Apr 14, 2008

The Lawyer's Vocation - Part I

At the excellent Ivy League Congress on Faith and Action last weekend, I participated in a panel on vocation and law. Since I was to speak for fifteen minutes and I needed to hit just the high spots on the topic, I wisely developed a forty-minute talk. Still, it was a useful exercise to boil down the key points of vocation.

I’d like to summarize my basic points on the lawyer’s calling in a three-part post over the next week.

Four Introductory Points

1. When we speak of vocation, we are really talking about vocations or callings—plural. The concept of vocation assumes a Caller, one that transcends self and choice, one who brings us into ministry with him in every role and sphere of life. In addition to our call to become his and identify with Christ, generally, then, we are also “called” by God to be husband or wife, parent, citizen, church member or pastor, worker, student.

2. Vocation defines the boundaries of the specific neighbors we are called to love and the means by which we may love them. For example, my calling as husband in a specific sphere defines a specific woman I am to love and the ways that I am to love her. My calling also gives me duties with regard to others, sometimes expanding (in my calling as parent, for example). Thinking vocationally can be quite freeing, since I am not torn about the specifics of many of my roles—for example, I need not fret, pray, and fast over which wife I am to love, which children I must discipline, or which country’s laws I must obey. To paraphrase Calvin on this point, one reason that God places us at our "posts" by means of callings is so we are not "tossed hither and thither," attempting to do "all good things at once."

As Gene Edward Veith summarizes:

“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.”

Gene Eward Veith, God At Work 14 (Crossway 2002).

3. This view of vocation, then, rejects a hierarchy or spectrum of “more-Christian” to “less-Christian” callings. While the medieval church taught that those in church ministry were called by God to his service and others were not so called, The Reformers took a sharply distinct view. (This is not intended as a knock on Catholicism, btw. In my view, current Roman Catholic teaching and scholarship on vocation is more sound than much Evangelical teaching and scholarship.)

4. Some common theories or justification for ordinary work that fall short of robust vocational thinking:
  • Finance theory: I want to practice law to make a lot of money. That’s my primary goal for my daily work, in order that I may support my church and missionary workers.
  • Platform theory: I want to be a lawyer because lawyers are important and I will therefore have a platform to tell people about Jesus.
  • Graffiti Theory: I want to make my mark on the world as a lawyer!

    On these views, see Redeeming Law, pp. 63-66.

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