Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Call: Chapter 4

Several brothers and sisters in our Kairos group have decided to read and discuss Os Guinness' The Call. Derek has suggested that we do some journalling based upon our readings, and I thought I might do so here, both because I can type faster than I write, and because, if the journalling is to be somewhat public, then this is a good venue for it.

I thought it interesting that this chapter echos one of the themes I touched on below, that God is a Namer and consequently so are we. God's naming is a type of calling into being;
Thus in the first chapter of Genesis, God called the light "Day" and the darkness he called "Night". This type of calling is far more than labeling...such decisive, creative naming is a form of making. Thus when God called Israel, he named and thereby constituted and created Israel his people. Call is not only a matter of being and doing what we are but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be. Thus "naming-calling"...is the fusion of being and becoming.
When God calls each of us into being, he calls into being our entire story, our entire life, which according to Ps 139 he sees in its entirety before there is yet one day of it. In this sense, His "call" comes to us simultaneously with our creation, and is always "there" before God. His call is what He has created us to be, and from His perspective does not change, and will certainly be accomplished.

From our perspective, living in these sequential dimensions of time and space, it may appear to us that our "call" changes. I have spent thirty years training to become and then practicing as a physician, and have no doubt that that was my true calling, for those years. It is not clear to me that, for the rest of my life, I am to continue to function primarily as a physician. Perhaps, when God called me forth, he saw me practicing medicine for thirty years and then teaching for twenty.

In this chapter, Guinness elaborates some on what he calls the "Catholic Distortion" of calling. This is the two-tier, higher-lower, sacred-secular, perfect-permitted dualism that sees the life of spiritual contemplation as the highest or most perfect calling, and the life of action in the world as merely permitted and second-grade. He notes that this dualistic view was present at least as early as Eusebius, and is found in Augustine and Aquinas. Luther seems to have rejected it, teaching that "all works are measured before God by faith alone."

While I agree that, so stated, this is a distortion, and one that is very prevalent today, I am always troubled by the ease with which nearly everything that is wrong with the Church can be attributed to some sort of "dualism". Any overemphasis of one end of any concept that exists in a continuum can be critiqued by positing a "dualism" that opposes one extreme to the other in an obvious manner, demonstrating that either extreme, taken alone, is wrong, and therefore that the only things to do are to either affirm the whole continuum equally or to collapse it.

In this section, we seem to be heading toward the idea that no calling is higher than any other. I'm not sure I can agree with that. Perhaps the "higher-lower" dimension runs along a different line than the sacred-secular dimension, but I have no problem acknowledging that Mother Theresa (to take an extreme example) had a higher calling than I, not because her vocation was spiritual and mine secular, but perhaps because hers required a much deeper attained sanctification than mine does. Likewise I honor as doing a higher work than myself those physicians who forego safety, honour and riches to practice among the devastated peoples of Africa or Haiti. I am struck by Paul's noting in Romans that God is free to create some vessels for honour and some for dishonour and destruction, and that suggests to me that He might also create some vessels for particularly high honor and some for less honor.

I think I like Luther's formulation, at least as it appears in this chapter: what matters is the faith with which one's activities are pursued. The value judgement of higher or lower does not attach to the job description itself, but to the person's relationship to God in the doing of it. This is what renders the work straw or stubble or silver or gold, of passing or eternal significance.


9 comments:

  1. "While I agree that, so stated, this is a distortion, and one that is very prevalent today, I am always troubled by the ease with which nearly everything that is wrong with the Church can be attributed to some sort of "dualism."

    I'm not sure Guinness says that... He simply notes the distortion as it relates to our understanding of "calling" and vocation.

    Did Guinness say the this "dualism" is "everything that is wrong with the church?" I didn't catch it. Maybe he did.

    Of course, you're making it sound as if Guinness is being simplistic in his critique. That's an interesting critique on your end. Joe Kearns Vs. Os Guinness. Who's next?

    DM

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  2. Derek, I did not mean to imply that Guinness is saying that all the church'S problem stem from dualism. Only that, as is so common among critics of the church today, he blames a dualism for our misunderstanding of calling. (Bottom of page 31 and top of 32). Now, it may be that all that is being done here is a rhetorical technique of naming the extremes and showing that they are unacceptable. Perhaps, also, we humans are prone always to swing between only two poles in any given issue, because it is simply easier to divide an issue into two than into three or more dimensions. If this is true, then good critique will recognize these two dimensions and call it "dualism" somewhat appropriately.

    As regards critiquing Guinness himself: critique is part of understanding. Os (and T. Wright) are just men. If they put their ideas out there in print, they are inviting critique. I doubt either would be pleased by an uncritical acceptance of their ideas. Indeed, I think they would be alarmed thereby.

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  3. Which is what I was doing to your thoughts in print... Geesh!

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