Jack Chisholm was lead pastor for a megachurch with three campuses and thousands of members. He was a best-selling author and a public figure known by some as “America’s pastor.” Then some poor decisions he made one night off the coast of Cancun lead him into sin he would not have thought himself capable of. When his actions come to light he is disgraced, and he loses his job and his family. Jack’s life is in a tailspin, until his estranged father seeks him out and brings him home. It’s in the small town in Texas where he grew up that Jack reconnects with friends and family, learns some important lessons about grace and forgiveness, and discovers that God may not be through with him after all.
I know a lot of people, both Christian and non-Christian, who have misconceptions about what it means to be Christian. I wish those people would read this book. It’s that good. Seriously. The story is character driven, based on believable three dimensional “people,” primarily Jack, his father, and the local priest called Father Frank. While the take home message of the story will not surprise anyone familiar with Manning’s work, it was skillfully woven into the story, seeming to arise naturally from the characters and situations, not tacked on as an afterthought, so it didn’t feel intrusive or overbearing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid and out of the box descriptions found in this book. I’m reminded of the way Charles Dickens could paint a memorable secondary character in just a few brush strokes. Here’s a particularly vivid example from The Prodigal:
“Carlene Petsch was the city secretary. Carlene had been called ‘Petshop’ in their youth, if only rarely to her face. It made her cry, got people sent to the office. She had grown into a hard, hefty woman, the kind of hausfrau who could bake an apple pie and then beat you to death with her rolling pin.”
The ending of The Prodigal felt a little abrupt to me. I would have liked to see a little more resolution following Jack’s moment of epiphany, in a few specific areas that I probably shouldn’t mention for fear of spoiling the ending. That said, if you’re going to err one way or the other, better to leave us wanting more than to make us beg for it to end. And, much as I wanted more closure, I do think this approach left things hopeful without downplaying the consequences of Jack’s actions by tying everything up in a neat little bow. It also left room for speculation on where the story might have gone next had it continued. Which would be great fodder for a book discussion group. All in all, an excellent read, and I would highly recommend it.
I would like to thank the publisher, Zondervan, for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book through NetGalley for my review.
This book comes with some excellent discussion questions for consideration, but I couldn’t resist coming up with a few questions of my own as well.
- How and why did Jack’s beliefs and behavior change over the course of the story? Did you find his decision at the end of the book consistent with what we know about him?
- In what ways was this story similar to and different from the story of the Prodigal Son as told in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32)? Given the definition of the word “prodigal” as well as its usage in the Bible story, do you think The Prodigal as title is a good fit for this book? Why or why not? Can you think of an alternative title?
- Where do you think the story could have gone from here, had it continued beyond “The End”? Were you satisfied with the conclusion as it was, or did you want to know more of what the future held for the characters?