Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, By Steven Garber

Visions of Vocation

Common Grace for the Common Good

by Steven Garber

Visions of Vocation
  • Length: 256 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: February 10, 2014
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 3666
  • ISBN: 9780830836666

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Foreword Review's Annual INDIEFAB Book of the Year Finalist

Outreach Resource of the Year

Christianity Today Award of Merit

Leadership Journal Best Books for Church Leaders

Book of the Year from Byron Borger, Hearts and Minds Bookstore

Is it possible to know the world and still love the world?

Of all the questions we ask about our calling, this is the most difficult. From marriages to international relations, the more we know, the harder it is to love. We become cynics or stoics, protecting our hearts from the implications of what we know. But what if the vision of vocation can be recovered—allowing us to step into the wounds of the world and for love's sake take up our responsibility for the way the world turns out?

For decades Steve Garber has come alongside a wide range of people as they seek to make sense of the world and their lives. With him we meet leaders from the Tiananmen Square protest who want a good reason to still care about China. We also meet with many ordinary people in ordinary places who long for their lives to matter:

  • Jonathan who learned he would rather build houses than study history
  • Todd and Maria who adopted creative schedules so they could parent better and practice medicine
  • D.J. who helped Congress move into the Internet Age
  • Robin who spends her life on behalf of urban justice
  • Hans who makes hamburgers the way they are meant to be made
  • Susan who built a home business of hand-printing stationary using a letterpress
  • Santiago who works with majority-world nations in need of capital
  • George who has given years to teaching students to learn things that matter most
  • Claudius and Deirdre whose openhearted home has always been a place for people
  • Dan who loves Wyoming, the place, its people and its cows

Vocation is when we come to know the world in all its joy and pain and still love it. Vocation is following our calling to seek the welfare of the world we live in. And in helping the world to flourish, strangely, mysteriously, we find that we flourish too. Garber offers a book for everyone everywhere—for students, for parents, for those in the arts, in the academy, in public service, in the trades and in commerce—for all who want to discover the virtue of vocation.

"Visions of Vocation will be considered a classic of our time, inspiring many to care more deeply and live out their own passions with vitality and integrity."

Byron Borger, Hearts Minds Bookstore, Dallastown, Pennsylvania

"Visions of Vocation asks the most compelling and human questions about how to love the world once you come to truly know it. These pages are packed with stories of wisdom and grace, serving as a vocational compass for anyone seeking true guidance in the midst of a complex world. I am grateful for the mentorship of Steve Garber's words, and I know you will be too."

Jena Lee Nardella, cofounder, Blood:Water Mission

"Steve Garber is one of the few consistent sources of wisdom that I rely on personally for my journey as an artist and as a Christ-follower. Like Magi's stars to the weary travelers in faith and culture, Visions of Vocation is a clear manifestation in the dark skies of our complex times that points to an integrated source of wisdom, delight and hope."

Makoto Fujimura, artist

"Steve Garber has a way of making me feel spiritually rich. What he thinks and says is what I need. I realize this because he does both so well. His exceptional biblical insight and profound humanity increase my hunger for God and the ways of God. I am left seeking God?s calling into a more genuine human life and believing God intends this as part of the common good for which we are made and redeemed. Feast on this book and be fed."

Mark Labberton, president, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Visions of Vocation touches a deep place within us, which is not surprising because Steve Garber is part storyteller and sage, part prophet and soul doctor. His unique ability to guide, encourage, challenge and nurture the reader is a gift of grace and wisdom. Drawing on his years as professor and friend, Steve weaves a vision for a purposeful life, introducing us to the traveling mercies of companions who help illumine our way. The book is an invitation into a conversation that our culture deeply longs for today, and is like fresh water in an arid land, dry as we are from the absence of thoughtful, verdant reflection on how and why our lives should matter."

