A conversation with one of my critics #1

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.)

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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.

  • jrr

    Asbury* named after a famous, well maybe not that famous, missionary.

  • jrr

    Asbury* named after a famous, well maybe not that famous, missionary.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Well, so far — from this first excerpt — you’re dominating the conversation. I guess we’ll see if that’s because Prof. Witherington simply had less to say or because he really didn’t have many answers!

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Well, so far — from this first excerpt — you’re dominating the conversation. I guess we’ll see if that’s because Prof. Witherington simply had less to say or because he really didn’t have many answers!

  • Tom Hering

    When Prof. Witherington brought up this,

    I would say the Greek term charisma (literally grace gift) … has more to do with whether one has [a] capacity … (emphasis added).

    it made me think of this,

    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10 ).

    Which makes me wonder if our callings/vocations are really a matter of choice, much less a matter of unlimited choices. Or whether our callings/vocations are limited by our God-created capacities, and by God’s daily arrangement of our lives. Wouldn’t happiness then consist of submitting to God’s limits – not trying to be something more or other than what God created one to be – and also in not turning one’s capacities toward sinful ends?

  • Tom Hering

    When Prof. Witherington brought up this,

    I would say the Greek term charisma (literally grace gift) … has more to do with whether one has [a] capacity … (emphasis added).

    it made me think of this,

    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:10 ).

    Which makes me wonder if our callings/vocations are really a matter of choice, much less a matter of unlimited choices. Or whether our callings/vocations are limited by our God-created capacities, and by God’s daily arrangement of our lives. Wouldn’t happiness then consist of submitting to God’s limits – not trying to be something more or other than what God created one to be – and also in not turning one’s capacities toward sinful ends?

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    I’ll be completely honest. I have never understood the term “called” or “calling”. It seems to be some kind of attempt to spiritualize a person’s desires.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    I’ll be completely honest. I have never understood the term “called” or “calling”. It seems to be some kind of attempt to spiritualize a person’s desires.

  • Tom Hering

    But what if your good desires flow from what God created you to be? Wouldn’t there then be something spiritual – or Holy Spiritual – underlying and overseeing calling/vocation?

  • Tom Hering

    But what if your good desires flow from what God created you to be? Wouldn’t there then be something spiritual – or Holy Spiritual – underlying and overseeing calling/vocation?

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Good discussion, you can definitely see the Armenian influence with choice being essential to vocation. Maybe it will become clearer in the continuation but it sounds like Witherington doesn’t fully understand Luther on vocation, because he does not understand the idea of God working medially.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Good discussion, you can definitely see the Armenian influence with choice being essential to vocation. Maybe it will become clearer in the continuation but it sounds like Witherington doesn’t fully understand Luther on vocation, because he does not understand the idea of God working medially.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Very good discussion, looking forward to future installments.

    @Tom Hering
    I think you hit the nail on the head. (seeing that we typically disagree about politics, I thought it was worthwhile to acknowledge when we are in complete agreement).

  • Steve Billingsley

    Very good discussion, looking forward to future installments.

    @Tom Hering
    I think you hit the nail on the head. (seeing that we typically disagree about politics, I thought it was worthwhile to acknowledge when we are in complete agreement).

  • http://nbfzman.blogspot.com nbfzman

    You nailed that he was arguing against himself, though I am interested in hearing his explanation. At this point, I feel his approach is very legalistic, whereas your approach exudes freedom.

  • http://nbfzman.blogspot.com nbfzman

    You nailed that he was arguing against himself, though I am interested in hearing his explanation. At this point, I feel his approach is very legalistic, whereas your approach exudes freedom.

  • Rachel

    I read and really appreciated Ben Witherington’s book some months ago, but (as a Lutheran) I naturally had some questions about his treatment of Luther’s doctrine of vocation in general and your work in particular. I remember thinking at the time: “I wish I could read Dr. Veith’s response to this. . . . But who am I kidding? That’ll never happen.” Now I get not just your response but a full dialogue, too! Brilliant! Thanks very much for doing it.

