Part Two - Summoned and Equipped by God: Chapter 4 - Calling in a Post-vocational Age
Yesterday I reviewed Stevens’ thoughts about personal vocation. Today we look at the middle tier of Steven’s “vocation cake,” Christian vocation.
Stevens sees a difference between “calling” in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew for call is qara, which means “called out.” Stevens writes that it is “…a summons that implies sovereignty through naming.” The process of naming transforms the called into being something distinct and new.
Stevens’ writes that the “…‘call’ language in the Old Testament is used primarily for the people of God who are summoned to participate in God’s grand purpose for the world.” (84) When people like the patriarchs, judges, and prophets were called, they were called to a task, not to an office. Certainly God led people like Joseph, Daniel, and Esther into powerful positions but they were not “called to an office.”
The Greek word kaleo means “to call” and klesis means “calling” or “vocation.” Regrettably, we sometimes read a secular/sacred split into the “call narratives” of scripture. When passages speak of call, they are speaking of a call to salvation and transformation, not of leaving a “secular” life to go into “sacred work” or “full-time Christian ministry.” It is true that some who Jesus called took on special roles (like the disciples) but most stayed in their pre-call circumstances and lived differently (like Zacchaeus). This highlights one of the key transitions between the Old and New Testaments. “Call” in the Old Testament greatly emphasized the people as a unit. The New Testament emphasized individual calls to people who were gathered into a new community.
Stevens identifies four ways in which Paul uses the word call in his writing: (1) salvation in Christ, (2) living in a Christian way, (3) the interface of Christian discipleship with our life situation, and (4) Paul’s own experience of anointing as an apostle of Christ. Being “called,” as related to these first three connotations, has an impact for every aspect of our life. Stevens gives a pie chart divided into six pieces to help us reflect on the dimensions of Christian vocation.
- Congregation (in ministry)
- Family (priesthood and service)
- Personal (spirituality)
- Sabbath (rest, play, worship, celebration)
- Society (stewardship and mission)
- Neighbor (service) (87)
With regard to the fourth connotation of call Stevens’ listed, he writes:
It is, however, questionable whether one can make a doctrine of calling to a specific ministry from such scanty references. What can be affirmed from the New Testament is the desire of God to lead each believer. (87)
Finally, Stevens writes that the call of God is threefold. We are called to:
- Belong to God.
- Be God’s people in life.
- Do God’s work.
Stevens begins to build his case that service or ministry is not just about evangelism, edification or social justice.
The Christian vocation summons us to take up the human vocation in its totality. We are not redeemed by Christ to become angels preparing for an immaterial heaven, but saved to become fully human beings serving God and God’s purposes in the world through the church. So it is crucial to understand that for which we were originally formed and called by God. (88)
Amen. Stevens turns now to the bottom tier of the vocation cake, human vocation.