On retiring into your calling

F. Dale Bruner is talking about the life experiences that led him into study of the Gospels, by way of background to his new commentary on the Gospel of John, at the Eerdmans blog. He had been a missionary in the Philippines at the same time as I was, but I don’t recall meeting him. That is too bad because he sounds delightful.

I particularly appreciated two things from his experience because they resonate with mine. First, I like very much the way he spoke of his retirement from full-time teaching. He speaks of retiring “into his calling.” Here is the context in which that phrase appears:

 “When my wife and I retired from Whitworth University in 1997, we came to Pasadena, California, where we live just four miles (a one-hour walk) from the wonderful new Hubbard Library at Fuller Theological Seminary. Most weekdays I take this hour walk to the library and go upstairs to a small but delightful seven-foot-square cubicle on the top floor at the far end of the library, where I revel in the privilege of having eight uninterrupted hours in which to study the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

A bit further on, Bruner writes:

 “On Sundays during the school year I have the privilege of teaching what I have been studying all week long to The Good News Class at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California, our family’s home church. I think many normal people would consider my regimen of six days of sequestered study and one day of coming out into the world — how far out into the world? into the Church! — to be a terribly boring and sorely confining life. Yet I find this little rhythm of six days studying, one day teaching, to be thrilling, exhilarating, and life-fulfilling! When I retired from University teaching, I retired, really and full-time, into my calling, not from my calling. So-called “retirement” has meant “full-fillment” for me.”  (emphasis mine)

 I like that way of putting it, and I identify with his feelings.

The second point at which I said “Amen” was his description of the way the Lord led him toward peace in the exercise of the particular gifts God has given him, without the struggle to do things for which God had not gifted him. In the middle of his freshman year as a College student, he “met Jesus Christ in a life-changing way at a New Year’s Weekend College Conference of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood held in a mountain camp called Forest Home.” Soon afterwards, Campus Crusade was established in his church and he studied evangelism with Bill Bright. But he “soon discovered, to my great discomfort, that my calling was not evangelism.” He describes some painful experiences and then writes:

 “I was finally released from this bondage to a calling that was clearly not mine when I heard the reading of 1 Corinthians 12 in Princeton Seminary’s Miller Chapel, where the pastor read Paul’s familiar text: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of these gifts in everyone of his people. To each individual person is given some one particular manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:4-7). Paul means: we all have different gifts!

 “Finally, my guilt for preferring study in the library to evangelism on the university campus began to recede. But I was still wondering about what my own particular spiritual gift might possibly be.”

That discovery is further revealed in his next post, but I was refreshed in this one by his sharing with us how God set him free to be (and do) what God prepared him to be. That is a wonderful liberation.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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