The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life

By Os Guinness
Nashville : Word (1998). 249 Pages.

Reviewed by
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 297-298

The subject of “calling” or vocatio (vocation) has frequently failed to foster the attention within the Christian community it rightly deserves. William Perkins, one of Cambridge’s leading sixteenth-century Puritan theologians, commented, “. . . [F]ew men rightly know how to live and go on in their callings so as they may please God . . .” (William Perkins, “A Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Men with the Sorts and Kinds of Them and the Right Use Thereof” (1603), The Works of William Perkins, ed. by Ian Breward [Appleford, Abingdon, Berkshire, England: Sutton Courtenay, 1970] 446). Other treatises such as Richard Steele’s classic The Religious Tradesman (Harrisburg, Va.: Sprinkle, 1989) occasionally find their way back into print. More recent publications, such as Paul Helm’s The Callings (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1987), have kept the discussion smoldering, but often find only limited readerships within the Christian community.

Os Guinness adds to the dialogue in his recent and more popular work The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. A long-time associate of Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri Fellow ship, Guinness is currently Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum. A prolific writer, G uinness has many notable titles to his literary credit including, The Dust of Death, God in the Dark, Dining with the Devil, No God but God, andFit Bodies, Fat Minds. His assessment of modern culture is always insightful, and his analysis of the frustration many feel within their own careers is accurate and quickly identified by the average reader.

His latest book is a devotional meditation rather than a formal academic analysis. Guinness divides the work into twenty-six short essays on varying themes connected with the concept of the “call.” He has designed each section to be read daily as a meditation, with opportunity for personal reflection. Each of the sections is rich with literary and cultural material from a plethora of sources. The material frequently introduces the topic and engages the reader’s imagination as Guinness bridges into the issue at hand. Each section concludes with several probing questions to challenge readers to reflect on the topic as it relates to their lives.

Three initial reactions shaped this reviewer’s impression of the work. Though the book’s readability is laudable, the format of individual sections tends toward fragmentation. Greater interrelationship and interaction between sections would have been desirable. Second, many quotes cited by Guinness challenge the reviewer’s thinking, yet little citation data or documentation is offered. This results in frustration as attempts to further document and contextualize the quote are difficult at best. Third, greater biblical interplay was expected. Guinness cites William Perkins as a key influential figure in the formation of his ideas (248), yet he deviates from Perkins’ work in this regard.

In addition to individual benefits gained from a reading of the book, its devotional format lends itself to a small-group setting or a reading discussion group. Evangelism-minded individuals might consider the text for a neighborhood study. Christian and non-Christian alike often share the issues of meaning and purpose in one’s career. In this regard, The Call is a practical discussion bridge. Guinness assumes a familiarity with a broad range of literary and cultural sources.

His influence and voice within conservative evangelicalism has been colored by his signature on the recent Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Gift of Salvation (ECT II-1997) document (Christianity Today [December 8, 1997] 38) and as a past signatory on the original ECT statement (1994). Receptivity to Catholicism would seem incompatible with Reformation and Puritan thinking in general, to say nothing of how that affects one view of “calling.” Many conservatives within the Reformed tradition will feel a tension between the usage of William Perkins classic Puritan treatise on “vocation” by Guinness on one side and avoidance of expressed concerns by Perkins in his treatise regarding “the Reformed Catholic” on the other. Potential readers familiar with Guinness’ affirmation may find his credibility to speak from a Reformed posture compromised.

This volume offers the reader an insightful and easy-to-read devotional on a critical, often neglected aspect of Christian living. Though questions regarding Guinness’ broader theological activities have affected his voice among some conservatives, his writings continue to challenge and provoke thought.