Posts Tagged ‘the prodigal god’

My Ten Favorite Books of 2011

I finished a Baker’s Cannonball (that’s fifty-three books) for CBR-III, but I only really finished forty-eight in 2011. But that’s plenty of books from which to choose a Top Ten.

10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
y: the last man

This is actually a graphic novel series in ten volumes, and not a single book. But it’s a graphic novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. The premise of the story is that a mysterious plague has caused every male organism on Earth to die: except for Yorick Brown, an aspiring escape artist, and his helper monkey, Ampersand. It explores a lot of gender issues, but does so in a witty and interesting way. There are plenty of meta references and jokes, and a few parts even made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.

But this is a graphic novel series for grown-ups, and not a comic book for kids, so be forewarned that there are some squicky parts that prudes like me don’t appreciate, including some nudity.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
things fall apart

Culture changes with every generation. The dominant people of one generation can quickly become obsolete and shunned by the next. Things Fall Apart explores what happens when someone cannot let go of the past in order to adapt to the future. Okonkwo, the most powerful man in a remote Nigerian village, is unable to change as the times do, with tragic consequences. This book is a quick read, but a heavy one.

8. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
john macarthur: servant of the word and flock

Iain Murray is, in my opinion, one of the finest biographers of our day, and certainly the foremost Christian biographer of our generation. His proto-biography of John MacArthur is a brief but encouraging look at the life of one of my spiritual heroes. Murray himself reminds the reader that a full biography can’t really be finished until the subject’s life and testimony are complete, but this is a great glimpse at what that full testimony will look like when it’s ready to be written.

I can only wonder who will write Murray’s biography when he is gone.

7. John Adams by David McCullough
john adams

John Adams is an historical figure who doesn’t get much play time in the American classrooms of today. But he’s certainly one of the most important patriots who ever lived, and historian David McCullough brings him to life in the pages of this book. Adams was a man of deep integrity and passion, and I appreciate that McCullough chooses to write about men of character instead of those who lived more glamorous and superficially exciting lives.

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s ever loved and lost and pined after someone they couldn’t have. Hornby has a knack for writing about common human experiences with a humor and with that makes them seem somehow glorious because of how pitiful they are. Rob Fleming is everyman, and laughing at his romantic misadventures helps you to laugh at your own.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
the hiding place

One of the few books I re-read in 2011, I was surprised at how much richer this book was for me upon re-reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate God’s love and care for His children since I first read it back in high school, but I was very personally encouraged by this book, and the testimony of Corrie ten Boom’s life, especially in how God used her time in a German concentration camp during WWII to teach her more about His power, grace, and love. This is a book that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
extremely loud and incredibly close

I hear that the movie version of this book is retaaaaahded, but don’t let that stop you from reading this beautiful, tragic, poignant book. One of the first novels to be set against the backdrop of 9/11, it came under some fire for being “manipulative” because of its setting. But I think time has been kind to it, and I found the story of young Oskar Schell’s search for a way to make sense out of life after losing his father in the 9/11 attacks to be profoundly moving.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
black swan green

What High Fidelity is for relationships, Black Swan Green is for growing up. Jason Taylor is unpopular, unconfident, and uncomfortable. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, the girl he fancies fancies the class bully, and, to make matters worse, he has a stammer that makes King George VI look like Cicero. He’s the Rob Fleming of junior high, and David Mitchell writes this semi-autobiographical character with honesty, compassion, and feeling. It’ll make you look back on the miserable memories of junior-high awkwardness (if you have them. I have them in abundance) with fondness — not because they weren’t really miserable, but because that misery shaped you into the person you are today.

2. Native Son by Richard Wright
native son

Native Son may well be one of the most important works of American literature. It’s well-written, thought-provoking, and harrowing. It tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a black man ironically forced into a terrible situation by the kindness of people in a class oppressing his own. Part of me wants to say it’s a sad story, but it’s also a very cold story. Wright himself described it best when he said of its creation, “I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

1. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller
prodigal god

I guess you could accuse me of copping out because I put a Christian book at the top of my list. But while this book may not change the world at large, it certainly changed my life, and my view of God’s love and grace. We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son, and we think that the word “prodigal” means “lost” or “wayward.” But what it really means is “wastefully extravagant,” and Keller posits that the real prodigal in this story is the Father, who lavishes his love and riches on a son that doesn’t deserve it. I can’t even write about this book without being moved to tears because I know that God has given me so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. Because of His prodigal love, all the riches of heaven are mine, and there’s not a thing I can do to lose it or earn more of it. This book is a must-read for Christians who want to glimpse into the depths of God’s love for them.

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What were your favorite books of 2011?

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Cannonball 9: The Prodigal God by Tim Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian FaithThe Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About two years ago, there was a “gospel revelation” at my church. We’d always been a faithful, Bible-believing church, and we thought that God was blessing us because of that. Tim Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, played a huge role in showing us our legalism; showing us that we were counting on our own good works to earn God’s blessing instead of trusting that He would bless us by His grace alone. We believed that we were saved by His grace and faith alone, but we secretly believed that, after He saved us, we had to make sanctification and growth in our lives happen by our own power.

Two years later, I’m still learning what it really means to believe that God alone change me and make me more like Jesus. And I can tell that The Prodigal God is going to play a significant role in my continued growth as a Christian.

My pastor had been quoting this book for months before I actually read it, so I was familiar with the basic premise of the book before I began reading it for myself.

inigo & vizzini

Many people have the mistaken notion that the word “prodigal” means “morally loose” or “wayward” or “bad.” But according to Dictionary.com, “prodigal” means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” The son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) was definitely prodigal; he spent his entire inheritance in no time at all.

But Tim Keller’s premise in the book (and the reason for the title) is that no one spends as lavishly, recklessly, and extravagantly as God Himself. He not only gave His own Son to pay for humanity’s debt of sin, but He also continues to give riches of grace to those who believe.

In the book, Keller examines the parable. It’s commonly thought (and preached) that the point of this parable is to show sinners that God will accept them no matter what they do. But this is only partially true. While the story certainly illustrates the sinfulness of the younger son and the mercy and love of the Father, many people overlook a third key character in the story. Actually, the older son is even more important to the story than the younger.

When Jesus told this parable, He was speaking to a group of Pharisees and scribes. They were criticizing Jesus for showing kindness to “sinners.” His audience had much more in common with the older brother than the younger: they were responsible, faithful, diligent, good people. But at the end of the parable, they are outside the party, and they are angry with the Father. And they are angry because He has shown mercy and grace to the irresponsible, selfish, reckless son.

Which one is really the good son? Sometimes, it's neither.

The heart of the older brother is one of outrage at God’s recklessly abundant grace to the undeserving because, in their eyes, it’s unjust. These sinners don’t deserve grace; they don’t deserve mercy or kindness or love. But these older brothers conversely believe that they themselves are deserving; they deserve everything that the Father has to offer. But they don’t think that any of it is because of the Father’s generosity or love. They think it’s all because of their own hard work.

Keller faithfully unpacks the gospel truths contained in this parable with simple language and razor-sharp insight. He points out the common attitudes and thoughts of “older brother” types, and he corrects them with gentleness and an ever-gracious eye.

This book has significantly impacted my own view of my good works and the purpose for them. It has greatly helped me to see the sinfulness of my desire to earn God’s favor, to reject His gifts and earn them so that I may be praised and respected as well as He, and to criticize, scoff at, and belittle others because they are not like me.

But the best part is that it has reminded me that I can’t fight these attitudes by standing outside and working like a dog. No; I need to go into the party and receive grace and blessings alongside my prodigal brother from our prodigal God.

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