Does Parker Palmer get vocation right?

In Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, he writes with great passion against the notion that a calling is something that comes from outside yourself. For Palmer, calling arises when we listen to the inner voice of our own authentic self. As you might guess, Palmer does not buy into the doctrine of total depravity. He teaches the essential goodness of humanity that is only distorted and suppressed by society and external demands. Happiness and joy are only found in honoring the inner voice and embracing all of who we are — light as well as shadow. In this way, he reminds me very much of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other romantics.

What his vision of vocation does not remind me of very much is the Bible. I am hard pressed to think of a clear example in the Bible where a calling comes to a person from within themselves rather than from outside. Moses, Isaiah, Mary, Paul, and on and on: They are summoned to God’s vision in ways that they do not want or did not seek.

As far as I can see, the biblical notion of call — or vocation — is experienced as an alien summons that goes directly against what you would choose for yourself. The Garden of Gethsemane — not my will but yours be done — is the first image that comes to mind when I ask myself what vocation looks like in the Bible.

Or this comes close after that: In teaching the disciples, Jesus tells them to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him. I wonder how Palmer reads and interprets that?

I know a lot of people find Palmer’s writing quite helpful.

I have a hard time squaring it with what I understand to be the witness of Scripture.


One thought on “Does Parker Palmer get vocation right?

  1. This is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. Think of all those people who listened to their inner voice to make the world a better place by eliminating those aspects of society that distorted innate human goodness. Vladamir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong and other Marxists come to mind immediately. Then there were those who committed genocide because they knew from “scientific eugenics” that the corruption in our world was caused by inferior races. And, of course, there are those who started and fought the great wars to end all wars because they knew that evil enemy nations or tyrants were the corrupting force in the world.
    There are few world views that have caused more evil, killing, and suffering than Mr. Palmer’s. In our fallen state, far too many of us can be persuaded to do incredibly horrible things, once we are convinced that the heaven on earth we are creating more than justifies the disagreeable means necessary to achieve it. After all, you cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

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