Rating (1-Poor; 2-Fair; 3-Good; 4-Really Good; 5-Excellent)3.5/5
Tim Keller is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His writings and teachings consistently blend together great thinking with clear, practical application. As a new entrant into the world of work, I was very excited to dive into Keller’s ideas about how Christians should view and interact with their work. I was not disappointed. In classic Keller form, Every Good Endeavor uses the depth of the Gospel and the breadth of biblical truth to explore work from a Christian perspective. Any student or young adult who has recently entered or is about to enter the world of work would be wise to read this Gospel-saturated look at work that God created, sin corrupted, and God now seeks to redeem. This book had a lot to it so this summary/review only covers the big ideas and passes over an abundance of great thoughts and insights explored by Keller. If the ideas covered here interest you, I highly recommend reading the whole book so you can explore the depth of these ideas and many more.
What should work look like for a Christian? This question has been discussed and picked apart for many years. Vocation has shifted from being a calling to being a job. Work has become increasingly focused on the individuals attempt to accumulate money, personal fulfillment, and power, and this focus has led to work becoming a place of stress and frustration for people whose work does not completely satisfy. For Christians, this has translated into a struggle to integrate faith and work. Does being a Christian at work mean evangelizing everyone I meet? Does it mean dropping gospel tracts in the bathroom? Does it just mean working harder than everyone else? Is it about not going out drinking with co-workers or not laughing at the dirty jokes they tell? In Every Good Endeavor, Keller attempts to shift the discussion away from these secondary questions and instead focuses on putting the world of work in the framework of the Gospel storyline. The story Keller lays out is this: God created work and it was good, sin has corrupted parts of God’s design for work, and the Gospel is God’s way of redeeming the work he created. Part 1 covers God’s original intentions for work. Keller lays out the benefits and biblical ideas of work that God designed to bless us and bless others through us. Part 2 deals with our problems with work. This section predominantly deals with the ways in which sin has corrupted and undermined God’s design. Part 3 then applies the redeeming story of the Gospel to the world of work, and Keller gives us a new biblical framework for thinking about our work.
God created work, and it was good- Work is the very first thing the Bibles talks about. God’s creation of the world is described as work. For Christians, work starts with God. He labored to create a world of beauty and depth as well as humans that are image-bearers of his glory. Keller points out that Genesis describes “God at ‘work,’ using the Hebrew word mlkh, the word for ordinary human work.” It is this idea of God working that combats the idea that work is completely a result of the Fall. On the contrary, God’s intentions for human flourishing always included work. God glories in work. In John 5:17, Jesus says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Meaningful work is part of our created nature. Keller challenges current conceptions of work by saying, “According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives.” Work is from God, meant to bless and sustain us.
Work and rest go hand in hand- The Bible exposes two lies about work and rest. First, the lie that work is a curse, and life is found only in leisure and rest. And second, the lie that work is the only important human activity, and rest is a necessary evil of recharging. God both worked and rested in Genesis. His rest was not a result of fatigue, showing that rest in itself is good and life-giving. Taking breaks from work to rest and worship God prevents the Christian from allowing work to rival God for primacy in their life.
ALL work is dignified and glorifying to God- Many today believe that “lower-status or lower-paying work is an assault on our dignity.” Thus, people try to find jobs that seem more important, foregoing an honest look at their gift-set. When money and prestige are the driving force behind work, you will grow frustrated as you realize that there will never be enough. But remember, God gave us work. Doing work is one way we reflect God’s character and glory. We share in God’s work of creation by subduing the earth and bringing order out of chaos; we steward God’s creation through our work. All work is of God. Keller points out that God planted a garden in the beginning, and Jesus came to earth as carpenter, not a philosopher. “No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God.” Through all forms of work, Christians can participate with God in his creativity and cultivation.
God uses work to bless us and others through us- When God calls us to himself and opens our hearts to receive the saving grace of Jesus, he does not call is into solitude but into community. We enter into the body of believers that God has formed in Christ. As a part of this body, Christians are equipped by God for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. Beyond that however, God further equips us with talents and gifts “for the purpose of building up the human community.” Ultimately, this means that Christian work is a work of service. Our work is only a calling “if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.” We begin to do work as a means of serving and building up both our Christian community and the community in which we live. Keller contends that the Christian view of work changes the question from “What will make me the most money and give me the most status?” to “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I know of God’s will and of human need?” The question becomes others-centered instead of self-centered. We reflect the glory of God by stewarding our gifts through work that serves and builds up our community.