Steven Moore, president, Murdock Trust, Vancouver, Washington

"If I could sit at the feet of anyone to learn about vocation, it would be Steven Garber. Tuck yourself away in a corner with these pages and prepare your heart and soul to dream again. In a culture where imaginations are running dry, Garber floods your mind with the possibilities of what your role might be in putting the world back together, one vocation at a time."

Gabe Lyons, author of The Next Christians and founder, Q Ideas

"Steven Garber's lovely and poignant book, Visions of Vocation, is a moving testament to the truth that purpose and meaning come from taking responsibility for acting on what we know, and not hiding behind the lie that our beliefs have no real relevance in the secular marketplace. His chapter on my ancestral village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, where Protestant Huguenot villagers shielded five thousand Jews from Nazi persecution during World War II—at great personal risk and without a second thought—was a reminder that, like the Hebrew expression, knowing and doing are indeed inseparable aspects of a life worth living. This book should and will influence many for the good."

Bruno Roche, chief economist, Mars, Incorporated

"Few have thought as long, hard or well about vocation as Steve Garber. With his characteristically accessible and pastoral prose, in Visions of Vocation Garber sheds light on the dilemmas of working well in this broken-yet-beautiful world. He equips us to fight against our tendencies toward cynicism, stoicism and distraction with biblical truth and insights from the best of philosophy and literature. His real-life stories of Christians living for the common good make vocational faithfulness--the willingness to be implicated in the pain of this world--plausible and attractive. Read this and see afresh how the great Christian story, and especially the innumerable wonders of the incarnation, empower us to 'tear off a corner of the darkness' in the particular places and roles we daily inhabit."

Amy L. Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling

"Visions of Vocation calls its readers to make a commitment to a journey, one of calling and courage that will challenge not just your mind but also your heart and your soul. This remarkable book will cause you to desire a whole new way of knowing and seeing. Steve Garber is a scholar, a teacher, and a man who thinks and speaks with rich visual imagery. In the last fifteen years the conversation on calling has been animated by many voices, and never far from these important dialogues you will find Dr. Garber, asking the questions that have shaped and informed the trajectory of his work: What does it mean to be human? How are we to live? What truly matters? God calls us to engage this world, in all its brokenness. Visions of Vocation is a gracious and faithful companion for this journey, much like its author."

Lisa Park Slayton, president, Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation

"We are known by the questions we ask, the lives we lead, and the company we keep. In this wise and wonderful book, Steve Garber engages us with important and big questions, narrates stories of remarkable people, and keeps great company. And along the way, we see God and the world--and ourselves--more clearly and deeply."

L. Gregory Jones, professor of theology, Duke Divinity School and strategic director, Laity Lodge Leadership Initiative

"Visions of Vocation is a feast for the heart, mind and soul. A master teacher, storyteller and writer, Steve Garber has woven together a lifetime of stories, insights and wisdom, vividly--and at times emotionally--showing how our vocations are at the heart of our love and service to God. I have never known anyone who teaches through story, literature and movies better than Steve. His narratives not only pull me in but they hit me right in the heart--and mind--time and time again, shaping my imagination so that when I have finished I see the world differently. And I act differently. Teachers, professors, students, parents, those in the marketplace, and all who want their lives to matter should read this book. This is a very important book for the church and Christians today."

Jim Belcher, author of In Search of Deep Faith

"Visions of Vocation draws us into conversation not only with Steven Garber but also with his many and varied friends, mentors and students. The result is a rich and deep engagement with life in all its ordinariness, adventure, disappointment and mystery. At the heart of this conversation is the challenge, and power, of living responsibly--of taking life seriously, of paying attention, of learning and suffering, and above all of choosing to put love into action. The result is not guaranteed, but it puts us in a place where hope is sustained, and however partially, often satisfied."

