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Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber

Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber

From the fast food employee to the Dotcom CEO, vocation is not something to be hidden only for ourselves and to pad our bank account, but we ‘are responsible, for love’s sake, for the way the world is and the way it ought to be,’ (18) writes Steven Garber, author of the new book Visions of Vocation.  What does it mean to know the world and still love it?  What does it mean to be implicated by the world we live in and the devastation all around us?  These questions are a few of the baseline points that Garber seeks to answer in his thoughtful and wise book on vocation.  What is the most telling feature of the whole book is Steven’s insistence that work cannot be deconstructed into a few isolated statements that merely reflect economics and earnings, but that our vocations because of their intrinsic nature affect all of life, most importantly our ethics or how we live with what we know to be true.  I used this book in a recent God, Culture, and Conversation setting at my church and the people met it with eagerness and excitement.  Rather than run through a brief overview of the entire book, I want to highlight a few chapters that really made an impact upon myself and my congregation.

Building on his discussion around the Hebrew word ‘yada, to know,’ Steven gets to the crux of the issue concerning the responsibility of knowledge in his retelling of the story of Le Chambon.  These French Huegenot villagers in the tiny village of Le Chambon were true heroes in that they hid over 5,000 Jews in barns, houses, and anywhere they could find them from the Nazi forces who wanted them dead.  They knew the horrors of the Holocaust and acted with compassion in saving the lives of many who had done nothing wrong.  Their only reward for doing this was possible persecution or death.  (106-111)  Steven comes back to the point time and again that knowledge is never an abstract ideal but is rooted in doing.  Relationship, revelation, and responsibility provide the framework to understand God’s involvement in the biblical narrative and the impetus for a life of doing that holds others above ourselves.  We are in relationship with others and by this connection we care for love’s sake for their good.  Knowing is all about doing.  We could even make the case that we haven’t really engaged in knowing well unless we live out fully the implications of those truths. 

Steven brings out this concept that ‘words have to become flesh’ in chapter 5.  He writes, “We see out of our hearts.  We commit ourselves to living certain ways – because we want to – and then we explain the universe in a way that makes sense of that choice.” (123)   What we love first compels us more than a cognitive and epistemological insight.  This is why most objections to the Christian faith are in the end not intellectual barriers but different visions of the world that people are committed to by their heart, their affections.  Drawing out the implications of the woman at the well in John 4, Steven pays close attention to how Jesus reaches for the woman’s heart rather than just answering surface questions.  Jesus’ words offered life to this woman because they were coming alongside of compassion, tenderness, and wisdom that reaches out toward a person rather than standing aloof.  The expectation that God enters into the muck and mire of life through Jesus gives us great strength to enter into our neighbors stuff as well.   We see the highest example of this in Jesus, who even on the cross reached out to the other men on the cross and saying to one, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’

We are implicated in this life as we grow in our understanding.  From economics and farming, to prisons and welfare, each sector of culture is not to be cut off from the common grace it deserves.  Yet, it is the plight of believers everywhere to see knowing as doing and in turn be changed by this.

Thanks to IVP Books and Adrianna Wright for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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