Stephen J. Nichols. What Is Vocation? Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, May 1st, 2010. 31 pp.
4 out of 5
This is a booklet on a Christian view of vocation as part of the Basics of the Christian faith series published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing. It was authored by Stephen Nichols who is probably best known by most Reformed Christians as the chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. This book offers readers a concise biblical worldview on the subject of work and vocation.
In the beginning of the book Nichols answers the question of what is vocation. He explores the English word for vocation and also the Latin root. In addition Nichols gives us a brief sketch of how vocation was understood over the ages leading up to Martin Luther’s and the Reformation’s recovery of the biblical understanding that all work is a vocation and a calling. This however is not just a historical survey for the book also provide a biblical framework of thinking about vocation.
Personally I enjoyed the second half of the booklet more than the first half though I believe the first half with the historical details was necessary and foundational for everything else in the booklet. Nichols is much more practical in the second half. I loved how he has a section on “how not to work” before progressing to the next section of “how to work.” The section of “how not to work” made me paused to reflect that there’s wrong way of going about our work and vocation. It was a good heart check.
I appreciate this booklet being nuanced in such a short work. For instance the author made a distinction between ambition and greed, and how the former can be good while the latter is sinful. The same distinction is also applied to the author’s discussion of vacation and laziness. I thought this booklet was different than other Reformed writings on the topic of work and vocation in that it addresses the subject of work and paycheck. I appreciated the author’s discussion about unemployment (page 27-28). In a world where there is unemployment, stay-at-home moms and the self-employed, the author made a good point on page 26 that “our theology needs to be big enough to include work that isn’t done for a paycheck…The doctrine of vocation has nothing to do with a paycheck, and therefore can be a great help to those who don’t get one.” Much more of course could be said and developed beyond the scope of the booklet. Nichols’ point that vocation is more than just a paycheck could easily be misrepresented and he is quite nuanced as he also said “But all of us are to work, even if it isn’t for a paycheck” (28).
Overall a good booklet that I recommend. I personally used this as a discipleship tool with a member of my church. In terms of constructive criticisms I wished there were discussion questions at the end of the booklet. I know other booklets by the publishers in other series later had discussion questions and it would have been helpful to have them here as well. Also I don’t know if Jesus was a citizen in the Roman Empire in the technical sense as asserted on page 25 but I imagine Nichols was trying to convey Jesus was a subject of the Roman Empire. This is a small point that focuses on attention to detail but one shouldn’t miss Nichols’ point that Jesus is our example with the many hats and responsibilities He bore and also our responsibilities and obligation we also must bear. Again, good booklet.