Saturday, October 6, 2012

A How-To-Be Book: Review of Family Vocation by Gene Veith and Mary Moerbe

To God, to parents and to teachers we can never offer enough thanks and compensation.
- Martin Luther, Large Catechism, 4th Commandment, 130.
Family help books, "How-to" books, parenting for dummies and "10 rules for a successful family" style books are like friends and relatives in the Lutheran Church: they're everywhere. But unlike those happy encounters with friends and relatives, every time we come across another book offering sage advice and Christian wisdom for parents, children and families we feel more discouraged and disillusioned than when we picked up the book.

No doubt there are many good books on the topic of family vocation out there on the shelves of Christian bookstores. And while I'm not going to take the time to read each and every one of them I think some broad conclusions are generally true for this genre of books in the Christian life:

  1. They typically ignore Christian history, especially the Lutheran Reformation.
  2. Which means they also ignore the centrality of the doctrine of Justification in the life of the Church, especially families.
  3. The Sacraments are rarely, if ever a hub of the family life. And the importance of being gathered around the Word, font, absolution and Eucharist - which is the best thing a family can do - is often left aside.
  4. As a result they fail to understand the Christian life in this world, namely, vocation.First receiving in their vocation as Christians and then giving and receiving in their vocations in family and household (not to mention the other two estates: Church and State).
  5. Thisusually means that parenting, family life and childhood usually wind up in a pious display of moralism and legalism or pop-psychology and pragmatic solutions. Granted there's a place for tips and practical advice. But if that's all that Christians have to say on the subject then you're better off reading the best practical tips on parenting from anyone who has good advice, Christian or nto.
  6. And lastly, all of the above examples come as a result of interpreting the Scriptures as a rule-book or a "How-to" book instead of the living, active, performative Word of Christ that kills and makes alive, shaping our vocation with God and the neighbor.
 If you're tired of reading those kinds of books. And if you're looking for a book that places Christ and his gifts at the center of the family then you should read Family Vocation by Gene E. Veith and Mary J. Moerbe. This father / daughter dynamic duo presents a lucid explanation of the doctrine of vocation throughout, a solid and unwavering witness to Christ Crucified and his presence in our Church and families and an edifying read on family vocation. This is not another "how-to" book. This is a "how-to-be" book. Called by Christ through the cross in the water by the Word, sustained by his body and blood. And you are called to serve in the vocations of family: marriage, parenting, childhood.

Today we don't need more culture warriors. What we need is a reformation. There is mass confusion on every side. Families struggle. Churches are often a place of refuge but are ill equipped, serving Law rather than Gospel. Families are buried under the stress of more than economic woes. The Reformation era was similar in many ways. In Luther's day the doctrine of Justification had been buried under volumes of papal indulgences and monastic traditions. The Gospel suffered under the weight of man's self righteousness. The monastery and the convent were the highest hold orders one could attain.

Martin Luther, however, as he was recovering the gospel and the Word of God, insisted that all of life in the world is a realm for Christian service and that our everyday activities in the workplace, culture, the church, and especially the family are vocations from God. Luther specifically described the family as a "holy order," a special realm of Christian love. (Veith and Moerbe, Family Vocation, p. 20).

Today the family is constantly bombarded from the world outside and often from guilt or shame and the struggles of daily life from inside the family. We're tempted to rely on ourselves. To think it's all up to us when it comes to the strength, protection and future of our families. However, Justification set men free in the Reformation. It still sets us free. You are forgiven by grace for Christ's sake on the cross. You are free! So too, the doctrine of vocation sets us free. You are free from works righteousness. Free from moralism and legalism. Free to be who you are in Christ.

But what we can learn from the Reformation is that the solution to our family problems will not be a matter of moral laws, more rules to live by, or more principles for successful living. The major contribution of of the Reformation was to place the gospel of Jesus Christ - justification by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ - at the center of every facet of Christian teaching and every facet of Christian life, including the family. And the key to making that application and renewing contemporary families is the doctrine of vocation. (Veith and Moerbe, Family Vocation, p. 20).

In other words, the solution to our family problems is not found in the Law but in the Gospel, not according to the ways of our old Adam but by the life, death, resurrection and presence of the Second Adam, the perfect Son who had made us perfect children of the heavenly Father; not in ourselves, but in Christ: his sacrifice for us on the cross and in the living sacrifice of vocation. If the doctrine of justification is the one upon which the church stands of falls, then the doctrine of vocation is the one on which the the family stands or falls. And Family Vocation provides us with a firm foundation for all three major areas: marriage, parenting and childhood. By bringing the Reformation to families today they are set free in the gospel for tomorrow and free to serve others in the doctrine of vocation today.

This book was a joy to read from start to finish. The authors' own compassion and care within their family vocation was evident as well, giving the book a delightful human touch that is often lacking from self proclaimed experts. This is also the kind of book that would serve well in a congregational setting for a Bible study, small group discussion or parent's education night. Personally I have been recommending it to all our families at Redeemer, HB and I will be using it for our preschool parents' night coming up next year. No matter what your family is going through - struggles or joys - this book is well worth your time as well. Family Vocation shows our families the freedom of the christian life and the joys of vocation, no matter how ordinary or everyday they appear to be.

So, what do we do? Veith and Moerbe address this question in their conclusion.

Vocation centers on the ordinary and the mundane. Reviving the family in the culture starts with one's own marriage, one's own parenthood, one's own extended family. Christians can start by viewing the members of their families as gifts of God, indeed, as masks of God. If Christians can live out their faith in love and service to their spouses, children, and parents, then the institutions of marriage, parenthood and the family itself will be transfigured. Restored Christian families could become a catalyst for the restoration of families throughout the culture.

It will also help to recover the doctrine of vocation - teaching it to children, so that they will understand what will be happening in their lives, and throughout the Church, so that Christians will understand how and where to live out their faith. The message is simple, though the task can only be carried out through the cross of Christ: love and serve your wife. Love and serve your husband. Love and serve your children. Love and serve your parents. Love and serve. (Veith and Moerbe, Family Vocation, p. 233).

Thanks to Family Vocation for showing us that the love and service of Christ on the cross shapes, sustains and gives life to our love and service in our families.

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