Lesson 1 - Making Sense of Calling

What's in front of us?

Dan likens the Christian life to the experience of standing before a rushing river. We must choose a course of action based on what’s in front of us.

Our calling is a bit like that. We must continually answer the question of what it means to be the people of God in this particular moment and in this particular place—that is, based on what’s in front of us. As Dan will argue, this will require a more expansive understanding of “vocation” than we typically imagine.

In his book Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth expresses a similar idea. He suggests that the fundamental characteristic of a human being is the ability to respond to God, since we are the kind of creatures who can hear God and answer, even if we do so imperfectly.

It is [the human] destiny to offer a true if inadequate response in the temporal sphere to the jubilation with which the Godhead is filled from eternity to eternity.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

Dan asks us to consider how God might be acting upon us in our circumstances.

  • Take a moment to consider your current life circumstances. If you watch carefully, where might you see God acting upon you? What do you think he is asking of you in this season of your life?

  • Where in your life do you see an opportunity to reflect the jubilation—the sheer joy and good pleasure—of the Triune God?

What’s a “Calling,” anyway?

Why Words Matter

As Dan illustrates, language is powerful. The way we speak shapes our culture, and our culture shapes the way we speak. And the way we speak matters, because it impacts the way we live in the world.

It’s central to Dan’s argument that “calling” has been chronically misunderstood, even in Christian circles. On the one hand, it’s been too narrowly associated with one’s occupation, a means to an end. On the other, it’s just as often been used as a synonym for our personal desires or as a label to justify our interests. We need a more holistic understanding of calling, then, if we want to find ways to flourish in the world, no matter our particular circumstances.

  • Think about how you’ve heard the language of “calling” used. What are the various meanings that we’ve packed into “calling”?

  • Before going any further into Dan’s talk, do a quick thought exercise. How would you define “calling” in one sentence?

Recovering the Meaning of Vocation

“People are looking for significance,” says Dan, “They’re looking for meaning in their work.” So, it’s no surprise that the language of vocation is being used in non-religious contexts—from high-end barbering to specialty butchering—to describe work as something more than gainful employment.

But, as Dan shows, “vocation” is originally a theological word, and using it outside of this frame of reference is a somewhat curious phenomenon. For example, since, etymologically, “vocation” is related to the Latin words for “voice,” “summons,” and “call,” it begs the question: Who’s calling?

Christians understand this Caller to be God himself, of course, and the biblical scholar N.T. Wright has suggested that anyone—religious or not—who feels a sense of “calling” is hearing faint echoes of this Caller’s voice. Over the course of this talk, Dan will seek to recover this profound theological meaning of vocation.

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