Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
A friend who knows me well, once remarked that my reviews are not so much reviews as commentaries. True enough—I do not fashion myself as a critic so much as a student of the authors that I read. Too many critics that I have known cannot write which, Kant aside, gives them little to work with as critics other than a haughty disposition. But because one must invariably read beyond one’s own talents as a writer, humility is a much more honest starting point. Such is the case for anyone reading Os Guinness’ book, The Call.
Guinness states his purpose in writing with these words:
“This book is for all who long to find and fulfill the purpose of their lives.” (4)
Interestingly, even before setting out this mission statement, Guinness argues that life’s purposes are summarized in three perspectives: (1) the Eastern answer—forget it and forget yourself; (2) the secular answer—life has no meaning so invent one yourself; and (3) the biblical answer—we are created in the image of God and he calls us to himself. (viii-ix). While Guinness displays an encyclopedic understanding of all three of these perspectives, the center of the onion that he peels in this book is God’s call.
Guinness’ encyclopedic understanding is possibly an inherited trait. Guinness recounts the story of one eighteen year-old Jane Lucretia D’Esterre, Guinness’ great-great-grandmother, who distraught over the death of her husband in 1815 in a duel, gave up the thought of suicide through drowning as she stood on a riverbank because she noticed the son of a neighbor plowing a field. “Meticulous, absorbed, skilled, he displayed such as pride in his work that the newly turned furrows looked as finely execute as the paint strokes on an artist’s canvas.” (184) Mind you, this young man plowed with a team of horses that have a mind of their own!
While I might attribute this distraction as a divine intervention, Guinness describes the incident as demonstrating how: “calling transforms life so that even the commonplace and menial are invested with the splendor of the ordinary.” (185) Soon after this incident, his eagle-eyed, great-great-grandmother came to faith, suggesting that she also saw God’s in this incident. Much like God drew the Prophet Jeremiah to the work of a potter (Jer 18:1-6), this young woman saw God’s hand in a plowman’s furrows.
The onion peeling characteristic of Guinness’ prose arises because he examines aspects of God’s call through narratives of famous people. One example that, as a recovering economist, I will not soon forget begins with story of Arthur Burns, a former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Burns began attending an informal White House prayer group, where he was routinely passed over in leading prayer because he had a Jewish background. When finally asked to pray, he prayed:
“Lord, I pray that you would bring Jews to know Jesus Christ. I pray that you would bring Muslims to know Jesus Christ. Finally, Lord, I pray that you would bring Christians to know Jesus Christ, Amen.” (101)
Guinness sees at least three lessons to be learned from this incident:
- “…calling by its very nature reminds us that we are only followers of Christ when in fact we follow Jesus…
- calling reminds us that to be ‘a follower of the Way’ is to see life as a journey, which, while we are still alive on the earth, is an incomplete journey that cannot be finally assessed…
- calling reminds us that, recognizing all the different stages people are at, there are many more who are followers of Jesus and on the Way than we realize.” (105-108)
These are, in fact, tough lessons that, in my experience, need to be learned over and over again, and that, reflecting back on Guinness, bear the markings of both patient scholarship and personal travel.
As someone working on the third edit of a memoir devoted that task, I found myself spending more time in refreshing my memory of this book than I would spend reading other texts. For me, Guinness’ tying of the call to finishing well was especially meaningful.(227) He makes three points:
- “…calling is the spur that keeps us journeying purposefully…
- calling helps us to finish well because it prevents us from confusing the termination of our occupations with the termination of our vocation…
- calling helps us finish well because it encourages us to leave the entire outcome of our lives to God.” (228-231)
Os Guinness’ book, The Call, is a fine read for any Christian, but especially those struggling with the meaning of their own call. Be prepared to be enthralled.
 If you do not believe me, read his account of spending six months traveling the “hippy trail” visiting “Kabul, Goa, Benares, Rishikesh, Katmado, and Thailand” (146). One would need to be rather dense not to learn something in such as trip about Eastern philosophy.