Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 1

Today I am going to start blogging on The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.

His book is based on the parable told by Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. In case you don't remember this story, I'll give a quick synopsis. Tax collectors and "sinners" have gathered to hear Jesus speak. The Pharisees and scribes (very upright, religious folks) have also gathered to hear Jesus speak. The religious folks start to grumble about the fact that Jesus welcomes these 'others' to be near him and that he actually spends time in their homes and eats with them! In response Jesus tells the "parable of the prodigal son."
This parable begins with a younger son who rudely asks for his inheritence before his father's death (the equivalent of wishing your father dead) and then squanders it on women, wine, and song only to come home in shame when the money runs out. The father sees the son approaching and is overjoyed to have him return. He throws a great feast to show how happy he is that his son has returned to him. The older brother, however, who has dutifully remained home and suppressed his own desires in order to be the 'good' son, is furious at his younger siblings reception. He doesn't understand why he has never received a party for his good and dutiful behavior and yet this wastrel brother has taken half of his father's wealth, lost it, and is being offered the chance to regain his standing in the home and community (and possibly receive more inheritance).

The father's responds by saying, "My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is now found." (Luke 15:31-32)

Keller defines 'prodigal' as an adjective that means 1) recklessly extravagant and 2) having spent everything. After reading that definition, you might be wondering why I titled this blog series "A Prodigal Church?". Do we want a church that acts prodigiously? Maybe so, if we are looking at extravagance through God's eyes. In other words, I am wondering if we want to be a church that acts in amazing, astonishing, eye-opening ways.

If you grew up going to church you would most likely have been taught that the parable of the prodigal son was all about God's grace and sinners being forgiven. Keller's premise, with which I happen to agree, is that this is a very one-sided lesson from this expansive parable. In fact, I almost think that Jesus told the parable not so that the 'religious folks' would learn to have some grace for those who 'sin' but in order for the 'religious folks' to realize that they needed grace just as much as anyone else. However, this part of the teaching is not traditionally stressed - it upsets folks in the pew to think that their 'religiousness' is causing them to sin.

It is, however, those of us in the pew that need to hear the message of the prodigal son. How are we going to fulfill our call to spread the gospel if we look down upon those who haven't heard it? How are we supposed to share the love of Christ if we think ourselves better than those we are sharing it with?

In the next few weeks we will look at the following:
1) how the church actually hinders people coming to Christ through its 'religiousness' and critical views of those not living a "Christian" lifestyle.
2) how the church can make itself a more welcoming place for those in need of grace (which is all of us - those already in the church as well as those outside it)
3) how God himself, is a prodigal God, willing to 'spend' extravagantly to bring us back home to him.