Before discussing the differences between Luther’s station-based model of vocation (which I discussed in a previous post) and Calvin’s gift-based model, I must highlight that both models are pretty similar in general terms. Both models have a high view of vocation and put emphasis on the process of vocational discovery. In addition, a solid foundation of both models is the belief that God works in the world through our stations. This is part of the providential and care aspect of God’s mission.
In the gift-based model, which Calvin can be considered a forerunner, the dichotomy between the active and contemplative life is rejected in favor of a more holistic position. Therefore, it does not exist a separation between two kinds of life: ordinary and religious. This is so because Calvin departs from the Aristotelian/Thomistic position that considered that the contemplative life to be better than the active life. In other words, the medieval understanding of vocation and its emphasis on contemplation and hierarchy is rejected. What one sees then is a revaluation of the significance of the ordinary life. Based on his creational and providential theology, the gift-based model emphasizes the responsibility of people to discover their particular gifts in order to better serve the other and thus promoting the wellness of his/her society. But how does this process of discovery take place? Since the individual is given a lot of importance under this model, then, a person must discover his/her gifts based on his/her own inner insight, and in order to do that, a high degree of self-awareness is needed. It is assumed that God will guide such a process of awareness and will guide this person to develop their abilities in the best possible way. As one notes, the Calvinistic view of vocation tends to be flexible and dynamic by emphasizing strongly the development of individual abilities and gifts, aspects that might affect a person’s social life and her place in the society she lives in. It is not a surprise the gift-based model, characterized by its narrow view of vocation, might have difficulty to discuss vocation from a theoretical and practical dimension in Christianity.
Unlike the gift-based model, Luther’s station-based model has a broader view of vocation, although it is less flexible. In fact, Luther’s theology (incarnation, two-kingdom position, etc.) and his view of vocation are closely related. One can affirm that Luther’s vocational model is strongly shaped by the idea that God actively works in the world and in the organization of the society. For this reason, Luther puts a lot of emphasis on the love for the neighbor. That is, vocation exists for the other’s sake. In this respect, one observes that Luther is critical of any idea that promotes a radical separation of a person from his/her society he/she lives. This, however, does not mean that Luther’s view of vocation is totally free of any dualism. What one sees is that although Luther tends to be dualistic in some respects such as his emphasis on the theology of the two kinds of kingdoms (earth vs. heaven), his view of vocation is still balanced. He leaves room for the notion of vocation in the kingdom of earth. Because we still live in the world, vocation in the present life matters. Therefore, Luther’s station-based model associates a person’s vocation with his/her role that plays in the society. Thus, in order to discover what kind of vocation someone has, this person must rely on a lot in his/her role(s) in the society. Throughout the years a person may perform different roles or stations such as parenthood, caregiver, teacher, for instance. Those stations in life will give the person “signs” about his/her vocation.
Unlike Calvin’s gift-based model that relies too much on a person’s self-awareness to discover his/her vocation, in Luther’s model a person’s sense of vocation is discovered through the different stations a person has experienced. (This also opens the door for the dignification of the worker and at the same time work itself). Then, stations will always be connected with the other’s sake. So, a person will have difficulty to discover his/her vocation only through the process of self-awareness, so active participation in social and cultural life stations is needed. This situation, of course, raises the question of the subjectivity in both vocational models. It seems that Calvin’s gift-model is more subjective than Luther’s since it depends more on the process of self-awareness a person might have. Without such awareness, in the gift-based model a person will probably experience issues finding their vocation. On the contrary, in Luther’s station-based, self-awareness plays a little role, and it is more important the social roles that a person has played in his/her community and in the society as a whole.