The Prodigal was Brennan Manning’s last book, and the only novel he ever wrote. Sadly, he passed away before finishing it, and had already begun collaborating with Greg Garrett to help him write the book.
In this book, which is a modern retelling of Jesus’s Prodigal Son parable, we follow events in the life of Jack Chisholm, pastor of a mega-church called “Grace Cathedral.” He has fallen, and fallen hard. The book opens with him drinking the last of a bottle of tequila, somewhere in Mexico, as he is about to be ousted from a hotel because the church has cut off his credit cards. He is penniless and homeless. His wife and daughter are nowhere to be found, having taken “hush money” from the church and quickly relocated.
Coming to his rescue is Jack’s father, Tom, a man with whom he has hardly spoken for over ten years.
Jack preached a “gospel” of not being good enough. His sermons were notorious for making people feel bad about themselves and proclaiming “we have got to do better.” It was a gospel of working to deserve the love of God. As Jack moves back home with his father, and begins to rebuild his life, he begins to learn the truth that we cannot ever deserve God’s love, no matter how hard we try. He also learns of second chances, as he meets Father Francis Xavier Malone, the fictional representation of Brennan Manning, himself, whose real name, by the way, is Richard Francis Xavier Manning. Where did “Brennan” come from? Anyway . . . Father Francis asks Jack some hard questions, and gets him to think about things.
One thing that really stuck out to me was in Chapter 12, as Jack was talking to Father Frank. Frank speaks of an encounter with another pastor in their town (which was Mayfield, Texas, by the way). Frank says, of the other pastor, “He told me that in every faithful life, there comes a second call when the first one is no longer sufficient, a call to deeper faith, hope, joy.” After this, he looks at Jack, and says, “I care, Jack Chisholm, because I have been where you are. Because I believe what is happening in your life as we speak, is that second call, the one that will define who you are from now on.”
I believe that this same type of thing has happened to me, personally, and when I read that page, I was floored.
Some might disagree with me, but in my mind, the turning point of the story is when Jack is invited to speak at the local Lutheran Church, the church he grew up in. For the first time in his life, he speaks good news, instead of bad news of undeservedness.
Another point that really struck me was when Jack was trying to decide whether to go back to his old church. You see, they had decided that it would make good financial sense to ask him, no, beg him, to come back. He also thought that this would be an avenue to get his wife back, as she was refusing to even talk to him. In another conversation with Father Frank, Frank asked him this: “Have they forgiven you?”
“‘They’re asking you to come home. Grace Cathedral. Like in the blessed story of the Prodigal Son. Have they forgiven you?’
“‘No,’ Jack said. ‘I seriously doubt it. It’s a financial decision. But it makes sense–‘
“‘When your father asked you to come home,’ Frank said, ‘had he forgiven you?’
“‘Yes,’ Jack said. ‘You know he had. Before I even asked him.'”
Father Frank went on to quote part of the parable, and told jack that, of course, it was his decision, but that he should know that either they love him and forgive him, or they don’t.
I’ll leave the ending for you to read. But know that this is a tremendous tale of hope and second chances.
I wish I had met Brennan Manning. And I wish I had known about him sooner. But this I know . . . I can’t wait to read more of his writings.