Word Publishing, 1998.
In my church, I was asked to be a member of a panel discussion on the subject of the Christian and work. Fortunately (or I should say, providentially), this new book by Guinness came out the same week that I was preparing for the panel discussion, and it is an excellent book. Let me quote from the notes on the cover: “Guinness goes past our superficial understanding to the very heart of what calling means. Far bigger than our jobs, deeper than our personal accomplishments, higher than our wildest ideas of self-fulfillment, calling addresses the very essence of our existence.” So that is what the book promises, and it does deliver on that promise
Early on in the book (page 4), Guinness defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.” So, calling is obviously a very comprehensive term, including our jobs or “work,” but not limited to them. He addresses the distortions of the concept of calling not only on the Catholic side (with the false secular/spiritual dichotomy), but also on the Protestant side. Whereas the Catholic distortion elevated the spiritual at the expense of the secular, the Protestant distortion elevated the secular at the expense of the spiritual. These distortions perverted the proper perspective, as recovered by Luther and other reformers, which recognized that “if all that a believer does grows out of faith and is done for the glory of God, then all dualistic distinctions are demolished”(page 34). There are no “higher/lower, sacred/secular, perfect/permitted, contemplative/active, or first class/second class” distinctions (page 34). And to set things in the proper order, Guinness reminds that “calling means that everyone, everywhere, and in everything fulfills his or her (secondary) callings in response to God’s (primary) calling. For Luther, the peasant and the merchant—for us, the business person, the teacher, the factory worker, and the television anchor—can do God’s work (or fail to do it) just as much as the minister and the missionary” (page 34).
Again, our primary calling is to God, and as the chapter title of chapter 5 says, we are called “by Him, to Him, for Him” (page 37). And that is pretty comprehensive.
Back to the Protestant distortion: it is a distortion which involves equating our calling with our job/work, reducing the original demand that each Christian should have a calling, and boiling it down to “the demand that each citizen should have a job.”(page 41). This triumph of secondary callings over the primary calling “meant that work was made sacred,” “holy,” or even “entirely good” (page 41), in contrast to the Bible which has a realistic view of work, seeing it after the fall as both creative and cursed. So this distortion equated the concept of calling with our job, and a man’s worth and purpose in life were defined by his job.
Guinness gives us much to think about as we ponder the subject of our “callings.”