Wingren’s book on vocation

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds announces that Westminster Theological Seminary is selling Gustav Wingren’s “Luther on Vocation.” He asked me how that book influenced me. So I’ll quote him quoting me:

Some years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Gustav Wingren’s Luther on Vocation, saying, “You’ve got to read this.” I put it on my stack of books to read, as others piled up on top of it. I thought I knew what the doctrine of vocation was. You do your work to the glory of God. What else is there to say? But when I finally opened Wingren’s book, I found that Luther’s doctrine of vocation is completely different than what I thought it was.

Vocation isn’t so much about what I do, but about what God does through me. Vocation is nothing less than the theology of the Christian life. God calls us to live out our faith in the world, in the ordinary-seeming realms of the family, the workplace, and the culture. The purpose of every vocation is to love and serve our neighbors, whom God brings to us in our everyday callings. Wingren shows that vocation is also about God’s presence in the world–which He providentially cares for through ordinary people, believers and non-believers alike–and about Christ’s presence in our neighbor. Luther’s exposition of vocation is imminently practical, offering a framework for how Christians can work out their problems in their various callings. It is the key to successful marriages and effective parenting. It also solves that much-vexed question for evangelicals today of how they are to interact with the culture.

Reading Wingren’s book was one of those paradigm-shifting moments for me. It turned my life and how I see my life–its meaning, value, and purpose–upside down. It brought spiritual significance into the realm of the ordinary, where I live most of the time. I am convinced that recovering the Reformation doctrine of vocation–specifically, Luther’s version–is a key not only in bringing Christianity back to the culture but bringing Christianity back into the everyday lives of contemporary Christians.

Follow the links from Justin’s blog to the seminary site to buy the book on sale.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • John Tape

    Wingren's book is OK, but the big problem I have with it is that he makes the doctrine of vocation a legal thing. On page 26 of his book he says, "Vocation falls within the kingdom of the law." I think that is only part of the story. The other part (I believe the most important part) is the Gospel emphasized in The Call by Einar Billing (against whom Wingren was writing).
    Gene Veith, you said it best in, "Is Vocation Law or Gospel" (Oct. 26, 2005) when you wrote, " There are times when I experience my vocation under the aspect of the Law, as when I sin in my callings. ..But God works through my vocation…I can live out my callings in faith. My vocation becomes a spontaneous outgrowth of my faith in Christ. So this is the Gospel side." Wingren not properly stressing the Gospel side is a serious problem with his book.

  • John Tape

    Wingren's book is OK, but the big problem I have with it is that he makes the doctrine of vocation a legal thing. On page 26 of his book he says, "Vocation falls within the kingdom of the law." I think that is only part of the story. The other part (I believe the most important part) is the Gospel emphasized in The Call by Einar Billing (against whom Wingren was writing).
    Gene Veith, you said it best in, "Is Vocation Law or Gospel" (Oct. 26, 2005) when you wrote, " There are times when I experience my vocation under the aspect of the Law, as when I sin in my callings. ..But God works through my vocation…I can live out my callings in faith. My vocation becomes a spontaneous outgrowth of my faith in Christ. So this is the Gospel side." Wingren not properly stressing the Gospel side is a serious problem with his book.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #1 Probably the problem is that things are presented as either/or rather than both/and…

    Luther seems to present vocation in general as a sort of drive, like a sex drive. that God "compels" the farmer to get up early to plant, the baker to bake,etc to serve you and me.

    In this there are the drivers of passion, pleasure, reward, threat of punishment, etc. There is even at work greed, envy, and other evil motives. Like with joseph and his brothers, they mean it for evil but God makes it all good.

    All of these drivers are in their own way very important and essential. They work in tandem, together or in opposition. To study this as the main part of vocation is a wrong turn.

    God gives us our "daily bread" indeed without our asking, even to all the wicked. Our "daily bread" is everything listed in the first article of Luther´s Small catechism in lists of 7 (complete!) that are all, without exception, the fruits of vocation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #1 Probably the problem is that things are presented as either/or rather than both/and…

    Luther seems to present vocation in general as a sort of drive, like a sex drive. that God "compels" the farmer to get up early to plant, the baker to bake,etc to serve you and me.

    In this there are the drivers of passion, pleasure, reward, threat of punishment, etc. There is even at work greed, envy, and other evil motives. Like with joseph and his brothers, they mean it for evil but God makes it all good.

    All of these drivers are in their own way very important and essential. They work in tandem, together or in opposition. To study this as the main part of vocation is a wrong turn.

    God gives us our "daily bread" indeed without our asking, even to all the wicked. Our "daily bread" is everything listed in the first article of Luther´s Small catechism in lists of 7 (complete!) that are all, without exception, the fruits of vocation.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #2 Vocation simply happens. Indeed without our asking. Even among all the wicked.

    Sometimes we christians look for other christians who excel in vocation supposing that their vocation or it´s fruits are qualitatively better or different than that of pagans,or worse, we find useful fruit from those who list in the christian yellow pages. A sort of modern monasticism at work. or, we think someone selling christian materials at a profit is doing something wrong somehow (cf: posts here about reformation press).

    So the question that ever lurks is : how is christian vocation different than other vocations?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #2 Vocation simply happens. Indeed without our asking. Even among all the wicked.

    Sometimes we christians look for other christians who excel in vocation supposing that their vocation or it´s fruits are qualitatively better or different than that of pagans,or worse, we find useful fruit from those who list in the christian yellow pages. A sort of modern monasticism at work. or, we think someone selling christian materials at a profit is doing something wrong somehow (cf: posts here about reformation press).

