Pietism, Calvinism, and vocation – reflections from Bethel’s Chris Gehrz


Chris GehrzPlease, talk among yourselves as we at Bethel University engage in a little love-fest.

My colleague in the College of Arts and Sciences, historian Chris Gehrz, always provides lively insights on his Pietist Schoolman blog. Today, triggered by my post here on the divine value of secular vocation, Chris said some nice things about me on that blog. Then he mused a bit on Pietist (lack of?) contribution to thought about vocation, and some of his favorite sources on the same topic, which happen to be Reformed.

I’m skipping the encomiums (but thanks, Chris!) and moving to the latter part of his post:

Where I talk with students about vocation, I have to admit that I’m drawing chiefly on the Reformed tradition: from the section of John Calvin’s Institutes (on being faithful to one’s divine calling) that is my favorite thing to teach to the first-year students in our Christianity and Western Culture course to theFrederick Buechner sermon on calling that I discuss with our department’s seniors at the end of their capstone seminar. It’s no surprise that, when I started talking about vocation in my initial tenure interview, our then-provost (now-president) chuckled, “For a Pietist, you sure sound like a Calvinist.”

(By coincidence, Reformed pastor Tim Keller posted his own reflection on “How Faith Affects Our Work” on his church’s blog the same day Chris posted his on the “Work with Purpose” initiative.)

Other Christian traditions have robust theologies of vocation and work from which I’m happy to draw inspiration and wisdom (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican — Dorothy Sayers! — come to mind most easily). And if, as I’ve suggested earlier, Pietists are lower case-c catholics who rejoice in being part of a universal church, maybe that’s good enough.

But I suspect that there are resources in my own tradition that can be retrieved: Could Spener’s revival of Luther’s “common priesthood” enlarge our understanding of ministry? Do more radical Pietists like the Blumhardts suggest an eschatological purpose to all of our endeavors in the here and now? Going a bit further afield, I’d guess that the Wesleyan tradition (with which Chris is much more familiar than I) has something to say about the connections between work and sanctification. Perhaps Chris will help us better understand this dimension of our heritage — not that he has anything else to do over the next year…

The whole post is here. Just a quick comment (this is Chris Armstrong again): I don’t know a lot about the Wesleyan tradition on this, but I had better by April, when I’ll be presenting at Seattle Pacific University on Wesley and Work, on a panel including, among others, a wise leader in faith-and-work thought, former Blackrock exec Bob Doll. Here’s the announcement over at SPU’s site:

Economics and Wesleyan Theology in Creative Partnership: Toward a Fully Thriving Society April 10–12, 2013

This spring, the Center for Biblical and Theological Education and the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Paci!c University will host a conversation on the intersection of business, economics, and Wesleyan theology. Sponsored by the Acton Institute, this series of seminars will examine how Wesley’s practical theology, with its focus on the complete integration of life and faith in holiness, can speak to church and lay leaders in its ability to contribute to a flourishing society in the workplace.

Speakers include Bob Doll, a former chief equity strategist with the investment firm Blackrock; Sondra Wheeler, author of Wealth as Peril and Obligation: Possessions in the New Testament; David Wright, provost at Indiana Wesleyan University; Stephen Grabill, research scholar in theology at Acton Institute; and Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary.

Learn more about the conference at spu.edu/cib or at spu.edu/cbte.

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