Can the Prodigal Son be an Evangelistic Talk? 03

10 05 2009
Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son
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I don’t want to drag this out into too many posts, so let me just cut to the chase – Most authors today agree that Luke is writing to help his readers see why Christianity is the real fulfillment of God’s history for his people. It is written to Gentile Christians who are a bit worried that they might be riding the wrong horse (see Luke 1:1-4).

So what is the role of these three parables? On the one hand they exposes Jewish exclusiveness. On the other they affirms that God loves those who apparently have no right to be included among his people. If we look to chapter 16 and discussion about using worldly mammon to get people into the kingdom, there seems to be a message in the lost parables, for Christians – don’t forget God has a heart for those who are yet to come in, just as he had a heart for you! Don’t be like the elder brother and the religious leaders who are exclusive and have no thought for lost ones.

Yes these parables are meant to challenge an elitist attitude. But this doesn’t mean they don’t have a secondary word to the lost. The Christian audience themselves would be reminded that they were once lost and God was pleased to seek them out. This reminder (I think) can be used directly with non-Christians when preaching these parables to them.

So should we preach about the older brother or the younger brother? It can and should be preached in terms of exclusivism – both Jesus’ setting and Luke’s setting seem to make this reasonable. But I also think Jesus’ setting and Luke’s setting make it reasonable to focus on “the Lost.” In so far as he reminds his Gentile audience of the way God loved and sought themĀ  this can be well applied to people who aren’t Christians yet. IN NOTICING THE IMPORTANT PLACE OF THE OLDER BROTHER THEREFORE, WE SHOULDN’T FALL TO AN EXTREME AND FORGET THAT LOTS OF DETAILS ABOUT THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR THE YOUNGER BROTHER (not to mention the sheep and the coin) ARE INCLUDED! This chapter is still a great resource for evangelistic preaching.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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5 responses

10 05 2009
Mikey Lynch

Great series, Bruce. Thanks.

11 05 2009
Bruce Lowe

Thanks Mikey,
honestly I feel quite humbled by this passage, like there’s lots more to see than I (at least) have seen. But thanks for your encouragement.

11 05 2009

Enjoyed thinking through this parable again, Bruce. Question: are you familiar with Ed Clowney’s ( ) and Tim Keller’s ( ) approach to this parable? If you have, do you think their approach is legitimate?

11 05 2009
Bruce Lowe

I was aware that Keller focuses on the older brother, but hadn’t read this specifically. Found a powerpoint presentation on-line that seems to summarize things from the Clowney/Keller point of view.
It seems to me that Clowney/Keller are saying a similar thing to what I suggested in this entry. Interested if you think that it’s much different.

The thing I didn’t really say in this blog is that Luke/Acts is both easier and harder that the gospel’s in that it is consciously “history.” It seems to me that that other author’s have more specific audiences – Matthew (Judaised fat-cats); Mark (suffering Christians); John (non-Christians in the Synagogue). Since Luke is more general, it means that much more we have to consider both Jesus intent as well as Luke’s “intent”.


12 05 2009


Yes, I think that you come out at the same place as Keller/Clowney (hereon Clowney), but I also think that Clowney offers a unique, intriguing way of getting there. That is, that Luke intends us to look for Jesus in this parable (because he is so clearly in the previous two), and, when we don’t find him, he intends us to contrast him with the elder brother. The elder brother in OUR story left the Father’s home, identified himself with us, died our death, and his rejoicing will be outdone by no one at the Father’s eternal party.

This is a beautiful and incredibly “preachable” interpretation…but does it hold up under mature reflection? I think it does…I hope it does…but I was just wondering what you thought.


(PS. My filtering software won’t let me check out the powerpoint you linked to…will have to look at it later.)

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