Original Research - Special Collection: Christian Leadership

Reflecting on the nature of work in contemporary South Africa: A public theological engagement with calling and vocation

Dion A. Forster
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 2 | a5847 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i2.5847 | © 2020 Dion A. Forster | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 October 2019 | Published: 20 August 2020

About the author(s)

Dion A. Forster, Department of Systematic Theology & Ecclesiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


This article argues for a rediscovery of a theology of work in South Africa that is based on the Protestant notion of calling and vocation. Such a view has the primary intention of emphasising obedience and faithfulness to God rather than self-fulfilment or achievement as the intentions of work. Such an approach can empower and equip the church and individual Christians for effective and faithful living in all spheres of life – both private and public. The article shows that the influences of theological dualism, an unbalanced view of the clergy as primary agents of ministry and mission, and a structures-centred view of ministry and mission detracted from the importance of the church’s ministry in numerous spheres of society. A consequence of this was the introduction of a subtle dualism between faith and work. In response to this, the article considers how the church could become an agent of mission and transformation in the world of work. The conclusion of this article is that the South African church could benefit from revisiting and rediscovering a theology of work that is based on the Protestant emphasis of calling and vocation in the public sphere.

Contribution: While this article engages the traditional protestant theological notions of calling and vocation, it argues that reconsidering these notions in relation to the contemporary world of work can renew a theology of work and ministry for South African churches to serve their members in achieving God’s will in society.


Work; Public theology; South Africa; Calling; Vocation


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