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  • Roger Duke

Calling and the Christian Life | Episode 2

Editors Note: This is part 2 of the introduction to Concerning This Concept of “Calling” which is the first chapter in The Four Callings of William Carey. Dr. Roger D. Duke explores the question, "What is our calling?" Dr. Roger D. Duke serves as the Scholar-in-Residence at Stage & Story.


This is a continuation of Duke's conversation exploring our "calling." If you have yet to read the first installment, you can find it here: Part I.

This sense of vocation for community’s sake seems lost to the 21st Century mind, however. Contrast Luther’s community schemata with David Brooks’ observations about present-day views of vocation and work. Brooks believes for a life to be considered “good” the person ought to organize it around the idea of vocation.


When someone endeavors to use their work to serve only themselves, they will always find personal ambitions and expectations will go unfulfilled. Personally, they will hardly find any sense of satisfaction and contentment they seek.

If you serve a community alone, you will always wonder if people really appreciate you. And if your intrinsically compelling work focuses you on excellence, you will serve self and the community only in an indirect way.

Brooks summarizes: “A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. One can find it by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by any activity you intrinsically enjoy.” [1]


It seems he understands our present milieu where one performs his vocation for personal fulfillment or for other internal motives. Callings exercised not necessarily for the greater good of community, although this might be a secondary outcome or byproduct.

Conversely in Lutheran thought, every station where God placed someone with a task, was their personal vocation done for the neighbor. Brooks understands, even if one endeavors to serve the community; s/he may do it with only a personal desire to acknowledge external appreciation, laud, or reward. [2]

And at best, if one seeks to be excellent at their vocation, the person may only want to realize a higher sense of “self-worth.” Luther focused on the community at-large. Brooks comprehends the 21st Century individual ethos as self-seeking and employing vocation to further that end. 


Luther was not the only reformer to speak of calling. He was the progenitor, the first to tease out this theology of vocation. His writings became the foundation for the doctrine. Then came John Calvin who built upon his predecessor Luther.

Calvin believed, “God’s sovereign purposes govern the simplest occupation. He attends to everyone’s work.” [3]

Calvin viewed work as the activity Christians did to deepen personal faith. It led to a deeper quality of commitment to God as one means of sanctification. Whatever a person did, excellence was the product, as unto the Lord.

This, Calvin considered as one hallmark of the Christian faith. For, “Diligence and dedication in one’s everyday life are a proper response to God.” [4] Calvin acknowledged “God in the details.” The ingredients of the mundane and monotonous chores of one’s life and calling are of the utmost importance in the service of our Lord Christ.  


According to Calvin, God bids each of us to consider all of life’s actions and stations as personal callings. We all possess multiple callings that run concurrently. [5] God knows right well our inclination to restlessness. He knows how easily our fickleness carries us about.

The Lord places us in our respective circumstances in order that we will not fill our lives with folly, or rashness, or mass confusion. God has ordained duties to each one of us in his/her life station. He did this, so that no one will go farther than we should when performing duties of that station’s appointed tasks.

For Calvin, God had sovereignty identified our various stations for us. So, the duties of each person’s assigned charge would keep him or her from dashing about rashly their entire life.

For God is not the author of confusion, even in one’s vocation. This was all significant in Calvin’s understanding. [6] “Consequently, the one who directs himself toward the goal of observing God’s calling will have a life well composed,” [7] Calvin asserted.



[1] David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York: Random House, 2015), 266.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Piper quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics online journal, (17 January 2013), (accessed June 6, 2017).

[4] Alister McGrath quoted in Hugh Whelchel, “John Calvin’s Contribution to the Biblical Doctrine of Work,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics online journal, (17 January 2013), (accessed June 6, 2017).

[5] John Calvin, A Little Book of the Christian Life, trans. & ed. Aaron Clay Denlinger and Burk Parsons (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2017), 123.

[6] Calvin, A Little Book, 124.

[7] Calvin, A Little Book, 125.


Dr. Roger D. Duke is an advisory board member and the scholar-in-residence at Stage & Story. Dr. Duke is an ordained Baptist minister and has taught at the college and graduate school levels for over 20 years. Dr. Duke holds graduate degrees from The University of the South’s School of Theology at Sewanee, TN; The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Harding University’s Graduate School of Religion. He has written or contributed to more than ten volumes (including works on John Bunyan) with the latest volume scheduled to be released in 2018. Visit his website at His published work can be found on his website and his Amazon Author's Page. He has been happily married to Linda Young Duke for nearly 44 years. They have three adult children and four robust grandsons.


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