DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Vocational Assurance

Written by: on January 28, 2020

Reading through Weber’s The Protestant Ethic raised a lot of questions and contained a lot of thought provoking ideas.  I can honestly say that the notion that Calvinism serves as one of the roots of Capitalism has never crossed my mind, so this was a deep dive into new territory.

As I was reading, one of the themes that popped out was the question of our motivation when it comes to work.  Why do we work?  What is it that drives us?

I find it interesting that Weber attributes Calvinism as a driving force to the rise of Capitalism.  To summarize the argument, Weber points out that it is the doctrine of predestination that serves as the catalyst for this.  Weber writes, “This doctrine, with all the pathos of its inhumanity, had one principal consequence for the mood of a generation which yielded to its magnificent logic: it engendered, for each individual, a feeling of tremendous inner loneliness.”[1]  What this led to was a need to have an assurance of salvation that they could not get.  Weber writes that “tireless labor in a calling was urged as the best possible means of attaining this self-assurance.”[2]  After all, if only God truly knows who the Elect are, how can one know they fall into that category?

What I find ironic in this line of reasoning is that the doctrine of predestination led to a mentality and lifestyle that is contrary to the fundamental tenets of the Protestant Reformation: That humankind is saved by grace alone and not by works.  In order to have a sense that they were following the will of God, Calvinists would reinvest any surplus they made back into their community, thus adding fuel to capitalism.  This is a fascinating thought to me because it shows the ramifications that theology has outside the immediate sphere of influence of the church.  At the same time, it also shows the extent that Christians will go to in order to have assurance of salvation.

Practically, this begs the question of how our theology affects the way we live our day to day lives.  I ask the question, “Why do we work?” as a means of identifying our motivation for why we do certain actions.  Are we motivated by fear (i.e., in the case of the early Calvinists)?  Are we motivated by love?  Are we motivated by greed?  Pride?  Lust?  The betterment of humanity?  Filling our wallets?

This leads into the next major point: Calling and vocation.  At some point in our lives, we have asked the question, “What is my purpose?” or “Why am I here?”  The notion of calling is something that we yearn for.  We want to know what God’s plan for our lives are so that we don’t waste our time doing other things.  While there are many interpretations of what it means to have a calling or to “seek God’s will for our lives,” there’s something special about going to your job and putting your best effort into it.

When I first moved to Hong Kong, I took my current position as an English teacher because I felt I was called to serve in this capacity.  There was no divine “Ah ha!” moment, but rather it was the gradual desire to work with teenagers in Hong Kong after my time volunteering in the summers.  During the vision trip portion of my first summer volunteering, we were given the following quote by Hudson Taylor:

Finding one’s purpose with God can be a strange and mysterious journey.  Or it can be as plain as asking God for a task and then watching your desire for that task grow within you.  Problem is, most of us forget to ask God to fill us with a fervent spirit to serve Him.  Then, years later, we wake up and realize we had our life.  We made our small choices…our safe choices.  But somehow, we missed the richness of following our God down an uncharted path.

While some people may have a “burning bush” moment where God explicitly reveals some grand scheme for our lives, for most of us it isn’t so extravagant.  It’s seeing a need and wanting to work in that capacity because of our love for God and our love for people.

The problem is we don’t honor this notion of calling.  I was talking with a friend recently who was saying that there were times that she felt she was looked down upon for working as an engineer because it wasn’t the kind of “calling” she should have.  My heart broke over that statement and my frustration rose.  I told her that if working as an engineer is the capacity in which God has called you into, be the best engineer you can.  Work at it as if you were working for God (Colossians 3:23).

Not everyone is going to be a pastor or work in full time ministry.  We have commissioning ceremonies for missionaries, ordination services for pastors, deacons, elders, etc., but when was the last time that we commissioned our church members for the jobs that they work?

When I first started working for my school, I noticed that there was a major difference in the way that I viewed our students versus the way my colleagues did.  At first I thought it was simply a cultural difference, but the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve realized it comes from my faith.  For many of my colleagues, this job is simply for the paycheck.  For me, it’s something much deeper.

Why do we work?  What is it that drives us in our various ministries and jobs?  My prayer is that it wouldn’t be out of fear, but that our work is a natural outpouring of our love for Go

[1] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Penguin Group), 73.

[2] Ibid., 77.