    So the question that ever lurks is : how is christian vocation different than other vocations?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #3

    We do not get direct answers to this question from the bible I do not think. We get some fun hints! Vocation is described in the bible as "yeast" or "salt" . Something invisible that is essential in a certain sense only. The parables are full of hints. there we see that God (and so those who look to him) is not fair. He is better. He is good! MORE than fair. In the parables we learn that vocation for a christian is not about utility or a morality play. It is about play. it is about preparing for an eternal party. In the life of our Lord and the apostles we see what it looks like to drop an über-sanctified human into a society of sinners and get to see how that changes things. or not. finally we are given examples of the lives of saints. St Bach, peter, those other sinner/saints in your church.

    We should look for how vocation looks in the mundane. we should see every mundane task that requires our attention as each being a calling.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #3

    We do not get direct answers to this question from the bible I do not think. We get some fun hints! Vocation is described in the bible as "yeast" or "salt" . Something invisible that is essential in a certain sense only. The parables are full of hints. there we see that God (and so those who look to him) is not fair. He is better. He is good! MORE than fair. In the parables we learn that vocation for a christian is not about utility or a morality play. It is about play. it is about preparing for an eternal party. In the life of our Lord and the apostles we see what it looks like to drop an über-sanctified human into a society of sinners and get to see how that changes things. or not. finally we are given examples of the lives of saints. St Bach, peter, those other sinner/saints in your church.

    We should look for how vocation looks in the mundane. we should see every mundane task that requires our attention as each being a calling.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #3

    We do not get direct answers to this question from the bible I do not think. We get some fun hints! Vocation is described in the bible as "yeast" or "salt" . Something invisible that is essential in a certain sense only. The parables are full of hints. there we see that God (and so those who look to him) is not fair. He is better. He is good! MORE than fair. In the parables we learn that vocation for a christian is not about utility or a morality play. It is about play. it is about preparing for an eternal party. In the life of our Lord and the apostles we see what it looks like to drop an über-sanctified human into a society of sinners and get to see how that changes things. or not. finally we are given examples of the lives of saints. St Bach, peter, those other sinner/saints in your church.

    We should look for how vocation looks in the mundane. we should see every mundane task that requires our attention as each being a calling.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #3

    We do not get direct answers to this question from the bible I do not think. We get some fun hints! Vocation is described in the bible as "yeast" or "salt" . Something invisible that is essential in a certain sense only. The parables are full of hints. there we see that God (and so those who look to him) is not fair. He is better. He is good! MORE than fair. In the parables we learn that vocation for a christian is not about utility or a morality play. It is about play. it is about preparing for an eternal party. In the life of our Lord and the apostles we see what it looks like to drop an über-sanctified human into a society of sinners and get to see how that changes things. or not. finally we are given examples of the lives of saints. St Bach, peter, those other sinner/saints in your church.

    We should look for how vocation looks in the mundane. we should see every mundane task that requires our attention as each being a calling.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #4 Examples of calling to vocation: there is trash to be taken out. should we look around to see who is handy to do it , or just do it.? is it "given" for me to do that? two people are arguing: is it "given" for me to be put in the middle? I see someone sin: is it "given" for me to say or do something, or should I forget what I saw? a homeless person asks for money: is it "given" for me to help? I love art: should i follow my dad´s dictate to be practical or follow my passion?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    #4 Examples of calling to vocation: there is trash to be taken out. should we look around to see who is handy to do it , or just do it.? is it "given" for me to do that? two people are arguing: is it "given" for me to be put in the middle? I see someone sin: is it "given" for me to say or do something, or should I forget what I saw? a homeless person asks for money: is it "given" for me to help? I love art: should i follow my dad´s dictate to be practical or follow my passion?

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  • Veith

    Yea, verily, FWS. And John, you are right about the controversy between Wingren and Billig (another superb book–someone please reprint it!)

    But the value of Wingren's book is that it introduces Luther's teaching. Wingren himself has his own opinions on it. But I found the element of Gospel in vocation in Wingren's book, even though he himself says it is essentially law! Luther, I think, gives the more complex answer that FWS does, and the best way to get what Luther says about this–which is scattered all through his writings–is via Wingren. That's why it's such a good place to start. Unless you want to start with my easier-to-read book "God at Work"! :-)

  • Veith

    Yea, verily, FWS. And John, you are right about the controversy between Wingren and Billig (another superb book–someone please reprint it!)

    But the value of Wingren's book is that it introduces Luther's teaching. Wingren himself has his own opinions on it. But I found the element of Gospel in vocation in Wingren's book, even though he himself says it is essentially law! Luther, I think, gives the more complex answer that FWS does, and the best way to get what Luther says about this–which is scattered all through his writings–is via Wingren. That's why it's such a good place to start. Unless you want to start with my easier-to-read book "God at Work"! :-)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    i need to get that book dr veith! not easy here in brasil but I will find a way…. ;)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    i need to get that book dr veith! not easy here in brasil but I will find a way…. ;)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    the veith book that is…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    the veith book that is…

  • Bruce Gee

    Probably time to put another shipment together to Brasil, eh? I can think of two or three things you can't live without, Frank.

  • Bruce Gee

    Probably time to put another shipment together to Brasil, eh? I can think of two or three things you can't live without, Frank.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    ah bruce. you are da man! THIS time you need to gimme your bank account # so I can send you some greenbacks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    ah bruce. you are da man! THIS time you need to gimme your bank account # so I can send you some greenbacks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    the interlinear nt you send me is getting really dogeared by the way. wow . what a blessing to have that….

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    the interlinear nt you send me is getting really dogeared by the way. wow . what a blessing to have that….


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