by Dr. Beth Felker Jones
Have you ever thought about seminary? Could God be calling you to pursue education in biblical and theological studies?
As a professor of theology, I get to see many beautiful ways God equips leaders through theological education. There’s nothing closer to my heart than encouraging other women to answer God’s call in this way.
Sadly, women are not often encouraged to seek theological education in the same way that men are, but God uses theological education as fertilizer for fruitful ministries, and women in leadership need that strengthening as much as men do.
Is there biblical support for women to pursue theological education? Absolutely! First of all, women are included in all the ways scripture encourages all Christians to steward our talents well and to love God with our whole selves—including our minds.
And for those of us, male and female, who are called to special offices and leadership roles in the church, like “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” (Eph 4:11), there is a special imperative to seek the equipment that will help us answer those callings so we may “exhort with sound instruction and … refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
There are also specific examples in scripture of women being encouraged to take the time and space we need to learn about the faith. If we want to know what Jesus thinks about theological education for women, we need only look at his response to Mary sitting at his feet and listening to him; “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Lk 10: 42b).
And, in the New Testament church, we see women holding the very offices in the church which theological education is designed to enrich and build up. Phoebe is a deacon (Rom 16:1), Junia an apostle (Rom 16:7), and Priscilla explains the “Way of God” (Acts 18:26).
Many of us find the idea of biblical and theological study intimidating, as though it were only for the elite among us. I think we need to pray that the Spirit might give us courage to fight that intimidation factor. The good things of God are for everyone, and students start theological education from a variety of backgrounds. Some were Bible majors at Christian colleges. Some have never written a paper or read the entire Bible.
Theological education is for learning, not for those who think they already know it all. If you’re looking at seminaries, I encourage you to ask questions about classroom environments and seek a place that builds a culture of encouragement. The professors I know and love want to create that kind of place.
If you discern that God is calling you to deeper study, whether to a degree program or to study through other avenues, know that you won’t be alone. You’ll be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, a constellation of sisters who have gone before you and are going alongside you.
I think of the biblical women I’ve already named, but also women from throughout church history. The ancient theologians Basil of Caeserea and Gregory of Nyssa commended their sister, Macrina, for her knowledge of the things of God and lifted her up as an example for their lives and for ours. After his conversion, Augustine, probably the most famous theologian ever, spent time in intellectual pursuit of God, and his mother, Monica, participated with him as partner in that pursuit. Here, Augustine describes his experience of theological study together with his mother:
We stood … alone conferring very intimately … we inquired between ourselves in the light of the present truth, the Truth which is yourself, what the eternal life of the saints would be like … higher still we mounted by inward thought and wondering discourse on your works, we arrived at the summit of our minds. (Confessions 9)
During the Reformation a number of women studied and wrote theology and were key to the intellectual task of articulating Protestant faith, and a few centuries later, Evangelical Protestants pushed to open higher education in America to women, so that we, too, might be able to devote our whole selves to seeking the things of God.
I love the words of Julian of Norwich, a medieval Christian who wrote the first book of theology we know of in English by a woman; “because I am a woman ought I therefore to believe that I should not tell you the goodness of God?” (Showings, Short text, ch 6).
Indeed. My prayer is that we might be equipped as Julian and countless other sisters were throughout history, equipped to tell the goodness of God. Theological education can be a key tool in helping us to do so, and the barriers that have kept women from theological education need to be cleared away.
Beth Felker Jones teaches theology at Northern Seminary near Chicago, IL, where she directs the DMin program in Doctrine, Theology, & Practice. Northern Seminary encourages women in theological education. She is the author of books including Practicing Christian Doctrine and Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Interested in further growth and education? Check out Propel Ecclesia for Women in Ministry and the Propel Cohort at Wheaton College!