Sin corrupted human work- God’s glorious gift of work was severely corrupted by the fall and by the entrance of sin into the world. In order to salvage work as God created, we must seek to understand how it was corrupted in the Garden. In the garden, mankind diverged from his design and separated himself from the source of human flourishing, namely a personal relationship and trust in God. Adam and Eve suffered the natural consequences of rebelling against design. They experienced shame in their nakedness. Humans realize that something is wrong, but we often cannot identify what has gone awry. We grow restless and frustrated, and we started to use work as a way of gaining status or approval to fill the gap we feel. Sin made work something that, even when fruitful, is painful and difficult. We rebelled against our design so each of us is now working in a system that feels stacked against us. In order to reclaim work as God created and intended, we must deal with the sin in our hearts that has corrupted the way view and engage work.
Work reveals our idols- Idolatry is at the heart of many of our work frustrations. The human heart continuously displaces God as lord of our life with created things. These idols can be physical, spiritual, or psychological. Keller defines idolatry as “trusting anything to deliver the control, security, significance, satisfaction, and beauty that only the real God can give.” Or, more simply, it is turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. Our idols are made visible by the way we view or engage our work. “Idols of comfort and pleasure can make it impossible for a person to work as hard as is necessary to have a faithful and fruitful career. Idols of power and approval, on the other hand, can lead us to overwork or to be ruthless or unbalanced in our work practices.” Work has become an outward expression of the idol factory in our hearts. In the west, work is a bastion of individualism and personal autonomy. I am the center of my own universe, capable of becoming everything I need and earning anything I lack. Thus, the idol of individualism has tended to raise work from being a good thing to being nearly a form of salvation. Unless God sits on the throne as Lord of your life, work will produce and cultivate only idols in your heart.
The Gospel redeems work- This, to me, is the key to the entire book. The narrative of work began with perfect creation, moved to sin-driven corruption, and finishes with Gospel redemption. Our view of work can only be reclaimed if we orient ourselves and our work around the Gospel. If we get the story of the world wrong, we will get our “life responses wrong.” If we understand that God is the ruler of all creation, we will strive to cease elevating created things to his position. If we don’t understand the Gospel, we will demonize something that isn’t bad enough to explain our situation, and we will idolize something that is incapable of saving us. Realizing that Jesus came down from heaven to serve us and die for us will help us orient our work as an act of service and sacrifice for those around us. Understanding that the saving grace of the Gospel is offered to everyone will lead to a valuing of individuals and a reluctance to demean or take advantage of someone because of their vocation or social status. Gospel-centered businesses would be defined by a lack of “adversarial relationships” and an emphasis on quality and excellence. Employees would be treated with more respect and dignity. Gospel-centered artists would “have access to a broader and more balanced vision of the world.” They would be equipped to tell the story of sin, redemption, and beauty through their art. The Gospel changes the lenses through which we see our work. Placing work within the framework of the Gospel is the first step to reclaiming work as God created.
Keller’s use of the Bible to undergird and illustrate his arguments is a consistent strength of Every Good Endeavor. From Genesis to Esther to Ecclesiastes to Paul, the whole Bible storyline is on display. Keller faithfully attempts to elaborate the Bible’s view of work and vocation. Also helpful was the clear unpacking of the new framework/worldview that Keller was advocating. By placing the book within the Gospel narrative, Keller was able to clearly draw the line from where work was, to where work is, and to where work should be. This framework gives people, regardless of vocation or life-stage the tools for changing the way they think about their work.
Application is not so much a weakness, as it is a potential point of frustration for people. This book puts forth a framework for engaging work, and while Keller does occasionally directly apply this framework to certain jobs or situations, the book is not a handbook of action steps. The focus is more on changing the questions we ask, or the way we think, than on providing answers for every situation. For people looking for job-specific applications, the book will likely disappoint.
“To make a real difference…[there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.”
“And so we discover that faithful work requires the will, the emotions, the soul, and the mind-as we think out and live out the implications of our beliefs on the canvas of our daily work.”
“God gives us talents and gifts so we can do for one another what he wants to do for us and through us.”
“God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor.”
“You will not have a meaningful life without work, but you cannot say that your work is the meaning of your life.”
“But the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure.”
“The two things we all want so desperately- glory and relationship- can coexist only within God.”
“Every…society will have to make an idol out of something that will ultimately disappoint.”
“When you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish.”