My friend, mentor, and spiritual father, Charlie “Tremendous” Jones was famous for saying,
You will be the same person five years from now you are today except for two things: the people you meet, and the books you read.
Sometimes he would add to that, “and considering who you are now, you better get reading!” If I were to give a “top 10 list” of the most influential quotes for me, Charlie’s would be at or near the top.
One of the books that recently came into my possession is Timothy Keller’s Prodigal God. I read it in a couple of hours. The book centers around Jesus’ parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32. Keller correctly observes that the story is not about a lost son, but about two lost sons; and the focus is not (as is commonly thought) on the one who ran off to “find himself” with his inheritance and came back after he realized the horrible mistake he made, but on the elder brother who never left. Keller closes the first chapter with a thought that I have been chewing on since I finished it a few months back,
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders “the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you” (Matthew 21:31).
Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think (Prodigal God, pages 16-17).
Now you can chew on that with me. Or better yet get a copy and read it too. I highly recommend it. For your pleasure, the image leads to a link to buy the book.