God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life, Gene Edward Veith, Jr. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2002.
Summary: A theology of vocation, rooted in the thought of Martin Luther, and covering God’s call over all of our lives.
It seems there are two extremes in the discussion. On one hand there is the notion of vocation as a religious calling that was the dominant idea prior to the Reformation, and there is the modern idea, which equates vocation with job–vocational training is job training. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. digs into the Reformers ideas of vocation, particularly those of Martin Luther, drawing extensively on Luther theologian Gustav Wingren’s Luther on Vocation. I found the book laden with insights giving meaning not only to our work but to all of life because Veith would insist that God’s calling extends to ever dimension of life, all the roles we fill as believer, congregant, spouse, parent, child, citizen, employee or employer.
One of the first was a subtle challenge to Weber’s Protestant work ethic. Veith proposes that the Reformed doctrine of vocation and its emphasis on encouraging the full expression of the individual’s unique gifts means we work not to prove our election but rather because we are elect, with a deep sense of the satisfaction and fulfillment that may come out of our work. Vocation is a place where we experience the love of God and act out of love and service in grateful response. He especially speaks of this in role relationships that the culture views as all about power. For the Christian, our vocation is lived out in prayer, in love, and service.
One of the basic grounds of vocation is that God sovereignly has chosen to work through human beings. He speaks to us, feeds us, heals us, and protects us through human beings faithfully living their vocations. When we speak of vocation, we speak of God’s “calling.” This is not singular. We have a number of callings. First of all, God calls us to himself through Christ. We all have callings to display God’s grace and mercy. We are called into families, into churches, into employment, into citizenship. Some have the calling for a period of being students. A significant aspect of calling, Veith insists, using the example of safety personnel who rushed into the Twin Towers on 9/11, consist simply in doing one’s job well. He devotes chapters to work, family, church, and society. In some of these he allows that one’s vocation as a peace officer or soldier, or judge or executioner, allows one to take lives lawfully that one could not do in one’s personal life. In others, like that of spouse, we violate our vocation if we join ourselves to any other than the person with whom we are covenanted in marriage, sinning against our vocation in the process. For pastors, he has challenging things to say about what does and does not fulfill pastoral calling, and how those with the ministry of the word, prayer, and spiritual care forfeit these to “run” the church.
He recurs to these ideas in the ethics of vocation. In many dimensions of life, sin is acting contrary to one’s calling. Often this means understanding our various callings–church work ought not draw us away from fulfilling our employment obligations and responsibilities well. In some seasons parenting takes precedence over some of the spiritual disciplines we might give ourselves to in other seasons. He speaks of the trials we face in our vocations and the practice of prayer and faith as we lean into these.
The concluding chapter focuses on resting in our vocations, accepting what we are rather than longing for what we are not, realizing we can please God in every good endeavor. And we look forward to our ultimate rest.
This book offers a whole of life perspective to calling, that recognizes that the same One calls in all of life. God is not just in church. He’s in the home, the kitchen, the bedroom, the shop floor, the laboratory, the crop-filled field, the city council chamber and the courtroom. God is at work through people in all of these places whether they recognize their calling or not. But for the Christian there is the great joy of knowing that as we “do our jobs” in each of these areas, often in ways little different from others, we know that we work alongside God. This is a wonderful book for enlarging our perspective on the significance of our lives. We are called.