Work in the Spirit 13

imgresMiroslav Volf offers six critiques of Luther’s understanding of work as vocation in Work in the Spirit.  The first is that it is “indifferent toward alienation in work.”

Here’s the rest.

The second: Luther’s notion of vocation is “ambiguous” because “Luther’s bold identification of vocation [i.e., vocatio externa] with the call [i.e., vocatio spiritualis] led again and again to the integration of the call into vocation and vocation into occupation….”  Why is this bad?  This eventually leads to “consecration of the vocational occupational structure,” and “vocation [begins] to gain the upper hand over the call.”

The third: “Understanding of work as vocation is easily misued ideologically.”  Since “every employment is a place of service to God…this [Lutheran] notion of [work as vocation] simply functions to ennoble dehumanizing work” without offering any “resources to foster” “structural or other kinds of change.”

The fourth & the fifth: the Lutheran notion of vocation is “not applicable to the increasingly mobile industrial and information society” which are “characterized by a diachronic plurality of employment” and “a synchronic plurality of employment.”  The former refers to the fact that, nowadays, a person goes through multiple jobs over his lifetime.  The latter means a person holds multiple jobs at the same time.  Because Luther often insisted that we remain satisfied in our vocation, “to change one’s employment [can be seen as] fail[ing] to remain faithful to God’s commandment.  In addition, in Lutheran theology, “vocatio externa as a rule refers to a single employment or job, which people hold throughout their lives.”  This is, again, at best inapplicable to modern contexts and at worst unduly condemnatory.

Finally, the sixth: “Lutheran social ethic…reduced its notion of vocation to gainful employment.”  “This reduction…coupled with the belief that vocation is the primary service ordinary people render to God contributed to the modern fateful elevation of work to the status of religion.”  And no good can come of such “religious pursuit of work,” of course!


One thought on “Work in the Spirit 13

  1. Pingback: Work in the Spirit 14 | Working Prototype

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