Most people sitting in the pews of our churches on a Sunday morning spend more time in the workplace than anywhere else. Yet we can too easily make following Christ a matter of personal devotions and church activity. The nine to five routine becomes irrelevant to my Christian life. The result is a huge hole in our discipleship. It’s this hole that Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, seeks to fill in his latest book, Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World.
It’s divided into three parts which correspond to creation, fall and redemption. Keller powerfully demonstrates the significance and dignity of work in the Bible story. His exposition of Luther’s understanding of work is a highlight, especially the link between justification by faith and the dignity of work. Work is not incidental to following Christ. He then explores the frustrations of work and its potential dehumanizing effects. He is, as fans of Keller might expect, particularly strong on the idolatries of work. The final part shows how the gospel gives us a new understanding of work. We have both a new story (so our work is shaped by a biblical worldview) and a new power for work. One of the most helpful sections is Keller’s exposition of common grace which enables him to value the contribution of unbelievers and steer us away from life in a ghetto.
This is great book on an important area that is too often neglected. As Keller himself notes, many approaches to work focus on worldviews, others on the value of work, others on ethics and other on gospel motives. Every Good Endeavour succeeds in addressing all four.
There, however, is a certain irony to the book. Keller is keen to emphasis the dignity of ‘undignified’ work, on the value of manual labour or jobs in the service sector. Yet all the examples, with one brief exception, are from the worlds of the knowledge-based economy – management, the arts, finance. No doubt this reflects the context in which Keller himself ministers and he is good on how the gospel shapes our response to the challenges of office life and the corporate jungle. But there is little on the challenges faced by labourers or waitresses. My other complaint is that there is little on witness in the workplace. I recognize the danger of reducing Christian view of work to opportunities for evangelism. Nevertheless those opportunities are significant.
The book ends with an epilogue by Katherine Leary Alsdorf on how Redeemer’s Centre for Faith and Work which she leads equips Christians to serve God in the workplace. It includes a list of common Christian attitudes that they to reorient. It serves as a summary of many of the themes in Every Good Endeavour (page 254):
- From ‘individual salvation’ to ‘the gospel changes everything (hearts, community and world)’.
- From ‘being good’ to ‘being saved’.
- From ‘cheap grace’ to ‘costly grace (awareness of our sin)’.
- From ‘heaven is “up there”’ to ‘Christ will come again – to this earth’.
- From ‘God is value-add to us’ to ‘in God’s providence, we could contribute to his work on earth’.
- From ‘idols of this world’ to ‘living for God’.
- From ‘disdain of this world’ to ‘engaged in this world’.
- From ‘“bowling alone”’ to “ accepting community’.
- From ‘people matter’ to ‘institutions matter’.
- From ‘Christian superiority’ to ‘God can work through whomever he wants (common grace)’.
Next year I’ll be publishing Gospel-Centred Work with the Good Book Company in our Gospel-Centred series.
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includes Tim Chester’s books and recommendations.