Placher, Callings


William C. Placher, Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation. Eerdmans, 2005.

Referenced in: Summary

This is an anthology of classic writers over the centuries who have addressed the notion of life calling. It is not limited to the “ministerial call,” but encompasses all walks of life with the challenge to see what they do as an expression of God’s mission.

This is a well-written, inspirational, and insightful book. It is not technically pastoral theology, but a reflective work that would be appreciated by ministers who enjoy pastoral theology (i.e. the theologians may not like it as much as practicing ministers who read pastoral theology looking for revival). It is not a book on burnout in life and ministry, but it helps with the renewal of call that is often part of the journey through burnout.

Placher describes the longings felt by most Christians relative to call:

“Central so the many Christian interpretations of vocation is the idea that there is something – my vocation or calling – God has called me to do with my life, and my life has meaning and purpose at least in part because I am fulfilling my calling.” (2)

“Amid all the controversies Christianity has preserved the fundamental idea that our lives count for something because God has a direction in mind for them.” (3)

“If the God who makes us has figured out something we are supposed to do, however, - something that fits how we were made, so that doing it will enable us to glorify God, serve others, and be most richly ourselves – the life stops seeming so empty: my story has meaning as part of the larger story ultimately shaped by God.” (3)

God calls you, the contemporary preacher and novelist As Frederick Buechner has written, to “the kind of work (a) that you need most to do, and (b) that the world most needs to have done…. The place God calls you to is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (3)

Unlike many books on this subject that offer careful Bible expositions and even elaborate processes of spiritual discernment (both of which have their place), Placher looks at the subject through the lens of some of the greatest writers in Christian history. This study of history “frees us up by offering a wide range of ways in which past Christians have found what God was calling them, so that we do not feel that following the Christian tradition leaves us only one choice.” (9)

He suggests there are four historical periods, each of which saw the issue of vocation differently. He divides the book according to these eras, and provides an interesting assessment of how that as Christian interfaced with societal change, so did the questions of call:

  • Part 1 – Callings to a Christian Life: Vocations in the Early Church, 100-500
  • Part 2 – Called to Religious Life: Vocations in the Middle Ages, 500-1500
  • Part 3 – Every Work a Calling: Vocations after the Reformation, 1500-1800
  • Part 4 – Christian Callings in a Post-Christian World, 1800-Present

Before surveying these, he offers a short but helpful exposition on key biblical texts on calling.

This book allows one to rove minds with some of the most thoughtful Christians on how to engage life most effectively. It sets up a conversation with the likes of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas a Kempis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Richard Baxter, George Fox, William Law, John Wesley, Soren Kierkegaard, Horace Bushnell, Walter Rauschenbusch, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, and others.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

From the Publisher

What should I do with my life? How should I decide about an education, a career, and a family? Does God have a plan or purpose for me?

This unprecedented anthology gathers select passages on work and vocation from the greatest writers of Christian history. William Placher has written insightful introductions to accompany the selections — an introduction to each of the four main historical sections and a brief introduction to each reading. While the vocational questions faced by Christians have changed through the centuries, the book demonstrates how the distilled wisdom of these saints, preachers, theologians, and teachers remains relevant to Christians today.

About the Author

William C. Placher is Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, and the author or editor of ten previous books.

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