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"The One Who Called You ...

Vocation and Leadership in the Pauline
Associate Professor of New Testament
Virginia Theological Seminary

God's saving work in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the
disruptive grace that called Paul, his co-workers, and their churches to
an unexpected new freedom and service. They must all learn how to
walk the way of the cross and live in the newness of resurrection. The
church's grave danger is that, expecting too little from God, it will set-
tle for less than the gospel.

I am astonished" writes Paul to the Galatians, "that you are so quickly deserting the
one who called you .. ,"1 Although Paul's language was apparently crafted to have
the strongest possible rhetorical shock value in a time of crisis, his astonishment was
presumably genuine. For Paul, God is the one who calls the church in sovereign freedom
and bestows the gift of freedom upon the church through servant leaders like Paul.
Therefore, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of vocation or call in Paul's the-

In this brief article, I will first argue that Paul's own ministry is the direct result of
God's claim upon his life "through a revelation [di' apokalupseös] of Jesus Christ" (Gal
1:12). Then I will demonstrate, especially from Philippians and Romans, how Paul's praise
of his co-workers often describes them in terms of their vocation and their willingness to
put themselves at risk for it. Finally, I will show that much of Paul's leadership strategy
involves reminding his churches of their vocation from God, who summons them to sancti-
fication as they await the return of Jesus Christ and encourages them to imitate the same

*Gal 1:6. Paul's expression of astonishment appears at the point of the letter where the Galatians would have
expected to hear him give thanks to God for their community or ministry.
VOCATION Interpretation 155

pattern of Christ in their life together that they see in their leaders. Issues of vocation are
central to Paul's vision of leadership in the church.



In the letter where Paul describes himself as an "apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom 11:13),
he also witnesses to God's mercy to the ungodly (sinners) in Jesus Christ. Though his pri-
mary subject here is the cosmic event of the saving death of Jesus Christ on the cross, his
words may also include cryptic references to his own previous experience of the risen Lord,
that is, to God's particular mercy shown to him as a persecutor of the churches in Judea.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.... But God proves his
love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us For if while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been recon-
ciled, will we be saved by his life (Rom 5:6-10).

Paul knowsfirsthandof God's disrupting grace revealed and administered through the
crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ: it changed his life to the point where he can say that
he himself has been crucified and dislocated (risen) from the world he knew before.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in thefleshI live by the faithfulness of the Son of God,2 who loved me
and gave himself for me (Gal 2:19-20).
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has
been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14).

Many of us, when we think of Paul's call and conversion, will have Luke's threefold ver-
sion of the story in mind.3 It is Luke who provides the overwhelming light, the blind and so
blinded Pharisee who then begins to see, and the change of name from Saul to Paul. So
masterful a storyteller is Luke that his account is dramatic and powerful enough as it is,
even without importing the horse from Caravaggio's famous painting into it! It often comes
as a surprise, then, to see how little information Paul himself actually gives in his letters
about his call/conversion and its impact on his understanding of church leadership.4
Nevertheless, even from Paul's few words we can deduce important implications for our
study of vocation and leadership.

following the alternative translation suggested in the notes of the HarperCollins NRSV (Richard B. Hays) and
extending the word "faith" to its larger meaning of "faithful obedience."
See Acts 9:1-19,22:1-21, and 26:2-23. In addition to the importance of Paul's call and conversion to his own
theology of vocation and his vision of leadership, it is clearly also crucial for understanding Luke's theology. See
Beverly R. Gaventa, From Darkness to Light: Aspects of Conversion in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1986). For an assessment of the tradition behind Luke's account and speculation about how it might have been
perceived by Paul, see John T. Townsend, "Acts 9:1-29 and Early Church Tradition" in Literary Studies in Luke-Acts
(ed. Richard P. Thompson and Thomas E. Phillips. Macon, Ga.: Mercer, 1998) 87-98.
For studies of the effects of Paul's call/conversion on various aspects of his theology and ethics, see Richard N.
Longenecker (ed.), The Road From Damascus: The Impact ofPauVs Conversion on His Life, Thought, and Ministry
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).
156 Interpretation APRIL 2 0 0 5

Paul refers briefly to his encounter with the risen Lord in 1 Cor 9:1 ("Am I not free?
Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?") and within a few verses complicates his
"freedom" by expressing his sense of obligation as a result of that same encounter:

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me,
and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward;
but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission5 (1 Cor 9:16-17).

