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A conversation with Joel Beeke

BENYOLA: If I could add just one item to this list, it would be the contribution of Reformed thinking to the realm of work and vocation. We understand that the concept of the Latin word vocatio evolved through the history of the Christian church, and that the Puritans used the words “calling” and “vocation” interchangeably. One of the most enriching contributions of Reformed theology is how Christians are to think of all God-honoring work of different types as equally important and holy. How has the Reformation helped shape not only the Christian work ethic, but also the work ethic of Western Civilization?

BEEKE: It is important to note that the Puritans used the term “calling” in at least two different ways. They spoke of “effectual calling” to denote the way in which the Spirit of God uses the preaching of the gospel to work faith in our hearts, and bring us into a saving union with Christ. Then, as Christians, they shared with the Reformers the conviction that believers are called, each and every one of us, to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

This calling does indeed sanctify our daily work, whatever it is, as a way of serving God, serving others in His name, and glorifying Him by the way we do it. We are no longer mere time-servers or man-pleasers, grubbing for wages and working at the lowest standards. The Reformed idea of daily vocation or calling energized all classes of Reformed Christians, and roused them to give their best to the task at hand, and to labor for an imperishable crown of glory.

It may be time to acknowledge that “Western Civilization” is largely a spent force, the story of a glory that once was, but is no more, or is at least fading away. The roots of its greatness were always a mixed bundle of things Christian and non-Christian; and the distinction was not always maintained. It took a long time for our missionaries to realize that their task was to bring the Word of God to other nations and cultures, and not to impose their own culture on others. But so long as Christ is building and maintaining His church in the cultures and among the peoples of “Western Civilization,” there is hope for its revival and reformation. Perhaps the greatest chapters of our history have yet to be written.

BENYOLA: Have you noticed that the word “Calvinism” is practically a byword even for many Christians, because it so often leads to controversy and misunderstandings? How can Christians faithfully espouse the doctrines of grace while avoiding any negative connotations the word “Calvinist” has picked up over time?

BEEKE: Some things can’t be helped. Call them what you will, the doctrines of grace are offensive to nearly all unbelievers and likewise to Christians whose thinking is more man-centered than God-centered. For better or worse, the default name for the Reformed faith is “Calvinism.” It gives our opponents the false comfort of putting a human label on the system of doctrine taught in God’s Word.

We must avoid giving offense to others, but we must also be faithful to our brethren. John Calvin was a profoundly committed Christian, a faithful minister of the Word, an able exegete and commentator, and an outstanding systematic theologian. His many labors are still bearing fruit today. His writings, commentaries and sermons are a priceless legacy of the Reformation. Though Calvin, like all men, made some mistakes, we should not be ashamed to be associated with such a great Christian leader and servant of God.

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