BOOK REVIEW: Garden City

“We’ve all heard it said: it’s who you are that matters, not what you do. Really? Where do the Scriptures teach that?” So writes John Mark Comer in his introduction to Garden City, the latest in a (long) line of recently published theologies of work. The comment immediately piqued my interest; it's something I myself have felt.

Garden City follows a well-worn path in the faith and work landscape, looking at work in light of creation, the Fall, redemption and new creation. This one is a little different however, not least in its writing style. Comer writes in a very chatty, relaxed, personal, self-deprecating style, walking the tightrope between simplicity and being simplistic. Others I’ve spoken to found the style a little frustrating; me personally, I loved it! There is clearly deep thought underlying the easy-going style, a feat that is not easy to pull off. And in my opinion, Comer does.

Garden City is filled with lots of lovely imagery that helps the reader grasp what he’s talking about. We’re kings and queens ruling the world, a place called delight. There’s the Brueggemann-inspired (or maybe just Bible-inspired!) imagery of slavery with regard to work and rest. And of course the imagery that shapes the whole book, the movement the whole creation is on from a garden to a city.

For me the two big purposes of all work are to love God and love neighbour. Work is worship of God and service of others. And both these themes provide significant shape to Comer’s work, culminating in this beautiful, inspiring conclusion: “Maybe you’ll make a ton of money, or maybe you’ll just have enough. Maybe you’ll become a household name all over the world. The odds are, you won’t. Maybe you’ll see your reward this side of resurrection, or maybe not until the next. But none of that matters. That’s not why you do it. You do it because God made you to do it. Because it’s good”. I love it!

In terms of Comer’s opening comment regarding the how verses the what of work I have to say I was a little disappointed in his treatment of this issue. As I said, I agree with him completely, so I was looking for a companion to make a compelling case. Comer acknowledges a key issue some have with an emphasis on the what of work, namely it presumes the freedom to choose a job you love, a luxury most of the working world isn’t afforded. However apart from acknowledging the problem, Comer doesn’t really address it beyond saying that if you’ve got the freedom then don’t waste it. But I think to make a really compelling case the way to go about it is through the lens of those above purposes; love God and love neighbour. I’d love to see any future editions of this book really flesh that out.

All up this is a great read. I’ll be recommending it to workers, not least because of its readability. Sadly too many theology's of work are so dense or long that they don’t end up serving the very people who should be reading them - workers! This book doesn’t make that mistake. Worth adding to your collection.