The Lure of Novelty and The Tarsus Calls


It is common to focus on the Damascus Call of Paul. Perhaps this is because it makes a more interesting story because of its strongly supernatural nature, because of its personal nature, and because of its more radical result. But there were a lot of other calls with regards to Paul.

English: St. Paul. From the Acts of the Apostl...

English: St. Paul. From the Acts of the Apostles printed in , Georgia, in 1709 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  The Macedonian Call. Acts 16:6-10. This also appears to be a supernatural calling since it is described as a vision. However, the change is less radical. Paul here simply changes from going to the Hellenized world of Asia Minor (his own home territory) to Macedonia and Achaia.

2.  The Antiochan Call #1.  Acts 13:1-3. This also appears to be supernatural in nature although the exact transmission is not made clear. However, it was not personally given. The calling was given to the church and the church sent out Barnabbas and Paul. 

3.  The Call to Tarsus.  Acts 9:29-30.  There is no mention of the supernatural in this one and the text describes Paul in a passive role. The church of Jerusalem discovers a plot against Paul, the church takes him down to Caesarea, and the church sends him to Tarsus.

4.  The Call from Tarsus.  Acts 11:22-26. Again no mention of the supernatural except that Barnabbas (the mentor of Paul) was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Barnabbas is sent by the church of Jerusalem to go to Antioch to check on things and, presumably, to serve there as one “sent out” by the church of Jerusalem. There, Barnabbas decides to enlist the help of his former disciple. He goes to Tarsus and calls him to join him in Antioch.

We see here different forms of calling. We see calling through big supernatural show. We see calling through a minor supernatural occurrence. We see calling through the activity of the church (whether or not with a supernatural show). We see calling through the activity of an individual.

With this variety, why do we focus on the Damascus call? Some might argue that the Damascus calling was the call to missions while the subsequent were simply changes of direction. I am not so sure about that. I would describe the Damascus call as the call to follow Christ… and that is the call that all of us as Christians are given (whether with a lot of exciting sights and sounds or not). The other calls were more specific details on what falling Christ would mean to him personally.  As such, these other calls are, arguably, every bit as worthy of being described as missionary calls as the Damascus call.

Some thoughts:

  • If all of us are called to follow Christ, we should focus less on some sort of specific “Missionary Call,” and focus on gaining insight into what following Christ means individually.
  • Focus less attention and hope on a big Damascus or “Burning Bush” experience. God’s call for you may be as mundane as someone knocking on your door (as Barnabbas did in Tarsus).
  • Focusing on the novel callings in the Bible can lead us to thinking that we should not serve. Moses had an exciting supernatural calling… but Aaron did not. Regardless they both followed God’s leading to lead the people of Israel. Paul had an exciting and miraculous call to follow Christ. Peter simply had a prophet he was hosting say, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
  • It has been said that those who don’t have a strong sense of being supernaturally called to ministry are more likely to fall out of ministry later. That may be true… but do we create this situation? I recall Garry Friesen  (in “Decision-making and the Will of God”) describe his ordination board. He admitted that he did not feel a unique, personal, supernatural call to ministry… in fact, he felt that such a calling is non-normative… if not theologically incorrect. The board was very uncomfortable with granting ordination and at least one informed him that he would most likely drift away from ministry because he lacked that comfort of calling. So do those who do not recognize a personal calling fall away because of the lack of that confirmation or because churches and church leaders create a theology of failure. And do some who “feel called” stay in ministry when they clearly should make a major course correction in their lives because they’ve been told that changing course is rejecting God?
  • A little skepticism is always useful. Does one “feel called” due to God’s leading or because of other problems (family pressure, escape, etc.). Should a church “accept the calling” of an individual who seems to lack critical qualities to serve God in a missional capacity? One should not completely accept the supernatural and should not completely reject the mundane.
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