General Studies Related to Vocation

Badcock, Gary D. The Way of Life: A Theology of Christian Vocation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

A biblical and theological exploration of the Christian idea of vocation that argues vocation is not an occupation but a calling to live and love according to the model of Christ

Cahalan, Kathleen. Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation Throughout Life’s Seasons. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017.

Constructs a framework for understanding how vocation emerges, evolves, and remains relevant over the course of one’s life—from childhood to old age.

Cahalan, Kathleen and Douglas J. Shuurman. Calling in Today’s World: Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016.

An exploration of what vocation means in eight different faith traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, secular humanism) with the goal of building understanding and promoting interfaith efforts to build a more humane world.

Cahalan, Kathleen. The Stories We Live: Finding God’s Calling All Around Us. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017.

Uses Christian Scripture and personal stories to invite readers to consider vocation as active, ongoing participation in the story of God.

Conyers, A. J. “The Meaning of Vocation.” Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics 10 (2004): 11–19.

Seeks to correct common secular and theological misunderstandings of vocation and to return to a biblical idea of calling as a summons from God to a life of faithfulness and—despite challenges—fullness.

Conyers, A. J. The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009. First published 2006 by Spence Publishing.

Argues that vocation—a sense of responsibility to an external “Caller”—is an essential part not only of the Judeo-Christian tradition but human society broadly. Modernity has witnessed the loss of vocation and the consequent rise of problems such as personal alienation, social fragmentation, and widespread violence.

Daloz, Laurent A. Parks, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen, and Sharon Daloz Parks. Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World. Boston: Beacon, 1996.

Examines the lives of people who are committed to working on behalf of the common good in a wide variety of ways.

Law, William. A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Preface by William Sloane Coffin Jr.

Originally published in 1729, this work argues that because God is humanity’s greatest good, we should live our lives in a way that pleases God. Includes guidelines on spiritual practices such as prayer, charity, the use of Psalms in private devotion, and humility.

Garber, Steven. Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014.

Presents a vision of vocation as involving actively loving a world that is often problematic, painful, and ugly. Offers real life examples from a variety of contexts (e.g., education, marriage and parenting, politics, the fast food industry).

Hardy, Lee. The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990.

Thorough historical, philosophical, theological, and practical study of work from an evangelical perspective.

Keller, Tim. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work. New York: Penguin, 2014.

Explores how the Christian notion of work as service to others rather than the self can provide the foundation for a more healthy professional and personal life.

Kruschwitz, Robert B., ed. Vocation [issue]. Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics 10 (2004).

A series of essays and devotional/worship material related to Christian vocation.

Lewis, C. S. “Learning in War Time.” In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, edited by Walter Hooper, 47–63. New York: HarperOne, 2009. First published 1949 by Macmillan.

A 1939 lecture that calls for the surrender of every aspect of life—including learning—to God (cf. 1 Cor 10:31). Factors such as one’s upbringing, talents, and circumstances will contribute to the work one offers to God.

Palmer, Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Encourages engagement in spiritual practices that will equip people to discern how their vocation emerges from their own lives rather than from external pressures. Directed to teachers, but has broad relevance.

Placher, William C., ed. Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

Anthology of biblical, theological, literary, and philosophical writings on vocation from Christian history.

Sayers, Dorothy. “Why Work?” In Creed or Chaos? Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe). Bedford, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1999. First published by Harcourt Brace in 1949.

Argues that work has an intrinsic value as the means through which people offer themselves to God. Humans are created to work and should approach it with the goal of doing it well—whatever “it” may be—rather than merely as a means to other ends.

Schwehn, Mark R. and Dorothy C. Bass, eds. Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.

Anthology of writings from a wide variety of cultures, genres, and perspectives that relate to vocation and the idea of life’s meaning, purpose, and significance.

Sherman, Amy. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011.

Builds on Proverbs’ picture of “the righteous” to explore how Christians who follow their calling—which involves seeing themselves as stewards of God-given gifts—give the world a foretaste of the kingdom of God.

Smith, Gordon T. “Seeking Congruence: The Nature of Vocational Integrity.” In Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, 33–55. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011.

Builds from the idea of three expressions of vocation (a general call to be Christians, a specific call to how each person lives out Christ’s mission in the world, and an immediate call to current responsibilities) and argues that one can help maintain vocational integrity by living a life congruent with who we are in terms of gifts, personalities, and desires.

Volf, Miroslav. Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001.

Approaches the idea of work in relation to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and economic theory to construct a Protestant theology of work as cooperation with God.

Vocation in the Context of Higher Education

Auden, W. H. “Vocation and Society.” In “In Solitude, for Company”: W. H. Auden after 1940: Unpublished Prose and Recent Criticism, edited by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins, 15–30. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

A 1943 lecture on pedagogy and the task of inspiring students to discover their vocations as a form of love.

Clydesdale, Tim. The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges Must Talk to Students about Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

A sociological work directed toward parents, students, and administrators that argues for institutions of higher learning to recover of a focus on purpose rather than economic success.

Cunningham, David S., ed. At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Examines and offers practical suggestions for the integration of faith and learning across the disciplines.

Cunningham, David S., ed. Vocation Across the Academy: A New Vocabulary for Higher Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Interdisciplinary call for students and faculty to reflect on meaning and purpose.

