New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller shows how God calls each of us to express meaning and purpose through our work and careers.
This thoughtful and important work is a must-read for every marketplace Christian. It is a meaningful perspective on faith and work life integration. One example is Keller’s definition of vocation:
“A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it and you do it for them rather than for yourself…our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests.”
Conversely, Keller argues that when work becomes a pursuit of self-fulfillment or self-realization it “slowly crushes a person.”
What I appreciate most about this book is that it values honesty in its discussion of the workplace. Keller is willing to acknowledge that like life itself, there is much disappointment and frustration in the typical career. He does not sidestep this reality and gains credibility for doing so.
In order to have a balanced view of work, Keller believes one must see work as part of God’s plan to bring about “a future healed world.” It also helps if one can get a handle on the biblical answers to three key questions.
Why do you want to work?
The first section entitled “God’s Plan For Work” is a spiritual discussion we have grown accustomed to: God ordained work as good and even indispensible in the beginning (Genesis); Human transgressions have turned it into … real work with exhaustion and frustration. Unfortunately, this super positive view of the origin of work seems to add to the real frustration that we experience in the workplace everyday. Nevertheless origins are essential to gaining perspective and Keller is balanced, if not unimaginative, in his explanation.
Why is it so hard to work?
This question informs the section entitled: “Our Problems With Work.” This is my favorite by far and may be worth the price of the book. Now we are talking reality and hearing real-world experience. I am guessing this section reflects both the personal and pastoral experience of Dr. Keller. It reflects the critical reality of the workplace: Even if I bring the most positive and biblically informed view of work to my workplace, I am surrounded by fallen and unconvinced souls who do not always value dignity, meaning, or God. For most people in the world, work is not an uplifting experience. In Keller’s words, work can be: fruitless, pointless, selfish, and it can even reveal our idols.
But there is hope. Keller is a pastor after all and he wants us to see the hope in Jesus’ Gospel. A hope which stems from an understanding that ultimately things will be put right by God Himself. So what if we began to view “work as partnering with God in His love and care for the world” as it is today? Would this perspective make things perfect? No, but it would keep us centered on God’s perspective, giving us “a particularly sensitive new moral compass,” and perhaps even “radically change our motives for work and fill us with a new and durable inner power that will be with us through thick and thin.”
How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work?
The third section, “The Gospel and Work” asks us to consider how our “worldview” might help us develop a “new story” for our work. As a Christian, I should understand that “the whole world is good” but that ” the whole world is fallen” and “the whole world is going to be redeemed.”
Keller develops some helpful and practical ideas for applying the Gospel in business, addressing specifically the domains of business, journalism, education, the arts, and medicine. The perspective this section advocates is that it helps us to see ourselves not only as working with God but also with others. We share a “common grace” whereby “God blesses all people, so that Christians can benefit from and cooperate with-non-Christians.”
In the final three chapters of the book, Keller offers “A New Conception of Work” (integration vs. dualism), “A New Compass for Work” (living Christian virtues) and “A New Power for Work” (wisdom and passion).
A highly recommended book because it properly defines the difficult realities of the workplace and suggests possible approaches to integrate faith and work. A refreshing read when compared to the more common ‘Bible as a handbook for everything’ books.