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Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: "The Gospel at Work" by Traeger and Gilbert


The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs
Sebastian Traeger and Greg D. Gilbert
Zondervan
www.zondervan.com
ISBN: 9780310513971; $16.99; 2014
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus Misereatur.

Purpose Packed Prose - 4 stars out of 5

Are you between jobs, or disgusted by the soul-withering one you’re in now? Are you a college student about to graduate and wondering where to go and what to do vocationally? Does your job act like an all-consuming beast? Is your present occupation a source of your being frantically frustrated and feeling fruitless? Have you reached the pinnacle of “success” with your company and unsure what the next step is? There’s good news for you, whatever your present professional position, and it has come in the form of a 160 page paperback titled, “The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs.” The authors, Sebastian Traeger, a proficient businessman who has co-founded several businesses like FiveStreet.com, Razoo.com, Christianity.com, and Silas Partners, and Greg D. Gilbert, Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, have penned a valuable piece accessible to teens, twentysomethings, people in mid-career and beyond.
The first half of “The Gospel at Work” (Chapter 1 through 5) is the real meat-and-potatoes of the book. Here the authors unpack their main principle around which the whole work revolves; “Our jobs are one of the primary ways God intends to make us more like Jesus. He uses our work to sanctify us, develop our Christian character, and teach us to love him more and more and serve him better until we join him on the last day in resting from our labors” (15). In other words, who “you work for is more important than what you do” (16). By our being united to Christ and branded with him we become freed from building our meaning and purpose and identity on our vocational ventures. By remembering who we are and whose we are keeps us from falling into the double trap of idolatry and idleness in our occupations. Both of these grow out of the same misconception: if we are seeking our value and worth in our profession then we will (1) either turn it into an idol – something we sacrifice ourselves to and hold in as high regard as we do God; (2) or sink into frustrated and flummoxed disappointment and become idle in our work. As they observe, these two traps are highly prevalent in our culture; “Unfortunately, idleness in work and idolatry of work are both celebrated in our society” (18).
Traeger and Gilbert nicely display that no matter what our trade, or what our frustrating situation may be in our employment, we have a prime directive that infuses a stabilizing, sobering and stimulating purposefulness in our profession. In all that we put our hands, hours and sweat into we are to love God and our neighbor:  “When you become a Christian, your overarching, overriding, life-driving assignment becomes crystal clear: you are to love God and love others” (49). This new mission you have helps you to keep from turning your job into your joy, or from slinking into the hole of depression thinking your job doesn’t much matter to God (49-53). You are deployed by God into this or that job-setting to love God and others, no matter what the corporate-culture may be. Therefore work “hard, work smart, and trust God” (71). They further poignantly note that in all of our life as a whole, if there is idolatry going on in one area, then there is likely idleness going on in another.
The authors also discuss, based on their main principle, how to choose a new job. This chapter delightfully exposes the snares that litter our path, specifically the idolatry of finding the right job that will honor and glorify us. Traeger and Gilbert present a helpful pyramid that visually shows where to start when pondering a potential position. There is also a beneficial list of three “must-haves” in a job, and three “nice-to-haves.” What they put where will likely catch many readers' attention, because it inverts what most people place as priorities.
The second half of “The Gospel at Work” (Chapter 6-10) gets more into the messiness of work. Building off of their main principle and mission statement, the authors walk the reader through balancing work, family and church; how to deal with work situations that have difficult co-workers and problematic bosses; what to do if you are the boss; sharing the Gospel at work; and finally, tackling the tension between which is more valuable – ministry or your job. This section is more pragmatic, but is, nevertheless, generally useful in showing how to work out the earlier material.
If there is any negative side to the book it would be these two things. First there was a general feeling I had that the authors, at times, weighed me down with “to-do” lists. By the end of the book I had a mixture of feelings. I was excited and refreshed by the principles they laid out early on, but simultaneously felt like I was failing because there was more to do. This comes out clearly in the chapter on balancing family, church and work. By the end of that particular chapter it came across to me that I was being told to suck it up and work harder to make all three areas work out. The other item has to do with the use of Scripture. There are occasions where the authors use a passage that has nothing to do with their topic, and draft it into their service, like 1 Corinthians 12. Their points are good and valid, but the particular passages they may use at times are the wrong ones.
“The Gospel at Work” is a perceptive, insightful piece. It should find its way into the hands of teenagers wondering about their vocational future, college students nearing graduation and already sending out resumes, people between jobs, men and women fraught with the gloominess of purposelessness in their profession, as well as folks in mid-career.  And even though it is not primarily for Christian ministers, it is a must-read for pastors, especially those feeling overworked and grossly strained in their ministry. I happily recommend the book.

(Thanks to Net Galley and Zondervans for the free electronic version provided for this review. Feel free to post or publish this review, but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike)
[Mildly revised and corrected: 4 May 2014 - MWP]

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