Feb 28, 2013

Books on Work: Every Good Endeavor, Part Three

Quick—think of songs about work: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” James Taylor’s “Millworker,” or the spunky “Nine to Five Girl” by folksinger Grace Pettis. Or think of movies, novels, or TV shows where the workplace is central to the story.

What do they promote regarding a view of work? As they tell us their stories, what story about work is shaping us?

In Tim Keller and Katherine Alsdorf’s recent book, Every Good Endeavor, the writing has been building toward this potent last part—how God in Christ is redeeming and restoring the goodness of work and human culture. The flow of the whole book mirrors the flow of the Bible itself: a story which begins with beauty and purpose and continues through the tale of terror we call the fall—the human rebellion that has brought wreck and ruination to life East of Eden. Christ comes to bring his blessings—as the carol says—“far as the curse is found,” and this includes the workplace. In this final part of the book, the previous two sections find their consummation in the gospel-centered good news: grace triumphs! This Biblical story is a story which should inform and drive our own stories, our work-lives, and our sense of God’s purposes in our vocations and callings.

Ah, but we often live by other stories or live by several stories simultaneously—ending up confused and drained, at odds with ourselves and our own best hopes. The High Calling has long invited us into a seamless life, where what we believe on Sunday is lived out on Monday. To have this integrated life, Keller and Alsdorf say, we need to embrace Christian faith as a story. And we need to reject other competing stories. In Keller’s tradition, this call to live into the four part gospel of creation/fall/redemption/restoration—and to think about our work lives in light of this Bible-shaped narrative—is to embody a uniquely Christian worldview. 

Worldviews shape us. They come from habits and assumptions, ideas and idols; and are usually absorbed from the zeitgeist, like it or not. They color how we see. Don’t you love the mixed metaphor the authors use here? Our lives, indeed, our work lives, are perceived and experienced through our worldviewish glasses. Those lenses are ground and polished by the stories and myths we’ve embraced.  

So, what narrative arc (or worldview) and subsequent view of work comes to us in movies, novels, TV shows, and advertisements? Work as pure and good? As broken and ugly? As meaningful service? Keller and Alsdorf help us dig deeply; asking what story we are living out, what assumptions we have about the labor of our hands, and how it affects the common good. They call us to a properly Christian perspective—grounded in God’s Story, entered into by God’s grace, appreciating the full implications of Christ's advancing Kingdom. We are reminded of the redemptive vision of work, and the possibilities of a truer, better story.

In these “between times” of brokenness and restoration, of hurt and hope, there is much to be unlearned and much to be relearned. Every Good Endeavor is a huge counter-narrative—undoing the years of dumb songs and bad movies and insidious advertisements which have shaped us. Dare we find ourselves as agents of God’s cosmic redemption, rooted and grounded in the story to which Keller invites us? This glad finale of the book will help us labor—no matter what our endeavors may be—towards a culmination of the unfolding story of Christ making all things new.

This is our final discussion of Every Good Endeavor . If you posted at your blog this week, leave us your link in the comments. If not, jump into the discussion anyway! We would love to hear your thoughts. Next week and subsequent Mondays in March we'll be discussing David Platt's new book Follow Me. Get your copy now and join us for chapters 1-3 next Monday.

Image by Justin Cozart. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Byron Borger, bookseller at Hearts and Minds Books.

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