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Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation

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Whether you're teaching children in a preschool, operating a cash register at a fast-food restaurant, or performing complex surgeries in emergency situations— you have the power to change the world. God knows the good you do when you serve him faithfully at work, even if you don't see it yourself.

The product of twenty years of thought, Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation ennobles and motivates men and women in their labors. Providing historical background and inspiring stories of God-honoring workers, Daniel Doriani explains the Bible's teaching on the nature, glory, misery, and eventual restoration of work. You will learn what it means to be faithful at work, even in risky places, and what steps you can take to transform your workplace and the world through the reformation of work.

248 pages, Paperback

Published April 1, 2019

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About the author

Daniel M. Doriani

28 books17 followers
After a decade as senior pastor of Central Presbyterian church in Clayton, Missouri, Dr. Doriani returned to Covenant Seminary full time in October 2013 to serve as vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology.

In this role, he teaches two core courses for the Master of Divinity (MDiv) program—Christian Ethics and Reformation and Modern Church History—as well as some elective courses on exegesis and church life. He also speaks in churches and conferences on behalf of the Seminary in ways that advance the mission of Covenant.

Dr. Doriani previously served in various roles at the Seminary from 1991 to 2003, including professor of New Testament, dean of faculty, and vice president of academics. While pastoring at Central, he continued teaching as adjunct professor of systematic theology. He has extensive teaching and pastoral experience as an interim, assistant, associate, and solo pastor, and has been involved in several planning and study committees at the presbytery level in both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). He was chair of the PCA’s Theological Examining Committee from 1999 to 2000. Among his many books are Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible (P&R, 1996); Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application (P&R, 2001); The Life of a God-Made Man (Crossway, 2001); and commentaries on Matthew, James, and 1 Peter in P&R’s Reformed Expository Commentaries series. He is also a contributing blogger for The Gospel Coalition.

Dr. Doriani and his wife, Debbie, live in Chesterfield, Missouri, and have three grown daughters.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 17 books941 followers
August 15, 2019
4.5. Given the prosaic title (and somewhat tired topic), I wondered if this would be a bland read. It’s not; in fact, several sections are quite provocative. Doriani distilled decades of research and reflection into this book, and it shows. Filled with food for thought, and practical counsel, for disciples in any occupation.
Profile Image for Bill Pence.
Author 1 book1,032 followers
April 17, 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. 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:
1. Our work shapes and defines us.
2. All work is important, but leadership is more important.
3. 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?”
4. Leaders should ask themselves: Is the work I oversee good? Should it be redesigned, strengthened, or even abolished?
5. Some work is perfectly legal but utterly immoral.
6. To do good work, we need more than skill, persistence, and good motives; we must do good to “the other,” who receives our efforts.
7. 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?
8. We are creative because the Creator made mankind in his image.
9. Workers who are intent on reforming work must be willing to suffer for their cause, as Jesus did.
10. Through our work we shape the world, but our work also shapes us.
11. 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.
12. At work we serve God and neighbor, but we also benefit personally when we challenge ourselves and hone our skills.
13. 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.
14. In all our work, we strive to bring credit to God’s name.
15. When love and justice meet in our work, we can find direction even in the hardest decisions.
128 reviews17 followers
May 11, 2020
A really good book about a very important topic.

Most helpful aspect was his critique of the “all work is good” line of thinking.

Yes, all work CAN please the Lord (i.e. ministers and janitors are both doing the “Lord’s work”), but we should all strive to use our skills to make a maximum impact on the world.

Another way to put it: could C.S. Lewis have been a mechanic and pleased God? In a very broad sense “yes”...for fixing cars is part of the way God sustains the world. But at a personal level, I think we can all agree that he would have been withholding a profound gift from the world.
Profile Image for Jon.
6 reviews
January 18, 2022
A great biblical and historical theology of what work is, how Christians should view work, and what kinds of work Christians should be involved in.
Profile Image for Mark A Powell.
947 reviews28 followers
October 8, 2020
Work is the place that we spend most of our time, use most of our skills, and accomplish most of our achievements. The way we think of our work (both the job we have and the manner in which we perform it) carries vital importance. Doriani provides a well-researched, well-argued case about the nature of work and the value of viewing what we do as a calling that enables us to glorify God with who we are. He begins by exploring the biblical and societal foundations of work, then discusses how believers should approach their work faithfully. He concludes with a look at the rationale and road map for workplace reform.

