Every Good Endeavor

every good endeavorAmong other things of late I’ve been reading the new book by Tim Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. If you happen to, oh say, teach at a seminary or pastor in a church it is relatively easy to see how your work connects to Gods work. If, on the other hand, you happen to run a business, work as a secretary, repair cars, or be on the faculty of a major secular University it can be somewhat harder.

This book grows out of the experience Keller has had with younger adults (and older adults I expect) as they wrestle with what it means to be Christian in all aspects of life, including work. The Center for Faith and Work is a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian in NY directed explicitly toward this goal, Katherine Leary Alsdorf leads the Center. Every Good Endeavor is an interesting book, exhibiting some of the best of Keller as he focuses on a “merely Christian” approach to work. He draws on insights from Scripture (Both Genesis and Ecclesiastes plays a significant role) and from a broad range of scholars and thinkers, including Christian thinkers such as Dorothy Sayers, Andy Crouch, JRR Tolkien, Mark Noll, and many more.

The introduction to Every Good Endeavor highlights Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.” Keller summarizes the story (Scot has also summarized it in a number of posts over the years, including most recently His Name was Niggle) and then reflects on the story of Niggle:

But really – everyone is Niggle. Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him- or herself largely incapable of producing them. Everyone wants to be successful rather than forgotten, and everyone wants to make a difference in life. But that is beyond the control of any of us. If this life is all there is, then everything will eventually burn up in the death of the sun and no one will even be around to remember anything that has ever happened. Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught.

Unless there is God. 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. (p. 29)

A Christian approach to work is not simply a question about how one can perform a job in keeping with Christian ethics (don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, love your neighbor as yourself …). Nor is it simply a question of using one’s position as an evangelistic witness (bible studies, tracts, public prayer, inviting colleagues to church …) . A Christian approach to work involves directing one’s efforts toward kingdom goals, making the world a better place.

Keller begins the exploration of work with the creation narratives in Genesis. We are designed for work. Work was a part of the plan in Genesis 1 and 2. It did not come into the picture as a consequence of the fall in Genesis 3.

Work did not come in after a golden age of leisure. It was part of God’s perfect design for human life, because we were made in God’s image, and part of his glory and happiness is that he works, …

The fact that God put work in paradise is startling to us because we so often think of work as a necessary evil or even punishment. Yet we do not see work brought into our human story after the fall of Adam, as part of the resulting brokenness and curse; it is part of the blessedness of the garden of God. Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friendship, prayer, and sexuality; it is not simply medicine but food for our soul. (p. 36-37)

What can, or what should the church be doing to help Christians approach their work (whether in the home, as a volunteer, within church, or in a “secular” vocation) as a calling that will matter forever? There is one other image I would like to bring into the discussion, and this comes from Keller’s chapter on Work as Cultivation.

Fuller seminary president Richard Mouw once addressed a number of bankers in New York City. He pointed them to Genesis and showed that God was a creator/investor who made the world as a home for all kinds of creativity. Mouw urged his audience to think of God as an investment banker. He leveraged his resources to create a whole new world of life. In the same way if you see a human need not being met, you see a talent or resources that can meet that need, and you then invest your resources – at your risk and cost – so that the need is met and the result is new jobs, new products, and better quality of life? What you are doing, Mouw concluded, is actually God-like. (p. 61-62)

Now the way that every investment banker carries out his or her job is not in step with God’s plan for the world. Some motives and initiatives do nothing to advance the common good. Keller’s discussion is filled with some standard points. One can not love both God and mammon, the ends do not justify the means, and the point of life is not to gain power, prestige, and wealth. Yet …

If ministers don’t yet see business as a way of making culture and of cultivating creation, they will fail to support, appreciate, and properly lead many members of their congregation. (p. 62)

It isn’t just true for investment bankers and businessmen and women of course. The same is true for teachers, professors, lawyers, scientists, artists, musicians, salesmen, homemakers, secretaries, and the list goes on. If the church doesn’t teach this, or provide a place for Christians to explore and learn what it means to connect God’s good work to their work, we will be a fraction of the church that we are called to be as the people of God.

What is your church doing to help Christians connect their work to God’s good work?

Is this something that we should be doing?

My opinion? Modern suburban, attractional, decision shaped evangelicalism does a rather poor job of helping Christians connect life and work to God’s work (which is not only bringing the next convert through the door).

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

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