Book Review: The Gospel at Work

18148523Title: The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs

Authors: Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2014

Pages: 160

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free e-book copy of this work via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I noted this in compliance with the rules that govern earth, Mars, and Neptune.]

Forward: David Platt

Twitter: David Platt

Secret Church

I was thinking as I started this book that I was going to have problems right away when David Platt referred to retirement as unbiblical. And I was not disappointed in my thinking. This book was a major letdown; a disaster of biblical proportions.

Don't get me wrong: a lot of important and well connected, celebrity Christians endorsed this book. I'm sure in some way they really thought they were helping. Either that or they have made an idol out of endorsing books and simply couldn't resist. Either way, it's just not a good book. It is riddled with cliches, full of step by step instructions, and seemingly goes out of its way to make work more of a chore than it already is (and I'm confused as to whether or not I'm actually allowed to enjoy my work and find personal satisfaction in it). When I wake up in the morning and go to my classroom to educated my kiddos, I really do not need to go through 160 pages of checklists or bullet points to make sure that I am 'doing it correctly' or to make certain I haven't 'made my job into an idol.'

The best advice we need is this: Just do it! Seriously. Work should in no way be as complicated as these two gentleman–fine gentlemen I am sure–have made it to be. Get up, be joyful, go to work, do your job, do it as best you can, come home and do whatever you have planned or whatever comes to mind. Be free! Live! Move about! Serve! Love! Be! I hardly think we need a treatise on what it means to work. I know, maybe I shouldn't have read the book. I seriously thought it was about something else.

There are a couple of serious issues I have with the book. I will note them briefly. First, there is simply no sustained, in depth exegetical arguments supporting their theology of work. The points the authors make are proof-texted. That is, they pull a passage from here or there and just because it uses the word 'work' they have assumed they can build an entire theological system out of it. Doing this, however, means that they have to ignore context and they also have to ignore the meta-narrative of the Bible. This is my biggest pet-peeve with the onslaught of books the Evangelical publishing world produces. There is a singular disregard for the Biblical narrative in order to produce 'principles'. And I don't care what word is used: 'motivations,' 'principles,' 'axioms,' 'truths,' 'steps,' or 'rules.' The Bible is not a book of principles.

Books that reduce the Bible to a set of principles frighten me. Couple this use of the Bible with phrases like 'minimum standard of faithfulness' and I start smelling legalism. If any aspect of our relationship with Jesus can be reduced to mere principles, such as the many found in this book, then there is something seriously wrong with the relationship or our understanding of Jesus. And all of this goes back to the utterly horrifying use of the Scripture and the way it has been reduced from narrative to verses.

This is my main objection to this book (and to all books like it.) It simply has no anchor in the meta-narrative. The authors even point out that there is nothing inherently Christian about what they are saying: "Yes, this passage is speaking about the local church, but we believe the same principles hold when we apply them to society at large" (140). Well, if there is nothing distinctly Christian about the principles, then it is unnecessary to use the Bible to make the points in the first place. And in the second place, there are better books to read to find said principles.

Now let me make it worse. When the authors do happen to quote large swaths of Scripture, and it's never more than a parable, it is again taken out of context and/or utterly misunderstood (e.g., Matthew 20:1-16, quoted in full, and then: "The point of this incredible story is simple." But they get it terribly, terribly wrong because they avoid the narrative context; 138-139). Let me give a couple of the more egregious examples. Over and over again the authors make reference to the New Testament's conversations about 'slaves' and 'masters.' Now, in all fairness, there is a rather lengthy section explaining that slavery is, among other things, bad. With that said, in my estimation it is simply unreasonable to take those passages where an apostle talks about slavery and apply it, in any way, to the relationship between me and my principal.

Another example is when the authors talk about Joseph, David, and Nehemiah. They conclude their conversation by saying, "We're going to guess you're neither the vice-regent of Pharaoh nor a king, but the principle is the same for you: authority rightly exercised leads to flourishing" (118). Well, I will leave aside the fact that this 'principle' is just unbelievably ignorant and simply point out that I don't know how anyone can say the 'principle' is the same when there is simply no evidence that story is intending to lay down a set of principles.

In conclusion, then, I will say this much: I'm not sure what the purpose of writing this book was. One author had a business, sold it, was unemployed for a while and all of a sudden he is an expert on what it means to get up every day and go to work as a Christian. Meh. Too many principles have no meaning because they speak only his experience. He had a couple of crisis moments in life (unemployment, birth of a child) but so what? Many of us have. That doesn't mean we were somehow, now, experts with books in the wings. And what's ironic is that his angst wasn't born out of his every day work, which he evidently did well, but out of his unemployment for a spell. And if that's not bad enough, he goes on to write, "Are you unemployed right now? Even then, you need to understand your assignment from God, right now, is to be unemployed" (90).

I spent 10 months unemployed once. I had lost three jobs in a span of 2.5 years. I cannot imagine a minute that that was God's assignment for me. It was the most miserable 10 months of my life. I cannot imagine why God wanted me to be that miserable. And if I'm reading this book, and I'm unemployed, and I come across those words….then I'm closing this book and never heading to the nearest church.

There is nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking about this book. I detect a bit of Reformed Theology under girding the ideas in the book which is an issue as bothersome as their poor use of Scripture to make 'points.' There are helpful moments, but there are not enough to outweigh the utter absurdity of much of what was written. For example, I was unsure why it's OK to give up family time to be at church, but it's not OK to give up church time to be with family (see 94, 95).

I didn't like this book at all. From the very first pages when David Platt announced, without any justification, that retirement is 'unbiblical' I was bored. The book is not short on platitudes or cliches or hyperbole or legalism. Meh.


PS. On page 25, the authors make reference to 'little golden statues that Indiana Jones swiped from the Temple of Doom.' It wasn't the Temple of Doom that featured the scene of Indiana Jones swapping a small golden statue. It was the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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