Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf (New York: Dutton, 2012. 288 pp)
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In 1989, he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons.
Katherine Leary Alsdorf worked twenty-five years in the high-tech industry as an economic analyst and in various executive leadership positions. After her CEO roles at One Touch Systems and Pensare, Redeemer Presbyterian Church recruited her to lead the church’s efforts in marketplace ministry, now called the Center for Faith & Work.
The year between my undergraduate and graduate work became rather informative to me. Fresh from a B.A. in Philosophy, you might be surprised that I encountered few job openings. Hard to find demand in a philosophy store.
I took a job in the event industry and, to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite. I know the company was doing it’s best but at the end of the day I felt like a number, a cog in the machine of Taylorean efficiency.
After multiple attempts of contributing at a higher level being returned with a yawn from mangers, I couldn’t help but feeling like I was banging my head against the wall. What purpose did it serve to give 110% when others benefited more from giving 55%?
These experiences forced me to rethink the meaning of work. Was it all meaningless in the grand scheme of things? Was it unending toil leading toward death?
I needed to answer the why behind work and my graduate studies provided an excellent foundation for a positive answer to these questions.
A High-Level Overview
In short, I found a theology of work. This topic, too, represents the core narrative in Tim Keller’s and Katherine Leary Alsdorf’s Every Good Endeavor.
A high-level overview of a theology of work, Every Good Endeavor brings a gospel definition to work; it takes Sunday’s sermon and begins to flesh out what it means for daily work; it affirms business as a high calling.
Every Good Endeavor unfolds in three acts. The book begins by defining God’s view of work. It then addresses the broken nature of work, before concluding with a Gospel-focus to our work.
Work as a High Calling
Underneath it all, however, is an affirmation of work as a high calling. Keller and Alsdrof note,
“A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it and you do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests” (19).
Too often, people frame work in terms of the money it provides. Business exists only for profit. Seemingly, everyone has adopted Milton Friedman’s perspective for the purpose of business that it exists exclusively to maximize shareholder value.
But there’s a deeper purpose behind work. Keller and Alsdorf suggest,
“According to the Bible, we don’t merely need the money from work to survive; we need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives” (38).
There is, then, an insistence that work itself matters outside of its profit generating mechanism. We all were made to work and it is our duty to understand the underlying purpose behind our work—our vocation.
I always like framing the idea between profit and purpose with the analogy of our body. Profit is like our blood. We need it to survive but we don’t get up every morning and focus intently on the efficiency of our blood flow. Instead, we go do something.
Likewise, we need profit to continue working. But on a daily basis, we go do something with our work. Being able to define that something and find deeper meaning in our work, then, becomes our vocation. The principle that we work for something more than ourselves.
Good as an Overview, But Lacking in Depth
And yet, I find Every Good Endeavor somewhat shallow in its attempts to frame a theology of work. Granted, I’ve put quite a bit of study into this subject so I found myself asking the authors to dive deeper into their points.
As such, my criticism shouldn’t be taken as universal. Keller and Alsdorf seek to make the general case for work as an important aspect of Christian life. And to that end, they succeed. If you want a book that outlines a good overview of this specific position, Every Good Endeavor succeeds. Personally, however, it does not tread new ground. I encountered difficulty in the systems of work and sought an answer in school. Perhaps Every Good Endeavor can serve that function for you?
Verdict: 3 out of 5