Cover Image: Calling in Context

Calling in Context

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Member Reviews

What Bible stories and characters do we think of when discussing “calling”? Is there a “Biblical template” for how God calls someone? How then do we discern God’s calling on our lives? These are some of the many questions this book addresses.

Susan Maros has written a beautiful book, inviting the reader to consider the many aspects that go into discerning calling. Maros points out that too often we read the glamorous moments of calling in the Bible— such as Moses at the burning bush— and skip over the fact that God had been preparing Moses for 80 years before that moment. Maros examines how our racial-ethnic-cultural identity, as well as socio-economic status, and our gender all influence our journey of discerning our calling. 

One profound point Maros also discussed is how God calls individuals, but never just for the sake of the individual. It is always about the community. “The community is the context of the calling of individual people. When God appoints someone to a task, it is always with the well-being of the community in mind, and it is always in line with God’s broader intentions for the world. And when God appoints an individual, that individual’s calling is always in relation to the calling of their community.” 

I appreciated Maros’ unique way of discussing Biblical calling, and how this book helps the reader engage the questions of discerning ones’ vocation. Her careful discussion of calling is also intertwined with real calling stories from a variety of diverse sources. I highly recommend this book- not only for college students trying to “figure things out,” but also for adults in different stages of life. Each chapter ends with reflection questions, suggested Biblical texts to engage the topic further, as well as recommended books for further study. This is a great resource to use in personal study or in a group setting.
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As someone who works with college students and talks about calling and vocation a lot, this book was delightful to read.  I appreciated Dr. Maros' deep-dives into Scripture as well as her well-researched exploration of geography and social-psychology.  This book is so helpful in pointing out the variations of calling that can be found throughout various communities, and how our own cultural backgrounds inform our idea of what calling is.

I look forward to providing this to some of my students as they explore their own calling in life.

*PDF copy of the text provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
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Interesting premise, lovely cover (which always helps!), and strong writer. I recommend for readers looking for a thought-provoking read.
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Calling is a much-talked-about topic whenever there is a life transition. The Bible says it. People use it. We live it. From looking for a life partner to trying to find a job; choosing a college to commit to making investments; the word "calling" has been used, misused, and sometimes abused. Some say calling is for those contemplating entering into a ministry, while others apply it specifically to schools, jobs, and various project assignments. The truth is, any specific calling needs to be seen in its proper contexts simply because we are all unique. Our participation in the working out of this calling is also unique. With hindsight, author and professor Susan Maros admit that a lot of instruction about calling in our world has been restricted to "well-intentioned, White, evangelical, individualistic" views. Gradually, after hearing stories from friends and colleagues from different cultural backgrounds, she grows to apply the concept of calling to a wider world. In this book, Maros shows us step by step how our understanding of calling is influenced by our social and cultural contexts. Calling our existing maps problematic, she takes us through mental maps which often become the lens with which we interpret our world. She then takes a few notches up the ladder of deconstruction to question the way we use "biblical models" in our mental maps. This alone should make many of us sit up and reconsider our own mental maps and our own definitions of what it means to think biblically about calling. Specifically, she identifies five key characteristics in most theological thinking:
1) Caller: God
2) Calling: Task/Role
3) Called: Particular Person
4) Centrality: The awareness of knowing it
5) Confirmation

She raises two questions just like the way we argue about double predestination: If there is a calling to do good, is there also a calling to be part of evil? By doing so, Maros points out the flaw in conventional thinking surrounding "biblical calling" to argue for a new way to interpret this important topic. This is because the Bible often does not give us "model answers" to solve our problems. Interpretation can be a lot more complex. Perhaps, the better questions would be:
- What was the context of the calling?
- How did God speak then?
- How were the contexts seen as fulfilling the purposes of God?

Calling is not simply a contextual consideration. It is also a journey of identity formation. It is also storytelling of our own lives. Part Two of the book looks at the particular social locations we live in. Apart from interviewing people from different races, cultures, and ethnicities, she expands her research to include people from various socio-economic circles, classes, and other subcultures, also arguing that meritocracy is a cultural map that influences the way we understand calling. She debunks the way many of us connect success with some good techniques and shows us that in Christian ministry, things are much more complex than simply following a few steps to success. Even gendered identity is a factor that could warp our discernment of calling. Maros concludes her research in Part Three to show us how to connect " power and privilege, spiritual practices, and purpose." 

My Thoughts
This book arises out of the author's Ph.D. dissertation about cultural models and personal calling. One could safely conclude that she is a decent authority when it comes to helping us understand what calling and biblical calling is about. At the risk of oversimplifying other models of calling, she does the heavy lifting for us by giving us the general thrusts of the theological models out there in the market. That said, I think it is important for readers not to jettison the other ideas of calling too quickly. My thinking is that Maros's distillation of the five key characteristics of most theological thinking about calling is not about replacing the old with the new, in particular, her thesis. Instead, it is a plea to consider an alternative framework from a cross-cultural perspective. In other words, it is an invitation to a conversation rather than a dogmatic framework for us to swallow. It is not about "out-with-the-old" and "in-with-the-new" but expanding our understanding of calling from a different angle. For if it is true that calling needs to be considered in context, we can see this book as a way to address anything that has fallen through the cracks. Like her Malaysian colleague who refuses to read vocational books that are too American, this book could open the door for more openness. 

