prodigal God hinges completely on the idea that the elder son is lost, just as the younger son was lost. In fact, Keller argues that Jesus concludes the story with the elder son still being lost.

Keller writes:

“Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end on the same note for each. Why does Jesus construct the story so that one of them is saved, restored to a right relationship with the father, and one of them is not? (At least, not before the story ends.)” (Keller, 46)

Keller is saying the younger son’s relationship is restored with the father, while the older son remains unsaved, distant from the father. But as I’ve shown, the Bible is clear that the elder son was never lost at all! He has “always” been with the father, which means he hasn’t wandered away like his younger brother. All that the father has is his. He is already in relationship with the father. Jesus couldn’t have said it any clearer.

This is a plain, almost elementary reading of the text. It does not require a sophisticated exegete to understand what Jesus is teaching in his simple stories. The fact that Keller has misinterpreted this parable is, frankly, both embarrassing and deeply concerning. The entire foundation of The Prodigal God is based off a complete twisting of scripture.

As I wrote in the introduction, Timothy Keller is attempting to redefine the true gospel with this teaching. The Prodigal God is written to convince us to reset our beliefs about sin and salvation. But Keller’s redefinition is based on a completely perverted interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Keller has sought to find a deep and hidden meaning in it that will “reveal the secret heart of Christianity,” but instead he has only introduced false teachings based on an obvious distortion of a simple parable.


In the next post, I’ll cover several of the most serious false teachings in The Prodigal God. Keller incorrectly tries to redefine sin, so we’ll correct that error. He also distorts biblical repentance to fit his already flawed teaching, which I’ll address in the final post. Each of these issues are key to correctly understanding the true gospel, so we’ll systematically address all of these falsehoods by comparing his teachings with scripture itself.

Book Review: “Inductive Bible Study” by Fuhr and Köstenberger

There are thousands of books published each year telling us what the Bible says. Some are good, some are terrible, and some are even spiritually dangerous. The only antidote is to truly know what the Bible says for ourselves. Rather than be spoon-fed the answers, we need to wrestle with the text. Any time a book comes along that encourages us to delve into scripture and thoughtfully study the Bible for ourselves, it’s worth applauding.

That’s exactly what “Inductive Bible Study: Observation, Interpretation, and Application through the Lenses of History, Literature, and Theology” by Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. and Andreas J. Köstenberger seeks to do. It encourages us to seriously study scripture using a multi-step inductive process. The inductive process, simply put, is an evidenced-based approach that uses scripture to interpret scripture. The book details how this can be done through careful observation, interpretation and application of the Bible through the perspective of history, literature, and theology.

Throughout the chapters, specific examples from scripture are integrated to explain the concepts, which keeps the book relatable.  For example, in chapter 3 on comparing Bible translations, they address the discrepancy between various translations regarding Goliath’s true height.  Was he 9 1/2 feet tall or closer to 7 feet? Why the different readings? Of course, this is not a major issue in Bible interpretation, but still is an interesting dilemma that gives the reader greater awareness of textual criticism and it’s role in our English translations. Each chapter provides a number of scriptural examples to reinforce the key points, which is quite helpful and keeps the reader engaged.

If you are seriously interested in developing a deeper analytical approach to observing, interpreting and applying scripture, this book provides a thorough overview without getting lost in the details. Commentaries and other resources will always be needed to provide expert opinion on any given portion of scripture, but this book is designed to help give you greater confidence and independence in studying scripture for yourself.


I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.