Why Should Women Study Theology?
I’ll never forget a poignant “question” I received from a family member when I shared how I was moving to Texas to study theology in a seminary context. This person implicitly stated his opinion about this decision in the form of a question: “Why would you do that?” Because the tone suggested my pursuit appeared purposeless, the emotional side of me felt crushed and confused at the time since this individual was a fellow believer and someone I looked up to.
After four years of study, I want to revisit this question with greater clarity for all my sisters in Christ because this is a question for the universal church which affects women who are professionals, stay-at-home mothers, and leaders across all vocational fields. This is a Kingdom question for God’s people:
Why should anyone spend time and resources studying theology—particularly women?
Pragmatism and consumerism are high values which undergird much of the philosophy of 21st century America. If an endeavor is practical, the venture is valuable. If an endeavor produces a quantifiable outcome, the undertaking will benefit a consumer-based economy. These standards, which infiltrate the ideology of many individuals, could lead one to believe that studying theology is not a valuable venture—especially for women like myself who are not seeking vocational positions in the pastorate.
Interestingly, this same mentality was also prevalent in first-century Palestine. Jesus of Nazareth speaks directly to this ideology while establishing foundational beliefs for the Kingdom which relate specifically to women. For Jesus, a woman learning was both significant and valuable—although not always practical or focused on a production-based outcome based in pragmatism. In Scripture, Jesus is exemplified as the greatest proponent in history who advocates for women to learn His teaching and to build His Kingdom along with their brothers in Christ.
Women Need the “One Necessary Thing”
In the first-century, women were considered second-class citizens in the Hellenized world. There was no #Metoo movement or platform like Twitter to tweet out the atrocities women faced on a daily basis. Women rarely had the opportunity to get educated and learning was not considered an option for most of the female population.
In this New Testament climate, the gospel of Luke reveals a counter-cultural way in which Jesus affirms the value of women who learn and become His disciples. Luke, a trained physician, applies his vocational skills to the writing of this gospel through the extremely detailed approach in which he writes this eyewitness account. One of the techniques Luke employs—which is unique in this book in comparison to the other synoptic gospels—is seen through the way in which Luke zooms into minor characters, particularly women, to make a substantial theological point.
In one of these instances, Luke does something exceptionally significant through the story of Martha and Mary. Martha approaches Jesus looking for His stamp of approval and insists that Jesus makes Mary help Martha with the domestic “work” (Lk. 10:40). Adversely, Jesus does not advocate for Mary assisting with Martha’s domestic endeavors at the moment, but rather, Luke emphasizes the following:
- Mary sat at the Lord’s feet (Lk. 10:39)
- Mary listened to what Jesus said (Lk. 10:39)
- Mary chose the “one necessary thing” (Lk. 10: 42)
- Mary received the “best part” that cannot be taken away (Lk. 10:42)
Luke draws out the fact that Mary chooses “the one necessary thing.” Luke goes on to call this, “the best part.” According to Jesus, Mary pursues what is honorable and excellent by choosing to listen to Jesus’ teaching. Mary decides to learn from Jesus over all else by sitting at His feet while He teaches. Jesus exonerates her for this “seemingly” impractical endeavor by explaining the admirable decision she makes—the choice to “learn theology” or be a student of Christ is of eternal value.
Women Desire “Faith Seeking Understanding”
For men and women, a decision to learn from Jesus is an endeavor to love the Lord with our entire being—including our minds. Anselm of Canterbury, a medieval philosopher and theologian, describes theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Essentially, Anselm is building on Augustine’s idea that one must “believe that you may understand.” For all believers, a call to Christ is a call to know Christ and learn because belief and faith compel us to desire to understand alongside one another.
Anselm, in his famous work Proslogion, embodies the heart of both men and women who desire to know and love God with their minds. Anselm expresses this desire in the posture of prayer:
“Teach me how to seek you, and show yourself to me when I seek. For I cannot seek you unless you teach me how, and I cannot find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you.”
For believers in any vocation or season of life, there is an invitation to know Christ which Mary chose to accept when she sat and learned from Jesus. According to Luke, the “most excellent choice” is to learn to love Jesus holistically with both our hearts and minds—together as brothers and sisters. The body of Christ must push back the “consumer based mentality” which asserts that acquiring a deep knowledge of God is only for pastors, the seminary elite, or believers seeking a position in vocational ministry. As men and women alike, we can—like Mary—learn theology and receive the teachings of Jesus which hold eternal value and can never be taken away (Lk. 10:42).
**some theological ideas taken from Dr. Hoskins NT lectures and philosophical concepts from Dr. Ross Inman’s Anselm Reading Seminar**