Thursday, March 06, 2014

Book Review (#24 of 2014) Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work

In my Southern Baptist circles, I often hear too often "Not enough men go into ministry," or "preaching is the highest form of worship," or "I could do so much more for the Lord as a full-time minister." I believe this often creates guilt among laypeople and sets up a class divide-- either you're "really spiritual" or you're part of "the world." Keller argues that these types of statements lack a proper understanding of a theology of work. This book is a wonderful primer into theology of work, including praxeology. Keller cites from many sources, the bibliography is rich and helpful.

Redeemer Presbyterian has a Center for Faith and Work that seeks to equip individuals in all work spheres with tools to develop a biblical worldview, inspire creative and Gospel-soaked behavior, and help entrepreneurs both start new ventures and revitalize current ones with a view to the Gospel.

Keller's thinking is along the same lines as A.W. Tozer and others before him who saw everything we do as Christians being a reflection of God's work in us, and a way to worship and glorify Him.

"If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever."

Keller notes that the attitude of an actively working God, and a God who created a world that needs work (Genesis 1) which He has appointed us to do for His glory, sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies. Unfortunately, the Greek concept of work as a necessary evil to be avoided is what has permeated Church culture, particularly Catholic doctrines, until relatively recently.

"In the beginning, then, God worked. Work was not a necessary evil that came into the picture later, or something human beings were created to do but that was beneath the great God himself. No, God worked for the sheer joy of it. Work could not have a more exalted inauguration."

Keller tears down the false dichotomy of "secular" and "sacred:"
"No task is too small a vessel to hold the immense dignity of work given by God. Simple physical labor is God’s work no less than the formulation of theological truth... “Secular” work has no less dignity and nobility than the “sacred” work of ministry...No everyday work lacks the dignity of being patterned after God’s own work" (emphasis mine).

Keller does not cite A.W. Tozer, but I find my favorite Tozer quote from The Pursuit of God applicable here:
"Paul's sewing of tents was not equal to his writing an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul...
"The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry."

One beautiful allegory Keller often refers to is Tolkein's short story Leaf by Niggle. We should view whatever work we do here as having echoes in eternity.When Paul exhorts his followers that they should remain in the work God "has assigned to him, and to which God has called him,"

"Paul is not referring in this case to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks—'secular jobs,' we might say—and naming them God’s callings and assignments."


Keller looks at how man is called to "subdue" the earth in Genesis, and how the Hebrew used to describe God's work in creation is the same as that used repeatedly for ordinary human work. God's call to "subdue" doesn't give a license for exploitation, but rather cultivation and invention-- to call forth things from the earth and bring order to chaos as God did with the universe. That is what we do as entrepreneurs and technicians.

"Your daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped you to do it—no matter what kind of work it is."

It's helpful to draw on earlier church sources for help in developing a theology of work, but Keller doesn't spend much time looking at various debates. He notes that Catholicism over the centuries has evolved from having the Greek view of work to now being more in line evangelicism in work being a way we can be the "fingers of God," as Luther put it.

"It means that all jobs—not merely so-called helping professions—are fundamentally ways of loving your neighbor. Christians do not have to do direct ministry or nonprofit charitable work in order to love others through their jobs."

Keller and others argue that the Christian worldview is distinct among other belief systems in its approach to work. I found the chapters on "common grace" quite helpful-- we are all made in God's image and therefore many non-Christians will have amazing talents, creativity, senses of justice, and be among the best in their field. We should learn from them, but understand that what those people are missing is an avenue for greater glorifying their Creator. Similarly, because of sin all work Christians do-- whether ministry in the church or at the workplace-- will be tainted with sin. That's where redemptive grace comes in, we recognize that all work needs to be redeemed through Jesus.

Work, status, money, etc. can all become idols. But so can family, ministry, knowledge, etc. This definition of "idol" really rocked me:

"Now, if anything is our 'salvation' we must have it, and so we treat it as nonnegotiable. If
circumstances threaten to take it away, we are paralyzed with uncontrollable fear; if something or someone has taken it away, we burn with anger and struggle with a sense of despair."

Anything that is a "non-negotiable" to me-- that isn't Jesus-- is an idol. That's powerful. The Gospel frees us to work without fear of status or failure. Keller notes that too often our society, and our churches, look down on people who are "underemployed," not understanding that all work is worship and valuable and by fulfilling God's calling on our lives. Maybe I'm better equipped and called to be a $30,000/year teacher even though I could easily be a $250,000/year investment banker. And one job is not morally superior to another.


How this plays out in reality is the focus of much of this book, and Keller offers up many stories from Redeemer congregants. He rightly combats the "dualism" often much too present among Christian thought:

"Dualism leads some to think that if their work is to please Christ, it must be done overtly in his name. Or they must let everyone know that they lead Bible studies in the office in the morning before work hours...The integration of faith and work is the opposite of dualism."

If you're a carpenter, the best way you can serve God and love others is to make great tables...!  There's an opposite dualism that's also problematic: "Christians think of themselves as Christians only within church activity." Christians need help in understanding that worship is a 24/7 thing.

"To be a Christian in business, then, means much more than just being honest or not sleeping with your coworkers. It even means more than personal evangelism or holding a Bible study at the office. Rather, it means thinking out the implications of the gospel worldview and God’s purposes for your whole work life—and for the whole of the organization under your influence"


That's where the Center for Work comes into play, there are small groups of professionals bouncing ideas and ethical dilemmas off one another for wisdom and accountability-- that's how church should be done!

I found this work encouraging and would recommend it to all business students and faculty, as well as pastors and factory workers-- ie: everyone. Five stars





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