By Gabriella le Grange
One day, while reading Knowing God by J.I. Packer at the hairdressers’, my hairdresser and I got chatting and she asked what the book was about. Her reply after my explanation was very revealing, “That sort of book is not for me. I can only read Karen Kingsbury.” I suspect that she is not the only women who shares this sort of attitude when it comes to theological studies and to be honest, I think that there are men who share the same convictions. Theology should be left to the men else women might aspire to the ministry. Sometimes it feels as if I continually have to explain that although I go to theological College, I have no intention of becoming a minister; but I can see that they do not understand why I would study theology then.
This has caused me to develop a keen interest in the question of why women should study theology and over the past year I have thought of a number of reasons. In this blog I will share some of these reasons grouped under three categories: self, others and God. While this blog will specifically focus on studying at theological College, I do understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do this. There are other great options, (1) read good theology books, (2) consider the Explore Course – GWC’s correspondence course, or (3) attend training courses and seminars. My hope is that this post would encourage you to actively pursue a greater knowledge of God and his Word.
First, let’s settle a big misnomer, Theological College is not only for those who are planning on going into ministry. There is nothing wrong with saying that you want to study the Bible simply because you want to better understand it. Studying theology helps you to be able to correctly divide the Word of God for yourself (2 Tim. 2:15). This is much needed because of the tendency to approach the Bible with an individualistic mind-set, where you are more concerned about what the Bible means for you than what it is actually trying to say. Studying hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible) will teach you to look at things such as author’s intent, genre, historical background and literary context. Biblical Theology will teach you to read the Bible as one great story of God’s plan of salvation for his creation, not a self-help book.
Besides equipping you with the skills for personal Bible study, theology has other practical benefits. Studying church history demonstrates the faithfulness of God in sustaining his church through times of trial, we are encouraged by the examples of those who have gone before us to be salt and light in an ungodly world, and we are exhorted to preserve the gospel truth in the face of false teaching. Systematic theology, looking at what the Bible has to say about certain topics, can inspire worship (doctrine of God), promote human dignity and social justice (doctrine of man), stimulate unity (doctrine of the church), or stir hope in the hearts of believers (doctrine of eschatology).
Therefore it is a fallacy to think that theological college is not for personal study. It is a place where your own heart is first shaped and chiselled. Only after you have put the disciplines of good biblical interpretation in place in your own study, can you hope to impact others, which brings me to my second reason why women should study theology.
Women should also study theology in order to be effective in discipling others. Any woman who desires to be involved in ministry, be it bible study, sunday school, counselling, or missions; needs to have some sort of theological grounding in order to be an effective teacher. That does not mean that you have to have a theological degree to teach Sunday school but it does mean that there are some basic skills and concepts that you need to have in ministry. You need to have a clear understanding of what the gospel is, you need discernment to evaluate the material which you are using, and you have to be able to correctly handle the Scriptures for yourself, not relying on the work of others. These are the tools which theology imparts and if you do not have these things, then you are in danger of being carried off by false teachings (cf. Eph. 4:14) and worse than that, leading others along that same path.
Theological studies will certainly change the way in which you approach women’s ministry. Jen Wilkin (2015), an author and speaker, expresses her desire for ministry as not wanting to satisfy but to leave women wanting more of God’s Word. It is my experience that so much of women’s ministry is shallow because it revolves around motivational talks and testimonies, which in themselves are not wrong but are insufficient for maturing disciples of Jesus Christ. When it is the Word of God which teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17), then it is the Word of God which should be highlighted in our meetings together. But women who are not trained in the Word of God are not able to do this.
The final command that Jesus gave his followers was to make disciples and part of doing this is teaching them (Matt. 28:19-20). Therefore, it is important that women equip themselves to be most effective in doing so. There is, however, another reason why women should study theology and this is the greatest reason.
Women should study theology out of love for God. If the greatest commandment in the Bible is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, then it is important to know how to obey that commandment (Matt. 25:35-40). John Piper (2010:83) explains how we can do this when he says, “our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all else.” He goes on to say that we can only love God when we know God (Ibid.:90). Studying theology, then, is one way in which we can put our minds to work at loving God and growing in knowledge of and relationship with him.
There is one more reason that women should engage in the theological studies, and that is the same reason that we do anything else – a desire to glorify Him. “God has given us minds for this purpose,” writes Poblete (2015). We are called to glorify God in all things that we do (1 Cor. 10:31), this includes our study. Women should not be satisfied with their knowledge of God and his Word but should always be pursuing a greater and deeper understanding so that they might desire to worship him all the more, or as Piper (2010:15) puts it, that by thinking they may “put the fuel of knowledge on the fires of worship.”
Women should study theology because all Christians should study theology. This makes one equipped for private and corporate bible study and it deepens one’s love for God resulting in practical application of doctrine and ultimately in the glory of God. Poblete (2015) is so convinced that women should study good theology, and rightly so, that she writes, “We ought to tremble at the thought of encouraging women to do anything else.” And such an attitude towards the things of our Lord is why Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, is commended in Luke 10 for choosing “the good portion” (v42) and is an example for every woman to follow.
Gabriella le Grange is an honours student at GWC. She is passionate about studying the Bible, and serving in children and women’s ministry.
Piper, J., 2010. Think: the life of the mind and the love of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.
Poblete, A., 2015. 3 reasons women need good theology. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/3-reasons-women-need-good-theology. Date of Access: 13 May 2015.
Gospel Coalition, 2015. What needs to change in ministry among women? (video online). Available at: <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-needs-to-change-in-ministry-among-women> [Accessed 14 March 2015].