The Prodigal, by Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett (Zondervan, 2013)
“America’s Pastor.” That’s what they call Jack Chisholm, founder and leader of Seattle’s Grace Cathedral. Jack is a high-profile preacher and an organizer of good works. He’s also human. When a lapse in judgment leads to sin and disgrace, his image shatters and his life falls apart.
Despite the name of his megachurch, Jack’s best-known phrase is “We have got to do better.” His focus on humanity’s shortcomings and our need to work harder for God’s approval comes from his father, a man Jack walked away from years ago without looking back.
A man who now comes to rescue Jack from the pit of misery he’s dug for himself.
With nowhere else to go, Jack goes home to small-town Texas, where everyone knows everything about everybody else. Some people will forgive him, some won’t. He needs to learn to live with himself, to reconcile with his family if they’ll have him, and to decide what to do with the rest of his life.
Churchless, is he still a pastor? Does he even still believe in God?
Jack learns about grace from the townspeople, especially from his much-changed father and from the local priest, Father Frank. I don’t know much about Brennan Manning, but Father Frank seems to be the voice of Brennan himself speaking to Jack’s pain. It’s not always an easy voice to hear, because it speaks truth and it challenges Jack with that truth.
My favourite Father Frank lines:
When we acknowledge that we are all beggars at the door of God’s mercy, God can make something beautiful out of us.
…broken and worthless as we are, we are nonetheless loved beyond all reckoning. (p. 48)
The Prodigal isn’t a preachy novel. Frank doesn’t dish out this kind of teaching very often, and only when Jack needs it. Jack, of course, disagrees.
It’s a novel for anyone who knows the bitterness of failure, men and women both. It’s a novel of hope—not for glitter and rainbows and happy endings, but for the strength to go on and to find our true selves in the ruins of what we’ve tried to be. It’s a novel that affirms the love of God the Father and the fundamental goodness that lives in most people’s hearts—a goodness that may need some digging to find.
The Prodigal is a heart-warming, soul-encouraging read. My one regret is that I’d like to have seen some closure between Jack and his former assistant, Danny. [Jack. Daniel. Does anyone but me find this funny, given that Jack tries to find the answer to his problems in a bottle?]
Brennan Manning, who died in 2013, was best known for his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. Greg Garrett is the author and co-author of many books, both fiction and non-fiction. The Prodigal is available in paperback, electronic book and audio formats. I highly recommend it.
[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]