  • Rachel

    I read and really appreciated Ben Witherington’s book some months ago, but (as a Lutheran) I naturally had some questions about his treatment of Luther’s doctrine of vocation in general and your work in particular. I remember thinking at the time: “I wish I could read Dr. Veith’s response to this. . . . But who am I kidding? That’ll never happen.” Now I get not just your response but a full dialogue, too! Brilliant! Thanks very much for doing it.

  • http://nbfzman.blogspot.com nbfzman

    At this point, it seems like your view of vocation will swallow his view right up.

  • http://nbfzman.blogspot.com nbfzman

    At this point, it seems like your view of vocation will swallow his view right up.

  • Tom Hering

    Steve Billingsley @ 7, :-D

    Though I know the discussion isn’t about salvation, I was wondering how different views on free will (Lutheran vs. Arminian) touch on calling/vocation. How are we limited by the fact we’re created as unique individuals – and by the fact God has prepared good works beforehand? How much agency do we have? (Living out one’s calling/vocation is a good work, isn’t it? Love for and service to neighbor?)

  • Tom Hering

    Steve Billingsley @ 7, :-D

    Though I know the discussion isn’t about salvation, I was wondering how different views on free will (Lutheran vs. Arminian) touch on calling/vocation. How are we limited by the fact we’re created as unique individuals – and by the fact God has prepared good works beforehand? How much agency do we have? (Living out one’s calling/vocation is a good work, isn’t it? Love for and service to neighbor?)

  • Tom Hering

    Darn. I’ve got to remember to speak of callings/vocations (plural) and not calling/vocation (singular). Maybe vocational counseling in high school (way back when) ruined my thinking for the rest of my life. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Darn. I’ve got to remember to speak of callings/vocations (plural) and not calling/vocation (singular). Maybe vocational counseling in high school (way back when) ruined my thinking for the rest of my life. :-D

  • larry

    Vocation in a way reminds me of a good sermon by Dr. Nagel I just listened to on my travels during vocation. The sermon was on a bit of a differing topic but still in the category of “how does one know God’s will is good toward them or not”. Your statement, “Christians are still subject to all of these “secular” factors, BUT, THROUGH THE EYES OF FAITH, THEY CAN TRUST in God’s leading.”

    My short summary of the wonderful sermon (I will hardly be able to do it full justice though): Dr. Nagel was opening with generally speaking in ALL the events of life good and bad, personal and worldly, when good things happen to me specifically, when bad things happen to one specifically, when good or bad things happen on a national or global scale, manmade or natural disasters, etc… how does one KNOW Who God is and that He is either in and of Himself beneficial (Good), malicious or indifferent. This arises day to day, month to month, year after year in the ebb and flow of events good and evil and all shades in between. In other words is one to assess that God is good when good befalls me or that God is bad when evil befalls me or indifferent when God seems to not act on my behalf when the need arises. How can one know Who God is and in a “pro me” way know this.

    Dr. Nagel’s point was that this is indiscernible when all is said and done, for when good happens “I” say, “I am blessed”, when evil happens it seems God is cursing me and bad in my sight, or when He seems to not respond “indifferent”. Thus, one ends up with all kinds of speculative false views of God without a for me, pro me, to me, touching me revelation from Him in particular.

    Dr. Nagel ties this in this sermon to baptism. And this is where it REALLY turns for one and one begins to with Paul realize the “all things from God are good and this is how I know”. In baptism, which begets that faith, one knows, ultimately who God is and toward one and that is all good. You have His Word linked to the earthly thing touching directly you and you know ultimately all is good from God whether in life today it is earthly good, earthly bad or seemingly earthly indifferent silence from God otherwise. Only the baptized, the faithED, can KNOW this (linking back to Dr. Veith’s comment: Christians are still subject to all of these “secular” factors, but, through the eyes of faith, they can trust in God’s leading). So that if one is injured today or dies today or whenever it seems bad and evil, yet it is in fact fulfilling one’s baptism ultimately to bring one home to the Lord. When good befalls one baptism is still how one ultimately knows WHO God is, what kind of God He IS and thus His disposition, will, etc…toward me (pro me in the sacrament promise-worded-specific-body-placed-water of God’s). When things seem nothing but daily grind indifferent or indifferent in “not getting me out of the bad I’m experiencing, same thing, I know God through Baptism and how He is thus to/for me.

