"The Prodigal Son" and Arminian Theology

One of Jesus’ best known parables is the story of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32). The parable is particularly relevant to Arminian theology. It shows the extent of freedom that God gives to his children. It illustrates the nature of his love. And it shows how He goes about reconciliation.

The parable presents a picture that is in harmony with the Arminian understanding of God. Restored relationship is what is important to God. It is so important that he will set aside his rights and his honor in order to be reconciled with his children. Let’s take a look at the parable:

The Father gives the younger son what he requests.
“The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.” (Luke 15:12) The younger son demanded his inheritance from the father. In effect, the son wishes that his father was dead. The father would have been well within his rights to deny this demand, but instead he gives the son what he asks for.

The Father doesn’t worry about his glory.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:13) In the culture of the time, the father had the ability to prevent the son from leaving. The son’s freedom was more important to the father than the fact that the son’s actions would shame the father. The father permitted the son’s behavior out of love.

The Father did not force the son home, the son chooses to go home.
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15:18-20). The father did not effectually cause the son to go back home, rather the son made the decision to return on his own. The son’s ability to make this decision did not make him proud. The son was instead humbled because he knew he had wronged his father. Even though the son made the decision to return, he was still at the complete mercy of the father. The son could not restore the relationship, only the father could.

The Father RUNS to the son.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) In the culture of the time it was unthinkable for a father to run to a son, particularly in a situation where he had been wronged. It was undignified. The father would stand and wait, and the son would walk to him and beg. But we see in this parable the father runs to his son. Reconciliation was more important to the father than appearance or position.

Death means separation. Alive means reconciliation.
For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:24, also see 15:32) The father throws a party for his son who was dead. Twice in the parable we are given the scriptural definition of “dead”. Dead does not mean inability. The son was able to able to make decisions, including the decision to go home to his father. What the son was not able to do was to unilaterally restore his relationship with his father. So he was dead in relationship to his father. In order to be alive again, he was dependent on the mercy of his father. Thankfully, the father valued relationship over personal glory.

The Father shows genuine love to the older son too.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:28). The father shows that he desires genuine relationship with both of his sons. Again we see that the father is unconcerned with appearances. He leaves the celebration and seeks out his older son.

The older son misunderstands the Father.
[The older son] answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.'” (Luke 15:29). The older son misunderstands two things about his relationship with his father. First, he views himself as a slave to the master rather than as a son of the father. Second, he fails to recognize the love and generosity of his father.

The older son wants exclusive treatment.
“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30). Perhaps the older son was a Calvinist. He was not glad for the return of his brother, or for the generosity of his father. Yet he fails to recognize that he too is in the wrong. How so? First by devaluing his relationship to his brother. “This son of yours” he calls him. And second by ignoring his father’s wishes and pouting instead of celebrating. A paraphrase of Romans 9:20 is relevant here. “Who are you, oh son to talk back to your father?” The father valued both of his sons and desired relationship with both of them. It was not the place of the older son to demand exclusive treatment.

The father corrects the older brother regarding the value of the younger son.
“My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:31-32). The older son would not recognize the value of his brother. His father corrects him. “This brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” Both sons are valuable to the father.

In conclusion, we have a father who loves us all. We have a father who desires reconciliation so much that he is willing to become vulnerable and to make himself look bad. We do not have a father who stands by and watches us suffer. We have a father who runs to us. We are made alive again by being in relationship with Him.



Filed under Arminianism, The Prodigal Son

16 responses to “"The Prodigal Son" and Arminian Theology

  1. SLW

    Fantastic post! I particularly liked this heading:Death means separation. Alive means reconciliation.

  2. Jim

    That is a really good commentary on that parable!

  3. Thanks Jim. My pastor preached on this passage a few weeks ago, and he spurred some of my thinking.

  4. Kevin,My name is Grant and I am a seminary student who for a theology assignment is having to interview an Arminian since I lean more towards that of Calvinism. Would you care to engage in dialog with me about, "Why you lean more towards the Arminian perspective?" I will simply ask you questions. It is not my desire to try and change your perceptive but to better understand why you have landed in the Arminian camp…so to speak. I am on EST time. I will check back with you in about 1 hour to see if this is o.k. with you and what times might work for you. Thank you much for your consideration.

  5. Hi Grant, sure it would be an honor. :) Drop me an email to the address below and we can work out further details: kljackson_at_marinerfan_dot_net. God bless,Kevin

  6. Warfield actually went after the Parable for this reason in his Plan of Salvation, pp. 46-47. In fairness though in the rest of the book he is remarkably charitable to Arminianism, and it is a good read.

  7. Thanks Sean, that's interesting. I've haven't read much of Warfield's work.

  8. It's interesting because this parable really falls into the argument of "God is a fatalist" that a lot of Calvinists throw at Arminians, i.e. by granting mankind freedom to reject God, God is at the whim of mankind's desires rather than mankind at the whim of God's will.

  9. That's because Calvinists understand God primarily in terms of power rather than relationship. Thus, everything must become a power struggle. In the process they throw out the possibility that God might set aside his rights in order to be reconciled with humanity.

  10. Pingback: The “Prodigal Son” and Arminian Theology | Society of Evangelical Arminians

  11. Good Afternoon, I posted the translated text of “The Prodigal Son”in my blog.http://blogdavidaeterna.blogspot.com/2011/04/o-filho-prodigo-e-teologia-arminiana.html

  12. Pingback: Traduções Crédulas: “O Filho Pródigo” e a Teologia Arminiana « credulo

  13. Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | “The Prodigal Son” and Arminian Theology

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