Someone asks me a few weeks ago if anyone ever disagreed with what I have written about vocation. I said, not really. I have presented on that topic to a wide variety of groups who hold to all kinds of different theologies and everyone seems to resonate with what I say. Luther’s doctrine of vocation is so clearly Biblical and it makes so much sense that it seems like a teaching that just about everyone finds enormously helpful and illuminating.
But I spoke too soon. A new book DOES take issue with what I say in God at Work. Ben Witherington is a professor at Asbery Seminary, a Wesleyan/Arminian school, who is the author of Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor. (You can go to the link on Amazon and use the “Look Inside This Book” feature, searching for “Veith” and most of what he says about me will come up.)
So Baptist blogger Trevin Wax set up an online interview/discussion in which the two of us thrashed out our differences. He is posting the exchange over the next several days, so I will too. (When you hit “continue reading,” you’ll go to Trevin’s blog. Come back here to comment, and if you comment at his site, please copy what you say here also.)
WAX: What role does the church play in relation to a man or woman who is seeking to discern God’s call to a particular vocation?
VEITH: I think that the church’s main role is, quite simply, to teach the doctrine of vocation, according to its own theological light.
As Dr. Witherington says in his book, this is a topic that has been neglected by churches, despite how much the Bible teaches about the topic and despite the huge role that work plays in people’s lives today.
After that, the man or woman struggling over questions of vocation simply needs to be encouraged to see God’s hand in the normal processes and decision-making that goes into finding a job. Dissatisfaction with what one is currently doing, particular interests and talents, opportunities that arise, doors that open and doors that slam in your face – all of these are factors in going in one direction or another. Christians are still subject to all of these “secular” factors, but, through the eyes of faith, they can trust in God’s leading.
WITHERINGTON: I would say from the outset we need to distinguish between being called by God and some particular vocation. So calling and ‘vocation’ should be distinguished.
I certainly think the church has an obligation to help persons discern the call of God on their lives at this or that point in time in their lives. But a person can be called to a variety of tasks on a variety of occasions for a variety of ways of serving the Lord and edifying others. As, you will have deduced from my book entitled Work, I don’t really agree with either Luther’s two kingdoms approach, nor the subset of that, the notion that we are called to some specific vocation over the long haul (e.g. one to be a plumber one to be a preacher etc.)