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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"The Call to Work" (Robert H. Erdmann)

TITLE: The Call To Work: A Biblical Perspective
AUTHOR: Robert H. Erdmann
PUBLISHER: Brownstone Books, 2012, (100 pages).

Is there meaning in secular work? Why since the Middle Ages are we still stuck in the secular/sacred divide? Recent work has sought to shed light on the meaning of work and marketplace ministry, and yet, many people are still unsure of their vocation and what it means by work per se. There is a deep disconnect between what we want to do and the current jobs we are doing. We want our work to be significant but we often feel less than significant. The author attempts to use this book as a launchpad to "explore" the place of work God has for us. Though there has been several articulation of faith and work recently, by people such as Dorothy Sayers, Larry Peabody, Lee Hardy, Paul Stevens, John Beckett, and several others, the author feels that what is lacking is a "simple articulation of the biblical roots of the theology of work." The continuing dichotomy of sacred vs secular realms of work is a result of such a lack, so says Erdmann. Erdmann first sets down his own context. He has work experience in both engineering and sales. He affirms that God is interested in his work. He believes that God has equipped him to do specific work. He then works out a brief survey of the history of the Church from Genesis to the Middle Ages, from the Dark Ages to the Reformation, from the Second Reformation to modern times, preferring to sacrifice details for simplicity. Written in two parts, Part One touches on the history of work. He begins with creation, the fall, and the curse of Adam. He argues that productive work is a legitimate call that still applies to this day. He talks about how work has been corrupted, using the examples of biblical characters such as Lamech whose skills are corrupted by moral decay. He also makes an interesting observation of how the polytheistic religions begin to flourish almost immediately after Israel's apostasy. Work is then corrupted farther in many other ways. In Greece, work is seen more as a curse. In China, women are disqualified from imperial examinations, which is an essential step to serving in the public systems. In India, the caste systems segregated people into the different ranks. In Christ, all these barriers are torn down as Christ redeems the world. Despite the coming of Christ, the Post-Apostolic believers continues to be attacked by heresy and all kinds of dualistic beliefs. It takes the Reformation to spring the movement back to the right track. Then comes the Industrial Revolution which many of us are familiar with, the Protestant Work Ethic and the continuing struggle between meaningful work and survival.

Part Two is a little more prescriptive in talking about the future of work. Here is where Erdmann begins building his case in the Call to Work. This is linked to the list of "universal calls" that applies to all jobs. The call to to serve humbly and worthily. The call to love and to show integrity. The call to witness, to be responsible to family, and to glorify God. His key idea:

"The solid ground, by the way, is not really in the marketplace. It’s in your heart that knows God made you to be doing what He’s equipped you to do. When that happens, you will know that God is sending His Holy Spirit to work alongside you, and yes, you will see miracles happen through you." (72)
After touching on "work," Erdmann works on "call," distinguishing it from "stations," "vocations," and "giftings." Stations are functions, vocations are specific sets of skills for which we are trained, and giftings are all of these plus specific representations of our beings. As for call, it is integral in the personhood, equipped by the gifts, and energized by a sense of purpose. Erdmann then ties the call back to the Church and the community of Christ.

My Thoughts

The whole "Call to Work" essentially revolves around the spiritual health of a person. A healthy sheep will reproduce healthy offspring. They make up a healthy church that will encourage, nurture, and equip one another. Erdmann does a good job of keeping things simple, especially the history of work and the Church. Part One constitutes the bulk of the book. It is the second part that contains more of what Erdmann is trying to drive at. In fact, if I can put it simply, Part One deals with the idea of "work," while Part Two deals more specifically with the Call and how it ties back to work. I find the second part more enjoyable and relevant. Perhaps, the job of condensing so much history into an extremely light historical survey has removed many stories and pivotal moments in history. Moreover, when surveying history, a difficult choice has to be made with regards to which particular event to highlight. Every simplification always results in reductionism. In Erdmann's case, this is even more acute as he simplifies and even more simplified survey. For students of history, this may very well mean removing much contexts from the texts. Part Two contains more concrete ideas on what a call is. With the discussion questions at the back of each chapter, and the supporting appendices, this book can be a little guide to finding our call to work. That said, this book is to be treated more as an introduction or a mini guide to the call to work. For the busy professional, this book should be delightful read on the basis of its clarity and brevity. For those who are looking for something meatier, this book will not satisfy you.

Rating: 3.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Brownstone Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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