Theology 101

The Gospel & Our Various Christian Callings

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Editor’s note: Hugh Whelchel was recently featured in an interview with Praxis Circle. Below are a few highlights of that conversation, which you can watch in full here.

I typically talk about the gospel in four chapters: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. 

  • Creation is just the way things were. 
  • The fall shows the way things are. 
  • Redemption shows the way things could be. 
  • And restoration shows the way things are going to be. 

So you have those four chapters, and one of the problems with the church today is that we’ve taken that four-chapter gospel and we’ve truncated it down to two chapters. All we talk about is the fall and redemption. Therefore we leave out the whole first chapter so we don’t know what we were created to do, we don’t know what our purpose was. And then we leave off the last chapter which says where we’re going to end up. So now we don’t know what we were designed to do and we don’t know where we’re going to end up and where we’re supposed to be when it’s all said and done. 

The result is that we’ve distorted the true gospel. The gospel becomes all about me. As one scholar says, “It’s the gospel of self-management.” It’s sin management. We’re regulating our own sin. The scriptures don’t teach that at all. So one of the things we have to do is go back to the scripture and say, “Okay, within the framework of these four chapters, let’s go back to the first chapter. What does it really say we’re put here to do?”

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

What Does it Mean to “Subdue the Earth” or to Work? 

In chapter 2 of Genesis, God says that he put Adam in the garden to work it and to take care of it. There’s a balance there. There’s a balance to what we do with creation. So when we subdue the earth, we’re to bring out the good parts in it. We’re to make the earth an incredible place for human beings to flourish. 

I mean, Adam was a gardener and he had to cut down some trees. He wasn’t a forest ranger because he didn’t keep it the way it was. It’s okay to change things. 

In fact, I would argue that one of the best definitions of work that I’ve ever heard is the idea that work is the rearranging of the physical resources that we’ve been given by God in order to bring about flourishing for God’s creation, particularly the part of creation that you’ve been called to serve. That’s what work is about.

 So we’re to be rearranging these things, using our creativity, using all the gifts that God has given us to bring about more flourishing. It’s all about more flourishing. That’s really an important concept that’s been lost by the church today. 

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

How Important is Family to a Christian’s Calling?

That’s a very important piece, and one I find there is much misunderstanding about. I’ll give you a model that I got from Os Guinness that really helped me, and it really helps anyone I tell it to because we don’t think about it this way. 

What Os says is that our primary calling as Christians is to become disciples of Christ. That’s our primary calling; we all share that together. It’s out of that calling that we have four secondary callings, and these secondary callings are the way that this primary calling kind of works itself out in the real world, it’s how the rubber meets the road. And those callings are: 

  • Our calling to the church
  • Our calling to family
  • Our calling to community
  • And our calling to vocation. 

What Os says is that during any given day, all those are in play. And you wouldn’t say, “Well, my calling to work is so important that I’m going to ignore my family this week.” You wouldn’t say that. But you would balance your time out in such a way that you can do all of them. 

Now there can be times in your life when it can be very different, like when you retire. And I don’t particularly like the word “retire” because I don’t believe in it from the perspective of the way we talk about it. But when it gets to be where you don’t have to work for money and God lets you spend more time with your family, that’s okay. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Or more time with the community. Or more time with the church. 

But see, the reality is that we were called to do work, paid and unpaid, in those four buckets for our whole lifetime — and we can’t ignore that. We ignore it at our peril. Part of it is balancing that out and part of it is being conscious that we are responsible to do work in the church, that we are responsible to do work in our community, we are responsible to do work. And it’s through that work that God makes a difference. It’s through that work in those four buckets that he changes the world. That’s the instrument he’s chosen to bring shalom to our families, to our churches, to our communities, to our vocations. And we need to get on board with that. 

(Watch this part of the interview here.)

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