Calling in Every Area of Life by William Edgar
Calling in Every Area of Life
by William Edgar
Professor of Apologetics, Moderator of the Faculty
Arguably the most significant book for late Medieval piety is Thomas à Kempis’ De Imitatione Christi. Still popular today, it contains many valuable teachings about sanctification. But it has a fundamental flaw. One can sense the problem by looking at the full title: On the Imitation of Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth. An even more brutal translation says: and Contempt for the World. According to this kind of piety, the world is altogether a distraction from our proper calling, which is to draw close to Christ.
At first, monasteries were crucial parts of the preserving and nurturing of civilization. But gradually monks and nuns became isolated from the world, unable to relate to the religious aspirations of the laity, nor to some of the innovations of the day, such as the printing press and nascent science. Calling, or vocation, was defined as “devotion,” meaning a narrow and intense dedication to the sacred.
The Protestant Reformation blasted through this split universe. Because of their robust understanding of creation and of the so-called cultural mandate (Genesis 1:24-31; Psalm 8:5-9), Luther, Calvin, then the Puritans, and other post-Reformation orthodox, proclaimed the vocation of every Christian. The idea of the priesthood of all believers issues in the conviction that we are all called to work in the everyday world. Thus, farming, artistry, parenting, citizenship—all are a part of our vocation before the Lord. Luther, who was given to extravagant statements, once declared that the work of the least householder was worth more than that of all the priests, monks, and nuns put together! He did not disparage the ordained ministry; quite the contrary. Yet he found much of the monastic life of no use in the Kingdom of God. He urged all clergy to marry and work with their hands.
This radical, biblical idea led to many results. When Calvin came to Geneva, some 400 people were in the employ of the church, yet the city was known for its corruption and degenerate life. After his arrival, church employees were reduced to a handful as other jobs were found for former clerics, and public morality improved. Work, according to Calvin, is not socially demeaning, but honorable, though toilsome. William Perkins wrote extensively on how to find one’s calling in life. He carefully compared the gifts of each person to the surrounding needs and opportunities. In countries where the Reformation took root, a higher standard of living could generally be found, since everyone was accountable to God for his or her livelihood.
Today we are in danger of returning to a Medieval model, not so much through the attraction of the monastic order, but in making evangelism or “soul-saving” such a priority that areas such as social justice, business, politics, science, or the arts, are neglected. Many evangelicals believe missions is the highest calling, followed by the pastorate, or other kinds of “full-time Christian service.”
To which we must say, No! Every kind of Christian service is full-time. The gospel applies to every sphere of life, as Abraham Kuyper would remind us. Of course, evangelism is important. But if we engage in it without at the same time recognizing the legitimacy of calling into every realm of life, we are becoming “so heavenly minded we are no earthly good.” Heaven, though, is the earth remade. The New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. But Jesus opens the door, now. Heaven is not a far away place, but the place where God reigns, and he reigns right here! The seventh angel of the Revelation blows the trumpet, and loud voices proclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).
Sam Logan’s full time Christian service for over twenty years has been as dean of students, academic dean, and then president of Westminster. His calling today is to the chancellorship. In his administration we moved from being pre-technological to being “smart.” He inaugurated the Contemporary Issues Conferences, which exhibited the Kuyperian principle that says every sphere belongs to Christ. He stressed our impact around the world, not only by multiplying our campuses, but also by bringing world Christian leaders to them to be trained in the Reformed worldview and then return to strengthen the kingdom in their respective countries. In all of these areas, and many more, he refused the Medieval sacred-secular dichotomy, but instead led Westminster to equip leaders who could equip others in every walk of life. We wish Sam and Susan well in this new vocation. May they not only bring glory to God, but enjoy him thoroughly, and forever.