One major and glaring weakness in David Platt’s bestselling book, Radical, is his failure to discuss vocation – the places and positions God has called his people to in this life. I do agree with Platt that the church in the United States is much too “Americanized” and some of us need to get off the couch and take our faith much more seriously, but I don’t appreciate his guilt trip that might lead readers away from their God-given vocation. As one friend of mine said, Platt would have done well to deal with Paul’s epistles, specifically the application sections. And might it also be said that Platt’s huge vision is somewhat American itself (i.e. focus on the big, extraordinary, and glamorous)?
Not every Christian is called to be a missionary and sell everything he/she has. All Christians should be ready to give an answer for their hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:14), but not every Christian is called to be a pastor, teacher, or evangelist (Eph. 4.11). There are modern-day Timothy’s, but there are also modern-day Lydia’s.
So what is vocation? Gene Veith says it well – in a Luther-like way:
“Though [God] could give [daily bread] to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as he once did for the children of Israel when he fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other. This is the doctrine of vocation” (p. 14).
Veith goes on to say that God could just create new humans from the dust, but instead he chose to create new life through a mother and father, and calls them to raise children in love. He could just heal people without any means, but instead, he has gifted certain people to work as doctors, lab technicians, and pharmacists. He could put a sort of force field around people, but instead he has given us soldiers and policemen to protect us. This is vocation: God calls his people to different tasks and jobs in which they can serve their neighbors and glorify God in doing so. Veith: “The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one’s neighbor” (p. 39).
“…Vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts – the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday – but in the realm of the ordinary. Whatever we face in the often humdrum present – washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with our friends – this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love. We are to love our neighbors – that is, the people who are actually around us, as opposed to the abstract humanity of the theorists. These neighbors constitute the relationships that we are in right now, and our vocation is for God to serve them through us” (p. 59).
If you’re a Christian mother raising messy kids, or if you’re a Christian father who drives for UPS, don’t feel guilty that you aren’t “radically” serving the Lord. Sure, you should pray for missionaries and support them as you can, but God has put you where you are. You’re not a “lesser” Christian because you haven’t sold everything and gone overseas for six months or more. You run into your neighbors every day, and your duty is to love and serve them in your vocation, where the Lord has put you. And he is glorified when you do so.
If you’ve read Radical, please read Veith’s God at Work to learn a more balanced approach to the Christian life. There are no guilt-trips in Veith’s book and it is a more edifying and encouraging approach to serving God and neighbor. And remember Luther’s teaching: “A maid is more godly than a monk.”
Maybe someone should write a book on how “ordinary” Christians glorify God in their “ordinary” life – but would people purchase a book about regular Christians who stock the shelves of Safeway, clean hotel rooms, sell car parts, or fix laptops?