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A Short Review of Every Good Endevour by Tim Keller

By: Jonathan Harris

It’s a bit difficult to review this book and here’s why: Keller says a lot of good things, but he also says some bad things. The good things he says are not unique to him at all. In fact, others have said them much better. Nancy Pearcey does does a much better job explaining the issue of compartmentalization (the sacred/profane distinction). I would recommend her book “Total Truth,” five days of the week and twice on Sunday before recommending “Every Good Endeavor.” In fact, I cannot see myself ever recommending “Every Good Endeavor.” Keller’s progressive leanings subtly infiltrate his message far too often. Having said this, I still think there’s a lot of good that can come from this book.

I’ll start with the positive. The best thing about this book is Keller’s characterization of the Christian worldview as a story. It is not a top down ideological system (though it has elements of this, it is more than this). Unfortunately, Keller, after presenting this goes on later in the book to contrast a “Christian Worldview” with love and human flourishing. It’s almost like he forgot about his own definition. A Christian worldview should flow from the story of God’s love. Ok, so that did not sound very positive. Let me try again. There’s a lot of good in this book in regard to destroying the idea that a job should be for the pursuit of idols instead of the pursuit of God’s purposes. In fact, purpose is found when aligning oneself with God. This is all good. At least half the book focuses on this point.

Here’s the rub. Keller is not much of a sophisticated intellectual (if this book is any indication), which is absolutely fine. The problem is he seems to fancy himself one. The categorical errors he makes expose him. For one thing Keller confuses the standards that ought to be in place for individuals with the standards that ought to be in place for organizations. Are people held to the same standards as corporations in a moral sense? Keller seems to think so, at least he navigates paragraphs that way. He’ll be talking about Murdock and a company making money as a prime reason for existence and an example of idolatry while praising Hershey’s benevolence. There’s an apples and oranges problem here. Murdock could/should have a personal purpose for his company that connects with divine principles. This does not mean the corporation itself does not have the purpose of making a profit. In fact, without making a profit all the employees are out of a job. This does not help human flourishing (a phrase Keller loves but does not seem to want to define very clearly). Could not Hershey be paying employees to build an amusement park or give charitably out of a personal idol that longs for the praise of man etc.? Of course, but Keller seems to save his harshness for what most see as the excesses of capitalism.

He talks about “sociological idols.” This is a modern idea very difficult to find in Scripture. Idols come from individual hearts. There can be a whole lot of individuals with the same idol, but they are still individual issues with spiritual solutions. He also goes as far as to say “family” can be an idol in a discussion on Christian conservatives withdrawing from the enjoyment of entertainment choices from the world. Yes, it can. But so can anything. Why pick on that particular thing, which in a rightly ordered universe should be a legitimate concern? Why are non-Christians praised for helping human flourishing etc.? They’re engaged in idolatry as well, by definition. It’s strange.

Keller’s discussion of cultural engagement is borderline terrible. He says there are always idols and always aspects of redemption in every piece of art because of common grace. Scripture does not use this kind of language though. Scripture does not apply the image of God to pornography. There’s a problem here. There is art that is objectively evil and art that objectively good. The Scriptures are obviously objectively good. Our problem as humans is a problem of recognition. We are limited and can’t always see how God sees. But, to make an argument for an “eat the meat, spit out the bones” type of lifestyle is dangerous. Most art in the modern age compromises one’s soul. Yes, someone may be using God-given skills (to spit in His face), but that’s not really the point is it?

Ok, so Keller conflated individual and corporate responsibility/purpose, and potentially gave some license to engage in tempting forms of entertainment. Is that such a big deal? I mean, it’s not the end of the world if the reader has discernment. But a discerning reader should be able to find the useful information in this book from other places. A little on the capitalism thing, since it sticks in my craw—Without a synthesis that marries cost/benefit and the well-being of the community (two things Keller juxtaposes) there will be no human flourishing. Making a profit is not a bad thing. I don’t think Keller would go as far as to say that it is, but he approaches the cliff and seems to peer over the edge. Companies and individuals both need to be in the red. This is actually what helps them take care of others (Eph 4:28).

Back to Keller’s perceived sophistication. The whole worldview analysis thing is weird. Keller tries to tie specific idols to three different worldviews (traditional, modernist, and post modernist). Of course traditionalists get to take responsibility for the racists. No shock there. Even though, anyone with a scintilla of historical understanding knows modernists and postmodernists have the same issues. In fact, that’s where his whole model seems to break down. The same idols that have always plagued humans are reintroduced in different forms but they always remain (i.e. Dianna the temple goddess and pornography). None are unique to a different time period/world view. Keller compares the Christian story to these three worldviews. The issue here is that it’s such an oversimplification it becomes a cartoon. Traditional worldviews are vast and varied (He talks about Asian cultures too?). Modernist and Post Modernist values are worldviews that make sense in the Western context, but are ideological and not traditional. They belong in a separate category. It’s just unusual.

This book is written on a lower highschool level. Keller uses language common to a lot of pop Christian publishing endeavors. For instance, instead of saying “The enlightenment,” he’ll say, “This thing called the enlightenment.” It’s a bit overly simplistic, but feels like he’s oddly talking down (This is probably where I got the impression he thought himself sophisticated. Well, that and trying to tackle Greek thought and worldview analysis in the manner he seems too). Keller overuses “human flourishing” and “love” without providing great Christian definitions for what he’s talking about. This is an opportunity for readers with other worldviews to smuggle in their own concepts about what those things mean.

The end of the matter is this: Keller seems to be writing to postmodernists who are disenfranchised with modernism and capitalism in particular. He’s writing from NYC. Once this is understood the whole thing makes sense. He’s catering to the perceived needs of people around him. He’s making a Christian worldview a palatable escape hatch from modernity. The issue here is that there’s really not much about the Lordship of Christ. That ought to be the emphasis, but it’s really not. Yes, there’s a few verses here and there, but not what one would expect at all. Those coming to Christianity for the benefits will read this and perhaps love it. Maybe some will be saved as a result (that’s my hope). But it’s the wrong draw card to use. The beauty of, Lordship of, power of, etc. of Christ must be the draw card. Sin is also a disgusting pile of dung, not merely an impediment to “human flourishing.” I’m not sure why anyone would flee to the Savior because they wanted to flourish in this life. It’s not much of a rallying cry.

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