Book Review: Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller & Katherine Leary Alsdorf


This book review is by Zack Groff, an M.Div. student and Director of Advancement & Admissions at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS).

Riverhead Books, 2012, ISBN:978-1-59463-282-2, 304 pages

In recent decades, the literature surrounding the specific “faith and work/vocation” theme has ballooned. Though I have passing familiarity with some works focused on calling, pastoral ministry, and the like, Every Good Endeavor is my introduction into the literature surrounding faith and vocation generally. To put that statement into context, I have read Os Guinness’s volume on calling several years ago, but I did so as one exploring the call to full-time vocational pastoral ministry. This book has a different intended audience: the vast majority of Christians who are not called to become full-time pastors, preachers, and pulpiteers.

Drawing on both the extant literature as well as on experiences of professionals in his congregation (like Katherine Leary Alsdorf), Keller lays out a Christian paradigm for work along the Creation-Fall-Redemption/Restoration theme.

Some notable themes from the book, in my own words:
– all lawful work is God’s work (and thus, ministry in some way)
– all human efforts/work, marred as it is by sin, are flawed in some way
– we ought to pursue human flourishing in our work, and not merely a financial bottom line
– our work reveals our idols; or, more specifically, our attitudes regarding work reveals more deep-seated motivations, presuppositions, and misconceptions we may harbor in our innermost being
– common grace
– God’s love and goodness are central in any conception of purpose for work and the world

One surprising find, from my perspective, was how much of Keller’s presentation echoed confessional language and structures. That is, there are several points in the book at which I was pleasantly surprised by an articulation of ideas reminiscent of the Westminster Confession of Faith and/or the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

I would cautiously and humbly put forward a couple of modest points of critique:
1. Keller uses the beautifully poignant tale of Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” to make the point that our worldly efforts and endeavors have eternal significance. I agree that there is some kind of eternal significance in the work that we do now (and particularly in how said work shapes the lives of our neighbors), but I would tread very carefully when following this impulse to the conclusion that we’ll find specific examples of unfinished work completed in Glory. On page 250, Keller writes, “You can work with passion and rest, knowing that ultimately the deepest desires of your heart – including your specific aspirations for your earthly work – will be fulfilled when you reach your true country, the new heavens and new earth.” I’m not too clear on what “your specific aspirations for your earthly work” includes, and if it applies Tolkien’s fictional vision literally, I simply cannot agree. I hope that critique makes sense, and that I’m not misreading on this point.
2. Keller twice cites a story of a friend of his that waived a bonus at work because it came as a result of effort/investment that, while legal, did not result in human flourishing. While I certainly would not bind this fellow’s conscience in an attempt to persuade him to take the bonus, I think that it would be inappropriate to counsel someone to do the same in an analogous situation. Perhaps I’m a bit more straightforward, but if my conscience wouldn’t allow me to take a bonus as a result of “work x”, then I would not be able to perform “work x” in good conscience at all.

Just my two cents. Overall, I really liked this book. I will be thinking deeply about it for quite some time, and I am interested in making some kind of application of its teachings in my context as a pastor in the future.