It isn’t every day that you read a book that received its title from the liner notes of a classic jazz album. John Coltrane used it to explain A Love Supreme. Tim Keller borrows the phrase, and idea, to talk about work in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.
If I could summarize the book oh so briefly I’d say: If you like his other books, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, you probably won’t. If you haven’t read any of Keller’s books, what are you waiting for?
Tim Keller is pretty consistent in his writing approach. This book is another testament to that consistency is approach. That means that he seeks to bring together various threads of Christian tradition to show us the richness of our biblical heritage, he makes it accessible to ordinary people (including non-Christians), and keeps the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center in a winsome way.
He begins with God’s Plan for Work, pulling together the various emphases of different parts of the church. He wants us to recognize there is no one view of work, but that Scripture has a broader, deeper understanding of work. Various groups emphasize one or two aspects of that broader, deeper understanding. So, he is not trying to play them against one another, but they are different perspectives or aspects on the one whole. He brings in the Lutheran concept of vocation, and therefore the dignity of work. He brings in the ideas of work as cultivation, we produce something beneficial to others as well as ourselves. Work is also intended to be loving service to others. Holding all of these together is our creation in God’s image such that we are designed to work just as God works in creation and providence.
This is a healthier, more constructive way of looking at work that is necessary when you consider the relative absence of books on work. What few there are, in evangelical circles anyway, tend to focus on ethics or a context for evangelism. This puts inherent dignity on work regardless of how much we make or how often we have opportunities to share our faith.
In part two, he shifts to what has gone wrong with work. He brings us to Genesis 3 and Ecclesiastes to show us that due to our fall in Adam, work has become fruitless and pointless. It has also become selfish and a way in which we serve our idols. We often don’t think about how idols plague our work. Thankfully, work often exposes our idols so we can repent and set ourselves and our work free from them through Christ. He included a helpful, though short, discussion of personal and corporate or cultural idols and how they affect work.
The third section of the book is about how the gospel changes work by giving us a new story for work, a new conception of work, a new compass for work and most importantly a new power for work. Without the story and the power, the conception and compass would just leave us frustrated by our utter inability to change anything. This section includes a fair amount about common grace to explain the giftedness of unbelievers and the way in which work benefits all, bringing non-salvific blessing to both Christians and non-Christians. I know many stumble over the term (though they include the concept under providence). But it really is hard to think about the work of unbelievers (and sometimes their high ethical standards) without this. Keller often refers to Luc Ferry’s book A Brief History of Thought. Ferry is not a Christian (I think), but his work is quite helpful to us as a result of common grace. We can learn from non-Christians in many areas. He also borrows from Dorothy Sayers’ work on sloth to show how this “deadly” sin (the sin of the empty soul) which opens the door for many other idols to dominate our work. I’m sure I’ll borrow this at some point.
Keller provides us with some great and necessary thinking about work. He brings in biblical data, and contemporary issues, to help both pastors and especially laypeople live out a consistently Christian view of work. This is a book that could and should get a wide audience. Since Keller brings in the gospel in a winsome way, this is a good book to give to non-Christians who want to think about work. This would also be a great book for groups of Christians to study together and think through work. I may have found our Men’s Group book for next Fall.