Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book Review: The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story

Mega-church pastor, Jack, falls from grace — not in the sense of losing his salvation, but he gets drunk and sleeps with his assistant when they get stranded on a church missions publicity trip. The church he founded fires him, his wife leaves and takes their daughter. Jack is devastated by what "they" are doing to him and refuses to acknowledge doing anything wrong. He retreats to a getaway where, over a 2-month period, he tries to drink away his problem. But he's rescued by his father from whom he has been estranged for 10 years.

Back "home", Jack begins the long process of facing who he really is, what God really thinks about him, and restarting his life. It's a good story that hits close to home in that we all have failed, in some way, to live up to our own expectations of our self and we struggle with how to be worthy enough to be accepted by God and others.

Some of the characters were particularly well developed — Tom, Jack's father; Frank, the Catholic priest who advocates for grace; and James Taylor, the despicable mayor.

While I recognize that I come from a different religious tradition than Manning and the characters in his book, I found the liberal use of alcohol by believers unsettling. It was not just by one or two characters, but by many (maybe most). And, with the 3 main characters, there was misuse, even abuse, of alcohol that essentially went unchallenged, even as it led to problems.

The basic message of the book — that God loves us, extends his grace to us when we don't deserve it, and is forgiving — is a great theme and one that's necessary. The problem, in my limited exposure to the US over the last many years, is that this is a theme that is taken to the extreme by some (Osteen, for example) to the point where there is no repentance necessary. Thus, Jack's focus as a mega-church pastor — we've all totally ruined our live — seems like a straw man. However, his focus on self-improvement (we have to do better) seems to be a more common thread — works-based salvation. The truth is between those two — we have sinned, we do need a Saviour, God does extend his grace and we can repent and turn to him for forgiveness and eternal life. Jack finally experiences God's grace and forgiveness as he slowly realizes that the love he receives from his earthly father is a picture of how God deals with us.

I rate the book 4 of 5 stars. If you're struggling with guilt because of real sin, this is a great book to read to help you see God's love and forgiveness at work. It's also an enjoyable story of one man's struggle.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this e-book in exchange for a review of the book through Thomas Nelson's blogger review program, Booksneeze. I have been free to write the review I think the book deserves.)
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