Benjamin Quinn and Walter Strickland on the Doctrine of Vocation

Southeastern faculty Benjamin Quinn (Assistant Professor of Theology and History of Ideas, Associate Dean of Institutional Effectiveness for the College at Southeastern) and Walter Strickland (Special Advisor to the President for Diversity and Instructor of Theology) write about the doctrine of vocation, which they will also teach in the Spring 2015 (online). It is also a topic with relevance for every reader of this blog. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of The Great Commission Magazine of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  

What is work? Does it matter to God? How do these 40 or more hours each week relate to my faith? These are the questions that occupy our attention when we consider the doctrine of vocation.

In Genesis 1, we meet God at work. When God finished His work, He instructed Adam and Eve to carry forward in like fashion. To work and keep the land was not a result of sin for our first parents. Work was good, and was basic to being human. Today, though work may be toilsome, sin has neither undone its goodness nor revoked it from human responsibility. So, if work is our responsibility, how does it intersect with our Faith?

In his book “Work: The Meaning of Your Life: A Christian Perspective,” Lester Dekoster writes, “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.” Dekoster goes on to explain that this definition of work animates the shape and direction of life prescribed in Scripture. Jesus taught that the most important thing about life in His world is to love God and love others. This cruciform shape of life is directed away from self and toward others, beginning with God. With every relationship comes an opportunity to love and serve. Thus, insofar as our work loves and serves God and others, it is meaningful and it matters.

The idea of a “doctrine of vocation” may sound new to some, but there is plenty to consider as we look at what it means to work. We can take a journey through time, observing how the church exemplifies a Christian understanding of vocation through the centuries, and conclude with an extended look at the contemporary era of the “Faith at Work” movement. As we observe the ever-changing vocational landscape of history, we can examine Scripture—the fixed referent for all of life—to inform our understanding of work. An extended exegesis of Scripture unearths biblical motifs and doctrines that undergird work as a means of loving God and loving neighbor.

A theology of work begs for further consideration of vocation and calling. A robust doctrine of vocation should cover a wide spectrum—farming, education, politics, art, homemaking, medicine and vocational ministry and more.

As our increasingly secular culture groans for divine intervention, the divide between sacred and secular work must fall and God’s people need to utilize their vocational callings to uphold God’s mission of restoration. As Christians, when we love God and love our neighbor in our vocations, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment intersect to proclaim Christ’s supremacy in everything we put our hand to for the sake of everyone in God’s world.


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