Most of us are oh-so-familiar with the personal benefits of and ongoing frustrations with the work set before us, whether paid or unpaid. But maybe it’s time to take a deeper look at what we’re doing with our time and energies, and why. Maybe it’s time to pick up EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOR.
The big-letter author, Timothy Keller, is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and the driving force behind a worldwide movement that is helping urbanites find and live out their faith in Christ. His co-author, Katherine Leary Alsdorf, leads Redeemer’s marketplace ministry, the Center for Faith & Work, after having held prominent CEO positions in the high-tech industry. Here they join forces in a book that takes a serious look at the intents, purposes, pitfalls and value of our work.
The book is comprehensively documented, citing both historical (particularly Martin Luther and John Calvin) and contemporary Christian and secular sources. The introduction walks through a little-known short story by Tolkien titled “Leaf by Niggle,” which proposes that our work, though imperfect or incomplete here, is perfect or perfected in another world, after death. Right up front, this use of story sets the foundation for seeing work as something meaningful, a vocation that is in service to a higher being or calling.
"The book is comprehensively documented, citing both historical (particularly Martin Luther and John Calvin) and contemporary Christian and secular sources.... Overall, this is a reasoned and reasonable book that Keller disciples will value."
The background material goes way back, to the biblical creation account and how its view of God --- whose formation of the world was a positive act of work (after which God rested) --- is so different from other creation deities who created in and through conflicting forces. In the Judeo-Christian model, the positive value of work predates any negative pain-and-sweat effects introduced by sin. Work, as originally intended, encompasses redemptive dignity, cultivation and service. All this is covered in part 1, “God’s Plan for Work.”
Part 2 works through “Our Problems with Work.” Things aren’t what they should be. There is not a perfect job. Different jobs and temperaments present various downsides: Some work is fruitless, pointless or selfish, and it invariably “reveals our idols,” idols that have varied historically, depending on era and culture, some placing more value on the community than on individuals, some seeing profit as the bottom line, etc.
The book gains momentum with part 3, “The Gospel and Work,” being the most practical and thought provoking. A significant discussion of “common grace” reminds the self-righteous reader that God can and does work through anyone. This section is much more than a discussion of ethics, although you come away with a new appreciation for ethical behavior based on a value system that respects all stakeholders, down to the insignificant, seemingly powerless individual.
Overall, this is a reasoned and reasonable book that Keller disciples will value. But the audience is bigger than that. Toward the end of the book, Keller mentions “those in danger of viewing [work] as drudgery” (not another day…) and “those in danger of making it their identity.” If you’re in either camp, I urge you to plow through the book’s long paragraphs and stay with it until the end. Look for a foundation for your activity…and you can find it here.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on December 12, 2012