Conversations, VOLUME 6

Christian Vocation: What is it? [Video]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”160899869X” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”112″ alt=”Christian vocation” ]Here’s a fun video on work and Christian vocation from Tim Otto and Troy Terpstra
This video is based on John Alexander’s book Being Church, which was one of our 2012 Books of the year



While I adamantly agree with the theological thrust of this video — emphasizing church over individualized faith — I have to wonder about some of the practical conclusions that are drawn.  It seems to promote a deep spiritual/secular divide.  If the end of God’s mission is the reconciliation of all things (as the video implies), how does the church follow God in this work?  Or similarly, if we take the church seriously, how do we understand and reinterpret our daily work together in the light of God’s mission of reconciliation? The answers to this question that are offered in this video seem less than satisfying to me. What if churches were communities that orchestrated the broad scope of gifts and skills of their members in way that brought healing and flourishing to their neighborhoods, and in that way pointed toward God’s reconciling work in the world?  ( My experience here at Englewood Christian Church and Amy Sherman’s book Kingdom Calling has been helpful for me in imagining what this might look like…)   ~Chris Smith


What do you think? If we take the Church as essential to God’s work in the world, how then do we understand Christian Vocation?

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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  1. Thank you very much Chris for posting the video. The charge that it promotes a deep secular/spiritual divide is one that I’m contemplating. Maybe I should just acknowledge that it does. Maria Kenny offers the same critique in her review of John’s book in Prism Magazine.

    Part of what complicates it for me is that John did more “secular” activities than most Christians ever dream of. He marched in NAACP protests during the civil rights movement and for his trouble had to resign his teaching post at Wheaton. He started a magazine called “Freedom Now” (which became The Other Side) to promote racial integration in the church. He was at the forefront of evangelicals in addressing the social, economic, political ills of our time (the “secular” so to speak . . . for more on this see the book “Moral Minority”).

    But he became disillusioned that some of the greatest conflicts he ever participated in were in the Peace Movement. He realized his own ego was part of the problem. And in seeking the remedy for that he became completely enchanted with the social, political, economic dream of God that is embodied in the revolutionary movement we call “church.”

    I think I experience similar dynamics in my own life. I worked 14 years as an RN on an AIDS ward and continue to work as a home health RN for the county. Once, on the AIDS ward, a patient who had been a porn star, was slightly demented was walking around naked on the ward. A meeting was called of his social worker, chaplain, psychiatrist, and the doctors and nurses attending him. After discussing a series of inadequate proposals someone ventured, “What he needs is a family.” The room sat quiet for a moment in recognition of the truth of that, and the fact that the world-class hospital taking care of him could not provide it.

    I think that is what the church ought to be able to provide for people like him and all of us, but can’t because most people’s best energies go into their jobs.

    As I write this, I wonder if the secular/spiritual dichotomy isn’t entirely false. It is just that our imagination for church is too impoverished. Church includes the economic, social, political aspects of life (what we often think of as “secular”) but they are at least partially redeemed in the kingdom context of church (not that the two can be conflated).

    • Tim, thanks for clarifying… I think you hit the nail on the head in the final paragraph, noting that “our imagination for church is too impoverished”… I guess I wish more had been said about how the church bears witness in the socio-economic spheres (starting businesses, calling upon particular — and not necessarily “spiritual” — gifts and skills of its members, growing food, etc). Or in other words, a more robust vision of how we interpret work and the particular gifts and skills of individuals within a theology and praxis that is deeply rooted in the local church…

      Regardless, I loved the video, and really do hope that you and Troy will be inspired to do additional videos in the same style!!!