According to D. A. Carson, Doriani has written one of the best books on the subject of work to date. In his endorsement to Doriani’s earlier—more substantial volume—titled, Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation (P&R, 2019), Carson wrote:
The last few years have witnessed a flurry of books that treat a Christian view of work. This is the best of them. Well written, historically comprehensive, theologically informed, exegetically sensitive, this is now the ‘must read’ volume on the subject.
Doriani has since published this much more concise, simplified version, titled Work that Makes a Difference (P&R, 2021). But as with the Doriani’s previous ‘work’ (pun intended), this one is also a must read. It is both filled with intellectual rigour as well as practical application. Doriani designed the book to be used in small groups, which is a great resource for the church. The material is divided into easy to digest units and there are excellent discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
In keeping with the previous volume, Doriani displays great skill in both covering the Scripture material as well as explaining the nuances of different historical perspectives. For example, in his opening chapter, ‘Roadmap to the Big Ideas’, Doriani sets out twelve key summary points as to what the Bible teaches. Subsequently, Doriani follows this up with ‘Nine Influential Ideas about Work’ covering thinkers such as Plato & Aristotle, the Fathers of the Reformation, to Adam Smith and Karl Marx.
Doriani’s writing style is easy to understand without being simplistic. And he writes in such a way that the truths are truly memorable. For instance, when explaining the thought of Martin Luther, Doriani writes:
Martin Luther deserves credit for dignifying the work of common labourers. Luther said the farmer shovelling manure and the maid milking her cow please God as much as the minister. Workers are the masks of God. “God gives every good thing, but not just by waving a hand.” Instead, God feeds and clothes the world through our labour. He answers our prayers for “our daily bread” through farmers, millers, and bakers. Luther also taught that God places every believer in a station. Whatever one’s station may be, faith transforms it into a vocation. On this view, all good work please God equally.
One of the things which I appreciated about Work That Makes a Difference (2021) though, are the many personal anecdotes and real life illustrations. For example, Jonathan Bryd is someone hardly anyone has heard about. But he is one of the unsung heroes of COVID-19, with some timeless implications for how one views their everyday work. As Doriani writes:
Jonathan Byrd owns a firm that has no core business. He identifies businesses that have declined due to neglect, mismanagement, or lack of capital. Whether the field is transportation, manufacturing, real estate, or entertainment. Byrd invests funds and management skill to revive businesses that serve the public good. In January 2019, Byrd acquired a small firm that manufactured ventilators. Byrd was ready to sell it for a profit when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Since that virus often attacks lungs, the market for ventilators exploded. His facility was set up to manufacture several hundred ventilators per year. Would he be able to make 40,000 in a few months? Byrd knew his team had unique abilities; would it be right to sell his company if it could help solve the corona virus crisis?
Byrd and his partners decided to take a risk. To increase productivity, they changed their leadership team, multiplied their staff, poured capital into additional equipment, entered into uncertain purchase agreements with federal and state governments, and leased a mammoth plant that had recently stopped making auto parts. In six months, they manufactured and shipped 40,000 ventilators and sent them all over the world.
In the end, Byrd’s group made a profit, but they gave it away, lest they profit from a disaster. Looking back, Byrd says, “We had an opportunity to do a nearly perfect thing. We faced an economic risk and abandoned hope of profitability so we could help people. We decided to make and ship ventilators as long as there was a need or until we ran out of money. Everyone believes they will help their friends when they are in need. We helped strangers—people we will never meet”.
Most people want to “make a difference,” but they suspect that they never will. Instead, they will earn a living and do the work that is before them. Indeed, even people like Byrd can doubt that they made a difference, even if they provide the essentials of life. That concern shows when we describe our work.
Byrd’s example is obviously inspiring. Not just for his skill in business, but particularly his generosity to not “profit from a disaster”. While some businesses are making a lot of money during this time—while many other small businesses are going bankrupt—Byrd has refused to take advantage of the situation. This is precisely the type of excellent, down-to-earth illustrations that Doriani uses on regularly.
Particularly during this global pandemic, the topic of ‘work’ is more pertinent than ever. For not only are many forms of paid employment under threat, but even those with job insecurity will have their work places forever changed. Work That Makes a Difference is a wonderful foray into the subject. And as such, it is an excellent piece of work that would benefit anyone to work through.
The Minister at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Hobart