Book review: The Gospel at Work, by Traeger and Gilbert

We spend on average 75,000 hours of our lives in the workplace. Yet as Christians, how often do we biblically address the reasons why we are there and therefore what we should do? Is our Christian life and identity de-coupled from the workplace, from our decision making on work, career, behaviour and colleagues?

The Gospel at Work seeks to give an introductory answer to these questions. It identifies a gospel-centred perspective for work and then applies it to a range of common workplace challenges.

The authors represent two perspectives: the professional business-man - Seb Traeger -  and the church pastor - Greg Gilbert. Both come from a reformed perspective (aligned to 9 Marks, Gospel Coalition etc).

The book aims to be concise. This is not a systematic compendium of all Scripture has to say on the topic. Across the Old and New Testament, the authors focus on two keys issues to be challenged: idleness and idolatry. This is helpful as it reflects the outworking of our heart's desires, reflected through warnings and admonishments in the Law, Proverbs and Paul's letters. By necessity though, it misses some of the richness of our identity in Christ which helps us make sense and live in the workplaces God has for us.

The first section of the book diagnoses our tendencies towards idleness and idolatry.

  • Idleness is taken to mean "an unwillingness to see or embrace God's purposes in the work he's given you to do" (p37) as well as a basic lack of productivity and laziness.
  • Idolatry is when our pursuit of enjoyment or influence or status in work becomes our ultimate satisfaction and meaning (identity). We make a god out of our work. There's a fascinating little section where the authors gently note that the current vogue of "making a difference or working to change the world" (p29) can itself become an idol as we take credit for things, neglect other areas of our lives, and place value on impact rather than obedience.

The second half applies a gospel focused worldview in pragmatic fashion, addressing topics such as "how do I deal with a difficult boss?" or "how do I balance work, church and family". I smiled in the section on sharing the gospel at work... "When somebody asks you what you did over the weekend, for crying out loud, tell them you went to church!... don't mentally censor your Christianity out of your interactions and conversations." I'd add to this that proactively asking for opportunities to share Christ is a prayer God loves to answer... there is no excuse!

As it covers a few issues quickly, it isn't possible for the book to wrestle with Scripturally imbued perspectives in some areas. The chapter on "is full-time ministry more valuable than my job?" is a good example here, being a bit weak on exposition. A clear argument needed to be made showing why "leaving everything to follow Christ" does not necessarily refer to our so-called secular workplace.

It would also have been good to have a range of examples from other workplaces in the book - it can sometimes come across as (in UK terms) very middle class professional Western urbanite. To be fair to the authors, they wrote the book, and that's who they are, so no surprises. Nevertheless, issues such as ethical challenges (eg endemic corruption) and cross-cultural misunderstandings may end up as the overwhelming concern in the workplace for some, even in the UK.

But this are small critiques of what is generally an excellent resource for those in the workplace, or in church leadership who want to engage, support and equip others. Highly recommended for those wanting an introduction to the Bible's view on our work.

Four and a half stars!

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