Paul S. Williams, executive director, Marketplace Institute, and David J. Brown Family Chair of Marketplace Theology and Leadership, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada

"Visions of Vocation was not birthed in the dusty stacks of libraries, nor is it dryly academic--Steven Garber is a scholar, but also a storyteller. It is passionate and accessible, a life-affirming exploration of a question we all must face: does my life and work matter, and how can I know? Garber takes us with him into conversations with people whose daily lives are in politics, business, art, homemaking and hamburgers, all for the common good. By bringing the ancient wisdom of seers and apostles together with the stories of contemporary people, Garber illuminates the meaning of vocation--yours and mine--so that we can see and move beyond the restrictive confines of mere career, job and duty."

Denis Haack, editor of Critique and cofounder of Ransom Fellowship

"Visions of Vocation is a thoughtful meditation on human brokenness and our failure to be honest in recognizing Thoreau's insight that most of us live lives of quiet desperation. Rather than preach despair, Garber points us to Scripture, literature, music and film to illustrate the simple truth that the examined life is the only one worth living. There is no better evidence of this than the stories he tells about his own life and his community of friends who have been thoughtful and intentional about asking the big questions over the years of their lives. How fitting that in a book about vocation, Steven Garber has winsomely achieved his life's greatest work."

Michael Flaherty, cofounder and president, Walden Media

"Visions of Vocation is a rare accomplishment. Steven Garber writes with deeply held convictions yet doesn't require the reader to believe what he believes. He invites us into this important conversation with respect and engages us on our sense of responsibility in and for the world. His book is an absolute gift."

David Kiersznowski, CEO of the Demdaco Corporation

"Visions of Vocation is a welcome voice arising from the cultural ruins of a confusing and perilous moment in human history. In his finest work yet, Steven Garber raises with a tender heart, and an insightful mind, the question of whether we can truly know the world and still love the world. Skillfully weaving together the persuasive threads of proposition as well as engaging narrative, Visions of Vocation wisely guides the pilgrim of faith away from the alluring dead-end streets of numbing stoicism and callused cynicism. The author delicately dismantles untenable idealism yet graciously lays the foundation of a hopeful realism needed to wisely engage the world through a life of vocational faithfulness. Visions of Vocation is a grace gift and a must-read."

Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters

"Steve Garber is fond of quoting Walker Percy's articulate summary of novel crafting: 'Bad books lie. They lie most of all about the human condition.' Visions of Vocation is precisely the opposite of a bad book—this is a good book that tells the truth about the human condition as well as so many other truths. He invites us to ponder and respond to the question 'Now that we know, what will we do, given who we are?' This invitation is a good gift to everyone who seeks a sober yet hopeful vision of vocation that leads to in-but-not-of redemptive living in God's world."

Donald C. Guthrie, professor of educational ministries, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"As I read Visions of Vocation, I felt deeply encouraged to 'know the world and still love it.' This book informed and captivated my mind with its wide range of theological, cultural, literary and personal conversations. But, more than any book I have read in a long time, Visions of Vocation touched my heart. It helped me recover my longing for God?s justice. It renewed my commitment to making a difference where God has placed me. It inspired me to live out my own vocation faithfully, trusting God with the results of my labors. How thankful I am for the godly wisdom of Steve Garber, shared so generously in Visions of Vocation."

Mark D. Roberts, executive director of digital media, The High Calling/H. E. Butt Foundation

"Reading Steve Garber on the subject of vocation and the mission of God is essential for anyone attempting to see what God is saying to the church in our day. Too many of us give lip service to the concept of the ministry of all believers, but few have truly pondered this notion as has Steve. I have found this book to be not just helpful and challenging but compelling and riveting."

John Yates, rector, The Falls Church Anglican

"Steve Garber is a sensitive, passionate, thoughtful and wise man. This book accurately captures his concerns and hopes as he battles to make sense of a world that is simultaneously ugly and glorious. You're happy to make the journey with him because of the love and vulnerability that exude from every page."

Steve Turner, poet and author of Popcultured

"Good books tell the truest truths about the human condition, and this is truly a great book. Artfully weaving together stories, literature and his own experience, Steve has shaped the best book on vocation we have ever read. He has beautifully articulated a vision of work that we think is a must-read for everyone who wants to live with eyes wide open to the Kingdom of God and the common good. This book will help you 'crush it' for the glory of God!"

