“Are you looking for purpose in life? For a purpose big enough to absorb every ounce of your attention, deep enough to plumb every mystery of your passions, and lasting enough to inspire you to your last breath? This book is about the reason why we are each here on earth. It explores the deepest, highest, grandest purpose that any human has ever experienced and history has ever known—a reason so profound that no one and nothing else even comes close.” (vii) This is how Os Guinness begins the fourth book on our reading list for the year, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life.
If you have been reading from the list this year, you have already gotten two views of what God’s people as a whole are here to do in the books by Wright and DeYoung and Gilbert. We followed this with Ferguson’s book about who we are. This fourth book takes the next logical step in the process. It asks, from the perspective of the collective mission of God’s people and our identification as Christians as members of that group, the big why question at the individual level.
In his introduction to the book, Guinness identifies three approaches to answering the question posed in the opening paragraph. All three arise from the three basic worldview categories. The Eastern answer, typical of Hinduism and Buddhism for example, basically tells the questioner that his individual reason for being isn’t relevant because the ultimate goal is the “undifferentiated impersonal.” (viii) The secularist answer, typical of atheists, most agnostics, scientific naturalists, for example, is that we don’t discover our purpose; we decide what it is and pursue it. (viii-ix) Finally, the biblical answer tells us that our purpose “comes from two sources at once—who we are created to be and who we are called to be.” (ix) This book explores this last view in detail.
The subject of this book is important. It is a question that every human being asks, often more than once in his life. Guinness does an excellent job of helping the reader wrestle with the implications of the question. He uses the concept of calling as the central theme of the discussion. He defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.” (4)
Within this discussion the idea of primary calling—as followers of Christ—and secondary calling—the specifics of the way we are to live out our primary calling—is introduced. Guinness helpfully unpacks the two fundamental distortions that have developed on understanding calling, the Catholic one, which elevates spiritual callings over secular callings, characterizing the first as “the perfect life” and the other as “permitted,” and the Protestant one, which reverses the hierarchy. As the answer to these two distortions, he rightly proposes a balanced view where the primary calling based on identity in Christ and the secondary calling of service through giftedness are taken together. The title of the book’s sixth chapter summarizes this approach well—“Do What You Are.”
The closing chapters of the book bring the reader to the end of life and the end of the age. Guinness asks us to consider, as we contemplate our lives at the end, what the assessment will be. Have we “answered the call, followed the way, and finished well?” (233)
With this book, Guinness has provided a helpful, thoughtful resource. The edition we have recommended includes a set of study questions that would be very appropriate for use in a small group setting. It is a book to which you will want to return to reevaluate your secondary calling as life brings its inevitable changes. What is not in doubt about calling is the primary calling. No matter how it may be expressed in our lives, all Christians are called to be Christ followers. It is this, Guinness teaches us, that is the key answer to the question, “Why am I here?”