Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.

                         

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Friday
May062011

You Tell Me: Women and Theology

Here’s a question from my email that I don’t know how to answer. Can you help me out?

Why are so few women interested in theology?  

First, I suppose, we need to think a little bit about whether it is accurate to say that few women are interested in theology. I don’t know many other women in my real life that like theology as much as I do, so my gut feeling is that there is truth in the question. I have theologically interested friends online, but many of them feel like they are odd-women-out in their real lives, too.

We’d also need to think about whether women in general are less interested in theology than men in general. I don’t know many men who are interested in theology, either. However, I do think that men who are interested in theology have an easier time finding other men with the same interest than a woman has finding other women who enjoy theology.

Also from the email:

It just seems so sad that there are so few Marys today that really dig into God’s Word.

This statement suggests that the problem is worse now than in earlier times. Do you think this is so? I know there were women of the past who wrote doctrinally deep letters and poems and hymns, but I suspect they, too, were exceptions to the norm. And as this statement reminds us, there’s an historical account in the Bible dealing with the issue. This makes me think it’s a universal problem. People tend to make a priority out of pressing duties (and they are duties) and in the process, neglect more important ones.

Here’s a little more:

I have recently been in contact with two women who were instrumental in my conversion 30 years ago. Although both seem to have faith in the Lord, neither of them seem particularly interested in theology, and I guess that surprises me.  

So the emailer is not writing specifically about young women, who might be overwhelmed with the obligations of home and children. I’m concerned that even asking the question might add to the pressure to excel at everything that many younger women feel. But Mary yearned to know Jesus better and that’s something that should be true of all of us at every stage of life.

What do you think? 

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Reader Comments (14)

Well, I'm one of those women who feels like the odd woman out, and you already know that :) I do think the e-mailer is on to something. Here are a couple of thoughts.

Women, in order to feel like they are submitting to male authority leave the theology to men. Men are supposed to be the spiritual leaders and so in an effort to live that out, they assume that they don't need to be theologically astute.

Theological studies do not thrive in an environment where we woman can focus on our feelings. Women love to talk about their feelings. Having theological discussions won't bring that out nearly as much as other pursuits.

I read something interesting a while ago; I can't remember where, but it was in a church history book. The writer observed that in the church of the middle ages, there actually was a lot of room for women to gain mobility in the church, primarily through religious orders. Women were not the theologians at that time, but one way they could distinguish themselves is through the religious orders. Interestingly, many of the famous mystics were female, and the writer I was reading speculated that this was the only way for a woman to be distinguished in a church environment. I thought that was interesting that even then, it was not their theological work that marked them, but something else.

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim Shay

I think women actually study the Word more than men. Just a cursory glance at the men's ministries vs. the women's ones that I've seen anecdotally support this. I think the difference however is that women focus on the practical application of theology, not just the intellectual study of it. We live in many different worlds - home, work, marriage, kids, etc that there really isn't time or energy to study what doesn't apply. This is just my theory however, as I'm also a theology nerd. But in my teaching experience with women however, I've found the greatest success when theology is presented practically.

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

Another theology junkie. My undergraduate degree is in theology and I was the only female in the program. I'm agreeing with the previous comments. I think the vast majority of women I know are interested in having their emotional needs met. Often this means that theology gets kicked to the curb and the temporary band-aid of personal experience is applied. I don't think they understand that they'd have fewer problems if they really knew what Scripture says about God, mankind, this world, (in other words theology).

I think some women's speakers measure their success on the basis of how many tissues were used at the event. I rarely go anymore. I want to be spiritually fed and not emotionally placated. Why are there so many women like this? I have no clue, but my guess is that they've been taught that spiritual answers are found in "feeling the right emotions."

