Some thinking out loud for a paper I've been meaning to write for a long time and keep not getting around to. . .
Between Law & Gospel, Church & Ministry, Justification & Sanctification, and Vocation it is hard to know what the most abused distinctively Lutheran theological contribution might be. Today I think it might be vocation.
A job is not a vocation. You cannot have a vocation to work at MacDonald's or Lockheed Martin. You have a job at MacDonald's or Lockheed Martin that can help you fulfill your vocation, but that particular job is not your vocation. Otherwise, how could you ever decide to stop working at MacDonald's and start working at Lockheed Martin? What cause could you give for leaving your God-given vocation of flipping burgers?
That's one great misunderstanding of Luther's doctrine. I think it might spring from Luther's own time period. Luther's doctrine has more than a tinge of the notion of class to it. You should be content with your vocation, your station, in life. If you are a servant, you should not want to be a freeholder. If you are a freeholder you should not aspire to be a lord. If you are a lord, you should not try to make yourself king.
How does that kind of thinking map on to modern, technically class-free society? Not very well, I'm afraid. But I don't think it means Vocation is bad theology, I just think it means that Luther himself sold the idea a little too short. Modern classless society teaches us something that Luther perhaps could not quite see. Namely, that the God-given vocations (as opposed to jobs) are actually quite few in number: husband, father, wife, mother, son, daughter, brother, on down the list of family relationships; pastor and parishioner; subject and ruler; and that's about it. The other stuff amounts to a list of jobs that must be subservient to the vocation. A king can't take up the job of candlestick maker because it would interfere with his vocation. But a husband-father-subject can take up candlestick making, or butchering, or stockbrokering as he sees fit. He can pick his job, but not his vocation.
Either that or modern classless society is simply disordered. I'm willing to be convinced of that as well.
We also need to consider the idea of Providence more deeply in regard to vocation. Someday I'll pull down Gerhard's volume on this topic and learn enough to be about to write this paper, Lord willing. . .