Prodigals And Those Who Love Them, by Ruth Bell Graham
It is perhaps a bit unfair that when I was reading this book I was thinking about another book on the subject of the parable of the prodigal son that I like a lot better . Perhaps it is a bit unfair, though, to hold this book to the standard of Henri Nouwen’s classic combination of personal discussion, sound scriptural exegesis about the parable of the prodigal son, and excellent art history about the life and art of Rembrandt. This book is nowhere near that great, but it is still a poignant read about those who were thought lost that returned to a faith in Christ Jesus, and it has at least the raw materials of a really good work, if not a great deal of the elaboration on the thoughtful array of materials included. This book is not a very demanding read and it does not contain a great deal of writing by the author herself, but it is at least an admirable collection of materials mostly written by others and about others that will certainly prompt the reader to think about the working of God’s grace in the lives of the people discussed in this book.
In a bit more than 150 pages, the author provides a short biography of different “prodigals” of interest to the author and possibly also the reader, including: Augustine of Hippo (here called Aurelius Augustine), John Newton (best known as the author of “Amazing Grace”), Flora Campbell, Fyodor Dostoyevski, and one of the author’s own children. Most of the book consists of poetry, quotes, scriptural references, or hymns that the author appreciates and that may (or may not) relate to the material of the book at hand. This book is basically scaffolding, consisting of a large amount of empty space where only a few lines fill up an entire page. One gets the feeling that the author wanted to write a book and did not really know how to manage the actual writing portion of it. The biographical essays of the various prodigals are well done, and the author is moving in writing about a son of hers who came back to faith with his girlfriend who became his wife, but the book feels incomplete, and this thought tended to nag at me while I was reading the book. It was not that the book was saying anything wrong, exactly, but I did not feel as if the book was saying enough.
It should be noted that this book is written basically to the parents or loved ones of prodigals and not to the prodigals themselves. The book does not really explore what makes people prodigals, but it goes out of its way not to blame parents for the prodigality of their offspring. Also of note, especially in light of the superior Nouwen book on the same subject, the author does not examine those who are relationally distant but physically present, the other type of lost children in the parable. Although parents may suffer because their children have obviously abandoned the faith and traveled far away, a child is just as lost if they obey merely out of duty and do not feel loved or accepted, even if they never physically leave, yet that is something this book does not explore at all. It is, perhaps, a bit uncharitable to wish for a book to be more than it is, but this book is certainly a comforting one and there are no doubt many readers who will find a great deal to reflect upon and perhaps even enjoy in this volume.
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