As a reviewer, I decided to put my money where my mouth is: I ordered a box of Amy Sherman’s books and am giving them away. Amy L. Sherman’s latest volume, Kingdom Calling, is a catalyst for generational change. The subtitle Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good is the accelerant needed for the catalyst to ignite the transformation. Countless talk about socio-economic concerns, but Sherman tells the stories of many who are doing, not talking. The full title also explains Sherman’s belief. The King is king of the whole kingdom. The Church’s focus often centers on itself and its work, whereas the work of The Church’s people is who they are, where they are. ‘Calling’ is that of folks changed by The Call, practicing agents of redemption as janitors, doctors, trades-people, lawyers, coaches, philanthropists, and all the multi-colored gifts of God’s people (1 Peter 4.10). ‘Vocational stewardship’ means the “intentional, strategic deployment” of a believer’s full person and place “to advance foretastes of God’s kingdom” (20). Far from programmatic, Christian work in the world is missional only insofar as it is personal: missio Dei per imago Dei, the mission of God through the image of God. ‘The common good’ involves everyone within our sphere of influence who benefits from our God-given gifts. Inspired by a Tim Keller sermon on Proverbs 11.10, Sherman now inspires us to help communities flourish by the giving of ourselves to justice.
Sherman’s biblical-theological mindset gives Kingdom Calling its strength. Scripture sets assumptions. Authors ere when practice drives principle, where what one does cancerously morphs into pragmatism. Scripture teaches, on the other hand, that hearing drives doing. Sherman frames her arguments within the parameters of God’s words. Her exegetical introduction alone is worth the price of the book. The words of Proverbs 11.10 ripple impact across waters needing to be stirred. Chapters one and two unpack the key ideas of ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ enacted by the ‘righteous’ and ‘The Church’. Sherman allows biblical definitions correlated across The Bible to radiate their impact. Justice, for instance, is not simply standing against a problem or for a person. Biblical justice aims to rescue through opportunity finding its target in restoration. Biblical peace is a proposal across the quadrants of our lives: with God, ourselves, others, and creation. Sherman redefines what it means to be a “justice of the peace.”
However, the marriage of justice with peace is sometimes obscured by those overseeing the ceremony. The ‘righteous’ can subtract from the meaning of the gospel.
A context in which much Christian preaching, music and books emphasize a highly individualistic understanding of the gospel does not provide rich soil for the nurture of believers who will live as the tsaddiqim (righteous ones). . . . Put differently, it focuses only on what we’ve been saved from, rather than also telling us what we’ve been saved for (70-71, emphasis hers).
So theology matters. As R. C. Sproul has said for years, “Right now, counts forever.” Heaven does not mean much if earth means little. The gospel impacts the present for the future. Highlighting the Four Circles illustration by James Choung (78-82), Sherman refocuses the Christian mindset. God’s original intention, damaged by our inherent corruption, finds earthly restoration in our gospel participation. Christians should contribute to God’s cosmic plan through wholistic work: a dedication of our vocational selves to evangelism, compassion, and justice. Incarnational theology should be our response to brokenness wherever we are in whatever we do with whomever we meet.
Excitement surges through readers as they encounter story after story after story about how believers are enacting their giftedness for the benefit of others. Accounts of daily work for The King pulse through every chapter, every page. “Christian architects, engineers, business owners, historians, entertainers, photographers, chemists, dancers, sales reps, lawyers and real estate appraisers” (91) have their stories told.
What the individuals and church leaders profiled in this book have accomplished is not outside the realm of possibility. These are people like you; these are congregations like yours (224).
But Kingdom Calling supplies the reader with biblical-practical tools to engage any community. Part 2 identifies how to disciple for vocational stewardship: the integration, inspiration, discovery, and formation of faith with work. God’s intention for work has not changed since Genesis 1 and 2. Sin’s corruption is overcome by salvation’s redemption. Sherman offers the collaborative best of many vocational stewards as they enact their ‘dimensions of vocational power’ (120-26). Seven facets of stewardship are much more than leadership lessons baptized with Bible verses; they comprise the thinking-being-doing of Christians dedicated to missio Dei per imago Dei. We have been given a time and place to live with vocational giftings to be God’s hands in God’s world.
Sherman gives ‘four pathways’ empowering those hands to deploy their vocational power: blooming, donating, inventing, and investing. The biblical concept of place is given short shrift in biblical theology until recently.(#1) “Bloom where you’re planted” takes on its original meaning in a Christian context. We should be who we are, where we are, with what we have. “Volunteering” retains its others-centered focus with others-connected partnerships in the gospel. “Inventing” sees peoples’ needs and seeks ways toward “investing” where intentionality cushions the poor instead of padding bank accounts. Vocational stewardship, it must be warned, is no panacea. There are pitfalls and temptations to be overcome. Sherman’s honesty with each story’s difficulties reminds us that we enact our vocational intentions within a fallen culture. Yet the joy of ‘the city’ resounds in each community where Sherman finds believers who engage their calling.
Since reading Kingdom Calling I’ve been texting and emailing church and academic leaders around the country to encourage the addition to reading and syllabi. Indeed Sherman’s book has now been included for seminal courses where I teach. We can thank Amy Sherman for a book which demonstrates true biblical praxis: common grace for the common good. And if you come by my office, I’ll give you a copy from the box full I ordered. Kingdom Calling should be given to Christians so they can give themselves away.
(#1) For instance, see my biblical-theological overview: http://warpandwoof.org/biblical-theological/this-world-is-my-home-a-theology-of-place/
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Eckel, VP Academic Affairs, Crossroads Bible College. Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. 271 pp. $16.00. Also published at Englewood Review of Books, 12 May 2012, volume 5.