Book Review - Work that Makes a Difference

Craig Broman
March 21, 2023

book by Daniel Doriani

Daniel Doriani is the Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Faith and Work, St Louis and professor of theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. He’s had a broad taste of work - listing security guard, building labourer, tennis coach and pastor as some of his past jobs. He is not writing about work from his ivory tower!

The author’s stated goal at the start and end of his book is to equip disciples to serve, love and lead in the workplace and for the common good. It's worth knowing that he has interviewed hundreds of people about their work before writing this publication. It’s not for a privileged few in certain stratas of the workforce but for EVERYONE who works - student, retirees, paid or unpaid from manager to unskilled labourer.

The 8 chapters are brief and meaty, designed to be read in groups with a series of fascinating discussion questions at the end of each. This is perhaps one of the best features of this book - you could do it as a book-club or launch a really helpful discussion in a workers’ prayer group.

Doriani is an unusual academic who takes concepts and theory and clothes them in the practical. He starts by getting people to think about their past experience of work: their first jobs, their favourite bosses, how that has moulded their perspective of work. He then contrasts that with why God designed us to work and why it is so integral to being made in God’s image. In a world currently obsessed with identity, he reminds us of work’s value in shaping who we are. He reminds his readers that for the majority of history our work was dominated by ascriptivism - where our main social roles were assigned to us by our gender, class and family history. People’s occupations so identified them that it became their surname. Eg: A blacksmith became Smith. It has been a relatively recent phenomenon for people to choose their work or even aspire to be fulfilled by it. His definition of work is cautionary: work and a job are not the same thing. Work and receiving wages are not the same thing. Work can have intrinsic value. A great question he asks us is: Would I toil in this task even without pay? Even though all work has dignity and every worker is of equal value, some jobs have a more strategic impact and believers who have the relevant gifts for those roles should aspire to use them for the glory of God and the good of others.

He covers the terrain of Creation and Work, the Fall and Work and Redeemed Work thoroughly, pointing out that labour is essential after the Fall to mitigate sin’s impact. His insight into the Pragmatist; the person who sees work as a secular activity, is brilliant. He describes the way a Christian carpenter’s faith shapes his work. It should be more than exhorting him not to be drunk and come to church. Shouldn’t his faith require him to make good furniture? No crooked table legs, I imagine, ever came out of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth.

His distinguishing between gift and calling is refreshing – rather than being individualistic. Western culture hears ‘calling’ and thinks of personal fulfillment. That ideology of following our dream is not biblical. He does see a call to specific work as a commitment to God and other human beings. The ‘well done good and faithful servant’ in Matthew 25 speaks more of faithfulness than fulfillment at work. He defines faithfulness as our plans fitting into God’s – not the other way around. His discussion of godly ambition in the workplace was perhaps the most discerning pastoral response I’ve heard.

This book was written during the pandemic and in his closing chapters, he illustrates work that makes a difference with a moving story about a businessman who decided to manufacture ventilators in great quantities and urgently even though he risked utter financial ruin. Transformational work occurs when we stop calculating and surrender to an inspired indifference to results!

The book concludes by taking a hard look at real rest - set up at creation and often eluding people since the Fall. He sees rest as the symbol of faith, “the apostles started the week resting on the finished work of Christ, then worked.” What a great way to view attending church!

If you like this read find his more extensive book, Work: It’s purpose, dignity and transformation.

This book is a short but nuggety theology of work that lends itself to group work. If God indeed made us to work, as part of his plans for this world, then spending time discussing that purpose with others will never be wasted.

Craig Broman is the Chief Engagement Lead of Engage Work Faith. He has been a practitioner in workplace ministry for over 14 years and a minister in the Anglican Church for just shy of 30. Craig is married to Merle with two adult children, both married. The context of so many of God’s interactions with people in the Bible is work. It is the anvil on which discipleship and character is forged, it is equally the place where Christian faith can be observed and accessed at close range by skeptics. Craig believes work is absolutely central to God’s unfolding plans from the outset of creation to the culmination of world history. In his spare time, Craig dabbles in horticulture, trying to keep fit and enjoying long walks with Merle for a local coffee. 

Photo by cottonbro studio:

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