Calling: Adjusting the Dials

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

We think that a correct theology of calling can and will apply to all Christians, but not so the all-too-popular individualized understanding. Or better yet, we contend that a more faithful theology of calling will help direct the shape of a believer’s life no matter what their current circumstances. Put still another way, we contend that a theology of calling that is truly faithful to Scripture and not just pious language must apply to all Christians at all times and in all places. An overly individualized and specific view of calling as popularly presented just does not work. It ends up limiting more than it liberates.

William W. Klein and Daniel J. Steiner, What is My Calling? A Biblical and Theological Exploration of Christian Identity

This summer three new titles on vocation and calling landed on my desk for review, and the first of those titles I have picked up to read has been published by Baker Academic: William W. Klein and Daniel J. Steiner’s What is My Calling?

Klein and Steiner contend that current Christian discourse on calling, or the words we use and how they shape culture, distort, mislead, and malform Christians more than they clarify, direct, and aid in faithfulness. In a survey of the literature, the authors find that the vast majority of the current writing on calling focuses more on the individual and unique circumstances than it does the universal call to follow Jesus as his disciple.

Furthermore, by equating job-as-vocation with the idea of calling, the authors observe that the stress is frequently misplaced. Christians downgrade a variety of jobs and fields as possibilities because of a subjective feeling that it is not right for them. Christians can also identify job satisfaction or fulfillment (“living your passion”) as the key signifier they are living according God’s will. A great deal of modern discourse on calling puts the individual at the center of inquiry, and not God. That’s a mistake.

This way of approaching calling introduces a variety of problems. These criteria may work for some, but not all. Klein and Steiner ask us to consider the biblical witness and the ways Christians in other eras have approached calling in an effort to free us from our current individualized approach.

As I’m reading this book, I think that project is worthwhile. But I also suspect that Klein and Steiner have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

In an effort to standardize our discourse on calling and avoid the pitfalls of subjective assessments Christians attach to their testimony about calling, they draw our attention back to the universals, such as the calling all people have to live as disciples of Jesus.

But in doing so, they minimize the biblical witness concerning the leading of the Holy Spirit, the responsibility of the believer to discern God’s will, and the active and near presence of Christ as advocate, counselor, teacher, and guide. In an effort to clean up the messes created by our commonly used words about calling, they sterilize the environment in which callings are clarified and worked out–the chaos and disorder of our everyday lives.

I’m still thinking about these ideas. When I speak with brothers and sisters in Christ, I do make distinctions in our understanding of calling.

First, I emphasize the calling of all Christians, which is to take up the cross and to follow Jesus, to become his apprentice, to learn his way, to declare allegiance to him, and to demonstrate complete trust and confidence in him. This dimension of our calling to Christ is universal and shared.

Secondly, I invite everyone to consider everyday faithfulness and the specific, particular outworking of that first and primary calling. This dimension of calling is individual and unique.

Klein and Steiner’s point, however, is well taken.

If anything, I think the dial on universal calling needs to be turned way up, while the dial concerning individual calling needs to be turned way down.

Everyone wants to know and do God’s will but no one wants to follow Jesus and become like him.

We want to know what to study in college, where we’re supposed to work, who we’re supposed to marry, where we’re supposed to live, etc. And if we follow Jesus and become like him, that’s a bonus.

But if we inverted our pursuits, if we contented ourselves with following Jesus and allowing him to remake us according to his image and way, knowing and doing God’s will is assured. Those other identity pursuits have been satisfied; the associated idols have been long cast aside. We will have found our calling, because we have entrusted ourselves fully to the Caller.