And writing to the house churches at Rome:

I am a debtor [under obligation] both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the
foolish—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome (Rom

But Paul speaks most clearly of his new freedom and service in two passages from
Galatians and Philippians:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of
human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it
through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I
was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism
beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of
my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his
grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me [or in me], so that I might proclaim him to the
Gentiles... (Gal 1:11-16).

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day,
a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the
law, a Pharisee; as to zeal a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blame-
less. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than
that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things.... I want to know Christ and the power of his
resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I
may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:4-11).

Since Krister StendahTs groundbreaking work of more than forty years ago,6 we have
learned not to read Paul's accounts of his call/conversion through Luther's Augustinian lens
but rather to seek to understand them within the terms of his own first century Jewish his-
torical context. Then Paul is no longer read as unreflective Christianity's stereotypical
Pharisee, obsessed with "works righteousness," who is converted to Christianity and begins
preaching "justification through faith."7 Rightly embarrassed by such an account, some

The word "apostle," which Paul uses in 1 Cor 9:1, derives from apostellö which means "I send with a commis-
sion" (under obligation). In 9:17 he speaks of having been entrusted with an "economy" {oikonomia, orders, an
assignment). Thefirstmetaphor borrows from diplomatic and militaryfields,while the second suggests the extra
responsibility expected of afiduciaryin legal and economic matters.
Krister Stendahl, "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" in Paul Among Jews and
Gentiles (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1976) 78-96,firstpublished in HTR 56 (1963) 199-215.
VOCATION Interpretation 157

scholars have reacted by denying that Paul was converted at all, preferring to speak only of
his call and commissioning as an apostle.

Yet it is important to see that Paul was in fact converted. But he was not converted
from Judaism or from "Pharisaism" or even from that zeal of which he was so proud, but
from one particular expression of that zeal, namely violence and the violent persecution of
those he saw as enemies of God. So Paul's "earlier life in Judaism" is to be contrasted with
his present life in a new kind of Judaism, where he fights his opponents with well-crafted
arguments instead of the sword.

Like Jesus before him, Paul located himself within Israel's prophetic tradition, which
consistently called Israel back to the task of being "the Israel of God" in the midst of the
nations (Gentiles) surrounding it. At least one strand of Israel's prophetic tradition endors-
es the use of violence to enforce Israel's separation from the gods of the nations. Deut
13:1-5 mandates the death of false prophets who lead Israel astray. Moses kills three thou-
sand Israelites following the incident of the Golden Calf (Exod 32:28) and Elijah slaughters
four hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 18). In the same
way, Phinehas is remembered for his zeal for God when the Moabites introduced Baal of
Peor, a zeal expressed by running his spear through an Israelite man and a Moabite woman
apparently having sexual relations in the sacred tent (Num 25:1-15).

Violently zealous prophets like Moses, Elijah and Phinehas may have been role models
for Paul prior to his conversion. In the Philippians passage just quoted, Paul describes him-
self as someone who had been totally confident of his ability to perceive and carry out
God's will. Paul's intemperate zeal led him to be a religious terrorist. It is not difficult to
imagine Paul the persecutor flying a plane into the Pentagon or committing hate crimes
against gays and lesbians for the sake of God's holiness. But after the action of God that
broke into his life (the "revelation of Jesus Christ"), Paul seems to have experienced the sort
of confusion and disorientation captured so well in Luke's narrative account. Everything of
which he had been so certain now had to be reconfigured in light of the crucified and risen
Messiah, who had turned his world inside out and had given him as his new community
precisely the group he had been trying to destroy in the name of God. He describes the
amazement of the Judean churches that "the one who formerly was persecuting us is now
proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy" (Gal 1:23).

The section from Phil 3:4-11 that I omitted for the purposes of this paper only appears to contrast works
righteousness with the believer's own faith because of the translation that has become traditional. Paul is instead
denigrating any righteousness of his own that comes from the law by contrasting it with the faithfulness (faithful
obedience unto death) of Christ, and the righteousness from God based on Christ's faithfulness.
158 Interpretation APRIL 2005

Paul's own vocation or call to be an "apostle to the Gentiles" introduced him to a deep-
er and more challenging way of being Israel among the nations. This way renounced vio-
lence and worked to build intentional communities that followed the pattern of the cruci-
fied and risen Lord who had commissioned Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul
is still very much within the prophetic tradition—but now he is following the model of the
prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, whose experiences he echoes in his own story.8 It is Paul's
words (not his violence) that will be God's weapon. Like Jeremiah, Paul can expect to suffer
hardship, rejection, imprisonment, and the threat of death for his opposition to the Israel-
corrupting forces of the Roman empire and of immoral Gentile customs, on the one hand,
and to the violent, prophetic resistance to such corruption, now directed against Paul him-
self, on the other.



