My Boss Is a Jewish Carpenter: A Review

Since 1989, Tim Keller has been pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Many people in his congregation have questions about how their faith and work can coexist. This book, co-written with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the head of Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work, is his response to their questions.

The book comes in three parts: in the first, he writes about how God intended work to be from the beginning. In the second, he deals with the problems we have with work in a fallen world. In the third, he lays out the different effects the gospel has on work: it fits work into a different story, it gives us a new understanding of what we are doing when we work, it gives us a different set of ethics to apply at work, and it gives us new energy for work.

As is typical with Keller, he draws on a wide variety of sources to make his arguments and illustrate his points, like jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, theologians John Calvin and Martin Luther, and philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre, Luc Ferry, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Some of Keller’s favorites are early 20th century British writers like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Dorothy Sayers, and they make several appearances as well.

When many people think about work, they think about the business world. I know my thoughts tend to move in that direction, since that is the world I live in now. But this book is about work in general, and does not focus explicitly on business. However, Keller does give several business-related examples and illustrations. He gives a sketch of a few ways the gospel might influence business in the chapter “A New Story for Work,” which I think is worth quoting in part:

While from the outside there might not be immediately noticeable differences between a well-run company reflecting a gospel worldview and one reflecting primarily the world-story of the marketplace, inside the differences could be very noticeable. The gospel-centered business would have a discernible vision for serving the customer in some unique way, a lack of adversarial relationships and exploitation, an extremely strong emphasis on excellence and product quality, and an ethical environment that goes ‘all the way down’ to the bottom of the organizational chart and to the realities of daily behavior, even when high ethics mean a loss of margin. In the business animated by the gospel worldview, profit is simply one of many important bottom lines (167–68).

Every Good Endeavor is a theologically robust reflection on the nature and purpose of work from someone who has spent a lot of time reflecting on it. It corrects many misunderstandings about work and gives a positive vision for what it can be. I recommend it highly.