It's clear that Doriani invested a significant amount of time and thought into this book before he started writing it. His arguments are persuasive, his biblical connections justified, and his honest discussions refreshing. He is even fair to those who disagree with him (especially in the Kuyper/Luther ideological discussion found in Chapter 10), and he grounds his assertions in real-life interviews or examples that show how principles are to be applied. If we each approached our callings with the kind of careful thought and deliberate intention that Doriani uses in crafting this book, we might just create the kind of radical reform needed in our work.
Profile Image for Peter Bringe.
218 reviews22 followers
September 18, 2019
Very good, practical, not a superficial treatment of the subject, and concrete in its examples (and sometimes provocative, because you are more likely to disagree with the author when he gets specific).
Profile Image for Derek.
132 reviews
June 30, 2019
As someone who works a lot, thinks about work a lot, and actually enjoys work a lot, this book was good to think through. Carson's endorsement on the back is what got me to pick it up.

On a whole, I believe Doriani and I share much of the same heart regarding work, namely, that it is a God-given calling to love our neighbor. I really appreciated his attempt to define "good work" rather than simply saying "all work is sacred".

I almost went 3 stars but the good in this book is worth more. 2 small critiques in passing:

1) Many in the Presby camp have a godly expectation that the Scriptures are sufficient to provide wisdom and direction in all of life. Amen. However, this sometimes leads to over-citing Scripture, and by this I mean citing verses that do not apply to the point at hand if read according to the author's intent. I appreciate the zeal and this does not occur too often but it should be noted.

2) I agree all work is sacred but I am not convinced that all work is EQUALLY sacred. Yes, a godly carpenter and godly pastor both serve and please the Lord, however, the Lord sanctifies one to a particular type of service. I think this distinction should be reiterated more often so that we do not lose a right veneration of those called to the service of the Lord's church.
27 reviews1 follower
April 3, 2020
Well written, useful illustrations... Otherwise, Doriani wore me out with his anti-capitalistic, one-kingdom Kuyperian, postmillennial transformationalism. He seems to be unaware that specialization does not promote unemployment but rather it frees up more resources to be productive elsewhere. This book lacked a biblical foundation.
63 reviews5 followers
August 9, 2021
Reading this when you are 60 gives a retrospect look at work. Doriani validates and articulates what I've stumbled through life thinking I believe about work. Work is a huge part of our lives and yet, other than the potential of making money, or finding fulfillment (which he addresses), we don't really think about it.
I recommend this for anyone who would be interested in having a better understanding of work and the role our Creator intended it to have.
Profile Image for Nicholas Lewis.
175 reviews8 followers
November 26, 2019
This is by far one of the greatest topical books I’ve read. Doriani begins to wrestle with one of the greatest threats to doing all for the glory of God which is the sacred and secular distinctions American Christianity has created. He aptly defines work and the importance of allowing our faith to influence those convictions concerning vocational calling.
Profile Image for John.
721 reviews46 followers
June 12, 2020
Daniel Doriani is a trustworthy pastor and teacher. Anything Doriani writes is going to be thoughtful and nuanced. Work: Its Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation is no exception. I delayed reading Doriani’s book for a bit as I read Keller’s Every Good Endeavor not long ago and Keller’s book was so good. While Doriani comes from a very similar background as Keller, Doriani and Keller’s books are redundant, both are worth the read.

Doriani and Keller share a Kuyperian one-kingdom framework. Keller spends a bit more of his time on the biblical argument, while Doriani spends a bit more of his time providing a theological-historical background. As a Kuyperian, Doriani believes that most work can be done for God’s glory. “Our work shapes and defines us,” Doriani says. “Through our work we shape the world, but our work also shapes us.”

Doriani argues that, “We are creative because God is creative. We long to fix what is broken because he planned to heal this aching world. We love to finish a task, even if it requires suffering, because Jesus finished the task of redemption, at great cost. So the character of God shapes the character of our work.”

