Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life
Douglas J. Schuurman. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004. 190 pages.
Douglas J. Schuurman, professor of religion at St. Olaf College and author of Creation, Eschaton, and Ethics (1991), writes to defend the notion of “vocation,” or “calling” as a primary biblical category for understanding God’s purpose for Christians. He aims to “develop a contemporary articulation of the classic Protestant doctrine of vocation” (xi). Schuurman describes vocation as fundamental to the Christian purpose: “to worship God, and to participate in God’s creative and redemptive purposes for the world, to enjoy, hope for, pray for, and work toward God’s shalom” (18).
In the second chapter Schuurman outlines the biblical notion of vocation. God initiates the call in two forms: a “general call” to live as a Christian and a “particular calling” to specific responsibilities both in the church and in secular settings.
In chapters three through six the author develops a theology of vocation, then seeks to grapple with the contemporary implications of that theological base. Both creation and redemption are primary categories for Schuurman’s theology of vocation. Those who respond to God’s call join God in using all their creativity in every “station” of life, including family, secular vocation, entertainment, politics, and economics. Christians also live out their vocation by joining God’s redemptive work, optimistic that not only individuals but society as well can experience transformation.
Schuurman defends the Reformation vision of vocation advocated by Luther and Calvin, favorably quoting and interpreting not only the two great reformers but also such modern theologians as Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Cornelius Plantinga, and Lee Hardy.
Perhaps inevitably this moves Schuurman into a debate with the Anabaptist perspectives of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Miroslav Volf, with their anti-Constantinian worldview. This book challenges Anabaptists to consider whether a pessimistic view of the Christian community’s ability to transform society underestimates God’s sovereignty, or whether it realistically recognizes the inevitable compromise with world systems, a compromise engendered by the view the author defends. Does a commitment to a countercultural perspective limit Anabaptism to a stance that is essentially negative and isolationist rather than offering a serving posture that is creative, redemptive, and integrated? The significance of that question may help the Anabaptist reader overcome the sense that Schuurman writes from a rather prickly defensive posture vis-a-vis the Radical Reformation.
Although the broad scope with which Schuurman wants to invest vocation seems at points to stretch the term beyond its useful parameters (e.g., 4, 30), this is a text that deserves attention. More academic than Gordon Smith’s Courage and Calling (1999), Schuurman links practical principles with his theological base in defending a classic Protestant understanding of vocation as a category that must be renewed. The book will serve both pastors seeking to proclaim God’s call to mission and the academic community inviting reflection and response to God’s claim on God’s people.