    Same thing in vocation in which, “Christians (the baptized pro me) are still subject to all of these (seemingly) “secular” factors (or other signs, good, bad, indifferent), but, through the eyes of faith (I am nonetheless baptized), they can trust in God’s leading.”

  • larry

    Vocation in a way reminds me of a good sermon by Dr. Nagel I just listened to on my travels during vocation. The sermon was on a bit of a differing topic but still in the category of “how does one know God’s will is good toward them or not”. Your statement, “Christians are still subject to all of these “secular” factors, BUT, THROUGH THE EYES OF FAITH, THEY CAN TRUST in God’s leading.”

    My short summary of the wonderful sermon (I will hardly be able to do it full justice though): Dr. Nagel was opening with generally speaking in ALL the events of life good and bad, personal and worldly, when good things happen to me specifically, when bad things happen to one specifically, when good or bad things happen on a national or global scale, manmade or natural disasters, etc… how does one KNOW Who God is and that He is either in and of Himself beneficial (Good), malicious or indifferent. This arises day to day, month to month, year after year in the ebb and flow of events good and evil and all shades in between. In other words is one to assess that God is good when good befalls me or that God is bad when evil befalls me or indifferent when God seems to not act on my behalf when the need arises. How can one know Who God is and in a “pro me” way know this.

    Dr. Nagel’s point was that this is indiscernible when all is said and done, for when good happens “I” say, “I am blessed”, when evil happens it seems God is cursing me and bad in my sight, or when He seems to not respond “indifferent”. Thus, one ends up with all kinds of speculative false views of God without a for me, pro me, to me, touching me revelation from Him in particular.

    Dr. Nagel ties this in this sermon to baptism. And this is where it REALLY turns for one and one begins to with Paul realize the “all things from God are good and this is how I know”. In baptism, which begets that faith, one knows, ultimately who God is and toward one and that is all good. You have His Word linked to the earthly thing touching directly you and you know ultimately all is good from God whether in life today it is earthly good, earthly bad or seemingly earthly indifferent silence from God otherwise. Only the baptized, the faithED, can KNOW this (linking back to Dr. Veith’s comment: Christians are still subject to all of these “secular” factors, but, through the eyes of faith, they can trust in God’s leading). So that if one is injured today or dies today or whenever it seems bad and evil, yet it is in fact fulfilling one’s baptism ultimately to bring one home to the Lord. When good befalls one baptism is still how one ultimately knows WHO God is, what kind of God He IS and thus His disposition, will, etc…toward me (pro me in the sacrament promise-worded-specific-body-placed-water of God’s). When things seem nothing but daily grind indifferent or indifferent in “not getting me out of the bad I’m experiencing, same thing, I know God through Baptism and how He is thus to/for me.

    Same thing in vocation in which, “Christians (the baptized pro me) are still subject to all of these (seemingly) “secular” factors (or other signs, good, bad, indifferent), but, through the eyes of faith (I am nonetheless baptized), they can trust in God’s leading.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Possibly too late for this installment, but here goes, anyhow.

    I think Dr. Veith makes the better arguments so far, but I’m a Lutheran like him, so this is no surprise. Ultimately, I’m not really sure what Witherington’s point is. He says “calling and ‘vocation’ should be distinguished”, but I don’t feel he’s done enough to, well, distinguish them, never mind the etymological difficulties in doing so. And his Arminian emphasis on choice, the lack of which somehow nullifies vocation, is baffling to me.

