Women Should Study Theology

woman-leaderI can’t win! By moving from Ohio to Michigan I have set myself up for a constant barrage of ridicule. Back in Ohio I am the Buckeye traitor who moved to that “dreadful state up north.” In Michigan, however, I am the alien from that state which shall not be named. I simply can’t win. This series feels like it will set me up for more of this tension. On the one hand many will think me a terrible Complimentarian, one in name only. On the other hand there will be plenty who think I am too much of a Complimentarian, after all I don’t believe that the office of the pastorate is open to women. I’ll belong in neither group. But my desire is not for acceptance, but to be Biblical. It makes no difference to me, then, how others feel about it, I want to affirm what the Bible says about women. According to the Bible, women should study theology.

Women should study theology, first and foremost, because being a follower of Christ has nothing to do with gender. Whether male of female being a disciple means learning to obey all that Jesus taught (Matt. 28:20). Numerous commands in Scripture are not gender specific. The various one-another commands of Scripture are required of all of us. In fact the vast majority of imperatives found in the New Testament are given to the church as a whole. We are all to be imitators of Paul as he is of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). This means that women as much as men must know the Scriptures, know God, know themselves, and know how to live out their lives for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31). Theology is simply the application of God’s Word to all of life. That means, at one level, that theology is simply discipleship. Theology, then, has no gender restriction. Women should study theology.

Beyond this rather obvious point, though, there are also specific commands in Scripture for women to study theology. For starters, Jesus commends Mary for her willingness to sit at his feet and learn (Luke 10:38-42). While her sister occupies her time with service, a good and honorable thing no doubt, Mary sits at Jesus feet to listen, to study theology. The Lord’s response is indicative of his desire that women should study theology. He says, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42b).  Mary had chosen wisely. It’s important to note how strange this was in ancient cultures where women were not educated and trained like men. But here is Jesus saying, Mary chose well!

Paul, in instructing young Titus about the importance of sound doctrine tells him how older women ought to live among the church. They should “teach what is good.” What is the “good” in this text? It’s sound doctrine. What will motivate women to godly living? Only godly knowledge. Paul is telling the older women to teach the young women theology. Help them know God that they, then, might live out their lives for God. Most readers go directly to the commands about domestic life and in the process step right over the most fundamental part of this instruction for women: the good. How is that women can love their husbands and children well, it’s when the know the love of the gospel that has been given to them. Theology impacts life dramatically, and if women don’t start there they won’t be able to do the other parts of this passage well.

The Bible depicts theological engagement as a discipline for, and required of, all believers. Nonetheless, here we are in the 21st century with plenty of people in the church still debating whether women should be theologians. Carolyn Custis James keenly observes the root ideas behind this questioning. She writes:

Two ideas seem to bolster the notion that theology is for men and not women. The first is the belief that God did not equip women for theological pursuits. According to this thinking, women are more relational and practical, and their role centers on being a wife and mother rather than on theological reflection. The presupposition is that God designed a world in which womanhood and theology are incompatible. The second is the conviction that deep knowledge conflicts with the biblical idea of wifely submission; a thinking woman will find it difficult to submit to her husband and to church leaders. Consequently, the safest and most sensible path, according to some, is for women to leave theology to the men. (When Life and Beliefs Collide, 46)

Both of these views are completely wrong. Most frequently they themselves derive from a misunderstanding of what theology is. Most of us in the church think of theology as some academic pursuit, but it is simply the application of God’s Word to my world, therefore it is something require and possible for all Christians. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that a struggle with submission is not grounded in theology, but in sinful hearts. Men struggle with submission just as much as women do. That’s not a defect in theology but a defect in the theologian. Women should not, then, be deterred. Theology is for them and they should strive to be good theologians.

This is the biblical perspective, but there is an opposite side to this coin that many will struggle with. That women should study theology may be broadly excepted. That men should learn theology from women, as I claimed last week, will be more seriously challenged. But again, my desire is to represent what Scripture says, and I believe that Scripture represents women as instructing others regularly in theology. Some may be willing even to concede this, but they would add the qualifier that women may instruct women (or children) in theology, but I don’t find that qualifier in Scripture. Women instruct all in theology.

