Book Review: "Every Good Endeavor"
Pick up "Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work," and you will find a challenging vision of how the gospel should shape our work.
Tim Keller's newest book with Katherine Leary Alsdorf has all the benefits of compelling writing, a vast array of sources (from Aristotle to JRR Tolkien!), good theology and over nine years of on-the-ground experience. "Every Good Endeavor" comes out of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Sharing the lessons they've learned since establishing the Center, Keller and Alsdorf illustrate how God created work, how sin corrupted work and how we are to work today.
Keller begins by establishing the unique view of work offered in the Bible. Unlike the Greek and Stoic philosophers, who saw work as a hindrance, the Bible depicts creation as "the plan of a craftsman." In the beginning, God worked! And as we see in the cultural mandate, work is not a punishment, but part of God's original intention. As Luther puts it: "God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting, but he does not want to do so." Here, we see work as it should be.
Then Keller's work takes a crucial, and often neglected, turn. He confronts the feelings of futility that define much of our labor. The middle portion of "Every Good Endeavor" addresses the effects of sin on our work, answering the questions, "Why does my work feel pointless?" and "Why can I never achieve all my goals in work?"
Keller presents the stark reality:
What do we mean when we say work is fruitless? We mean that, in all our work, we will be able to envision far more than we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us. The experience of work will include pain, conflict, envy, and fatigue, and not all our goals will be met.
This honesty gives Keller credibility when he moves to bridge the gap between the two extremes of the earlier chapters. Profession by profession, we read how the gospel shapes the work of business, journalism, higher education, the arts, medicine and more. Further, the book of Ecclesiastes and the stories of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther provide a solid foundation as Keller comprehensively answers the questions:
What wisdom would the Bible give us in choosing our work?
In morally, culturally and spiritually ambiguous situations, does God still work with us and through us?
What does Christian work look like as an employee? As an employer? How does it change the way we act at work?
Keller also warns us of the danger or idolizing work or its purpose. At the tower of Babel, the men wanted to "make a name" for themselves, misplacing the object of work. Today, we face the same troubles, which Keller unpacks as the idols of traditional, modern and postmodern cultures.
This is the key wisdom of "Every Good Endeavor"—we must not look to our work itself for meaning or for salvation. No matter how much we do or accomplish, we will always fall short of our goal because of sin. But as we accept the grace of God, actively realizing the simultaneous dignity of man and corruption of sin, we are freed to glory in the work we have been given—amid the many frustrations and setbacks. It can't be said any better than Tim Keller puts it in the introduction:
Everyone wants to be successful rather than forgotten, and everyone wants to make a difference in life. But that is beyond the control of any of us. If this life is all there is, then everything will eventually burn up in the death of the sun... Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught.
Unless there is God.