Tim Keller recently published his newest book “Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.” If you know anything about Tim Keller’s work, you know he has a knack for dissecting culture and applying Christianity in ways that connect with people in contemporary culture. This book is no different. In Every Good Endeavor, Keller adeptly tackles something that affects nearly all of us, how faith and our work go together in a way that is in line with God’s plan for mankind.
Keller spends some time on the theology and psychology of work…man’s need for being productive as a part of God’s design for creation. There are some really great take home points from what scripture has to say about work. There is one main topic that I found most helpful in this book. That topic is work and the Christian worldview as opposed to alternate worldviews. Keller’s discussion of post-modernism and its effect on the psychology of work is worth the price of the book. He says that in the modern worldview people believed work, science and productivity could result in something meaningful. In other words, people worked with a positive goal in mind. That means your work is about more than your work and your paycheck. You are working toward something greater. Then along came Nietzsche, who deconstructed the idea that science and technology were actually moving people toward a more positive society. Postmodernism resulted. It is hard to have a positive concept of work when you remove the positive results from your labors by casting doubts that there is any good end that we are actually working toward. Once you remove the end goal, the means itself becomes the end. So people’s view of work changed from what they were able to do for others and society that would result in the greater good (a positive end) to working for pay, advancement, power and influence (means).
This is about worldview and he says worldview is more about which narrative we make our story. I like this approach. Often worldview discussions are a lot more cut and dry. They list five basic questions that they say worldview answers (questions like who are you, what is the problem in life, what is the solution, where are we headed, etc). Keller doesn’t mention the five questions, but his view stands as a broader picture of where worldview actually comes from…worldview doesn’t come from parents sitting down with their children and having them memorize the answer to 4-5 main questions of life. Worldview is developed through the stories we make our own. The Christian story is a story of redemption and restoration. It stands in contrast to the doubt of postmodernity by restoring our faith in God and what he tells us about this world we live in and where it is all headed. In other words, the Christian story informs us humans of what the ultimate goal in life is and that goal then influences the means we use to achieve it (work being one of those means).
Once you know the ultimate goal for your life (living to love God and neighbor, for examples) it changes your means/the reason why you work because you are now not working just to work or working as an end to itself. You are working toward a specific goal that is outside of and broader than yourself. The way scripture puts these pieces together is through narrative. Like any good story, scripture starts with things being good, tension is introduced (God’s good creation is marred by sin and our relationship with God, broken), that is resolved through Christ’s reconciling work on the cross that results in the glorious resurrection. Christianity is an amazing narrative that informs us of how we fit in this world and constructs our worldview through that story. That story, then, affects our motivation for work and the ways in which we work because we realize that everything we do is for the glory of God, therefore, do the best you can. If it is the means just for the sake of the means…why not be a slacker? If your view of work is full entrenched in postmodernism, the only person who is going to get hurt by doing a shoddy job is yourself (loss of pay, getting fired, etc) but if you are working as a part of God’s larger narrative, it changes the way we view work and the way we actually work.
I am thankful to Tim Keller, not only for writing this book, but also where this book sprung from. Based on things he said in the book, it sounds like Redeemer Presbyterian is in regular conversation about how faith affects work and really making concrete application in the lives of real people…some even leaving their job as they realize what they are doing is failing to honor and love God and neighbor. In other words, these are not good thoughts dreamed up in an ivory tower. This book is written in the trenches.
Last I want to say if you have been in “professional ministry” your whole working life, please read this book. We communicate on a weekly basis with those whose own work can be quite dissimilar from our own and who face challenges we don’t always face in ministry. If you preach, I would especially recommend that you read this book and that you even preach on this from time to time. Think about it, when you preach on how God views work…you are talking about something that can impact 40 hours of their week, every week. We don’t want to neglect this and we don’t want to spend time answering questions no one is asking. In other words, this is all profoundly practical and a worthwhile read.