Vocation and the Common Good is a multi-year research project describing the possibilities for Christian faithfulness within nine spheres of modern work. The Vocation and the Common Good Podcast is one way of distributing the findings of the project. Through conversation with selected members of the project, we intend to highlight the role institutions, friends, family, and colleagues have played in sustaining people within their ongoing attempts to be faithful to the call of God upon their lives.
We begin the series with an interview with James Davison Hunter, Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. This is an appropriate place to begin, for, as we discuss, the work of Vocation and the Common Good is directly tied to the argument first put forward in Hunter’s 2010 work, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. There, Hunter took up the fundamental question of how Christian believers should organize, direct, and deploy their efforts to care for their neighbors, claiming that “faithful presence” within the institutions that give shape to our days is to be preferred over any strategy of conquest, assimilation, or withdrawal. What is required for abiding cultural change towards a more just and humane society, Hunter argued, is sustained friendship among Christians across multiple sectors working in common cause for the welfare of others. This is what Hunter describes at the conclusion of our conversation as the “casuistry of love.”
Within the ongoing conversation regarding the shape faithfulness should take in our contemporary moment, “faithful presence” and the general argument of To Change the World was never intended to be the final word on the matter. As Hunter makes plain within this interview, pat or overly simplistic answers to the question of “what faithful presence looks like within my sphere” allow Christians to outsource the hard work of discerning their calling and taking stock of the tools available to them to fully inhabit it. Rather, like the work of good portraiture, To Change the World aimed to display, provoke, redirect, and stimulate the church’s imagination for what it can and should be.
By this standard, the book has succeeded. Across multiple expressions of the church and within a variety of sectors, the question of “what does faithful presence look like” has been taken up. In Vocation and the Common Good, we sought to structure that conversation over time. Within groups of thoughtful practitioners, faithful academics, and multiple church men and women, Vocation and the Common Good sought to chart a path for faithfulness within a given sphere of modern work. In subsequent episodes of the series, we speak with fellow travelers from the fields of law, pastoral ministry, education, the arts, philanthropy, and innovation. While the conversations are wide-ranging, the central aim of the series is to take up the basic question of faithfulness in our time: What does love require?