This is in direct contradiction with the gods that filled the surrounding cultures. “In most religions, the gods do not work. In ancient Near Eastern religions, the gods did not create the world. At most, their activities accidentally brought it into being. The gods of Greece didn’t create either. Aristotle’s god was an unmoved mover—pure thought dwelling in celestial isolation. In Epicurean philosophy, god probably made the world, but abandoned it ages ago. In Greco-Roman myths, the gods laze about Mount Olympus most of the time.”

Doriani poignantly reminds us that, “God is a king, which is a job, not just a title.”

We see this in Jesus’ life as well, where Jesus dignifies all kinds of labor: both mental and physical. “By working with his hands, Jesus showed that all honest labor is noble.” He continues, “By his example, Jesus elevated both physical and intellectual work, so-called blue-collar and white-collar labor.”

Doriani believes that given the importance of work, the status of leadership is elevated even more. Doriani reflects, “So the saying ‘All work is equal’ is true from one perspective, but empty rhetoric from another. All work is equal in that a stock clerk and an executive can please God equally. And every honest job has equal dignity. But an executive shapes a company, and even society, in a way that [his employees don’t].”

One point of differentiation between Doriani and Keller is Doriani’s firmer critique in what constitutes God-glorifying work. Doriani urges the reader to not just be faithful at their work, but consider the value of their work. It’s not enough to consider whether work is legal or not. Legal work might be immoral, or not add Kingdom value. 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. “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.” “So much labor goes to tasks that are pointless, even destructive by most measures.”

Doriani offers this, “Here are questions we can use to appraise our work: Does my job advance the common good? Do I help people or exploit them? Am I glad to tell people what I do? Do I please the Lord as I earn my bread, or do I merely earn my bread? Can I joyfully present my work to the Lord?”

Doriani spends his final section exploring how Christians can reform their workplaces. The Appendix is valuable and a detailed exploration of how various specific vocations (ten, to be specific) can do their work faithfully.

“The goal, the ideal, is to serve God with our highest and rarest gifts,” Doriani asserts. But he understands that the world we live in is a world where this is challenges from every side. Dan Doriani’s Work will serve many well to think through and reflect on God’s calling on their lives and live out his call to dominion more faithfully.

For more reviews see www.thebeehive.live.
202 reviews7 followers
February 20, 2023
Most of us spend a large portion of our time working. How do we view work? Do we enjoy work? If not, why not?

Doriani offers much food for thought in this book. He reminds us that work includes not only compensated labor, but unpaid labor as well, such as "preparing food, tending children, mowing grass, or helping refugees." At root, we work because God works, and he has created us in his image.

The book covers the glory and misery of work, offers Biblical perspectives on how to recover the true understanding of the value and purpose of work, reviews different views of work throughout history from both Christian and secular thinkers, examines the relationship between calling and work, talks about how to be faithful at work and what that entails, considers work in difficult situations, reminds us that rest is important as well, and gives a number of suggestions on how to reform work.

Doriani has interviewed numerous people in a variety of occupations and positions, and his interviews with them flavor and inform his writing. I find it always helpful when, after you have set forth a principle, you give a real life example of that principle in action. The book can be a bit tedious at times, but overall it it well worth reading.
Profile Image for Robert McDonald.
72 reviews3 followers
July 20, 2019
“In the arts, we do not claim a sculpture of Jesus is sacred and a sculpture of a servant is secular. All art can be sacred. For Michelangelo, The Pietà is sacred because of the subject matter. But Vermeer’s milkmaid is sacred because he respects her and her labor, and he adorns her with light and color.... Work is sacred if it follows God’s law, if the motive is love for neighbor. It is sacred if it reverses godless and immoral practices that have crept into its guild, if it battles the systemic evils that shape the work.” (pp. 183/4)

There’s a lot in this book that’s really good. I appreciate how the author encourages Western individualists (like myself) to work with others, teach and find mentors, and also his stress on rest as a non-negotiable. But his style is dry, I wish I could have gotten to know the author more. 4.5/5 stars.
Profile Image for Thomas Creedy.
333 reviews17 followers
April 2, 2019
It's been a number of years since, somewhat ironically, I gave a seminar on a Christian/biblical view of work at a Christian Union Houseparty. Ironic, because at the time I was unemployed, but only somewhat, as I was also 'doing' things. I wish I'd had this book available then! Work: Its Purpose, Dignity and Transformation is a thorough, biblical and appropriately theological book about work from a Christian perspective. Rooted in the Reformed tradition, but certainly applicable to any thoughtful Christian, Work is by Daniel M. Doriani, a Professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, who's also been a pastor. This blend of academic and pastoral reflection make this a valuable book - deeply rooted, but also practical.