About the Author

mm

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

14 responses to “Vocational Assurance”

  1. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Dylan,
    You ask some great questions here. In fact they are ones I’ve been wrestling with for a few years as I navigate this mid-season of life. The language around calling is everywhere in evangelical churches, as we are encouraged to “find that thing we are to do that no one else on the planet can do because God created it specifically for you.” I’m not too sure I buy into that language anymore. After reading our text, I wonder if that language was used in the Church before Calvin? Yes, I agree we have work we are to do, but I think many can do that same work. What if our calling/vocation is simply to love others, regardless of what our work is? How might the Church look if that were realized?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I think in a lot of ways we have an over-spiritualized mentality when it comes to calling. A lot of times it can lead to paralysis where we don’t actually do anything unless we have certainty it’s “what God wants.” I’m not saying there isn’t wisdom in seeking God and seeking others’ thoughts on this, but to overplay that puts God in the category of the “Magic 8-Ball” (via Kevin DeYoung’s book “Just Do Something”). I think part of it as well is that we’ve segregated the secular from the sacred to where, again, we don’t see our day to day work as something instituted by God. If we could recover that, maybe it would cause a shift in the right direction.

  2. mm John McLarty says:

    I think the idea of calling and vocation mean something very different today in modern, western expressions of Christianity than it did for Luther and others in the Reformation and post-Reformation eras. Today, it seems to fit more into the narrative of the consumer religion and the words are tossed around to give appearance to acts of discernment without any of the real work. “I just don’t think I’m called to that,” one says because they aren’t interested in a particular area of service. When they could have just said, “No thanks.” Thanks for the invitation to re-think what it could really mean to live into our calling.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I was brainstorming with a friend yesterday about the whole “I’m not called to do it, so someone else should” mentality. We were talking about evangelism, but it can definitely be extended to other areas as well. We think a lot of it may come down to a lack of empowerment or a feeling of inadequacy that prevents us from stepping out. Narrative plays such an important role in our lives and how we view the world, so when we live our lives by one that’s been misconstrued or corrupted, the effects can be devastating.

  3. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Creative title, brother. Weber’s assessment of Luther was quite accurate, and doing more to dismantle the sacred/secular divide in vocation would be spot on. Don’t you feel like, though, that Western Christianity is taking great strides in this area of affirming (nearly) all vocations?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I think it depends on where you live and how it’s communicated. Overall I would agree that there’s been a lot of strides taken to reclaim vocation as something sacred. But would also say that overly traditionalist/fundamentalist theologies that create a sharp distinction between the church and the world are still holding their ground.

  4. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Like that stament “Finding one’s purpose with God can be a strange and mysterious journey”.

    All of us long to understand why we’re here on this planet, what our purpose is. These words from Hudson Taylor are challenging and insightful as we seek to discover our purpose:

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I found the Taylor quote life changing the first time I read it. Ultimately, it played a huge role in how I ended up in Hong Kong. Continuing to pray for that fervent spirit to serve God in my current context.

  5. mm Steve Wingate says:

    This is a fascinating thought to me because it shows the ramifications that theology has outside the immediate sphere of influence of the church.

    “blessed assurance, wealth is mine, oh what a foretast of glory, so of divine.”

    More international perspectives are showing a light on this for me.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      Definitely. It also shows the import of outside influences into our theology. If you think of the Prosperity Gospel, would argue that’s a direct import from notions of capitalism and it acts as a driving force in many of our thoughts on giving. When my church prays over the offering, they typically ask someone from the congregation to read a verse of Scripture and pray. Depending on the person, it often borderlines a prosperity influence: Give to the church so that God will bless you.

  6. mm Steve Wingate says:

    This is a fascinating thought to me because it shows the ramifications that theology has outside the immediate sphere of influence of the church.

    “blessed assurance, wealth is mine, oh what a foretast of glory, sort of divine.”

    More international perspectives are showing a light on this for me.

  7. mm Greg Reich says:

    Dylan,
    Good thought provoking questions. Like you I never correlated Calvinism as a great promoter of a strong work ethic let alone his view of predestination playing a role in capitalism. I felt Weber didn’t explore completely Luther’s view of “calling.” Though he did see “calling” in a system that had little chance of change and encouraged everyone to embrace where they were in life he did encourage a strong work ethic due to all work being a sacred calling and a way for God to meet the needs of people through the work of others. I think the concept of being the “mask of God” promoted by Luther had a great deal of influence on how people saw work in a service minded way. I wonder what modern Calvinists would say about Weber’s view of the influence of the doctrine of predestination on capitalism? I would guess they would disagree.

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I would agree with that. I’d say there needs to be a reclamation of that notion that our work is the “mask of God” in order to help bridge the gap between our “sacred” lives on Sunday morning to our “secular” lives everywhere else. In my own experience, I’ve seen what drastic change in mindset that can have in the way I approach my teaching job. The days I forget that are the days end up being the hardest.

  8. mm Chris Pollock says:

    What is the difference between a calling that is deemed correctly aligned with God’s will and one that is off-centre? I think some honest self-evaluation can determine the trueness of a calling. A pay cheque can be an encouragement with regards to value, the way things go in this time. Heart-connection to the vision and mission; beyond self-centred gain and toward the benefit/care of others.

    Appreciate your thoughts, Dylan. Certainly can resonate. Do you think that Capitalism could constrict a reasoning that is deeper? Perhaps, the fear is that such reasoning is not lucrative?

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