Monday, May 27, 2013

BookPastor >> "Every Good Endeavor" (Tim Keller)

This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on February 25th, 2013.


TITLE: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2012, (292 pages).

Is there such a thing as "Christian work?" When Christians who band together in a business venture fails, does that mean they have failed as Christians in the marketplace? How do we make sense of work? These and many more are ably dealt with by Tim Keller. Keller takes on work and faith, and engages both of them together within the context of the marketplace. Framed in three parts, Part One talks about the original intention of God for work. Part Two talks about the fall and how our work has become fruitless, pointless,selfish, and idolatrous. Part Three is about how the gospel redeems the world, and in particular, the world of work and how Christians can make a difference in each of their good endeavours. The  way that Keller adopts is to help readers understand the need to cultivate an environment where our contribution in the work becomes a way we can serve God and people. As we work, we also learn to integrate the respective kinds of work we do, the history of the venture, the biblical insights we can apply to the context, so that we can make a fuller sense of what God is doing through us in the workplace. Work, through the many stages and changes of forms and circumstances then becomes a journey toward a specific destination. Like a fully grown tree, as we work through the leaves and the twigs, to the branches and the trunks, to the highest top and the deepest roots, we let our work tell the story of God working through us, and manifested in the daily things we do. The foreword by Katherine Leary Alsdorf sets the stage for a challenging read.

"I learned great lessons about joy at work, patience and hope, teamwork and truth telling, from a people who didn't share my faith. My staff who went away for a meditation weekend seemed to come back more refreshed than those who worshipped together on Sunday at a Christian evangelical churc. I started to see work as a crucible where God was pounding and grinding and refining me, rather than a place where I was actively and effectively serving him." (13)

In typically Keller's fashion, Keller begins with God. Through Genesis, we learn that God creates the world and cares for it. There is a dignity of work right from the start, only to be tarnished and diminished as sin thwarts the original plan of God. Work then becomes a "necessary evil," and degraded into a mere means toward materialistic pursuits. We need then to see all work as culture making. We see work as an important part of serving the community we live in. Work flows out of our love for God, and we minister and serve with competence, that our end product is a result of much gratitude to God.

Part Two hones in on the various ways that sin has destroyed the original intent for work. Having lost the glory of God, work becomes a fruitless and often despite way of life as sin does its destructive influence. Work becomes cursed. It becomes an aimless endeavour with meaninglessness a middle name in world stuck between good and evil.  Using Ecclesiates as a guide, Keller affirms the need for a redemptive element.  Due to sin, work also becomes a selfish endeavour where people work mainly to make a name for themselves, to climb toward positions of power and influence, and unwittingly allows the setting up of idols in the place of work and in the hearts of people. There are personal idols of comfort and pleasure, as well as corporate idols of self-styled secular ideals, or some kind of moral absolutes that place meaning in the accomplishment of them. Idols of self-realization, individual talents, ambition, hard work. There are postmodern idols of human progress, reason, science, or some kind of a "means without ends" idol. These are idols because they become an end in themselves.

Part Three offers hope in God, through the Gospel and how it redeems work. The gospel introduces a worldview that is totally opposite of what the world offers. Against a world that elevates "self-expression, sexual pleasure, and affluence" as meaning makers, the gospel brings us back to help us see that in ourselves or in themselves, we are nothing. For any worldview to take root, three questions need to be asked.

  1. How are things supposed to be?
  2. What is the main problem with them as they are?
  3. What is the solution and how can it be realized?

Keller then helps with several examples on how the gospel redeems the world of work. In journalism, redemption looks at learning to go beyond fact reporting toward reporting in a manner than brings hope and life. In Higher Education, we learn to create people with "reflective" and responsible citizenship. In the Arts, we learn not to let profits be the primary motivator, but beautiful and optimistic. In Medicine, Keller reminds those in the medical profession that it is easy to feel proud and even arrogant in a noble profession. At the same time, medical professionals can feel uneasy when trying to introduce their work in the spiritual realm. The key is holistic health, learning to care for people as people even when they are trained to solve medical challenges. A new concept of redeemed work is one that involves the inclusive participation of all. It is an exercise of common grace that human beings receive. There is no dichotomy of "Christian" or non-Christian work. All work is work, and all work can be redeemed by God. Due to the limitations of ethics, even Christian ethics, we need a new compass for work. Treat people with dignity. Treat people wisely. Serve with respect and fear of God. Let sincerity of heart drive our initiatives. Do not be ruthless. Be calm during moments of failure. Do not be too quick to take sides and divide the organization.

Despite the many publications, conferences, and courses that teach marketplace theology or faith in the workplace, there is still a growing hunger for matters of spirituality and how a Christian ought to live in the world at large, in particular the office and the workplace. From time to time, many in the secular place of work can become confused or disorientated about God's purpose for them where they are. Such people may even feel more fulfilled when in some form of recognized Christian ministry like Churches, parachurches, or mission-based organizations. Still, there are those in the clergy or the familiar "full-time worker" label, who feels that their parishes or congregation needs to be reminded that all good work is in fact, working for God. There is no need to be distracted or irked by labels. What matters is the way we live for Christ wherever we go. The Ten changes that Keller proposes is worth remembering. Every good endeavor will involve one or more of the following.

  1. From individual salvation to a wider understanding that the gospel changes everything, not just our personal lives.
  2. From being good to being saved, that our work is an effective working out of our saved state.
  3. From cheap grace to costly grace, where we are made aware constantly of our sinful selves
  4. From "heaven above" thinking, to Christ present down here on earth
  5. From using God as a value-add, to how we can value add to the work of God on earth
  6. From building idols in our world, to living for God
  7. From disdain for this world to being engage in the world
  8. From doing things alone to working as an accepting community
  9. From mere "people matter" to recognizing the place of institutions, people, and all that matters
  10. From "Christian superiority" to "common grace."

It is hard not to like this book. Keller shines as he distills the wide repertoire of knowledge he has into a powerful reference for understanding God's purpose for work, sin's effect on work, and Christ's redemption of the world, including work. We need to grow in humility, in love, in acceptance, in truth, in justice, and in all things that matter to God. The words, "For God so loved the world," has not, and should not be forgotten. It is because God so loved the world, that we ought to love the world and to live as ambassadors of grace, toward every good endeavour. It is only in Christ, we can bat a good start, make a godly strike, and do a home run. In Christ, all things are possible.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars


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