Encouraging Women to Do Biblical Studies at the Graduate Level

We need well-trained women serving in our churches.

Having a well-trained theological mind does not necessarily mean a woman will go into vocational ministry. What about the women she could disciple, the friendships where she could bring informed biblical counsel, and the children (spiritual or physical) she will raise? What if she becomes a doctor who takes care of families, a lawyer who seeks justice or works in a government role for the good of society? Should we not cheer her on as she works towards a degree that lays the foundation for a deep biblical worldview?

 

When I was in seminary, a godly woman recounted to a few of us how she had been asked multiple times by male students why she, as a woman, had come to seminary. The questioning was aggressive in nature, not for general understanding. Another woman recounted how a passive-aggressive but zealous seminary student wrote a long message one early morning on the white board where the female students were getting together for prayer, encouraging them to not continue with the MDiv (Masters of Divinity). I think I may have encouraged him to do the same.

What is a complementarian to do? When I say complementarian, I am referring to people who believe that men and women are created equal in God’s sight, but in His sovereign choice he has designed different roles for them. This is most clearly seen in the affirmation that only men should be elders/pastors (Baptist/Presbyterian) or bishops (Anglican) in a church. Many see complementarians as people who only say “no” to women. Here, I want to give a few reasons why complementarians of many stripes should encourage as many women as possible to get a Masters degree (or its equivalent) in biblical studies.

1. Being Honest Up Front

The struggle for many complementarian men and women begins with the belief that women are restricted from the role of elder/pastor. This would then prohibit them from many of the teaching roles in the church. That being the case, the focus of many schools that lean complementarian is the training of men for future positions in churches. The MDiv for example is primarily meant for people who are headed to the pastorate. It makes sense that the majority of students who pursue this degree would be men.

Moving ahead I must note that complementarians are split on whether women can teach men outside the role of elder. There are basically two camps:

  • Piper[1]/Schreiner[2]—women should not teach theology and biblical studies to men in a formal position in the church or in schools due to the pastoral/elder like authority that comes with teaching.
  • Carson[3]/Keller[4]/Frame[5]—women are only restricted from the role of elder. Women are free to teach men in Sunday school, at conferences, in bible studies and more.

I, of course, am not doing justice to the nuance of each position, but it is helpful to alert the reader of the streams within complementarian thinking. The details of exegesis will be left for another time. All of these men deserve careful consideration and honor. Both of these streams should be able to agree to much of what follows.

2. God Makes No Distinction About Who Must Be Trained

Maybe this is obvious, but I don’t hear too many people complaining about women in a Sunday school class or pursuing an undergraduate Bible degree. Why is there anguish when we get to the Masters level? It could be because some Masters degrees in theological studies are shaped for pastors. Fair enough, but shouldn’t we still commend complementarian women to pursue these degrees?

Complementarians are not Gnostics. We don’t believe that only some people can/should have access to the deep truths of God that can be unlocked by formal education. Of course, learning the Bible is not tied to a graduate degree, but there is something to be said for thoughtful and structured study of God’s Word. Practically, it would be immensely helpful in discussions with egalitarian scholarship to have more complementarian women able to interact with them at an equal level of scholarship. The majority of complementarian scholars who could submit an article to a journal or write a theological treatise are men.

3. Biblical Worldview Is Important

Maybe many complementarian men assume that women in seminary are there to be pastors and therefore can’t get their mind around complementarian women being in graduate school. We make the very bad assumption that seminary graduation is coterminous with ordination.

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