When Paul reflects on his call and conversion in the letter to the Philippians, he makes
it clear to his hearers that he has not yet achieved the goal of knowing "Christ and the
power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his
death"9 (Phil 3:10). He uses the athletic imagery of running a race, eyes on the prize,
focused singlemindedly on the goal post ahead: "this one thing I do: forgetting what lies
behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of
the upward call10 of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:13-14).

This "upward call" is realized by following a pattern of life that reflects the career of
Jesus the Messiah (Christ)
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and gave him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Isa 49:1-6 and Jer 1:4-10 are strongly evoked in Gal 1:15-16.
'Commenting on this passage, Origen argues that Christians should be willing to share in their Lord's suffer-
ings to the fullest extent. "They who are partakers of the sufferings, will be partakers of the consolation also (cf. 2
Cor 1:7), according to the measure of the sufferings which they share with Christ." Exhortation to Martyrdom 42
(GCS 2,39) cited in J. José Alviar Klesis: The Theology of the Christian Vocation according to Origen (Dublin: Four
Courts Press, 1993) 172.
The NRSV translation "heavenly call" is supplemented by a note reminding us that the Greek says "upward
VOCATION Interpretation 159

and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord

to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6-11).

Paul describes God's humiliation of himself and of his co-workers as evidence that they
are part of the Christ-pattern that he is commending to his churches for the ordering of
their life together. This stress on the "downward mobility" of church leaders is particularly
needed in Corinth, where the Christian communities have become persuaded that success
in church leadership means a high salary package, impressive credentials, and dramatic mir-
acles. Paul insists instead that the marks of a true apostle (someone who has been commis-
sioned by the crucified and risen Lord) are evidences of suffering for the gospel and the
power of enduring love in the face of rejection and misunderstanding.

David Fredrickson has shown how two of Paul's images of leadership oppose those
commonly associated with the philosophic tradition of Cynicism.11 Paul often alludes to
Cynic themes in his letters, since theyfiguredprominently in popular attitudes about lead-
ership. Where the Cynic leader offers a noose, Paul stresses God's gift offreedom;and
where the Cynic leader proclaims himself as master of the community, Paul describes him-
self and his co-workers as slaves, so that the community might be free.

In 1 Cor 7:35, Paul says he has no interest in "throwing a noose" (NRSV "restraint") on
his readers who are struggling with their erotic passions, self-control, and participation in
the church. Paul thereby contrasts himself to Cynic philosophers like Diogenes of Sinope
and Crates of Thebes who were famous for their severity in dealing with the passions.
Diogenes offered only two choices: "either learn self-control or hang yourselves." Crates
commented: "Hunger puts an end to love, or if not hunger, time. But if neither of these puts
out thefire,the only cure left for you is the noose." By disassociating himself with the pop-
ular image of the noose, Paul recommends not the cure of withdrawal from the community
to a shameful death, but rather communal accountability: the desire to be well-regarded by
others controls erotic desire and leads to increased confidence to engage fully in public life.
As Fredrickson says, "By untying the noose Paul intimates an understanding of leadership
as the communication of thefreedomfor participation."12 Indeed, says Paul,freedomis the
hallmark of the Christian community which confesses that "Jesus is Lord" for "the Lord is
the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there isfreedom"(2 Cor 3:17).

