“Some Kind of Life to Which We Are Called of God:” The Puritan Doctrine of Vocation -- By: Leland Ryken
SBJT 22:1 (Spring 2018) p. 45
“Some Kind of Life to Which We Are Called of God:” The Puritan Doctrine of Vocation
Leland Ryken is the Emeritus Professor of English at Wheaton College, where he taught English for fifty years. He earned his PhD from the University of Oregon. Dr. Ryken has published over fifty books, including one on the Puritans and two on work and leisure in Christian perspective.
The occasion for this essay and its companions is the five-hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther’s act of nailing a piece of paper to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg. The contemporary context within which we consider our topic of vocation is the explosion of interest among Christians on the topics of work and vocation. No one could have predicted twenty years ago that this would become the next growth industry among evangelicals. The question I will consider is whether a historical inquiry into the Reformation era has anything to add to the conversation beyond what is already on the table. We will see that it does.
My discussion in this essay will be guided by two overriding questions:
1) How did the Puritans reform thinking about vocation in their own day?
2) How can the Puritans reform thinking about vocation in our day? As I pursue these two questions, I will consider four subordinate questions, to be posed individually as my essay unfolds.
My first question is this: if the Continental Reformers and Puritans reformed attitudes toward vocation in their own day, exactly what attitudes existed that required reformation? In 1958 a German scholar named Karl
SBJT 22:1 (Spring 2018) p. 46
Holl published a copiously researched article entitled “The History of the Word Vocation,” and because it contains such a wealth of references to primary sources, I am going to base the following sketch largely on this article.1 According to Holl, the medieval Catholic institution of monasticism wrote the pre-Reformation chapter in the history of the concept of vocation. It is true that there was something even older than monasticism that bears on the subject, namely, NT references to call and calling, based on the Greek word klesis. With the exception of three verses in 1 Corinthians 7 (vv. 17, 20, and 24), all of these references are a call to conversion and discipleship. The NT applies this call to everyone universally and to believers supremely.
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