Book review: Prodigal Christianity

by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw


While this book was more conservative than I expected, it was also more thought-provoking. Prodigal Christianity compares the journey of Jesus into our world to the prodigal son (obviously a little different take on that parable) and asks if our own Christianity is prodigal enough. The authors are talking about the missional frontier, and how we are spreading the Gospel. To become Christian is to learn to become prodigal.

One quote on page 69 helped set the tone for me: “New Testament scholar E.G. Selwyn notes that the term for witness (marturian) is used six times more frequently in the New Testament than the term for preaching (kerygma) when discussing the gospel. In other words, New Testament writers more easily thought of the gospel being carried into the world through the process of witness rather than by any singular act of pronouncing or proclaiming.”

But how do we witness? Toward the end of the book, we read: “We do not go to our town councils and dictate what we think should be done based on our interpretation of the Bible. We must inhabit a place and listen. We must come to know people as friends. We must presume we have much to learn about God through them. And then God will use our joining in with the neighborhood to bring fresh eyes and fresh words and Christ’s authority against oppression and evil.”

The book’s humble introduction isn’t really indicative of what you’ll find inside. This really is intelligent writing and probing discussion. The experiences of the authors, planting their little Life of the Vine church near Chicago, are relevant and eye-opening. Which approach is best in a post-Christendom culture no longer dominated by guilt: presenting a (personal) “plan of salvation” or a (communal) “story of salvation?” Does a substitutionary view of atonement trivialize the Gospel, leading Christians to become preoccupied with the afterlife and treating day-to-day living as an afterthought? What does the Eucharist really mean in today’s world, in terms of welcoming outcasts to the dinner table?

As a liberal Christian seeking common ground with my more conservative brethren, this is a book I can endorse. Luckily, it’s also an engaging read.



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