Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given PotentialWritten by Gordon T. Smith Reviewed By Larry W. Lyon
Gordon T. Smith is the president of reSource Leadership International, an agency that seeks to foster excellence in theological education in the developing world. Smith has served in the realm of formal theological education, including various administrative positions, such as Vice President and Dean, and as a professor at seminaries. He has also served in a number of pastoral posts in Canada and the Philippines.
The purpose of this book is to explore the calling of God for believers in relation to vocation. Vocation, according to Smith, is not “an occupation or 'line of work,'” but rather expresses the Christian individual's mission in the world (pp. 10-11). In this sense, vocation is a matter that falls within the three callings of a Christian that Smith identifies. The first of these callings is the general call to follow Christ. The second call is the specific call, which is vocation, the subject of this book. Third, Smith notes the immediate responsibilities that are called of God in specific moments throughout the day (p. 10).
There are a number of helpful items in this book. First, Smith offers a commendable theology of work, beginning with an encouragement to be good stewards of our lives. By this Smith envisions living well and taking our lives seriously. This means that we take into account that our lives have “inestimable value” and living congruently to who we are (p. 18). Along with this last point, Smith offers an entire chapter (ch. 3) to understanding how to determine what our vocation should be in finding our calling. Since vocation is “much deeper and all-encompassing than career or occupation,” Smith presents ways that Christians determine vocations that encompass God's call. In differing from the previous version of this book, Smith allows for our passions to be primary factors in determining our vocation. Four questions help discover one's passions (p. 68): What do you want most of all? What matters to you? Where are you at home? And what breaks your heart because it breaks the heart of God? Smith comments that God will continue to use our talents and gifting, and we should still be tuned in to hear God's call, but the answers to these questions will go a long way in determining our vocation.
A third concept that arises in the book is the defeat of the sacred-secular divide in understanding vocation. Smith rightly believes that all vocations have sacredness (p. 133) since vocation is a response to a specific calling from God. As vocation provides the means for the Christian to be on mission in God's world, there is no sphere in which God does not use Christians in vocation. This idea that no sphere of vocation is absent from the work of God echoes the familiar claim of Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine!'” For Smith this idea means that religious work does not carry inherently more weight or value than other vocations and that men and women are called of God into each sphere and sector of society (p. 36).
For such a helpful book, it remains necessary to address at least two weaknesses. The first is the human-centered tone that the book takes throughout. It would be entirely difficult to avoid such a tone when the book is written to help those seeking to understand work and vocation. The emphases to know thyself, to determine your passions, and to know how you fit with others in vocation permeate throughout the book. While providing some hedging against this idea, it remains true that as you read this book an eye bends to self more frequently than above. The second point of weakness is the heavy reliance upon Prov 31 to draw out the theological vision for work. While this text is significant, and rightly used in the discussion, Smith draws a heavy dose of his theological basis from this text. Others, such as Hoekema in Created in God's Image (Eerdmans, 1994), provide more textual spectrum in defending a theological position regarding work.
Gordon Smith has written a most helpful book that addresses a necessary topic in a time when many face unemployment or job transition. Smith encourages readers to find their passion and to pursue a vocation that allows them to fulfill that passion. While many of us work to provide, we should not neglect that we still have a calling that may fall outside that occupation. The Christian can find both and should face with confidence the call of God into a specific sector of vocational life. Smith echoes C. S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory by saying that we are far too easily pleased in understanding our vocation by settling often for paychecks and things that satisfy us less than God's call. I wish I had this book in my hands when I was in college, and I hope many Christians use this book to evaluate what God is calling them to do in their life vocation.
Larry W. Lyon
Larry W. Lyon
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina, USA