A Clarification on Place

So far, Keith has begun this discussion of place by suggesting the importance of place and its modern neglect. I responded by agreeing, but suggesting that the practical questions about place were more significant than the theoretical ones. Keith has responded by emphasizing the importance of place and suggesting that there may be some cases in which commitment to vocation is idolatry. I wish to start by suggesting where we agree. Then I will clarify my position so that we can determine if we do disagree or not.

We agree on the importance of place and current problems with it. In your first post, you suggested several things. First, that tight communities are enabled through an attachment to place. Second, that these tight attachments reign in crime other social problems. Third, that Eugene Peterson did what was morally right by staying at the same church rather than chasing money, power or fame. Fourth, that some Christians (such as Hugh Hewitt) would disagree with the previous statement. Fifth, that the opinion of such Christians in now popular. Sixth, that the church should combat this by developing a theology of place. I agree with all of these points, although some are better supported than others. The fifth point does need further proof, but I don’t have any reason to doubt it.

In his more recent post, Keith suggests a few further points. He suggests that one ought to follow Peterson’s example by refraining from leaving a place for the mere reason of increased income. He also suggests that our perception of vocation can lead to a loss of commitment to place. Commitment to vocation, may “be nothing more than veiled idolatry”. Finally, Keith wishes to stress that this ought to be what happens normally, not what happens absolutely. I agree with every point except (possibly) the point that commitment to vocation can in some cases be veiled idolatry.

Vocation is not a job that one likes, nor is it everyone’s common perceptions of that kind of work or the common practices of that kind of work. Vocation is the pursuit of a kind of work to which you were designed as a part of the created order. It therefore follows that it is impossible for certain kinds of “work” to be a vocation. Any immoral job is not a vocation. Therefore, prostitutes and torturers are not vocations. Any work that “goes against” our design is also not a vocation. Therefore, telemarketing, factory labor, and similar kinds of work are not vocations either. Finally, it is impossible to pursue a vocation while attempting to pervert the created order. So one cannot be committed to a vocation – such as teaching – while attempting to deceive the class or abandon one’s family. Why? Because teaching as a vocation aims (partly) at the giving of true information. Giving false information to deceive is a rejection of one’s vocation, not a commitment to it. In the case of abandoning one’s family, one is also rejecting one’s vocation. God did not design work to conflict with his design of the social order. When one attempts to make them conflict, one is not committed to one’s vocation. One is rejecting one’s vocation.

Given my understanding of vocation, I do not believe that we actually disagree. Let’s use vocation as I have defined it while using the word “job” to cover any activity for which one is paid. So one could have the job of a factory worker, torturer or prostitute, but these jobs would not be the expression of a vocation. This distinction is very useful, especially since God did not call us to make money, gain power or fame. Instead he called us to love him and to love our neighbor. Work is our means of loving our neighbor. We cannot turn around and use that means to harm or ignore our neighbors.