success stories

Posted March 13, 2004

Book: Vocation: Discerning our Callings in Life
Author: Douglas J. Schuurman
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 190

An excerpt from the Introduction:

College students often become increasingly anxious about major life decisions as they come nearer to graduation. Seniors who have not yet made plans dread the question “What are you doing after this?” Those who have made important decisions about career plans often wonder whether they have made good decisions. And the challenges of integrating career paths with hopes for marriage and family life are daunting, whether or not a student has a ready answer to the question.

. . . In the classic Protestant form, the doctrine of vocation is not concerned with how to make choices between this and that career path, though it does have deep concerns that many have implications for such choices. But it is more about how to relate Christian faith to the totality of one’s life than it is about “vocational” guidance counseling. It is a lens through which to see the obligations of our specific and varied social locations as avenues of God’s Call.

Until they read and reflect on the doctrine of vocation, very few of my students feel that they have a calling. Many of them have never thought about their lives in light of a vocation. Those who have though about it usually see being called as a rare, extraordinary, miraculous event in which God tells a person to enter a specific career path. The career path they envision usually is a church-related one: God calls a few exceptional individuals to become pastors, missionaries, priests, monks, or nuns. When they do have a church-related career path in mind, they usually associate having a calling with an especially fulfilling, often service-oriented career. Those who think of vocation in this way typically fear they will miss their one chance to “discover” their calling.

. . . Constructive treatments of vocation for the past few decades constrict the idea to paid work, neglecting the potential of vocation to integrate paid and unpaid work, domestic and “public” life, church and world, personal identity and varied roles, faith and life. The way vocation has become synonymous with paid work — even within theological treatments – expresses the sad state of affairs in which an originally expansive concept has become tidily constructed (and conscripted) in modern life.

Excerpt from Book:

In the Bible, vocation has two primary meanings. The first, and by far more prevalent, meaning is the call to become a member of the people of god and to take up the duties that pertain to that membership. The Puritans referred to this as God’s “general calling”; Luther referred to it as God’s “spiritual calling.”

The second meaning is God’s diverse and particular callings – special tasks, offices, or places of responsibility within the covenant community and n the broader society. Luther referred to this as God’s “external calling”; the Puritans referred to it as God’s “particular calling.” It is this second sense of vocation that many Bible scholars and theologians in recent years have disdained.

Biblical Idea of Vocation

Terms for vocation and calling permeate the Old and New Testaments. Kalein and its variants mean either “to name,” on the one hand, or “to invite” or “to summon,” on the other. The two meanings are not entirely separate, because in the Bible one’s name frequently sums up the divinely given purpose or identity to which God calls that person. The Hebrew term qahal refers to the people of God has called together for service. The Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, ca 200 B.C.E.) translates this term into the Greek ekklesia, which in the New Testament means “church.” Ek (from, out of) and klesia, (klesis, calling) together define the church as the assembly of “called out ones.” Israel and the church are a people called out of the world by God to serve God in the world. Calling and election are closely associated in the Bible: “And those whom he predestined he also called . . . (Rom. 8:30; see also 2 Pet. 1:10). The Hebrew verb “to call” (qara’) is closely connected with “election” (bahar), as for example in Isaiah 41:8-9:

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen
The offspring of Abraham, my friend;
You whom I took from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest corners,
Saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off.”

Table of Contents:

1. Vocation under Assault: Can it be salvaged?

2. The Bible on vocation

3. Theology for vocation — religious affections and vocation

4. Abuses and proper uses of vocation

5. Vocation, decisions, and the moral life I

6. Vocation, decisions, and the moral life II

7. Vocation in the wider world