Book Bites: Hidden Christmas and more
By Cheryl Arnold
Timothy Keller is a widely respected pastor, theologian, teacher, and author. These are just three of his highly recommended best-selling books, including one perfect for the Christmas season.
Can Christmas really be hidden? After all, stores began putting out their Christmas decorations before Halloween, and they have been playing Christmas carols for weeks now. Keller begins by pointing out that Christmas is a major secular holiday and also a Christian holy day, and he says that each year it is becoming increasingly secular with more people unaware of the full biblical story. He wants to make the truths of Christmas “less hidden” because “to understand Christmas is to understand basic Christianity, the Gospel.” He begins in the Gospel of Matthew, looking at the gifts God gave us at Christmas. He then turns to the Gospel of Luke and discusses how we can welcome and receive those gifts. He concludes with a chapter that presents a clear Gospel message and plan of salvation, along with an invitation to fully experience the joy that Christmas brings—the assurance of God’s love for us. This book is a wonderful reminder of the nativity story for those who are already familiar with it, and it is also one that can be shared with someone who needs to hear the nativity story and message of salvation, perhaps for the first time.
The Prodigal God
In this book, Keller turns to Luke 15 and the parable of two sons, which is often called the parable of the prodigal son. Keller spends the first chapters discussing the basic meaning of the parable including the people around Jesus, the two sons, sin, and lostness. He then shows us how this story helps us understand the Bible as a whole, and how its teaching works itself out in the way we live in the world. Your question may be the same as mine was—How can God be a prodigal? Is this title a mistake? Shouldn’t this book be called The Prodigal Son? Keller explains that even though many people associate the word prodigal with “wayward,” its dictionary definition is actually “recklessly spendthrift.” When I looked this up for myself, I found that additional definitions include giving or yielding profusely, very generous, and lavishly abundant. Keller goes on to say that while the son was recklessly spendthrift as he squandered his inheritance, “the father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to ‘reckon’ or count his sin against him and demand repayment.” The father in this story represents God the Father, and at the end of his introduction Keller states, “Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.” I have read this book a couple of times since Father Jonathan highly recommended it to us during a sermon, and it has given me a much deeper understanding of a familiar parable about God’s extravagant love for us.
Our 2020 Lenten theme (at least for a couple of weeks before we went into Covid lockdown) was idols, and one of the books Father Jonathan recommended during the sermon series was Counterfeit Gods. In his introduction, Keller says that we live in a culture filled with idols—not the traditional idols worshiped in ancient cultures, but idols worshiped within our hearts. Keller goes on to say that even good things such as a successful career, love, family, and material possessions can become idols when turned into ultimate things. “Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.” He spends the rest of the book examining some of the idols in our culture and connecting them to people in scripture who struggled with those same idols of the heart. The epilogue contains the life application, covering the importance of discerning idols, how to identify idols, and how to replace idols in our lives. This book helped me to examine my own heart during that Lenten season, and Keller says this will be a lifelong process. “There’s a certain sense in which we spend our entire lives thinking we’ve reached the bottom of our hearts and finding it is a false bottom. Mature Christians are not people who have completely hit the bedrock. I do not believe that is possible in this life. Rather, they are people who know how to keep drilling and are getting closer and closer.” This book will help you keep drilling deep in your walk with God.