As requested, here’s the (ridiculous) opening of the talk on self-righteousness I gave at the Christ Hold Fast conference last weekend, “Amnesty for the Older Brother”, which kicked off with a fresh translation of Luke 15:11-22. Let’s just hope the father’s affections extend to those who’re impressed with their own cleverness:



And Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he got involved with a really large church.

The pastors at that church told him that if he gave sacrificially, he would be blessed and so, wanting to experience the fullness of God’s blessing, he gave them his entire inheritance. Unfortunately, he promptly contracted a debilitating case of lupus, which led to him losing his job. He began to wonder if his church was perhaps not preaching the authentic Gospel.  

So he went and joined himself to another church in that country, one that had splintered off from the bigger one a decade previous. They had rejected the prosperity teaching and claimed to take the Bible more seriously, preaching the benefits of a life of radical obedience and imitation of Christ. Before long they had him on a regimen of thrice daily bible studies, scripture memorization and marathon prayer sessions. Before he knew it, he was spending more time at church than at his apartment, helping in whatever task was asked of him. Nothing was too menial.

One day, when he was mopping the floors of the church basement, he realized that he felt no closer to God than before, that the harder he tried to be holy, the further away holiness seemed to recede. In fact, he was beginning to wonder if his salvation, or even God, was real. (He considered going to check out an Episcopal Church, but no one knew where it was located.) In the next room he overheard an AA meeting going on. Someone was saying something about an admission of powerlessness. He felt pretty powerless himself and so he sat down, and heard about a God who saved people who could not save themselves. That sounds pretty great, he thought–possibly too great.

That night, he got online and looked for more information about this exciting message. He stumbled upon a website called Mockingbird and his mind was blown. The Gospel was good news after all! He decided to go home to his father, and say ‘Father, I have completely misunderstood the gospel; I have squandered my inheritance on oppressive, heretical churches and haven been an insufferable legalist. I understand if you never want me at another family gathering.’


And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have completely misunderstood the Gospel, and am no longer worthy to be called a Christian.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; tell the Senior Warden we have a new vestryman, and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was a synergist, and is now a mongerist, was judgmental and is compassionate again.’ And they began to make merry.

Now the father’s elder son was watching the game in a bar with some friends a few blocks away; and as he drew near to the house on his motorcycle, he heard music and dancing, two things he liked very much. So he called one of the guests and asked what was happening. And the guest said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But the older brother was angry and refused to go in.

His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have believed in grace with all my heart and never swayed in my commitment to the solas; I had your back 100% when the Arminians kicked you out of your last church, yet you never threw me a party. But when that shamelessly Pelagian son of yours came back–who threw our money down the drain–you not only didn’t ask him to publicly denounce his Pharisaical ways (or apologize to my mother-in-law for calling her ‘a Whiskeypalian’ last Thanksgiving). But instead you made him a vestryman and killed for him the fatted calf!’ And the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and were welcome to serve on the vestry at any time. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”