This book is an important contribution to vocational careers and calling. Many of us ask that question frequently and some might even expect a kind of easy-to-use framework. Such a thing does not exist. The truth is, we need to be constantly in discernment mode as far as calling is concerned. Calling is not just about knowing. It is also about practicing faithfulness as we go further along. Just like Joseph who never really understood the reason why his own brothers would betray him until his success in Egypt, we too should cultivate our relationship with God regularly and faithfully to ensure optimal readiness to receive God's insights and promptings. If we could bring together the practices of prayer, spirituality, community life, and disciplines, it would make us better discerners. 

One more thing. Pushing the envelope further, it can also be argued that the way to understand calling in context is not just about the content itself. The researcher's context and background could also be a factor to influence the content and presentation. Like it or not, no matter how we try to put ourselves into another culture's perspectives or the shoes of another ethnicity, we are still unable to fully speak for them. Having said that, where then do we draw the line in the endless questioning and debating of contexts? Is there a way to prevent wholesale rejection of ideas from another context? I believe it works both ways. The Bible teaches us the virtues of humility and honesty. These should not be downplayed at all. They should form the core part of understanding spiritual discernment and our calling. I believe that is key to learning from God and from others in order to greater understand our identity and subsequently, our calling. 

Susan L. Maros (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is an affiliate assistant professor of Christian leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she has also served as a doctoral supervisor, and an adjunct professor at the King's University, Southlake, Texas. She is a past president of the Academy of Religious Leadership.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of InterVarsity Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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As a professor who explores calling in her classes, Maros shares how she started to realize that the perception of discerning calling differed for many of her students from other geographical and cultural backgrounds, and she decided to dig deeper into understanding how those things and more affect our jobs and Christian ministry. This book takes readers on a journey to explore how your culture, context, social class, gender, and many other issues can affect your view of vocational and ministerial calling, and help you have a better vocabulary and background understanding to talk about such things with people who are coming from a different context.

I do need to get out of the way that I know this author personally. I went to church with her for a few years and her parents have visited my husband and I overseas a few times. I have to admit it was part of why the book captured my interest. I will also say, I am not normally excited about reviewing books by people I know. But this one was different because I was very interested in the topic as someone who works in an international school and spends a lot of time talking to high school Seniors about their next steps. So, yes, I know the author, but I’m going to review it as impartially as possible because I see the need for this book. As an expat working at international schools in Asia for 17 years now, I’ve seen the way cultures bump up against each other when it comes to choosing a vocation countless times. See, we have these students in an American-style school taught by a whole bunch of Western teachers (and a few Eastern ones too) but the majority of the students are coming from Asian homes. The American mindset they naturally pick up at school tells them to choose an occupation they enjoy or comes naturally. The Asian mindset they get at home tells them to choose an occupation that will provide well for their parents and wider family, and also bring honor to the family by being something respectful, frequently chosen by the parents (generally this limits their choices to business, engineering, medicine, or law). It isn’t a problem going away any time soon, so I was really curious as to whether this book would be helpful for our staff and parents to have on hand as a resource, and I believe it definitely will be. I plan on ordering multiple copies, and highly recommending it to our high school counselors. It helps you first of all identify where you are coming from and start thinking about how that likely isn’t true for most of the people you know. Probably the only people who really are coming from the same framework are your siblings, possibly close friends from the same neighborhood you’ve known all your lives. We each have this unconscious set of criteria that shape and mold the way we think and approach the world, let alone how we perceive calling and how to tell if we are in the right vocation. Some of that unconscious thinking can be really uncomfortable to think about, let alone talk about. Like how race impacts your thinking, or gender, or your socio-economic status. They aren’t easy, but Maros approaches them with tact and grace and respect with stories from other people gracious enough to share their life experiences and how those elements have impacted their calling and vocations. It also tackles the elephant in the room of calling and vocation not always being a once for all of your life thing, but a growing, morphing thing that can and often does change over time. Maros is a Christian, approaches this from a Christian perspective, and includes Bible studies at the end of each chapter to help you explore how the principles she talked about in that chapter are at work in various biblical figures’ lives. I’ve been nibbling at this slowly for a few months because it is something worth taking your time working through. I would also like to re-read it, because I feel like some of the things will take revisiting to fully sink in. Keep your eyes on the lookout for this once it is published. I don't know of anything else even remotely like it, and it is definitely needed. Highly recommended to anyone who works with people seeking guidance for life direction, ministry calling, vocational choices, or really any type of interpersonal interaction that needs to consider the whole person and where they are coming from and where you are coming from.

Notes on content: Some of the personal stories involve past trauma or family deaths. No gory details or any detailed trauma.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Having reached the conclusion some years ago that books on calling are always written by middle-class 50ish Americans who've never had professional careers outside of "life coaching," I was quite surprised at this book. It's a good mix of research and personal stories, highlighting our misunderstandings about calling, what we assume the Bible says about it, and how we can move forward into embracing our callings now as well as taking a long view of them.
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