The Vocation Option

The Vocation Option May 30, 2024

Christians feel beleagured and threatened, and for good reason.  Our culture seems to be rushing away from the Christian worldview that was so instrumental in forming our civilization and openly defies any kind of transcendent moral order.  In response, we Christians feel that we need to “do something about it”!

But what?  A number of proposals are out there:  Take back the country for Christ!  Make the Bible the law of the land!  Bring back the Holy Roman Empire with the Pope as supreme!  Or, withdraw from this corrupt culture and build our own parallel Christian culture.  Or, burn it all down or let it all collapse, so we can build something better on the rubble.

Carl Trueman has a warning and a better idea, as he expresses in his First Things article How Pop Nietzcheism Masquerades as Christianity.

He refers to another First Things article he wrote in 2015 entitled The Calvary Option?

He was responding to Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option, which argues that Christians today, having lost all of the culture wars, should emulate St. Benedict, who responded to that barbarian rampages after the fall of Rome by setting up walled monastic communities to keep civilization alive until they eventually converted the barbarians.  Contemporary Christians, Dreher argued, could emulate that in their families and congregations.

Trueman saw some value in that, but offered an alternative.  He calls it the “Calvary Option” after the title of a movie about a priest who responded to a threat against his life by simply carrying out his ministry as he always did.  “I commented at the time that one might also call this ‘the traditional pastoral work in an ordinary congregation option.’”

Today, nearly a decade later, Trueman sees that Christians are still facing hostile cultural pressures and threats to their religious liberty.  But in addition to those external dangers, he sees an internal danger:

At that time, the big threat to the faith was the emerging pressure on religious freedom, focused then on the issue of gay marriage. The threat to religious liberty remains and has indeed expanded, but a new one has also emerged: the temptation to combat this by fusing Christianity with worldly forms of power and worldly ways of achieving the same. For want of a better term, it’s a kind of pop Nietzscheanism that uses the idioms of Christianity.

Nietzsche was the philosopher of the “will to power.”  Trueman is saying that  some Christians are being tempted by the impulse to try to seize earthly power and to put their trust and their priority in politics rather than in the seemingly more mundane work of the church, which actually addresses not theories or life in the abstract but actual everyday life:

Regardless of the political stakes, at ground level the births, marriages, illnesses, and deaths continue. Pastoral ministry goes on, day to day, year to year, whatever the political officer class, right and left, are debating. And so in this context, the Church must continue to do that to which she has been called: proclaim Christ in Word and sacrament. The big problems of life—sin and death—remain, whoever wins the election in November 2024. And so the Church needs to remain faithful to her appointed task and not become simply an arm of those vying for political power.

Trueman in particular emphasizes the role of pastors:

The faithful Christian ministry is not very glamorous. It consists of baptizing, preaching, and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It is about pointing people to a God on a cross whose strength, like that of his followers, is made perfect in weakness. Of course, none of this quite compares to engaging in an apocalyptic culture war or crushing one’s opponents or seizing worldly power by worldly means. So weak is it that it’s not even as glamorous as fantasizing about such things online. But that’s the problem with Christianity. It is routine. It is by turns foolish and offensive to those who look on from outside. Its weapons look ridiculously weak to the watching world. To repeat: The sun also rises and life continues for ordinary people at the local level, with all of its joys and its sorrows. People are born, marry, grow old, and die. And the gospel remains the answer.

I would add that what goes for pastors, also goes for laypeople:  we must all faithfully follow our vocations.  Our family life, our work, our church activities, and–yes–our citizenship (to name the various estates of our multiple callings) are all “ordinary” (a term that derives from “order”) and “routine” (a term that means, the customary performance of certain acts or duties).

God works through all of these vocations to give His blessings and to care for His creation.  And when we faithfully follow our vocations, far from separating ourselves from the world or giving up on our desire to influence it for good, we are building “order” back into it.

The Vocation Option, if we can call it that, builds on Trueman’s Calvary Option by applying its principles for all Christians.  It is like the Benedict Option in its countercultural dimension, but it is also like the more activist proposals in that it is still engaged in the secular world and seeks to improve it.  We do have a vocation as citizens, which includes our political duties.  But the Vocation Option sees politics not just as exercising power but of restoring lawful authority and as yet another means of loving and serving our neighbors.


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