Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work

The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work By Lee Hardy. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990. 213 pp. $15.95

Hardy teaches at Calvin College. This book is considered a minor classic because of its excellent history and thinking on the subject of work and calling. We spend at least one-third of our life at work, the other third at sleep and rest, and the rest of the time is devoted to everything else. It seems that we would want to think hard about an area that takes so much of our time. In particular, you would think Christians would want to know what the Bible has to say about work and calling. The last twenty to thirty years there have been an increase in books published on this important topic. Hardy's book remains an important book to guide our thinking.

Hardy wrote this book to correct a faulty view of the "meaning and purpose of work." He outlines the plan of his book: "The Fabric of This World might be read as an attempt to help revitalize the concept of work as vocation--or calling--at least within the professing Christian community, where it should have some force. My primary intent is to flesh out the concept of vocation, to delineate its historical background, to mark out its place in the array of possible attitudes towards the meaning of work in human life, to illuminate its full religious content, and to explore its practical implications, both personal and social" (xv).

The Fabric of This World is divided into two parts: exposition and application. There are two chapters in each part. Chapter one is a history on the thinking of work: Is it a blessing or is it a curse? Chapter two develops a Christian "concept of Vocation." Chapter three applies the earlier chapters to career choice and the last chapter provides different ideas on job design.

In the introduction describes two false views of work which focuses on excessive individualism. One of the views look at work as a quest for personal success. The second view tries to escape work and seek meaning in one's private life. For example, the view that I am living for the weekends or Thank God its Friday. In contrast, Hardy sees work an a vocation or calling. It is a contribution to the good of others and not only my own personal advancement.

Chapter one is a superb history of different thinking on work. The Greeks looked upon work as a curse. The Middle Ages valued contemplation over action. Those who had a calling became a priest or entered a monastery. In the Renaissance a new view of work "emerged." It emphasized action in the world. He also looks at Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud's views of work.

Hardy believes a major change began with Martin Luther's teaching on work. Luther taught that a vocation is a call to love one's neighbor "which comes to us through the duties which attach to our social place or station within the earthly kingdom" This means that providence has put us in a place or position where we have different responsibilities. Luther thought we had several callings: to be a husband or wife, parent or child, citizen, faithful church member, and so on. John Calvin and other Reformed thinkers would add to Luther's ideas on work as a calling. Calvinists thought that even the social order can be changed. All of live must be reformed to be in line with God's truth. Calvinists connected calling more with the talents and gifts each person possesses. We are to use these gifts for our neighbor good.

Hardy's book, The Fabric of this World is an excellent guide on how our work is connected with God's kingdom. In addition, he provides help for discerning God's calling in our life. He shows how our calling is broader than our occupation. How we can follow our calling even when we are not doing paid work, for example retirees, stay-at-home-moms, or unemployed. He provides good insight how we need to balance our callings. We must not emphasize one calling so much, that it undermines other callings. This book is recommended for all readers who are interested in finding their place in God's kingdom.

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