I’ve been reading Radical by David Platt with some guys in my church small group. I’m about half way through it, and while there are good points to be made I have some major issues with others. Not to go too far into it, but I think he has a gift for overstatement.
Anyway, one point he makes is that all Christians are called to global evangelism. He equates calling with command in this case:
We take Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations, and we say , “That means other people.” But we look at Jesus’ command in Matthew in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” and we say, “Now that means me.” (p73)
It is true that we often pick-and-choose what we find most appealing in Jesus’ teaching and apply what we like the most to us while putting aside what we don’t. However this argument made me think about the notion of “calling” in general.
I think we can consider “calling” as either a feeling, a skill or a command. I often hear the term used as a feeling, as in “I feel called to…”. I think this may be how we use it most often. It comes across as something experiential, outside of us, and something we can’t usually explain or justify.
But I think we can also use “calling” in reference to a skill set. If we have a particular talent or skill, we may come across a situation where we feel “called” to use it in a particular way. I think also we tend to believe that if we are called to do something that we will be given the tools and skills to do it. For example, one who is a gifted teacher may feel a call to preach but one who doesn’t share that skill may question that particular “calling” even when they feel called to it. Again, I think this fits in with how we typically consider calling.
But what about “calling” as a command? Without going into a deep dive here regarding uses in scripture and original languages etc., I think this is a different use of the term than the previous two. He argues that we confuse command with “calling” in this case and feel that we can opt-out of the global mandate to spread the gospel. We are called to do a specific task in life, but are commanded to spread the gospel globally regardless.
However this raises the question for me – how do I accomplish this if I don’t feel that I have the skills and tools to do so? Platt argues that God will provide the tools if we simply act on His command. But I’m still uneasy. I’ve known some Christians who were crushed when they trusted in a “calling” only to find that things didn’t work out as they thought they would. The Calvinist in me says “well, that wasn’t their calling then, wasn’t it?” That may be true, but I fear of making the same mistake.
I find it very hard to act on a “calling” when I feel neither the emotional pull to act nor feel that I have the skills to accomplish the task. Platt would argue that feeling doesn’t matter, and neither does preparation – go and do as you have been told. But what about the things that I do feel called to do and feel that I have the tools to do? What if they conflict with this other calling?
I think this emphasizes a point I’ve seen as a hidden but major point of difference between Christian fundamentalism and other streams (I suppose you could also look at this as Calvinism vs. non-Calvinism, although I’m just assuming Platt is a Calvinist – but given what you read that’s a safe assumption) is the view of human responsibility represented by both. Platt sees our prime role is to be obedient, to put our own thoughts and feelings aside and act based on scripture. While others see our role as to be obedient as well but there is much more give-and-take. Calvinism is focused on reason over feeling while others focus on reason with feeling. Calvinism and fundamentalism tend to see emotions as tricky things to be subdued and to be placed under the authority of Scripture. They are generally not to be trusted. But when you can’t trust yourself you are in a state of constant self-criticism and anxiety. Not a very healthy place to be.
That’s a little off subject but something I wanted to throw in there.
Anyway, I think there’s much more to calling than doing what you’re told. We need to be obedient, to be sure, but we also are free in that obedience and need to recognize that our gifts, talents and calling are our own.