2 Book Reviews (part 2)

In my last post, I reviewed Paul Miller’s A Praying Life. One aspect of the book I did not discuss was Miller’s assertion that man is made up of two parts: logic/outer self and heart/emotion/inner self. Of course, this is an over-simplification of the complex known as human life,  but Miller’s point is still valid. He asserts that the Enlightenment severed the presence of logic and heart in the public sphere. Miller discusses how this impacts a prayerful life. One of the ideas that struck me was that post-Enlightenment humanity has severed logic from heart, and Goldstein is a perfect example of the problems that this separation has created. I was also struck by the similarity presented in Miller’s idea with Timothy Keller’s short book, Prodigal God. The book is inspired by the parable most traditionally labeled The Prodigal Son. Jesus, responding to the Pharisees griping about Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners, tells a story about a son who demands his inheritance from his father, and then goes into the world to squander it on women, drugs, and everything else that brings immediate satisfaction. Broke, he goes to work for a pig farmer. Hungry and unfulfilled, he returns home. His father sees him from a distance and runs to greet him. The father kills a fattened calf and throws the biggest party around. The older brother gets pissed off because he’s followed all the rules, done everything his father ever asked of him and he doesn’t even get a goat. Keller’s entire book reveals that this parable is not about a lost son coming home, but rather about a God that is willing to pursue everyone at all costs. Keller asserts that Jesus talks about two types of people in this world: those who want to blaze their own path, do their own thing independent of tradition or expectations and those who spend their whole life making/following rules all the while casting judgment on the lowly younger brother and his free-spirited ways. Keller makes a strong point that the older brother in the parable is a symbol for the pharisees. In the bigger picture, the older brother represents those who think they can achieve salvation/grace by what they do. These are the people who make signs that read “God Hates Fags” and “God sent the shooter” and then stand outside of high schools and yell at the kids, saying the kids will go to hell for all of their bad decisions. Older brothers are people who make things like education a moral issue (it’s right or wrong to send your kid to a public/Christian/home school). Older brothers are those who insist on rules for holy living. Older brothers have cause a lot of pain in the world as they threaten/judge the younger brothers. I think we see mostly older brothers in churches, and mostly younger brothers boycotting them.

These two classifications connect with Miller’s heart/logic categories because the younger brother is all heart and winds up unfulfilled. The older brother is all logic/head and ends up angry (and equally unfulfilled). This may be the root of my frustrations with Goldstein’s attempt to find flaws with arguments for God’s existence. There is absolutely no heart–it’s all prideful, arrogant, logic. Both Keller and Miller suggest that a balanced life is important–be able to think for yourself, but have a heart for people around you–regardless of their (un)tradition. When asked what the most important thing in life is, Jesus said to love God with all that you are and then love your neighbors as yourself. This is a challenge to both older and younger brothers.

I have a friend at work who has been wrestling with the existence of God for several years now. Raised in an alcoholic home, he rejected the notion of God (or at least a loving one) fairly early in life. As we share our stories (usually at the bookstore…a great after-school excursion), he revealed to me that he has come to the logical conclusion that God exists and even has the capacity to love. He knows in his mind. He also said that the only step is to take a leap of faith in believing in Jesus as savior. His mind is on board but his heart still has doubt. It doesn’t mean that his mind is right or wrong, or that his heart is right or wrong. It means that the two make an impact on how we view things, and an over-reliance on one can lead to troubles.

Regardless of your background, Prodigal God is a fascinating read due to Keller’s ability to breath new life into something so popularly misread. Keller makes very pointed observations about humanity and Christians should shed themselves of the older brother legalism, learn how to have a little younger brother heart, all the while pursuing, like the loving father, all of those around us.

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