To be completely honest, this question has been puzzling me for a long time. As you know, I studied theology for seven years, and even though I have completed my degrees, I still consider myself a theologian because I am always reading up on new topics of interest and trying to gain more academic insight. Perhaps one day I shall get my doctorate.
Anyway, the reason this question intrigues me is because to me it seems like common sense that women should be taken seriously in the field of theology, but from experience, I know that is rarely the case. I always found it ironic that some of the people who hold the strongest opinions against women in church leadership are women themselves. I went to school with a few of them, which is once again ironic because I went to Bible school. I asked them why they were studying theology if they didn’t believe women should be theologians. Their answer was that they were just there to find a husband (In their defense, many of them did. Many of them did not complete their studies after they got married).
I also find these endless debates about questions such as whether or not women should be pastors (in any capacity) and whether or not women should be allowed to teach in a seminary to be a bit wearisome. Whenever these types of debates emerge, I am always tempted to ask the other person which century we live in. I know there is an argument for taking Scripture too contextually and thus perhaps losing some of the core theological assertions behind it, but on the other hand, sometimes I think people on the other side of the spectrum are also reading too much into it in an attempt to keep holding women down.
I have been trying to do some research about why women should study theology, but unfortunately, all the blog posts I have come across are rather basic and don’t nip the real issue in the bud. I realize this is a charged topic and you are welcome to disagree and debate with me on any point. However, I’d like to share with you three reasons why I believe it is crucial for more women to study theology:
1. Your voice matters
We all interpret the Bible through our own cultural lenses and through life experience. Anyone who has studied hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) can tell you that. If taken too far, this has the potential to cloud what the Scriptures originally said, but from a more practical level, this is part of what adds to the beauty and diversity of the church. This is the reason Bible studies can be so informative and engaging — it would be rather boring if our views were only shaped by one or two people. We can hear God better when we learn to listen through the experiences of those around us and apply their truths into our own life.
At a basic level, I think almost everyone would agree with this statement, except that in the majority of churches and in theology as a whole, we have fallen prey to exactly that: just listening to the voices of the same two or three people. When I consider the faculty at my university and seminary, the books I was assigned for class, and even the books I read now, they are almost always written by white, middle-aged, married, evangelical men. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with white, middle-aged men. I believe their perspective is just as important as anyone else’s is. However, reading a book by a female theologian or by someone from a different ethnicity just makes our studies that much richer. For example, reading a book written by a young mother or someone from Asia or Africa often provides me with a whole new list of concepts I would never have thought about before. We need more women to study theology because we need more of these voices to come to the forefront of our church life.
2. Women have profound spiritual authority
At first glance, this may sound like an incredibly progressive statement — only made by someone who affirms female leadership in the church. However, I believe that both conservatives and liberals (and those who find themselves somewhere in between) can both agree on this topic.
It doesn’t matter what capacity you find yourself in — housewife or career woman, you have the ability to impact people with your theology. If you are a young mother raising kids, you will have the opportunity to profoundly shape your children’s understanding of Christ. They are going to rely on you for all of their early information (As I wrote in another post once, it is much easier to learn theology correctly the first time than to have to unlearn bad theology!). If you are a Sunday school teacher or youth leader, don’t underestimate your authority. Kids are way more moldable than adults; shaping them now is crucial for how they are going to develop later on. If you are married, single women might look up to you and observe how you treat your spouse — set a Godly example! If you are single, other single women might look to you to see how you fare in a culture that is preoccupied with relationships — you can show them how being single is not a consolation prize or second-best, but truly can be cherished as a gift from God.
All who are Christians (whether male or female) have this responsibility — the task of evangelizing and witnessing to those around them through their spoken words and actions. Knowing good theology can help you be much more effective in this area of your life.
3. Theology can influence any other academic or practical discipline in your life
For me, theology is a life-long pursuit. I believe every Christian is a theologian. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words: theos (θεός) — God, and logos (λόγος) — word. In other words, theology is the study of God’s words, which means that anyone who takes part in a Bible study (which hopefully you do daily) is already a theologian. I also affirm the fact that having academic degrees does not mean you understand everything about Scripture — that’s impossible. And in some cases, my friends who have never studied theology know far more about certain topics than I do because they have done their own personal research in an area I am not as familiar with.
With this in mind, you can see how theology influences every other discipline we might choose to master. If you have good theology, it might enable you to read novels differently, to consider healthy eating differently, or to play music differently. When you have good theology, it permeates into every aspect of your life. This should be the case for both men and women.
We definitely need guys who are strong in the faith and who can boldly declare the Word of the Lord, but we also need women who are just as strong in ministering and engaging with the masses. If you are a female theologian, what resources and arguments do you have for studying what you study? If you’re a male theologian, how do you feel about working alongside your female counterparts? I’d love to hear from both sides.
Deborah-Ruth Ferber studied religious education at Tyndale University College in Toronto, and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. This post first appeared at Zwiebach and Peace, her personal blog.