Evans, C. Stephen. “The Calling of the Christian Scholar-Teacher.” In Faithful Learning and the Christian Scholarly Vocation, edited by Douglas V. Henry and Bob R. Agee, 26–49. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

Establishes a spectrum of academic disciplines based upon their relationship to faith or lack thereof.

Garber, Steven. Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007.

Explores ways that parents, faculty, administrators, and ministers can help students make and sustain connections between their faith and the way they live in the world.

Hauerwas, Stanley. “Go with God: An Open Letter to Young Christians on Their Way to College.” First Things. Last modified November 2010.

Calls students to let their Christian faith shape their college years rather than letting the values of secularism, neopagan excess, and disciplinary isolation shape them. These years are a time of significant moral formation and students should see their time at college as their “calling” for that period.

Henry, Douglas V. and Bob R. Agee, ed. Faithful Learning and the Christian Scholarly Vocation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

A series of essays exploring the integration of faith and learning—both its importance and its challenges—from a theological perspective.

Hughes, Richard T. How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.

Argues that the proper pursuit of faith nourishes the openness and curiosity necessary for the life of the mind.

Jones, L. Gregory. “Negotiating the Tensions of Vocation.” In The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher, edited by L. Gregory Jones and Stephanie Paulsell, 209–24. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Suggests that Christians should consider how their personal callings have points of congruence with the vocation of the institutions where they serve.

Marsden, George M. The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Explores how Christian faith can contribute to contemporary scholarship and argues that American universities should be more open to explicit expressions of faith as a valid perspective that can benefit scholarly endeavors.

McGrath, Alister. Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995.

Academic study of how evangelical Christianity—with its commitment to the uniqueness of Jesus and biblical authority—can robustly engage with postmodernism, post-liberalism, and religious pluralism.

Newman, Elizabeth. “Beyond the Faith-Knowledge Dichotomy: Teaching as Vocation.” In Professing in the Postmodern Academy: Faculty and the Future of Church-Related Colleges, edited by Stephen R. Haynes, 131–48. Issues in Religion and Higher Education 1. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2002.

Explores how understanding teaching as a vocation can mitigate against the harmful assumption that one should separate one’s faith from one’s work of passing on knowledge in the classroom.

Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

Examines the reasons for evangelicalism’s lack of contribution to rigorous intellectual scholarship in North America and identifies resources within evangelicalism itself to support an increasing involvement in broader intellectual life.

Roels, Shirley. “An Education for Abundant Life.” Liberal Education 100 (2014): 6–13.

Builds on the work of the Lilly Endowment’s Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation and argues that educating for vocation gives students a kind of freedom that emerges from taking responsibility for their beliefs and choices.

Schwehn, Mark R. Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Argues that education should focus on moral formation—which has communal implications—rather than merely on faith-informed research—which is individualistic.

Schwehn, Mark R. “Teaching as Profession and Vocation.” Theology Today 59 (2002): 396–407.

Surveys the current conversations about Christian vocation and what difference it makes to consider teaching as a Christian vocation rather than just one among many career options.

Schwehn, Kaethe and L. DeAne Lagerquist. Claiming Our Callings: Toward a New Understanding of Vocation in the Liberal Arts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Perspectives from fourteen professors about the critical importance for the goals of liberal arts of focusing on calling rather than success or credentials.

Wadell, Paul J. and Darin H. Davis. “Tracking the Toxins of Acedia: Reenvisioning Moral Education.” In The Schooled Heart: Moral Formation in American Higher Education, edited by Douglas V. Henry and Michael D. Beaty, 133–54. Studies in Religion and Higher Education 4. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007.

Gives a diagnosis of the reason for the current crisis of disengagement and loss of purpose in higher education and argues for a recovery of vocation as part of moral formation of students.

Weil, Simone. “Reflection on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of Good.” In Waiting for God, 32–37. Translated by Emma Craufurd. New York: Routledge Revivals, 2009.

Classic essay exploring the relationship between academic study and communion with God.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Edited by Clarence W. Joldersma and Gloria Goris Stronks. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

Collection of essays dealing with the purpose of Christian higher education and learning, which connects with the biblical notion of shalom in the sense that the formation of students should prepare them to be peacemakers in their various social contexts.


Babette’s Feast [Babettes gæstebud]. Directed by Gabriel Axel. Orion Classics, 1987.

A woman uses all of her resources—financial and artistic—to prepare a rich feast for an ascetic religious community. A picture of hospitality and how to use one’s unique gifts to bless others.

Chariots of Fire. Directed by Hugh Hudson. The Ladd Company, 1981.

Olympic runner Eric Liddell uses his athletic abilities for God’s glory before becoming a missionary. Explores questions of purpose.

The Island [Ostrov]. Directed by Pavel Lungin. Telekanal Rossiya, 2006.

A guilt-ridden man lives a life of penance but also quietly ministers to others.

Of Gods and Men [Des hommes et des dieux]. Directed by Xavier Beauvois. Mars Distribution, 2010.

Trappist monks commit to live in relationship with and service to their local community even when threatened by an Islamic fundamentalist group.

Tender Mercies. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Universal Pictures, 1983.

An alcoholic country singer tries to build a new life with a widow and her son. Explores questions of meaning and purpose.