Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work To God’s Work, by Timothy Keller
In our contemporary day and age the problem of work and the dignity of work is a matter of considerable importance. This has been true at all places and times, for a variety of reasons. Every culture has its own view about work, about what work is prestigious and what work is not, who does what work, and about what work says about the person doing it. Work is bounded up in questions about the divine purposes for work, the dignity that work conveys on the worker, and the ways in which fallen man has generally messed up the godly ideas of work as a result of the effects of mankind’s rebellion against God’s ways. Likewise, there are complex relationships between our earthly work and our heavenly work that are subject to all kinds of misunderstandings about the relationship of earth and heaven and the physical to the spiritual. This is both a thorny and a fruitful area of study and it is little surprise that the author would want to have his own book on the subject given the frequency with which he writes about everything else, it would seem.
This book of about 250 pages consists of three parts and twelve chapters. After a foreword from a woman who led various companies over the course of her professional life, and an introduction by the author, the author begins his discussion of work by looking at God’s plan for work (I), which includes chapters about His design for work (1), the dignity of work (2), work as cultivation all the way back to Eden (3), and work as service for God and other people (4). These are all areas many of us can relate to. After that the author discusses our problems with work (II), including when and how work becomes fruitless and profitless toil (5), the pointlessness of work to many (6), the selfishness of work and the way that we view it (7), and the way that work reveals our idols and our misguided thinking about work and ourselves (8). Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of the relationship between work and the Gospel (III), with chapters about the new story for work in light of the Gospel (9), a new conception of work (10), a new compass for work (11), and a new power for work in the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit (12), after which the author concludes with an epilogue encouraging an integration of work and faith by the readers.
In reading this book I was struck with the way that the author stuck mainly to theological questions of work and its dignity, pointing out the pride that many of us who are knowledge workers possess in work and our concern about work that is beneath us. This is a genuine concern to have–I speak as someone who understands the perspective of knowledge workers fairly well and the concerns about knowledge leading to pride and looking down on those who are less educated or intellectual than myself. That said, the author could have looked at work from other perspectives, and it would have been worthwhile for the author, I think, to have explored some areas in which the structure of corporate balances has led in many ways for companies to minimize labor expenses and maximize capital expenses, which are viewed in a more positive light. Likewise, the author could have been critical of the way that generous social welfare systems have sought to provide comfort and ease of life divorced of the need to work, and have even penalized those who wanted to work for one reason or another. This book is a rare example of a situation where the subject could have warranted a better understanding of the politics and structure of work and what it means to apply a godly attitude to the work we do, and the sort of work we offer if we are owners and managers of companies in this present evil world.