Beginning with the Old Testament we can see several key examples of women confronting and instructing others on the things of God. Take, as an example, the well-known Judge Deborah (Judges 4-5). Deborah instructs the captain of the Israelite army to obey God. She is a counselor and a warrior as she goes with him into battle. We could turn next to the person of Abigail. Abigail does not even simply instruct and warn a man, but she instructs and warns the King of all Israel. When David becomes reckless and selfish Abigail calls him back to godliness, and at this point she is not even his wife. The famous Proverbs 31 wife too is a woman who “instructs,” she is a good theologian not merely a good homemaker. She speaks with wisdom and good instruction (v. 26), and as a result of this her husband is better served (v. 11-12). The fact is that her husband can “trust in her” precisely because she is wise and knows the Word of God. How on earth can a woman be a good “helper” to her husband if she doesn’t know theology well? Women in the Old Testament were theologians.

In the New Testament this is true too. See for starters, Priscilla. In Acts 18, when Apollos is wrongly still proclaiming the baptism of John this couple confronts him and corrects him. The text actually states that “when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26). They, that is both of them, explained the way of God more accurately. Priscilla in this case is involved not merely in instructing, not merely in instructing a man, but in instructing another teacher. Think too of Peter’s sermon in Acts chapter 2 where he quotes from the prophet Joel stating that when the Spirit of God comes on all flesh “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (v. 17). Women will prophesy, the text says. We cannot dismiss these things, we cannot add all sorts of caveats and qualifiers to them that the Scriptures do not add. I firmly believe that the Bible teaches the office of an elder is closed to women, but it does not exclude women from instructing in theology. In fact Colossians 3:16 tells us that all Christians are to be ready to instruct one another (see also Heb. 3:13). We add the qualifier that it is women instructing women in these passages, but as we can see the Bible has plenty of examples that don’t conform to that expectation.

Women should study theology. In fact they should study theology not merely for the benefit of their own souls, but for the benefit of the church as a whole. I want to learn theology from women, I need to so that I can keep myself from being blinded to the defects in my own perspective. The church needs female theologians.

For those who are still on the fence, or who are ready to write me off, I beg your patience. This series is not over and I will tackle next week some passages that are commonly used to dissuade us from believing the ideas here presented. Give me patience to say all that I am going to say, because this is, I believe, an important subject for the health of our churches. The church is, after all, composed of men and women. The health of the church, then, depends in some degree on the health of the women in it. And whether my friends agree or disagree I ultimately want to do my best to be Biblical. It can be a tough place to live in between camps, but it is, I believe, the right place to live.

Comments

  1. Bess Kypros says:

    Pastor Dave,
    I have enjoyed reading your position on women and theology. I’m anxious to read the next segment. I believe that all followers of Christ should be theologians, even children.
    I have sometimes felt restrained when teaching in a mixed group. Several years ago I and another woman from the church facilitated The Truth Project. In our small group discussions I wasn’t sure I should be discussing theology with the group. Should I have had a theology meter in the room so that I would know when I was treading in “inappropriate” territory? I let go of the issue and didn’t make any waves with the church leadership. Your blog is refreshing and gives good Biblical examples of women theologians.
    I certainly don’t want to be militant about my position on women and theology so I accept responsibilities in teaching women. My concern is for women who perhaps are held back from learning theology. I believe the Women’s Ministry at Cornerstone does a very good job in teaching theology to women. Are Cornerstone women discouraged from applying theology in their family setting? I don’t know the pulse of the men at Cornerstone.

    I certainly enjoyed your class last night and want to participate when I am in town. We will be up north during much of the next month. I was very encouraged to see so many young men and several women in attendance.
    Bess Kypros

Trackbacks

  1. […] to consider how these words here fit together with the other parts of Scripture. We have already seen plenty of examples in the Scriptures where women do exactly what this text forbids: they teach men. […]

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