Profile Image for Bruce Kessel.
28 reviews2 followers
September 28, 2020
Paul David Trip wrote, “Work is not a curse; it is our created identity. One of the reasons we were put on earth is to care for the physical world that God made. It is true that the work that we are called to do in submission to the One who made us has been made more difficult because we now labor in a seriously broken world; but before the fall of the world, Adam and Eve were instructed to work.”

Doriani unpacks this and many more ideas and truths about work, in one of the best books I’ve read on the topic. He reveals our responsibility as Christians in leadership and the workplace to participate in the Gods redemptive plan. And just as importantly provides insight, with out template based instruction, on how we can work to towards this goal.
Profile Image for Vince Greenwald.
17 reviews
September 11, 2021
Author info: Covenant seminary professor, has worked lots of different jobs, has interviewed hundreds about their work,
Takeaways: "stay unless because" principle, where we ought to stay in our work unless its sinful or there is higher kingdom impact work to be done, some work is obviously not beneficial to society (making busch light, crooked businesses)
concrete ministry implication: The kids I work with have a vocation. They are students. Teach them that their work matters and how they engage with their work matters.
cross-cultural or intercultural relevance — Dominant American culture seems to only value work if it is "knowledge work" and highly profitable. This is unbiblical and unhelpful.
Profile Image for Gavin Brand.
81 reviews
April 20, 2020
This is an exceptional book. Workers in any field will find both comfort and challenge to continue in their work for love of God and neighbor.

There is also wonderful guidelines on how to bring about reform and transformation in the workplace.

Additionally, Doriani opens the curtains of the past by surveying historical approaches to work. In so doing, he allows us to see the pros and cons of our own modern approaches.
Profile Image for Andrew Klob.
78 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2021
Excellent book on work and theology. This helped me think through a lot of questions I had about being a Christian at work, how doing any sort of beneficial work (excluding obviously sinful careers) can be glorifying to God, and so on. Even more, it also answered questions that I didn’t even know I had. Doriani also used a lot of scripture and a wide variety of theologians and scholars to help produce a well-researched book. All in all, this was a great read.
Profile Image for Mike Jorgensen.
722 reviews21 followers
June 17, 2019
Finally a Christian book on work that doesn't demonize or romanticize vocation. Dr. Doriani dissects many popular theories of vocation with great academic research yet practical clarity and accessibility. He deals with everything from gig economy to how to lead a revolution. If you're looking for a one=volume study on the topic, this is it.
Profile Image for Drew Norwood.
253 reviews9 followers
June 26, 2019
Excellent. Much of the discussion surrounding the Bible’s teaching on work tends to be surface level and fails to reach the areas where wise, biblical counsel is most needed. This book goes deeper and helps the reader have a richer, fuller, more God-centered view of work. Doriani provides wise instruction on how Christians can be faithful in their labor to the glory of God.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who works, which is to say nearly everyone.
Profile Image for PD.
301 reviews6 followers
August 20, 2019
Overall appreciate, though there a couple friction points. Those friction points are not of substance for me but demonstrate the complexity of the understanding of our selves, responsibilities in the world, and wrestling with its goals and limitations.
9 reviews
December 27, 2019
A good book on working that challenged how I view my occupation. The author focused on loving God and neighbor in all walks of life in a way that should make Americans think.
Author 7 books
April 11, 2020
Found this so helpful in thinking about 'secular' work. Was struck by the idea that we should be wanting to 'serve God with our highest and rarest gifts'.
Profile Image for Reese Anderson.
8 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2021
Incredibly compelling and practical ethic for work. Expands well on Keller’s “Every Good Endeavor.”
Profile Image for Jooyun.
32 reviews
January 29, 2023
"All honest work is sacred when devoted to the glory of God with love, justice and faithfulness." Anyone needing a new perspective and purpose for everyday work, this book is for you. Great book !
128 reviews
June 9, 2019
Christians can glorify God in every honest job. We can serve as God's answer to others' prayers through our work. In jobs where morality and ethics are sacrificed we can often use our work positions for reform. All honest work is good.
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