Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation

Edited by William C. Placher
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Grand Rapids, MI
Published in 2005
ISBN: 978802829276

Review by Kelly Stern

What are you going to do with your degree? Wish you had a dollar for every time someone has asked you that question? Even first year students face it and if you’re a graduating student, the interrogation only intensifies. What do you want to do with your life? How will you serve God? Where will you go?

Some students seem to come to DTS with a sure-fire answer. They feel “called” to a specific ministry, people group and/or a geographic location. Whether this “calling” lasts the length of the program or is actualized or not, I envy the confidence of those words, “I feel called to …” Torn between wanting a “calling” yet not wanting the pressure of the possibility of the failure of it, I wonder at the reality of such “callings”. Does God usually speak to his children this way? If so, why haven’t all of us heard from Him so unequivocally. Is being “called” to do this or that just part of our Christian jargon or are some people genuinely “called?”

The budding church historian in me delighted to find a book that promised to address my questions. Callings edited by William C. Placher promised Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation. Imagine that! My discussions with present day saints has yet to shed much light on this issue for me but surely, the men and women from throughout the history of the church would enlighten me. From Ignatius of Antioch in the first century through Karl Barth in the twentieth, I would read about their “calling” from God.

Dr. Placher arranged his selections on vocation by era and included insightful introductions to each. In section one on the Early Church, Callings to a Christian Life, Placher included writings from well known early Christians such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Augustine in addition to the less familiar—Perpetua, Macrina, and Palladius. Section two on vocation in the Middle Ages, Called to Religious Life, presented another mix of men and women: John Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Christine de Pisan, Joan of Arc and others. The third section focused on the idea of vocation after the Reformation through 1800, Every Work a Calling. Luther, Calvin, Loyola, Bunyan, Edwards and Wesley are represented here as well as Teresa of Avila, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and the great poet, George Herbert. Placher concludes in section four with Christian Callings in a Post-Christian World. Kierkegaard, Newman, Dostoevsky, Bonhoeffer, Sayers, Merton, Barth and others speak to the issue of calling in these pages.

As I finished the last words of Barth on page 443, I realized I was no further on the road to knowing what should I do with my life. I had faced martyrdom with Perpetua, withdrawn to the desert with Antony, reasoned with Thomas Aquinas, led an army with Joan of Arc, seen God in His glorious creation with Jonathan Edwards and considered the cost of discipleship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Along the way (somewhere in the Middle Ages probably), I stopped looking at what these amazing men and women of faith did for the Kingdom of God and began to reflect on why they did it. That shift in my mind and heart overflowed the well of my passion to be of service to God. In 2008, I can’t do what they did but I can share in their reason for doing it.

In the Early Church, men and women were called to the Christian life in the face of persecution and martyrdom. Perpetua, a young North African woman, still nursing a baby at her breast in prison, remained committed to her calling against the angry pleas of her father. She asked him if a vase could be called by any other name than what it was and he answered, no. Perpetua responded, “Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.” Soon afterward, she died by the sword of a gladiator guided to her throat by her own hand.

When someone asks you what you are going to do after you finish at DTS, maybe you should answer them with why you want to do something for God.


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