Monday, February 25, 2013

Every Good Endeavor: A Book Review

I have recently begun a series at church on A Biblical Theology of Work.  In preparation for that series, I read four books specifically addressing the topic; of the four, the book by Timothy Keller “Every Good Endeavor” (ISBN 978-0-525-95270-1; 286 pages including endnotes) was the best.  The book is laid out in three parts: God’s Plan for Work, Our Problems with Work, and The Gospel and Work; each of these sections is composed of four chapters.  Co-authoring the book is Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the Executive Director of Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work – a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC where Keller is the pastor.

The strength of the book is its theological commitment to the historic reformed faith, presented in a clear writing style liberally sprinkled with illustrations drawn from the lives of various people, historic and contemporary.  In particular I was stimulated in my thinking about this topic by the emphasis on breaking down the “clergy/laity” divide which communicates a defective understanding of divine calling, resulting in the creation of two classes of Christians.  When this artificial barrier is allowed to exist we end up with a few individuals “in ministry” and everybody else who is forced to slog it out in their workplace – at best “doing ministry” a couple of hours a week.  The result of this way of thinking is that the majority of most peoples’ lives is spent doing something which they assume has no eternal value – how depressing and demotivating!

Keller shatters this false dichotomy in his introduction and then proceeds in section one with a very robust presentation of the glory of work drawn from the creation account of Genesis 1&2.  For example, my heart soared when I read statements like this: “Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul.  Without meaningful work we sense significant inner loss and emptiness…Work is so foundational to our makeup, in fact, that it is one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm” (pg. 37).   And again, “Work is our design and our dignity; it is also a way to serve God through creativity, particularly in the creation of culture” (pg. 55).  By showing the reader how his daily work connects to and imitates the creative work of God Himself, Keller provides great motivation to pursue our work with excellence.     

In the second section dealing with the problems of work, Keller does a good job explaining the effects of Adam’s fall upon our work.  He quotes philosopher Al Wolters who writes: “Do you find the two great tasks in life – love and work – to be excruciatingly hard?  This explains why”.  In tracing the outworking of the fall Keller not only explains its consequences for work, but spends a couple of chapters explaining its negative impact on the worker.  It is in this section that the sin of making work an idol is brought forward for the reader’s contemplation.

Finally, in the third section, Keller introduces the effect of the Gospel upon how the Christian is to think about and engage in work.  Helpful little subsections dealing with topics like “The Gospel and Business, The Gospel and Journalism, The Gospel and Higher Education, the Arts, and Medicine” set the stage for a helpful section of developing a Christian worldview.  Throughout this final section Keller repeatedly notes that Christian conversion does not change the work, but it does change the worker – and that change makes all the difference.

This book was not a difficult read and I recommend it to those who are struggling to find meaning in their work, as well as to those just entering the working world.  Understanding and internalizing the sound theology presented here will go a long way toward removing some of the sting of those thorns and thistles.     

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