Last week, Tim Challies had an interesting article asking the question Is Seminary Really Necessary? Now, I realize this was directed to pastors, but as a woman attending seminary, this got my attention. I realize that not every woman has the desire or the opportunity for seminary, but when it comes to women in roles of influence, if one cannot attend seminary, she should at least read deeply and widely.
One of the things we experience as we grow up is that we are introduced to ways of living and thinking that are different from ours. We may visit a friend's house and see that her family does things differently. We go along in life thinking that the way our family does things is the norm. When I was a girl, we had two choices of drink at the dinner hour: milk or water. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that other families drank things like juice or even soda with their dinner. It is a process to learn how our contexts have affected what we regard as true or normal.
I have discovered this over and over again in the short time I have been in seminary. One of the things that has happened is that either through the professor himself or the scholars I interact with through the resources I read, I am being introduced to different ways of looking at things and am being challenged to look again at my own presuppositions. And no, this is not questioning my faith; it is about understanding why I have come to the place where I have come.
The systematic theology course I am taking uses Millard Erickson's Christian Theology. I had very little exposure to Erickson prior to this course, so I wasn't sure what to expect. So far, I really like much of what I have heard (although he does not like Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God, which he thinks is too analytical), but there are places where I am not entirely sure. This does not create much angst within me, because I am learning the benefit of being challenged. Being challenged used to generate a lot of fear in me, and I believe it was because I didn't have an answer, and I was afraid of what being wrong meant. Seminary is helping not to be afraid to be challenged.
I wish there were more women in seminary. This past weekend, I was in the first of four eight hour classes with Dr. Haykin, studying Augustine (as a side note, those eight hours flew by). I was encouraged that next door to my class, there was a group of women meeting as part of the "Women in Ministry" program at my school. Margaret Köstenberger was as guest teacher as part of the class on women in leadership. I chose not to register for that class because it's an elective, and because in the long run, I believe the course on Augustine will ultimately have the more lasting impact. But I was so glad to see women there, desiring to learn; desiring to be challenged.
Not everyone has the opportunity to attend seminary, but women who write have the opportunity to educate themselves. I liked this footnote in my theology textbook, where Erickson discusses various levels of pursuing theology:
"It should be noted, however, that some lay people are serious students of theology, reading widely and deeply, and are functioning at a level that may exceed that of many pastors."
If we can't attend seminary, and we want to teach and lead, at the very least, I think we should read deeply and widely, especially when it comes to theology. We cannot comment on culture and public life as a Christian without a solid theological foundations. It's not enough to simply have a strong opinion. If we can't be a seminary student, at the very least, we can be one of those "deep and wide" laypeople.