Bonhoeffer (Ethics) challenges what he thinks of as the pseudo-Lutheran view of vocation. Vocation is not merely a demand to stay within the already-settled limits of a job, an office, a set of procedures. It is a call from Jesus to follow Jesus. ”This call does indeed summon him to earthly duties,” Bonhoeffer admits, “but that is never the whole of the call, for it lies always beyond these duties, before them and behind them. The calling, in the New Testament sense, is never a sanctioning of worldly institutions as such; its ‘yes’ to them always includes at the same time an extremely emphatic ‘no,’ an extremely sharp protest against the world” (168).
It is not possible, on this view, to reject the responsibility to address some injustice or evil on the basis of the limits of calling. Rather, precisely because the call is a call from Jesus, it breaks the boundaries of the status quo. Bonhoeffer offers the example of a physician:
“it may happen that I, as a physician, am obliged to recognize and fulfill my concrete responsibility no longer by the sick-bed but, for example, in taking public action against some measure which constitutes a threat to medical science or to human life or to science as such. Vocation is responsibility and responsibility is a total response of the whole man to the whole of reality; for this very reason there can be no petty and pedantic restricting of one’s interests to one’s professional duties in the narrowest sense. Any such restriction would be irresponsibility” (254).
Vocation cannot define ahead of time the limits of one’s responsibility. Every Christian has to remain open to the call of Jesus to transgress whatever settled limits there might be.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 9:34 am
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