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Five Questions With Gene Edward Veith

Cover Story

Gene Edward Veith Jr. is the man who wrote the book on vocation. Literally. In 2002 he published God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Since then, he’s written two more books on the topic, becoming the leading voice in the conversation around vocation.

We wanted to introduce you to the man who popularized this Lutheran doctrine to a modern audience.

Below are his answers to our five questions.

Gene Edward Veith Jr. | Credit: Mindi Johnson Looper

When did you know you should write about vocation?

I had been asked to speak to a group of Christian artists, and, in the course of trying to find a topic, I picked up a book that a friend had given me:  Gustav Wingren’s Luther on Vocation.  I thought I knew what vocation was, but I was astonished at what I was learning from this book, things I had never heard before. So, I taught these artists about vocation, and when I saw the impact it was having on them—some were weeping with joy—I knew that I should try to make Luther’s teachings about vocation more broadly known.

What do you wish your younger self knew about vocation?

Vocation is not primarily about self-fulfillment, happiness or success (though these may come). Rather, vocation has to do with self-sacrificially loving and serving the neighbors whom our callings bring into our lives.

Why does vocation matter in today’s world?

Vocation is not just about one’s “job”; rather, Luther taught that we have multiple vocations in the three “estates” of family, church and state.  All of these are in disarray today, and people are living and working without a sense of purpose and meaning, which the doctrine of vocation can supply.

What threatens vocation?

The cult of the self, which reduces our economic labors to self-interest, destroys families in the name of self-fulfillment and ensures our isolation from the neighbors whom God calls us to love and to serve.

How does vocation comfort?

After I gave a talk about vocation in Australia, a man came up to me with tears in his eyes. He said he had always felt that he was supposed to become a pastor, but the death of his father meant that he had to take up the family business, which was running a bakery, a decision that left him with constant guilt for failing to serve the Lord. But now, he realized, that he has been serving the Lord all along by being a baker, and that God has been working through him to give the daily bread that His children need!