The best lesson I ever learned about work as vocation came from an Amish man who, upon learning that I teach for a living, said, "That's a worthy vocation." For a vocation to be worthy, it has to be fitting for the Christian life. That is why I'm happy to recommend Ben Witherington III's new book, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor (Eerdmans), which reflects on the theological significance of our earthly labors.
I am a college professor who looks at the career paths of hundreds of students every year, so this topic carries more than a little interest. What would this book teach them?
"First and foremost," Witherington writes, "it is the task of all human beings to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as ourself. These tasks are 'job one' for all those created in the image of God. Second … it is our honor to be tasked with making disciples of all nations." This might strike the reader as yawningly obvious, but a truly Christian theology of vocation depends on getting that larger perspective right. Therefore, "Any other tasks, jobs, or work we undertake must be seen as subheadings under these primary, lifelong tasks." Witherington refuses to advise anyone at the level of professional priorities. Nor does he insist on the superiority of full-time Christian ministry.
Instead, Witherington situates both our primary and secondary vocations within an eschatological context, making a significant contribution. Christian work, he argues, is "any necessary and meaningful task that God calls and gifts a person to do and which can be undertaken to the glory of God and for the edification and aid of human beings, being inspired by the Spirit and foreshadowing ...1