The Prodigal Evangelical by Gerald Kelly, Book Review

prodigal evangelical

I have really enjoyed this book. I knew that Gerald Kelly writes so brilliantly, there are phrases and images that stay with you long after you finish reading, so I expected to enjoy it. And I did but it was not what I expected.

It is not a critique of ‘evangelicalism’. There is no long explanation of the ‘everything’ in the sub-title. I think I was expecting a long list of all the reasons why it’s hard to stay an ‘evangelical’ Christian but Kelly seems to expect us to know these. He merely acknowledges them briefly and goes on to his main material: an exploration of what it is that has held him to the Christian faith after 40 years as a Christ follower. Interestingly, it’s only in the sub-title on the cover that he declares himself to actually be an ‘evangelical’. Inside the book his allegiance is much less tribal – he is making a case for the story that has changed his life and continues to hold him as a Christian. The story of forgiveness: the unique message the Christian faith offers to the world:  a model, story, example and the power of forgiveness in the life of Christ and in the lives of Christ followers.

Grace, unconditional love, acceptance; the astonishing, unrelenting, all-encompassing love of God, these are the elements that have held him and still hold him. (Note: these are not uniquely ‘evangelical’ aspects of faith)

The book opens with his own very moving story of forgiving a family member very close to him who hurt him very deeply. Then he uses the story of the Prodigal Son as a lens which brings the essence of our identity into focus. We are ‘beautiful, broken, forgiven and invited’. Even though the exploration of this story through four words is so like Henri Nouwen’s classic ‘The Life of the Beloved’, I will forgive him that because that is a great book and worthy of emulation. Kelly’s four words are different.  I especially like his use of the word ‘broken’  as a replacement for that word with distinctly heavy evangelical overtones ‘sin’.  The idea that I am ‘broken’ is very easily understood, as is the idea that there is a ‘drop zone of my brokenness’ in which all those near enough to me are affected by my particular expression of brokenness, (laziness, selfishness, insecurities, anxieties).

This is a very dense short book. As soon as I finished reading it I knew I could begin it again and get almost as much from it a second time or even a third. He is particularly good on the difference between ‘church’, which frankly can often be very disappointing, and ‘kingdom’ which never is.

It is the considered, wise and hope-filled reflections of a seasoned disciple. I warmly recommend it.



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