Review: Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller

5 out of 5 Stars
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Penguin/Dutton
Buy Every Good Endeavor
Reading Level: Easy

Keller has done it again--another book that I loved and couldn’t put down. Every Good Endeavor is a Neo-Calvinism manifesto on the beauty of work and the creation mandate. Keller says,

The material creation was made by God to be developed, cultivated, and cared for in an endless number of ways through human labor. But even the simplest of these ways is important. Without them all, human life cannot flourish. (p. 50)

What I really loved about this book was the practicality. These pillars above are truths Keller has implemented at Redeemer Pres (p. 166 and Introduction & Epilogue). These aren’t dry, academic, or impractical theory. They are truths that literately impact every one. We all work.

Every Good Endeavor begins by establishing the value and dignity of work. Work is not bad. Work is not part of the fall. Work shouldn’t be dehumanizing. Keller, as previously mentions, connects our work with God’s work in creation and the creation mandate.

Farming takes the physical material of soil and seed and produces food. Music takes the physics of sound and rearranges it into something beautiful and thrilling that brings meaning to life. When we take fabric and make a piece of clothing, when we push a broom and clean up a room, when we use technology to harness the forces of electricity, when we take an unformed, naïve human mind and teach it a subject, when we teach a couple how to resolve their relational disputes, when we take simple materials and turn them into a poignant work of art—we are continuing God’s work of forming, filling, and subduing. Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and “unfold” creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development. In fact, our word “culture” comes from this idea of cultivation. Just as he subdued the earth in his work of creation, so he calls us now to labor as his representatives in a continuation and extension of that work of subduing. (p. 59)

He also urges pastors to see business “as a way of making culture and cultivating creation” (p. 62) so that they don’t neglect those in the congregation who are working in these fields. As I was reading this, I thought about my own experience in church and if I’d every been in a church which supported the average person who worked in a way directly related to his job and I haven’t. It is often neglected.

Keller then discusses the dangers of misappropriating the importance of work. Especially piercing in this section was Keller’s examination of work as revealing our idols. He argues that all cultures have their idols and ideals. Work often creates and supports these idols and those ideals. And if you don’t fall into line you may be “ostracized” (p. 137). He examines different kinds of cultures (traditional, modern, and postmodern) and looks at the unique strengths and pitfalls of each.

Keller ends by connecting the gospel and work. He argues convincingly that we must see our life and work within the storyline of the gospel or within its worldview.

One of the main places that we personally live out the drama of our personal and social narratives is in our daily work. Our worldview places our work in the context of a history, a cause, a quest, and a set of protagonists and antagonists, and in so doing it frames the strategy of our work at a high level. At a day-to-day level, our worldview will shape our individual interactions and decisions. (p. 159)

He walks us through the creation, fall, and redemption storyline and places our life and work within that context. For those who see work negative, he quotes Al Wolters who reminds us,

The great danger is to always single out some aspect of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than alien intrusion of sin, as the villain.” (p. 161)

and Keller goes on

Only the Christian worldview locates the problem with the world not in any part of the world or in any particular group of people but in sin itself (our loss of relationship with God). And it locates the solution in God’s grace (our restoration of a relationship with God through the work of Christ). Sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. (And if we did, we would certainly have to count ourselves among the latter as well as the former.) Without an understanding of the gospel, we will be either naïvely utopian or cynically disillusioned. We will be demonizing something that isn’t bad enough to explain the mess we are in; and we will be idolizing something that isn’t powerful enough to get us out of it. This is, in the end, what all other worldviews do. (p. 161 see also p. 163)

He also fleshes out the truth that our work is “a major instrument of God’s providence” and is the way he primarily “sustains. . . the world” (p. 184). This provides immense value for all those who work in every job. He provides an immensely practical compass for all of these truths and examines the impact they have on the employee/employer relationship.

Instead of working out of the false passion of acedia, which is born of selfishness, you are working out of true passion, which is born of selflessness. You are adopted into God’s family, so you al- ready have your affirmation. You are justified in God’s sight, so you have nothing to prove. You have been saved through a dying sacri- fice, so you are free to be a living one. You are loved ceaselessly, so you can work tirelessly in response to a quiet inner fullness. (p. 233)

In the end, I have no complaints about the book. I found it enlightening and I dare say no book has changed my thinking about something that consumes so much of my day--my work. I have already in the day-to-day grind tried to understand my current job in light of the truth expounded by Keller in Every Good Endeavor. This book would be a wonderful group study for smaller home groups or even one on one discipleships for your every day worker. Also, I would urge church leaders to read and understand the truths found here. It might (should?) drastically change the way they teach and interact with their congregation. We provide supports for marriages, family, and parenting but very little on work--which consumes as much time as these other relationships. The Church must correct this and Keller has provided an invaluable resource towards this end.

A free copy of this book was provided by Penguin/Dutton. If you plan on purchasing Every Good Endeavor, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.