    But I found some of Dr. Veith’s comments to be a bit confusing, if not concerning. He says:

    Being a pimp or a pornographer or an abortionist or a Nazi guard are not callings from God.

    And then goes on to laud, apparently contra Witherington, the vocation of soldier.

    Which caused me to pause. Because Nazi guards were soldiers, weren’t they? So what’s the real issue Dr. Veith is getting at?

    I mean, as Americans, we saw Nazis as our enemies, but if one lived in Germany, wouldn’t serving in the Nazi army been a proper vocation, defending your neighbors, submitting to the authorities? Were all Nazi guards failing to heed God’s calling? Only some? Again, on what basis?

    In a somewhat similar vein, Dr. Veith says that:

    Casino workers do not love and serve their neighbors, but rather take money from their neighbors that should be going to their families, and so that is not a true calling from God.

    Again, I’m not sure on what basis this is argued. You know who else “takes money from their neighbors that should be going to their families”? Car salesmen. TV salesmen. Realtors. Bartenders. Are all those workers, therefore, failing to serve their neighbors? Or should we, at some point, consider the agency of the one spending the money? And if we allow for that, what to say of the idea that a casino is a place of entertainment? Is is possible for someone to spend money in a loving way at a casino, such that it does not harm his family? (I would argue yes.) But if so, then working in a casino might be considered a proper vocation. I think the parallel with a bartender is closest here. Certainly many think it a morally reprehensible workplace, and no doubt much takes place there that is not loving or helpful. But I still think a good bartender very much serves his neighbor. Literally.

    Of course, arguing for the God-pleasingness of bartenders, casino workers, and (some?) Nazi soldiers would almost certainly put you on shaky rhetorical ground, at least with many Evangelicals.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Possibly too late for this installment, but here goes, anyhow.

    I think Dr. Veith makes the better arguments so far, but I’m a Lutheran like him, so this is no surprise. Ultimately, I’m not really sure what Witherington’s point is. He says “calling and ‘vocation’ should be distinguished”, but I don’t feel he’s done enough to, well, distinguish them, never mind the etymological difficulties in doing so. And his Arminian emphasis on choice, the lack of which somehow nullifies vocation, is baffling to me.

    But I found some of Dr. Veith’s comments to be a bit confusing, if not concerning. He says:

    Being a pimp or a pornographer or an abortionist or a Nazi guard are not callings from God.

    And then goes on to laud, apparently contra Witherington, the vocation of soldier.

    Which caused me to pause. Because Nazi guards were soldiers, weren’t they? So what’s the real issue Dr. Veith is getting at?

    I mean, as Americans, we saw Nazis as our enemies, but if one lived in Germany, wouldn’t serving in the Nazi army been a proper vocation, defending your neighbors, submitting to the authorities? Were all Nazi guards failing to heed God’s calling? Only some? Again, on what basis?

    In a somewhat similar vein, Dr. Veith says that:

    Casino workers do not love and serve their neighbors, but rather take money from their neighbors that should be going to their families, and so that is not a true calling from God.

    Again, I’m not sure on what basis this is argued. You know who else “takes money from their neighbors that should be going to their families”? Car salesmen. TV salesmen. Realtors. Bartenders. Are all those workers, therefore, failing to serve their neighbors? Or should we, at some point, consider the agency of the one spending the money? And if we allow for that, what to say of the idea that a casino is a place of entertainment? Is is possible for someone to spend money in a loving way at a casino, such that it does not harm his family? (I would argue yes.) But if so, then working in a casino might be considered a proper vocation. I think the parallel with a bartender is closest here. Certainly many think it a morally reprehensible workplace, and no doubt much takes place there that is not loving or helpful. But I still think a good bartender very much serves his neighbor. Literally.

