Douglas J. Schuurman, Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life. Eeerdmans, 2004. 190 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8028-0137-1.
Douglas J. Schuurman's Vocation: Discerning our Callings in Life has become my favorite book on Christian calling. The term calling tend to be associated with those who become pastors, ministers, staff positions in the church. Martin Luther and John Calvin brought forth the original idea that all Christians are called. These leaders thought of two types of callings. There is the general calling to follow Christ and there is the specific calling of serving God in all our callings: work, marriage, church, community, and other spheres. Schuurman thinks this idea has fallen on hard times. He seeks to recover this Reformation teaching for our day. He does not accept everything about the Reformation view of calling, but critiques its weaknesses and adds current information to make it more applicable.
The author explains his purpose: "My primary aim in this book is to develop a contemporary articulation of the classic Protestant doctrine of vocation. This doctrine and the religious impulse it reflects have had a profound influence upon the way many Christians understand and integrate faith and life, but in recent years core aspects of Protestant vocation have come under assault by our culture and by non-Christian and Christian thinkers alike" (xi). A few years ago I presented a paper on Librarianship as Christian Ministry at a national conference. During my research I read research that showed that 50% or more religious librarians thought the concept of librarianship as a calling was not helpful or did not believe it. Many Christians think only ordained ministers have a ministry. Some of us, however, still think that the Protestant doctrine of vocation is still an important concept. It helps to provide meaning to our work.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I was having a conversation on the idea of calling. We observed that we knew of multiple people who felt a call to ministry and went to school to receive training. After training they went back to their "secular" jobs. We wondered about this. We know of many who hate their jobs. They do not like what they do. They do not see their work as connected to their calling as a Christian. The teaching of calling or vocations helps us from living fragmented lives. It gives us a purpose for living. God created the world and declared it good. We participate in His work when we love our neighbor and meet human needs.
Vocation includes seven chapters. In chapter one the author argues why he think the Protestant doctrine of vocation is still a useful concept. He notes that this teaching of vocation comes from both "the Lutheran and Reformed wings of the Protestant Reformation" (4). According to this teaching "all relational spheres--domestic, economic, political, cultural--are religiously and morally meaningful as divinely given avenues through which persons respond obediently to the call of God to serve their neighbor in love" (4).
The author provides biblical support for the doctrine of vocation in chapter two. He states there are two "primary meanings" for vocation in the Bible. The first is more general; it is the call to "become a member of the people of God and to take up the duties that pertain to that membership" (17). Second, is "God's diverse and particular callings--special tasks, offices, or places of responsibility within the covenant community and in the broader society" (17). In addition, the author states how vocation is associated with both providence and gifts. The author notes how the Apostle Paul use of calling and gift "interchangeably. . . implies ...or suggests that gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. . . are also callings" (30). He also shows how the Bible speaks of callings to secular spheres.
In chapter three the author provides a theology of vocation. He describes different religious affections that are necessary for fulfilling our vocation. These affections are dependence, gratitude, obligation, and meaning. The author notes, "God's call to devote everything we are and do to Christ and to service of God and neighbor brings unity to our lives. Paid work, home life, recreation, friendships are all particular callings in response to this one call" (66). I appreciate his emphasis that calling is not connected only to paid work. In addition, he discusses "helps" for helping us to discern and fulfill our vocation.
The author in chapter three responds to critiques on the doctrine of vocation. In the first part of the chapter he lists the proper uses of vocation. Some of these are serving the common good, promoting good, restraining evil, and shalom. He notes, "shalom is a condition of wholeness, of health and flourishing to the fullest extent" (80). In the second part of the chapter he responds to critiques of vocation. One of these is turning work into an idol. Another one is feeling an obligation to only those under our charge. A third accusation is that it emphasizes self-love. A fourth charge is that it acts as a cover for injustice. The author does a good job in responding to these charges showing both the strengths and weaknesses of the critique.
Chapters five and six cover more about career choice and long-term decisions. These are topics most people think about when they hear the topic vocation. The author provides much wisdom in these chapters. The author shows how our society in different from society in the time of the Protestant Reformation. For example, we have more freedom in choosing a career or a mate. One problem with our society is the emphasis on self-fulfillment. He also disputes the bull's eye view of calling. The idea that God has only one particular person or job for us. Another problem is the belief that to "have a calling [one] must hear God's voice and see tangible signs of God's presence" (127). The author does not believe that it is not possible for God to do this, but that in the majority of the chases He does not work this way.
Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life is an excellent book for those who want to integrate their faith in their life. I have underlined something in almost every page of this book. I think this is my third time to read it. It has been very encouraging each time I have read it. There is not much I disagree with in this book. It helped me to see that my work is a calling from God, but it is not the only calling I have. God provides us with gifts for all our callings. He also put us in places where we are to serve Him and our neighbor. If you are looking for a book to provide meaning to your work and life, you might want to give this book a try.
Other books on Calling and Vocation I have read that I would recommend are Leading Lives that Matter: What We Should Do and Who We should be edited by Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass; Here I am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing? by Quentin Schultze; Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor by Ben Witherington.