Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation by Daniel M. Doriani. P&R Publishing. 248 pages. 2019
I have read a few dozen books on work, integrating faith and work, taking our faith to work, etc. This new book by Dan Doriani, a respected seminary professor (who I enjoyed two classes with at Covenant Seminary), pastor and theologian, may be the best yet. It is comprehensive, grounded in scripture, and at times, challenging. (See my article about some of those challenges.) It covers some aspects of work that I have not found in others’ books in the genre.
The author, who told me that the book has been 18 years in the making, has interviewed hundreds of people about their work over the years, either while working on this book, or as the pastor of a local church. His aim in the book is to engage all who want to practice love and justice in their work. He states that he especially writes for two kinds of people. The first kind doubts the value of their labor. The second kind of person is one who yearns to do significant work, and dares to think their work can change their corner of the world.
The author grounds all work in the person and work of the triune God. He also has twelve principles that guide the book, with one principle standing behind them all. He writes that a biblical theology of work begins with the character of God.
The book is organized as follows:
Part 1: Foundations: This section defines work, summarizes the biblical teaching on it, and explore the most influential theories of work.
Part 2: Faithfulness: This section addresses core topics: calling, faithfulness, work amid hardship, and the rhythm of work and rest. This was my favorite section of the book.
Part 3: Reformation: The final section explores the way in which Christians strive to reform the workplace or society at large. This section offers a theology or apologetic for the project of attempting to bring reformation through work. This section includes a few interesting case studies of those who have brought reformation to their work.
Appendix: The appendix offers biblical principles for ten common fields of labor.
The author has twelve principles that guide the book, with one principle standing behind them all. He writes that a biblical theology of work begins with the character of God. The book studies work, but the author tells us that it especially aims to promote good work. He proposes that good work has five elements: need, talent, disciplined effort, direction, and correct social appraisal.
Helpful “Discussion Questions” are included at the end of each chapter, making this an excellent book to read and discuss with others.
I highlighted a large number of passages in the book. Below are 15 of my favorite quotes:
- Our work shapes and defines us.
- All work is important, but leadership is more important.
- Too much Christian instruction on work urges disciples to be faithful in the work assigned to them. Not enough consider, “Should we do this work?”
- Leaders should ask themselves: Is the work I oversee good? Should it be redesigned, strengthened, or even abolished?
- Some work is perfectly legal but utterly immoral.
- To do good work, we need more than skill, persistence, and good motives; we must do good to “the other,” who receives our efforts.
- The statement “Whatever you do, give it your best effort” is simplistic at best and misleading at worst. Some tasks do not merit our best effort. Human energies are finite, and we should preserve them for demanding and consequential tasks. Why give our best to sweeping floors, dressing toddlers, raking leaves, or grading elementary school book reports?
- We are creative because the Creator made mankind in his image.
- Workers who are intent on reforming work must be willing to suffer for their cause, as Jesus did.
- Through our work we shape the world, but our work also shapes us.
- Work and vocation are not identical. Vocation entails service in the place where God has given gifts and a desire to make a difference in this world.
- At work we serve God and neighbor, but we also benefit personally when we challenge ourselves and hone our skills.
- It is not sufficient to assert that our work glorifies God. A truly good act follows God’s laws, conforms to his character, and has proper goals.
- In all our work, we strive to bring credit to God’s name.
- When love and justice meet in our work, we can find direction even in the hardest decisions.