In 2 Cor 4:5, Paul again distances himself from the popular view of leadership promot-
ed by the Cynics when he says "For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ
as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake." Cynic leaders did proclaim themselves

"David E. Fredrickson, "No Noose is Good News: Leadership as a Theological problem in the Corinthian
Correspondence" WW 16:4 (Fall 1996) 420-426. The following paragraphs follow his argument there. See also
Andrew D. Clarke, Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: A Socio-Historical and Exegetical Study ofl
Corinthians 1-6 (Leiden: EJ. Brill, 1993) especially pp. 109-127.
Fredrickson, 423.
160 Interpretation APRIL 2005

and in fact proclaimed themselves lords (kyrioi) or masters who dominated their congrega-
tions and treated them like slaves. By contrast, Paul proclaims the lordship of Jesus Christ
and proclaims himself and his co-workers as the slaves of the community. While contempo-
rary readers may tend to interpret this image as an instance of Christian humility or self-
effacement, Fredrickson rightly notes that "mere humility could never bear the theological
weight that Paul claims his slavery carries when he ranks it with the preaching of Jesus as
Lord."13 To understand the force of Paul's image, we must recall how the institution of slav-
ery functioned in the ancient world. The labor of the slave's body provided leisure (the
original meaning of the word eleutheria usually translated as "freedom") for the owner. Paul
is arguing that the service of the leader functions to create freedom for the community as a
whole. As Fredrickson comments, "We can begin to appreciate the deep correspondence
between Jesus' Lordship and Paul's leadership: both create freedom in the church."14

In 2 Cor 4:10-12, Paul replaces the bold images of enslaved leaders and the community
free in the Lord with equally bold images of dying leaders for the sake of the community's
life together:
... always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visi-
ble in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that
the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortalflesh.So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Paul thanks God who in Christ has led him and his co-workers as captives in a tri-
umphal procession, that is, as prisoners destined to die in the arena. (2 Cor 2:14) He uses
the same image in 1 Cor 4:9 ("For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as
though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and
to mortals.") to challenge the "kingly" (4:8)15 style of leadership apparently so highly valued
by the Corinthians. Paul argues paradoxically that God's power is manifested in his own
weakness rather than in the heavenly visions he could claim (2 Cor 12:1-10) and that his
"apostolic" credentials are evidenced not through the "signs and wonders and mighty
works" (2 Cor 12:12), which he could claim if he wanted to, but through the hardships
which he has endured for the sake of the gospel (2 Cor 11:23—33).16

Paul describes the alternative leadership style he is both recommending and embody-
ing by lifting up the ministries of his co-workers as examples of the Christ-pattern of
downward mobility. It is important to see that Paul, himself commissioned (put under
obligation) by Jesus Christ, sees himself as an apostle among other apostles. Part of his
ministry is to recognize and name the work of others so commissioned, to demonstrate

Fredrickson, 424.
Fredrickson, 425.
Or Cynic? Cf. 2 Cor 11:20, "For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or
takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face."
See Scott J. Hafemann's treatment of these passages in Suffering and Ministry in the Spirit: PauVs Defense of
His Ministry in II Corinthians 2:14r-3:3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
VOCATION Interpretation 161

how their service conforms to the Christ-pattern of humiliation and obedience and to the
exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

So Paul commends Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples to the church at Philippi.

Of Timothy he says:
I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned with your welfoie. All of them are seek-
ing their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy's wotth yon know, how like a son
with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel (Phü 220-22).

And of Epaphroditus "my brother, co-worker, fellow soldier,* Piatii explains that he
nearly died as a result of his labors on their behalf and urges them:
Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to
death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services whkh you could not
give me" (Phil 2:29-30).

Similarly, at Rom 16:3-4, Paul urges the churches "Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work
with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give
thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles." In each case, Paul's co-workers are held up
as exemplars of the Christ-pattern of faithful obedience to God, unto death if necessary, for
the life and freedom of the community they serve.

Paul has been criticized for suggesting that the actions of Christian leaders mirror the
story of Jesus Christ and for his exhortation to the churches to follow their example. At the
same time, his provocative rhetoric has been analyzed and critiqued at length on the issue
of its genuineness.17

But if Paul's coupling of the stories of his co-workers with the story of Jesus offends or
if his imagery about slavery/freedom or life/death provokes "mainstream" churches in the
twenty-first century, it may be because we have not yet been sufficiently instructed by the
churches active in the civil rights movement. Those leaders frequently risked their Uves
(entering hostile territory to organize voter registration or facing dogs during nonviolent
demonstrations) and many of them understood themselves as walking the way of the cross
in deliberate imitation of Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed it
Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a
Christian one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tension-packed
content and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more
excellent way which comes only through suffering.18