Evan Loomis and Jason Ballard, entrepreneurs and cofounders of TreeHouse

"It has been said that one way you can discern something is valuable is whether you will want to share it with those you love. This book passes that test, as Garber asks the big questions in the context of today's world, artfully and compellingly opening into a conversation that moves beyond cynicism and explores more life-bearing ways of being and doing in the vast, soul-stretching space between is and ought, knowing and yet still loving."

Sharon Daloz Parks, coauthor of Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World

"Steve Garber embodies the finest integration of heart and mind I know of any teacher-writer living. Whenever you get a chance to read anything of his work—do so—but particularly read Visions of Vocation. After decades of soulful listening, he again turns his hand to craft the freeing ideas and tell the enlivening stories that will help us make our way. His mastery of storytelling and ideation combine beautifully here to provide worthwhile organizing principles with heart activating authentic stories. Steve understands the power of narrative and how to use others' lives to enflame our own. This long-awaited follow-up to The Fabric of Faithfulness deserves its place in your hands, on your shelf and most importantly on your gift list to those you love. For all who hope to make a meaningful and honest gift of their vocation, this is a must-read."

Dave Evans, codirector, Stanford lab

"Every generation wonders at its place in the world. Every adolescent agonizes over the 'purpose of my life.' But in such a time as ours—with the world at our fingertips and seemingly endless opportunities to choose from—such questions are particularly fraught. Into these questions of calling and vocation, Steven Garber steps with characteristic grace. Part prophet, part pastor and part teacher, Garber reminds the reader that to be alive on this earth is to be called—to be implicated in the common good of your time and place. Now that you know what you know, what will you do? he asks. Garber helps Christians—young and old—press into their vocation as a response to the wounds and burdens of their particular context. This compelling and convicting book does not give easy answers but instead offers a robust definition of vocation to which Christians can cling no matter their age, location or circumstance."

Roxanne Stone, vice president of publishing at Barna Group, Outreach Magazine's Resources of the Year, March/April 2015

"Many Christians struggle with envisioning what it is to be and to work in the world. Garber offers stories and wisdom that affirm the goodness and rightness of Christians pursuing callings in areas not traditionally considered ministry but that may be missional nonetheless."

Rachel Marie Stone, Christianity Today 2015 Book Awards, January/February 2015

"Garber fills in the fuzzy ideas about vocation and calling with stories of friends who have thoroughly and thoughtfully discerned how loving God's world plays out in real life. As a preacher I benefited from this vision of vocation that extends to every person in the pew."

David Swanson, Leadership Journal 2015 Book Awards, Winter 2015

"American Christians regularly emphasize the roles of faith and piety in our personal interactions over the actions of care and love we can perform for the cities and towns in which we do our daily work. When Garber quotes Jeremiah 29:7, 'Seek the well-being of the city—when it flourishes, you will flourish,' he advocates a position that will likely prove counter-cultural and unpopular—and thought-worthy—in such times of division as these."

Daniel de Roulet, The Covenant Companion, May 2014

"Garber's breadth of knowledge, his ability to integrate ideas, and his beautiful and engaging writing make this book well worth reading, but his honesty and his concrete evidence of every person's ability to love the world and take responsibility for it hold the reader accountable. The book should come with a warning: You won't walk away unchanged."