    Of course, arguing for the God-pleasingness of bartenders, casino workers, and (some?) Nazi soldiers would almost certainly put you on shaky rhetorical ground, at least with many Evangelicals.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, tODD, some of these occupations surely fall in a grey area and are subjects of legitimate debate. Rather than set down rules–a Christian “cannot” do such and such–I think the point is that each Christian will have to wrestle with them. The question we all must ask is this: “Can I love and serve and my neighbor in this job?” Or does the job entail causing harm to my neighbors. Yes, entertaining someone is a legitimate service, including in a casino. I wasn’t thinking of the waitress or the janitor or the lounge singer. I was thinking of the blackjack dealer. If you are good at that job, you will be taking your neighbor’s money, the more the better, as opposed to limited exchanges of goods and services. Now maybe a Christian blackjack dealer can love and serve his neighbor by giving his neighbor a good time. But I think that would be very difficult. And yes, some Christians might have a hard time being a telemarketer or a hard-sell salesman and the like. Not that those too can’t be valid callings. But we have to remember that God doesn’t call us to sin and He doesn’t call us to mistreat our neighbors. As for Nazi guards, I would say that being a soldier in the German army was a valid vocation, but being a member of the Nazi party was utterly incompatible with the Christian faith. (I mean the Nazis in the church did things like remove the Old Testament from the Bible because it was “Jewish.” As I show in my book on Fascism, the Nazi ideology was and is diametrically and at just about every point opposed to the Biblical worldview.) Also, being a concentration camp guard involves exterminating your neighbor, rather than loving and serving him.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, tODD, some of these occupations surely fall in a grey area and are subjects of legitimate debate. Rather than set down rules–a Christian “cannot” do such and such–I think the point is that each Christian will have to wrestle with them. The question we all must ask is this: “Can I love and serve and my neighbor in this job?” Or does the job entail causing harm to my neighbors. Yes, entertaining someone is a legitimate service, including in a casino. I wasn’t thinking of the waitress or the janitor or the lounge singer. I was thinking of the blackjack dealer. If you are good at that job, you will be taking your neighbor’s money, the more the better, as opposed to limited exchanges of goods and services. Now maybe a Christian blackjack dealer can love and serve his neighbor by giving his neighbor a good time. But I think that would be very difficult. And yes, some Christians might have a hard time being a telemarketer or a hard-sell salesman and the like. Not that those too can’t be valid callings. But we have to remember that God doesn’t call us to sin and He doesn’t call us to mistreat our neighbors. As for Nazi guards, I would say that being a soldier in the German army was a valid vocation, but being a member of the Nazi party was utterly incompatible with the Christian faith. (I mean the Nazis in the church did things like remove the Old Testament from the Bible because it was “Jewish.” As I show in my book on Fascism, the Nazi ideology was and is diametrically and at just about every point opposed to the Biblical worldview.) Also, being a concentration camp guard involves exterminating your neighbor, rather than loving and serving him.

  • larry

    “takes money from their neighbors that should be going to their families”?

    Don’t forget 10% of the gross conscience binding tithe theifs that call themselves pastors and churches.

  • larry

    “takes money from their neighbors that should be going to their families”?

    Don’t forget 10% of the gross conscience binding tithe theifs that call themselves pastors and churches.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, I appreciate the nuance you have added to your original comments in your debate with Dr. Witherington.

    I suspect that the many “grey areas” that result from the Lutheran teaching on vocation are problematic for Arminians who, in my experience, tend to prefer black/white distinctions (which, also in my experience, tends to lead to legalism).

    It’s far easier to create a dichotomy between jobs that are and aren’t God-pleasing (pastors and youth leaders being the obvious examples of the former group), and to suggest to everyone not clearly in the former group that some form of additional “ministry” might improve things, such as going on a mission trip, say.

    But absent such clear-cut legalism, it can be a confusing world to navigate, as I think our disagreements (both made from a Lutheran position, though obviously yours is vastly more informed on this topic) make clear.

    For instance, at the risk of discussing the details too much, why does the waitress in the casino get off the hook, according to you? Her job could be construed, on the one hand, as making you want to spend more time in the casino, and therefore more money. Her drinks might be just another way to soften you up. Conversely, I don’t see the blackjack dealer’s job as being quite as adversarial as you do. It’s the game that’s rigged against the players, statistically speaking. The dealer is largely following an optimized script. And what of other games like roulette, where the casino worker isn’t (as I understand it) even conceivably working against you (again, the odds are doing that)?