Some have charged that Paul's language masks his own political moves and that he employs power very much
as the Cynics did. See Bengt Holmberg, Paul and Power: The Structure ofAuthority in the Primitive Church As
Reflected in the Pauline Epistles (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); Elizabeth A. Castelli, Imitating Paul: A Discourse of
Power (Westminster John Knox, 1991); Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Community and Authority: The Rhetoric of
Obedience in the Pauline Tradition (Trinity Press, 1998). For an opposing view, see John Scnütz, Paul and the
Anatomy ofApostolic Authority (Cambridge: University Press, 1975) and Alexandra R. Brown, The Cross and
Human Transformation: PauVs Apocalyptic Word in 1 Corinthians (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995).
Martin Luther King, Jr., January 17,1963, National Conference on Religion and Race, Chicago, quoted in
David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Ir., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New
York: Vintage Books, 1986) 532.
162 Interpretation APRIL 2005

Paul's way of linking vocation and leadership made sense to King and his followers as
they, too, struggled to proclaim not themselves but Jesus Christ as Lord and to bear in their
bodies the death of Christ that would prove to be both lifegiving and liberating for their



At the time of his own call, conversion, and commissioning as an apostle to the
Gentiles, Paul's world was invaded and destroyed (crucified, Gal 6:14) by God's gracious
action in Christ. That event became the focus of his life and the subject of his preaching,
"for I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor
2:2). Paul spoke of God's "new creation" in which neither circumcision nor uncircumcision
mattered at all: what counted was faithfulness working through love (Gal 5:6,6:15). God's
new creation relativized the old age that was passing away; it called into question all the tra-
ditional interpretations of the scriptures; everything had to be re-thought in the light of the
crucified and risen Lord whom Paul had persecuted but whom God had vindicated. Paul
himself became a "destabilizer" of the tradition he had worked so zealously to defend.19
Now he sees his task as building up nonviolent holiness cell groups, committed to a way of
life in tension with their surroundings, called to sanctification through the power of God's
Holy Spirit, and conformed to the way of the crucified and risen Lord.

Reading Paul's letters to his churches gives us a clearer idea of what he thinks a com-
munity called to walk in the way of the cross and to live into the resurrection looks like. For
Paul, nothing less than a complete and intense resocialization happens as part of baptism
into Christ. Baptism is burial into Christ's death and the new life subsequent to baptism is
"new creation"—God's power of calling forth life from death and order from chaotic vio-

Specifically, says Paul to the church in Thessalonica, to be called by God means to be

called out of the idolatry of the nations (Gentiles) to serve the living God of Israel, to wait
for tH ^turn of Jesus Christ, and to imitate him in the meantime (1 Thess 1:2-10).
Vocation implies both conversion and adoption into a new community of accountable oth-
ers. Paul describes the church in "fictive kinship" terms, as brothers and sisters in Christ, a
family that rejoices in the midst of suffering and hardship, and lives "in holiness and honor,

This term comes from Walter Brueggemann, "The Prophet as a Destabilizing Presence," in The Pastor as
Prophet, ed. Earl E. Schelp and Ronald H. Sunderland (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1985).
VOCATION Interpretation 163

not with lust like the Gentiles who do not know God" (1 Thess 4:5).

Living the Christ-pattern has implications for life together in community. As the
church participates in the death of Christ and anticipates a resurrection like his, they are
not to waste their time exalting rival leaders, setting up competitive factions, or indulging in
those gifts of the Spirit that build up the individual at the expense of the community.
Instead, following the crucified Lord, they are to renounce such church-destroying behav-
iors and to focus instead on the needs of their less powerful members, on the gifts of the
Spirit that are likely to be ignored (because they are less glamorous), and to the practices
that strengthen community over the long haul—such as truth-telling, generosity, forgive-
ness, and constancy in prayer. Because they are ambassadors of God's new creation, they are
also ministers of reconciliation, proclaiming the joyful "nevertheless" of God's surprising
mercy towards those with no claim upon God whatsoever.

Moreover, because they are a resurrection people, Paul's churches are called to expect
the unexpected and to prepare for whatever astonishing new thing God will be doing next.
Paul understood that Christian theology and ethics are inherently "reactive" since the
church can never anticipate God, but can only attempt to catch up to the God who goes
before us. The resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ is thefirstfruits,means,
among other things, that all bets based on the status quo or the way things have always
been done in the past are off. New creation means that the old structures must be reformed
to reflect the resurrection life in Christ.