Carolyn Dirksen, CCCU Advance, Fall 2014

"If you have ever heard Garber speak in public, you know that he does so with a soothing, lyrical style that tips his audience to his fondness for music and poetry. He often notes that 'the artists get there first,' and his writing reflects this inclination, weaving in stories that begin as seemingly separate strands. Yet in Garber's chapters they are woven together to form a tapestry that reveals how vocation is integral to the mission of God. "This book is not for the faint of heart. Despite Garber's poetic style, his words pack a punch, challenging the reader to consider what it means to be 'implicated.'. . . Living with a full understanding of vocation means choosing to see the wounds of the world and responding with a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone. It means choosing the better but not the easier. . . . "Visions of Vocation invites readers into what feels like a fireside chat with poets, musicians, and artists of all kinds on living a life of significance. It is a chat that feels preliminary but substantive; the kind of conversation you leave looking forward to the next one. . . . "If angst-filled young adults are looking for a formula to discern their future, it cannot be found in this book. Likewise, if theologians are looking for a systematic treatise on vocation, they too will soon be disappointed. However, what they will find is probably more valuable: a book that causes readers to think about their lives in new and challenging ways, exploring questions which, when answered in good conscience, comprise a fabric of faithfulness."

Drew Moser, Jess Fankhauser and Jeff Aupperle, Books Culture, September 2014

"In Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber writes eloquently of the challenge 'to see with the eyes of the heart, to see oneself as responsible for the way the world is and isn't' without succumbing to cynicism."

Sojourners, July 2014

"Visions of Vocation is one of those rare books that manage to strike the right balance for readers. . . . The book will not only act as a wise guide as you reflect on the desires of your heart in light of the reality of life in a broken world, it will enrich your imagination and mind, and invite you to further reading and thinking."

Critique, 2014:4

"[Garber] picks up where the late Francis Schaeffer left off in Schaeffer's unusual ability to bring Christian faith to bear in critical thinking about contemporary culture. . . . Through his first book, Fabric of Faithfulness, Garber has helped many university faculty and administrators learn how to connect with students as human beings, not just as academic machines. This book has assigned him to another very useful calling—heir to the legacy of a pioneer in modern Christian thinking, Francis Schaeffer."

Russ Pulliam, World Magazine, April 26, 2014

"Garber challenges Christians to embrace realism and 'make peace with the proximate,' even while working toward elusive goals. We cannot do everything or achieve all we might desire, but we can do something and achieve some measure of success. And in the striving, God's people find fulfillment."

Ken Camp, Baptist Standard, March 30, 2014

"In Visions of Vocation, Garber has given great encouragement to all who yearn for such a life well-lived. Those entrusted with the proclamation of the gospel will find here penetrating illustrations and a refreshing way of thinking about the call to 'equip the saints for the work of ministry.' Those whose lives and livelihoods bring them closer to the brokenness and banality of the world will find here fresh inspiration to live as those who both know the world and still love it."

Don Meeks, Presbyterian Outlook, June 9, 2014

"When considering all the problems and complexities of today's world, Garber suggests Christians ponder the question, 'Knowing what I know, what am I to do?' His challenge resonates with people of every vocation—from farmer to homemaker to doctor."

Jeff Friend, Worship Leader Magazine, July/August 2014

"For everyone who wants to learn more about the virtue of vocation, Visions of Vocation by Steve Garber shows how our relationships and responsibilities are woven into God's work. Garber draws insights from literature, music, current events and stories of people around the world to frame a paradigm about following our calling."

CBA Retailers + Resources, April 2014

"Though Visions of Vocation is written from a Christian perspective, people from different faiths and those of no particular faith but with an interest in justice and social action will find examples and encouragement. . . . Recommended for anyone interested in promoting 'grace for the common good.'"

Carolyn Egolf, Congregational Libraries Today, First Issue 2015


Introduction. On Learning to Be Implicated
1. To Know the World and Still Love It?
2. If You Have Eyes, Then See
3. The Landscape of our Lives
4. Knowing Is Doing
5. Come and See
6. Vocation as Implication
7. The Great Temptations
8. Learning to Live Proximately
Epilogue. But Are You Happy?
Prayer for Vocations


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Steven Garber

Steven Garber is professor of marketplace theology and director of the program in leadership, theology, and society at Regent College, Vancouver, BC. His books include Visions of Vocation and The Fabric of Faithfulness. Married to Meg, they have five children and several grandchildren.