For Gene Edward Veith Jr., provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, Martin Luther's doctrine of vocation undergirds a truly Christian theology of the family. Vocation, as he describes it, is "the way God works through human beings." In his latest book, Family Vocation: God's Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood (Crossway), Veith looks to Luther's ideals of loving and serving our neighbor, and to his view of the family as a "holy order" unto itself. Coauthored with daughter Mary J. Moerbe, a deaconess in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the book applies Luther's understanding to the various family vocations (marriage, parenthood, and childhood) and the "offices" within those vocations (husband, wife, father, mother, and child). Author and Her.meneutics blog contributor Caryn Rivadeneira spoke with father and daughter about Luther's vision of family life.
Did writing this book together help you learn anything about your own family?
Veith: As I look back, I can see how God has been working through our family; how he brought Mary into her callings as wife and mother and everything else she does. Of course, that's the part of vocation that is often forgotten: that God works through our vocations. God is present and active, and he works through fallen, weak, mistake-prone human beings to accomplish his purposes. It's illuminating to see how even ordinary family life is really God's working through us.
In terms of everyday life within the individual family offices, is there freedom to re-interpret or step outside of one's roles?
Veith: We do say that there are roles within family. There is authority in family. But at the same time, Christian books tend to reduce things to, "Who has to obey whom?" It reduces roles to power relations, whereas the Scriptures and the doctrine of vocation teach that the purpose of every vocation is to love and serve your neighbor.
When we forget the mystery of how God works in vocation—that it's about loving and serving—we end up with a legalistic set of rules. That's what happens when the gospel is drained out of our view of vocation.
Moerbe: There's also a tendency to oversimplify our understanding of vocation by prioritizing vocations. Yes, motherhood is great, and frankly, motherhood takes so much time that it's often difficult to be active in a lot of other vocations. However, when I think about God being the source of vocations, he is Father, he is Son, and he is King. Do we say that God the Father is more important than God the King? No, he relates to us in different ways.
Veith: These differences make each vocation personal and unique. No two people have the same callings because no two people have the same neighbors, the same gifts, or the same tasks and opportunities.
You suggest that the proper and unique work of marriage is sexual intercourse. Can you explain?
Veith: Every vocation has its unique work, its defining work. Sex inside of marriage is sex according to God's design, and thus sex becomes a good work within marriage.
Many of us are Victorian and prudish. It's very uncomfortable to write about sex, but it's so important. What the Bible says about sex inside of marriage is quite remarkable. It says we're one flesh. There's a mutuality: The husband doesn't have control over his own body, but his wife does. And the wife doesn't have control over her own body, but her husband does. Just the fact that the wife has control over the husband's body was very radical in the ancient world. There is mutuality.
Indeed, the Bible says that sex is what creates marriage. The reason you're not supposed to have sex with someone you're not married to is because you're not called to. You don't have an authorization—it's not part of your vocation—to have sex with someone you're not married to, so it's sinful.
Moerbe: Sex also reminds us that marriage is a vocation unlike other vocations. In marriage, you serve one neighbor. In parenthood, you might have more than one kid. If you work outside the home, there will be plenty of customers and plenty of co-workers. But marriage is unique in that it is one-on-one.
What do readers need to grasp about how the doctrine of vocation applies to family?
Moerbe: The message is simple: Love and serve your neighbor. Love and serve your family, not because of who is in your family, but because God is in your family. Christ is hidden behind our neighbors, and Christ is present with us in our neighbors.
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Family Vocation is available from Christianbook.com and other retailers.
Previous Christianity Today articles on vocation include:
Calling All Callings: Amy Sherman on 'Kingdom Calling' | Christians can build thriving communities by exercising their vocational gifts. (February 9, 2012)
Working on Eternity | Ben Witherington sets earthly labor in kingdom context. A review of 'Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor.' (June 15, 2011)
The Meaning of Business | Christians in the marketplace, says Jeff Van Duzer, are not second-class citizens of the kingdom. (January 14, 2011)
A Unifying Vocation | Why development work and gospel work cannot be put asunder. (September 3, 2009)
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