It is at this point that Christians pondering vocation and leadership in the church
today would do well to consider a solemn warning sounded by J. Louis Martyn thirty years
ago. In an article titled "Focus: Theological Education or Theological Vocation?" Martyn
reflected self-critically on a particular period in the history of Union Theological Seminary
in New York City.20 His judgment, five years after the events he reported, was that "the year
1968 could have been a moment of truth for Union Seminary." This essay describes what
Martyn considered a missed opportunity, a point at which his own theological seminary
failed to respond to its vocation. Martyn, the Edward Robinson Professor of the New
Testament at Union Seminary at the time, had the rare courage to reflect publicly in the
seminary's own journal on the theological significance of Union Seminary's response to the
events of 1968. Because his self-critique isframedin the language of the Pauline epistles, it
is strikingly relevant here. Each of us would be wise to ask Martyn's implied question: How
would Paul assess the way vocation and leadership are related in the part of the church

>J. Louis Martyn, "Focus: Theological Education or Theological Vocation?" USQR 29:3-4 (1974) 215-220.
164 Interpretation APRIL 2005

where I serve?

Martyn begins wilh the "truism" that theological education is in a precarious condi-
tion. The usual remedies (curricular revision, new degree programs, more creative fund-
raising) fail to cure the disease and thereby raise the deeper question of vocation: "What
would it mean for us to affirm that God has called us and is calling us to be a community
of teaching and learning theologians?" It is this question that prompts the self-examination
he undertakes on behalf of Union Seminary with respect to its response to the tumultuous
events of 1968. His conclusion? "The year 1968 could have been a moment of truth for us at
Union, but what was longing to be born has thus far been largely aborted because we failed
to accept the eruptions as signs designed to call us back to our corporate theological voca-

After describing the intensity of the student protests and the seemingly endless hours
of institutional time and energy directed at addressing their concerns and reforming the
structures of the seminary to include them, Martyn pauses to reflect on the outcome. The
students clearly had been politically disenfranchised, with little say in Union's educational
policies. There clearly had been a hierarchy, before it was replaced with a more representa-
tive or participatory democracy. It would be a mistake to try to return to the status quo
ante. But, Martyn observes wryly, a a funny thing happened on the way to corporate enfran-
chisement . . . We dealt with politics and with educational method^ both of which, as our stu-
dents correctly perceived, lie in the same general context. We omitted to deal with the fun-
damentum: theological vocation?11

"Hence the skin-deep revolution... How ironic that a seminary "revolution" should
usher in as a new politics nothing other than the idea of representative democracy!"23

Martyn contrasts Union's relatively superficial reordering of its structures to include

disenfranchised groups more fully with Paul's sense of theological vocation. "For Paul, the-
ological vocation is the call to engage in the eschatological struggle at the juncture of the
ages? Paul "finds his theological calling precisely in the eschatological centrality of Jesus'
cross which becomes also Paul's cross in his vocation as an apostle at the end of time."24
Commenting on 1 Cor 4:8-13 (quoted above, where Paul describes apostles as those sen-
tenced to death) Martyn says:
The picture Paul employs is in part that of the Roman circus in which the last act (the eschato-
logical one) is that of the gladiators who are eventually to die a public, spectacular death enjoyed

Ibid., 216-217.
VOCATION Interpretation 165

by the (cosmic) onlookers. In this picture, Paul implies that the Corinthians understand them-
selves to be safely in the stands, alreadyfilledand already rich. By contrast, his vocation places
him down on the blood-red sand where the Two Ages meet and collide in the paradoxical life-
giving cross. The vocation to life which God grants is given nowhere else than in the struggle and
daily suffering and victorious rejoicing at this eschatological turning point where God elects
what is foolish in the world to shame the wise .. .25

As God's new creation breaks in, "one finds no competitive and senseless polarization
between students and faculty"—or, we might add, among any other factions or potential
divisions within the larger church community—"but rather that mutual service (diakonia)
to which God calls us... ,"26 Paul's understanding of theological vocation and leadership is
truly revolutionary—it witnesses to the power of God who turns the normal order of
things inside out. "I am astonished" says Paul, "that you are so quickly deserting the One
who called you . . . and are turning to a different gospel...." (as if there were another
gospel!). If we desert that call, we too may find ourselves speaking of occasions that could
have been moments when the truth of the gospel was proclaimed.

Ibid., 220.
Ibid., 220.
^ s
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