This book is an excellent discussion of the subject of vocation from a balanced theological perspective. Placher, professor of humanities at Wabash College, has done an outstanding job in compiling a theological reader of representative historical selections on the understanding of vocation in the first two millennia of Christianity. Callings is a part of a larger initiative with the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV), a network of undergraduate colleges across the United States that are examining how to assist students in their understanding of vocation in their lives. A second volume, Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be, edited by Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass (Eerdmans, 2006) is also a part of this initiative.
Of course when the Bible speaks of calling, it most often refers to the call to salvation and the call to sanctification. But when the question “Now what?” is posed, the variety of life enters the picture. The idea of vocation, of God calling believers to something bigger than themselves, gives meaning and purpose to life. Placher introduces readers to the saints of old and what these men and women of faith were thinking when they considered their personal calling. Some of the accounts in the book, such as “The Martyrdom of Perpetua,” are gripping.
Placher gives his readers over fifty sizable selections of original source material from writers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Søren Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Sayers, Karl Barth, and others.
Placher frames his work around four time periods, recognizing the societal changes that influenced vocational thought in each age. With each time period he also summarizes the key questions Christian thinkers of that time were pondering. Placher sees the early church (A.D. 100–500) as a time of transition from martyrdom before Constantine to the ascetism of early monastic life, with believers first asking, “How public should my faith be?” and later asking, “How do I practice ‘self-sacrifice’ in my faith?” in a post-Constantine “Christian” world (pp. 6, 23).
The second period is the medieval church (A.D. 500–1500), with the deeper divide between the “religious” life of the orders (priests, monks, nuns, or friars) and the “secular” life of the common people. The question for these believers was what “kind” of Christian they should be, where having a vocation was seen almost exclusively as membership in the religious orders. The third period is the Reformation and its repercussions (A.D. 1500–1800), in which the barrier between the “religious” life of the orders and the life of the common people was shattered. Instead of the limited view of vocation in the Middle Ages, Luther and those who followed him saw radical understanding of all of life as under the banner of vocation.
Placher says that since A.D. 1800 the situation in the Western world is a return in many ways to the conditions faced by the early church. He notes that in this “post-Christian” world Christianity is no longer taken for granted and neighbors are no longer fellow believers. Also in this time period there seems to be no unifying voice on the meaning of vocation.
The combination of original source material and Placher’s introductions make Callings a significant tool in the current conversation on vocation. This book could be interesting reading for both students and pastors.
About the Contributors
Dr. George M Hillman Jr. serves as the Vice President for Education and Professor of Educational Ministries and Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary. He oversees all Seminary activities related to academics and student life. This includes overseeing the extension campuses (Austin, Atlanta, Guatemala, Houston, San Antonio, Washington, D.C.), teaching locations in NW Arkansas and College Station, an extension initiative in Ft. Worth, and Online Education (English, Chinese, and Spanish), admissions, registrar, financial aid, academic advising, Spiritual Formation and Ministry Formation programs, student government, student counseling services, and student activities. Prior to stepping into the role of Vice President in 2017, George served as the Chair of the Educational Ministries and Leadership Department at DTS. He oversaw the MA in Christian Education and the MA in Christian Leadership degree programs. He is also the former Director of Internships at DTS.
George came to DTS in 2002 with years of pastoral experience in churches and parachurch organizations in Texas and Georgia. Nationally known in theological field education, he has been active in the leadership of both the Association of Theological Field Education (former member of the National Steering Committee) and the Evangelical Association of Theological Field Educators (former two-time national co-chair). In his role as Vice President for Education DTS, George has become active in the Association of Christians in Student Develop (ACSD), the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), and the National Association of International Educators (NASFA) . He is the author or co-author of six books on theological field education, church educational ministry, pastoral leadership, and several journal articles on similar topics.
George has a BS in Sociology from Texas A&M University, an MDiv and PhD in Education Administration from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. George has a passion for education, spiritual formation, and leadership development.
George is active in leadership at Frisco Bible Church. He is a rabid college football fan and loves good barbeque. He has been married to his wife Jana since 1990, and they have one grown daughter who is pursuing a career in the arts. They live in Frisco, Texas.