The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy by Timothy J. Keller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The book of Jonah is every bit as relevant today as it was 2500 years ago.
I’ve been a fan of Timothy Keller since college. The first book of his I read was “The Reason for God.” I really admire the work Keller has done pastoring in Manhattan and reaching millions with his books. Another of my favorites was “The Prodigal God,” where Keller explores the deeper meanings of the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. “The Prodigal Prophet” is a natural follow-up to that book. Keller emphasizes the fact that Jonah represents both brothers in Jesus’ parable, the younger brother in Jonah 1 and 2, the older brother in Jonah 3 and 4.
Kellers latest book and the story of Jonah are extremely timely for our political/religious climate. The story of Jonah, Keller argues, emphasizes topics like nationalism, racism, prejudice, and religious elitism. Jonah reveals the dangers of conjoining religion and patriotism and placing national pride over devotion to God.
Jonah is full of reversals. The prophet of God refuses to pray while the pagan Gentile sailors cry out to their own gods and become worshipers of YHWH. Jonah remains hard-hearted and even violent in his view of the Assyrians while the Assyrians’ hearts are softened and they turn from their violent, evil ways. Jonah’s biggest issue is not with the Gentiles, it’s with God who would offer mercy and forgiveness to his enemies.
I appreciate Keller’s honesty and courage to present the truth about justice, grace, mercy, and forgiveness on more than just an individual scale. Through the story of Jonah, God is showing that he cares for all people everywhere, even the pagan, Gentile sailors; even the brutally violent Assyrian Empire. God cares. God wants to show grace and forgiveness. Are we willing to follow a God who wants to show love to those we consider our enemy?
Overall, Keller’s latest book is a quick, thrilling read diving into the story of Jonah and its implications for the 21st Century. This would make an excellent series to preach through or teach in a Bible class setting. I’d recommend this book for all church leaders, pastors, and teachers, especially if you are concerned with issues of justice.