    I guess I’m just confused why you say, on the one hand, that we shouldn’t “set down rules”, but then come to conclusions that appear far less grey than I’d expect.

    For instance, “being a soldier in the German army was a valid vocation”, but “being a concentration camp guard involves exterminating your neighbor, rather than loving and serving him”. Okay, but being a US soldier has, at times, also involved “exterminating your neighbor, rather than loving and serving him”. Not all commands given by superior officers were morally in the clear, aimed solely at a proper conduct of war. Is everybody, in their vocation, required to know the full impact and ramifications of their actions? Is a man firing missiles required to know if the people’s he’s firing on are innocent or not, or can he trust in the command of his superior? Was everyone working at a concentration camp knowledgeable of and committed to the extermination of those there interned? Is a man working on death row in a modern US prison morally responsible for all the innocent people who die on his watch? Should he be more informed about whether they’re innocent or truly guilty, or is his job merely to enforce the judgment of the state? And how does that impact your argument about concentration camp guards?

    My overall point being that there is a lot of grey out there, and serious Christians may disagree quite strenuously as to what is right and wrong when it comes to vocations. And I think a lot of people — especially those less familiar with the Lutheran doctrine of vocation — are uncomfortable with all that grey.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith, I appreciate the nuance you have added to your original comments in your debate with Dr. Witherington.

    I suspect that the many “grey areas” that result from the Lutheran teaching on vocation are problematic for Arminians who, in my experience, tend to prefer black/white distinctions (which, also in my experience, tends to lead to legalism).

    It’s far easier to create a dichotomy between jobs that are and aren’t God-pleasing (pastors and youth leaders being the obvious examples of the former group), and to suggest to everyone not clearly in the former group that some form of additional “ministry” might improve things, such as going on a mission trip, say.

    But absent such clear-cut legalism, it can be a confusing world to navigate, as I think our disagreements (both made from a Lutheran position, though obviously yours is vastly more informed on this topic) make clear.

    For instance, at the risk of discussing the details too much, why does the waitress in the casino get off the hook, according to you? Her job could be construed, on the one hand, as making you want to spend more time in the casino, and therefore more money. Her drinks might be just another way to soften you up. Conversely, I don’t see the blackjack dealer’s job as being quite as adversarial as you do. It’s the game that’s rigged against the players, statistically speaking. The dealer is largely following an optimized script. And what of other games like roulette, where the casino worker isn’t (as I understand it) even conceivably working against you (again, the odds are doing that)?

    I guess I’m just confused why you say, on the one hand, that we shouldn’t “set down rules”, but then come to conclusions that appear far less grey than I’d expect.

    For instance, “being a soldier in the German army was a valid vocation”, but “being a concentration camp guard involves exterminating your neighbor, rather than loving and serving him”. Okay, but being a US soldier has, at times, also involved “exterminating your neighbor, rather than loving and serving him”. Not all commands given by superior officers were morally in the clear, aimed solely at a proper conduct of war. Is everybody, in their vocation, required to know the full impact and ramifications of their actions? Is a man firing missiles required to know if the people’s he’s firing on are innocent or not, or can he trust in the command of his superior? Was everyone working at a concentration camp knowledgeable of and committed to the extermination of those there interned? Is a man working on death row in a modern US prison morally responsible for all the innocent people who die on his watch? Should he be more informed about whether they’re innocent or truly guilty, or is his job merely to enforce the judgment of the state? And how does that impact your argument about concentration camp guards?

    My overall point being that there is a lot of grey out there, and serious Christians may disagree quite strenuously as to what is right and wrong when it comes to vocations. And I think a lot of people — especially those less familiar with the Lutheran doctrine of vocation — are uncomfortable with all that grey.