Dr. Roger D Duke
God Calls! Do You Listen!
“Concerning This Concept of ‘Calling’”
This blog is adapted from the “Introduction” of
The Four Callings of William Carey
Roger D Duke
When people normally think of the word “calling” minds immediately turn to the clergy or some professional church ministry. Because of this understanding, very seldom is the word “calling” associated with or synonymous to the word “vocation.” The word “vocatio can mean [many] different things.” “The term vocation comes from . . . [this] Latin . . . [definition] for calling” “Religiously, it can mean God's calling of men into His kingdom through the proclamation of the Gospel, or His calling of particular persons to particular spheres of service such as the Ministry.” On the other hand, “Secularly, it can mean any trade, profession, or employment that a man may follow, including such occupations as the Ministry.” This distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred” was a dichotomy maintained by the Roman Catholic tradition throughout the medieval period, hence the separate ideas of clergy and laity. But, “[T]he distinction between religious and secular is entirely foreign to . . . [Reformation] thinking” beginning with Martin Luther.
A vocation is a “station” which is by nature helpful to others if it be followed. It is important to emphasize the fact that vocation is not confined to occupation, but includes also . . . biological orders: father, mother, son, and daughter. Every attempt to differentiate between the sphere of the home, where personal Christian love rules, and the sphere of office, where the more impersonal rules of vocation hold sway, immediately runs afoul of Luther’s terminology. The life of the home, the relation between parents and children, is vocation, even as in life in the field of labor, the relation between employer and employee. In anything that involves action, anything that concerns the world or my relationship with my neighbor, there is nothing . . . that falls in a private sphere lying outside of [my] station, office, or vocation (italics added).
Humans are in community in this life and “It is only before God . . . in heaven, that the individual stands alone.” Below, “The purpose of vocation is to love and serve our neighbor.” The carrying out of one’s vocation is primary to fulfill the Royal Law. To Luther, “it . . . [was] clear that every Christian occupies a multitude of offices at the same time, not just one: the same man is, for instance, father of his children, husband of his wife, master of his servants, and office holder in the town hall.” All of these are vocations or callings of one and the same person. Each has its own responsibility connected with each station and is to be exercised for the good of neighbor. “As . . . Gustaf Wingren has observed, ‘God does not need our good work, but our neighbor does.’”.
This sense of vocation for community’s sake seems lost to the 21st Century mind, however. Contrast Luther’s community schemata with David Brooks’ observations about present day views of vocation and work:
No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation. If you try to use your work to serve yourself, you’ll find your ambitions and expectations will forever run ahead and you’ll never be satisfied. If you try to serve the community, you’ll always wonder if people appreciate you enough. But if you serve work that is intrinsically compelling and focus just on being excellent at that, you will wind up serving yourself and community obliquely. A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. It is found by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by any activity you intrinsically enjoy (italics added).
Brooks rightly discerns our present milieu where one’s vocation is done considering personal fulfillment or other internal motive. It is not exercised necessarily for the greater good of community, although this could be a secondary outcome.
Conversely in Lutheran thought, every place or station where God placed someone with a task, that was their personal vocation to be performed for neighbor. Brooks understands that, even if one endeavors to serve the community, it may be done with only a personal desire to reap some acknowledged external appreciation, laud, or reward. And at best, if one seeks to be excellent at their vocation, it may be done to realize a higher sense of “self-worth.” Luther focused on the community at-large. Brooks comprehends the 21st Century individual as self-seeking and using vocation to further that end.
Luther was not the only reformer to speak of calling. He was, it can be argued, the progenitor who was first to tease out this theology of vocation. His writings became the foundation for the doctrine. Then John Calvin came along and built upon Luther. Calvin believed, “God’s sovereign purposes govern the simplest occupation. He attends to everyone’s work.”
Work was . . . seen as an activity by which Christians could deepen their faith, leading it on to new qualities of commitment to God. . .. [T]o do anything, and do it well, was the fundamental hallmark of Christian faith. Diligence and dedication in one’s everyday life are . . . a proper response to God.
Calvin acknowledges “God in the details.” The details of the mundane and monotonous chores of one’s life and calling are of the utmost importance in the service of Christ our Lord.
“It should be noted,” according to Calvin, “that the Lord bids each of us to consider, in all of life’s actions, our calling.” God knows how greatly human nature inclines itself to being restless. “He knows the fickleness with which . . . [a person’s life] is carried this way and that.” The Lord sets us in our individual circumstances so our lives will not be filled with folly, or rashness, or mass confusion. “He has ordained particular duties to each one in his station in life.” And this is done; so that no one will go farther than they should go when performing the duties of that station’s appointed tasks. For Calvin, God’s sovereignty “. . . has identified various stations in life as callings.” The duties of each person’s station “keep him from rushing about rashly for the whole of his life.” For God is not the author of confusion, even in one’s vocation. This all is significant in Calvin’s schemata. “Consequently, the one who directs himself toward the goal of observing God’s calling will have a life well composed,” according to Calvin.
Before we leave the Reformational Doctrine of Vocation and turn to Carey’s Callings, there is one obvious thing to be considered. If there is a calling—then there must be a caller. Oz Guinness helps us understand this idea: “Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction lived out as a response to his summons and service.” He then clarifies “between [the] primary and secondary calling[s]” of the believer.
First, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.” We are called to someone—to God himself. We are not necessarily called to something such as motherhood or politics. This would seem contrary to Luther and Calvin as expressed above but they would both strongly advocate a call to salvation as expressed by Guinness. There is no contradiction only clarification and explanation.
Further, “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.” On this level it is easily understood to be a homemaker, or to practice law, or to art history is also a calling. “But these and other things are always the secondary, never the primary calling. They are ‘callings’ rather than the ‘calling.’ They are our personal answer to God’s address, our response to God’s summons. Secondary callings matter, but only because the primary calling matters most [sic].”
 Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation (Evansville: Ballast Press, 1999), 1.
 Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Crossway: Wheaton, 2002), 17.  For a fuller discussion of the Roman Catholic tradition’s dichotomy see: “The ‘Catholic Distortion’” in Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: The W Publishing Group Division of Thomas Nelson, 2003), 31-35.  Phillip S. Watson, “Abstract: Luther’s Doctrine of Vocation.” Scottish Journal of Theology Volume 2 Issue 4 (February 2009), 364-380; internet address https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/scottish-journal-of-theology/article/luthers-doctrine-of-vocation/A2E0345C9D732002D25493E18A88C75E DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0036930600004841, retrieved June 2, 2017.  Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation, trans. Carl C. Rasmussen (Evansville: Ballast Press, 1999), 4-5. This is a reprint of Gustaf Wingren’s original dissertation.  Wingren, 5.  Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 39.  See: James 2:8.  Wingren, 5.  Note: The author uses the word “station” as a synonym for “vocation” here.  Gustaf Wingren; quoted in Gene Edward Veith, Jr., God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 38.  David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015), 266.  John Piper quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics online journal, (17 January 2013), https://tifwe.org/john-calvin-doctrine-of-work/ (accessed June 6, 2017).  Alister McGrath quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics online journal, (17 January 2013), https://tifwe.org/john-calvin-doctrine-of-work/ (accessed June 6, 2017).  John Calvin, A Little Book of the Christian Life, trans. & ed. Aaron Clay Denlinger and Burk Parsons (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2017), 123.  Calvin, A Little Book, 124.  Calvin, A Little Book, 125.  Oz Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: The W Publishing Group Division of Thomas Nelson, 2003), 29.  Guinness, The Call, 31.
 Guinness, The Call, 31.
 Guinness, The Call, 31.
 Guinness, The Call, 31.