Christian Vocation Through the Centuries

How might history inform undergraduate students’ vocational aspirations? Tracy McKenzie, past president of The Conference on Faith and History and professor and chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College, shares some historical thinking on the topic in his blog post Thinking Historically About Vocation.

In his post, Tracy makes use of the late William Placher’s volume, Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation. Placher traces Christian ideas about vocation, or “calling,” through four broad periods of history: the early church, the Middle Ages, the centuries around the Protestant Reformation, and what Placher calls the “Post-Christian” era of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Something that stands out to me about Tracy’s account is how ideas about vocation in the past might not necessarily translate well into the present. Few of our undergraduate students are going to wrestle with being called to join a monastic order, as Christians did in the Middle Ages. Even so, how Christians wrestled with calling in the Middle Ages offers insights for us today. Put another way, the past is not going to provide us with all the answers for our present, but the past will remind us we are not alone with our questions.