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaisy

Rebecca, This problem has bothered me since I was first saved 39 yrs ago. I've always been interested in theology but like you I've noticed this lack of desire in both men and women. I think there are numerous reasons for it -

For one, I think there are far fewer true believers in the church than we realize - and especially when you consider the weak gospel presentation we've had over the last century. True believers all go through seasons and ups and downs, but in the long run we will thirst after God's Word, babies in tow or not. -

Secondly, women are often under poor leadership and teaching, again a result of weak churches.. They are not challenged to dig deep and like Kim said are encouraged to share feelings. This is a leadership problem.

Another problem is our affluence. We have need of nothing, generally speaking and we're choking on our own freedoms. We don't have to fight for the truth, it's available on a silver platter if we want it. A Russian pastor was visiting John MacArthur's church shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. MacArthur mentioned something to the effect that it must have been extremely hard to be a believer under such a harsh regime. No, the pastor replied - it was quite easy! You were either a true believer or you were not - he said it was American Christians that had the difficulty living for Christ.

Women, young women with children even, went to the stake and gallows during the reformation over the doctrine of transubstantian! How many modern believers would even think that issue was important, much less die for it?

To be fair, I think some people are more wired for the heavier academic end of Bible study - these are probably the people in the church God has gifted as teachers, elders, and pastors. But still, I believe ALL Christians should have a desire for the meat of the Word and this should be the normal Christian life.

Good question!

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

make that transubstantiation! too many t's - ha!

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Most of what I thought of in response to your question has already been suggested (response to male authority, focus on 'feelings', duties of the home) but I do agree with Deanna that in my experience, many women are committed to Bible Study and, when presented with a more theological/doctrinal approach, become interested in theology proper. Engaging women in theology proper is often a simply a matter of a teacher/leader's enthusiasm, expectations, and encouragement.

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim from Hiraeth

This is a good question, Rebecca. I have also wondered about this.

My background was not reformed. In my prior circle of fellowship, the study of doctrine was discouraged for both men and women as some how conflicting with spiritual "life". I think this false dichotomy is widespread in the church.

If you look at the women's section of christianbook.com as opposed to WTS books, the majority of books for women are by women and deal with emotionally-based issues. I may be making an assumption, but it seems that most Christian women prefer to read female authors, and thus this type of material becomes their sole diet.

I do agree with Kim's observation that some women may feel that studying theology is overstepping the bounds for women in the church. But I think one can study theology and be in submission to one's husband and church leadership. If anything, proper theology should help us in this regard, not hurt us.

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpersis

Interesting discussion! And several points I thought of have been mentioned above.

Although I have never had the abiding interest in theology that you and many of your reformed friends have, I remember when I began studying from my Systematic Theology textbook in Bible School and thinking -- this is wonderful! My type of brain likes this kind of organized study/portrayal of God.

My interest has been rekindled in the last couple of years since I've been blogging daily devotions. When you wrestle with bits of scripture every day for spiritual food for yourself and then to pass on to others, you can't help but be vitally interested in theology because it's the basis of everything you say! (And kudos to you for your amazing series of Theological Term of the Week. I often refer to it, and sometimes link too.) So I guess what I'm saying with this is that some women might be more interested in theology if they had a reason to use it - as in teach it or write about it.

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterviolet

I posted this and then left for the afternoon and evening and I've come back to find many wonderful responses. This is an example of everything a blog comment thread should be. Thank you all—every single one of you.

I agree with Kim of Hiraeth that

Engaging women in theology proper is often a simply a matter of a teacher/leader's enthusiasm, expectations, and encouragement.

It seems that some women have just not been exposed to much doctrinal study and they are intimidated by what is unfamiliar to them, but when they are exposed in the right setting, they can find it all rather exciting. Like Violet did when she studies her Systematic Theology textbook.

And as Violet mentions, having to actually write about theology or what scripture means is a good way to become really, really interested in it.

One more thing: I think many women tend not to like it when people disagree, and doctrinal discussions, even when they are perfectly cordial, make them a little nervous because they are concerned that people might get their feelings hurt. They'd rather just stick to simple things we all agree on.

May 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

I was remembering something I heard Don Carson say at a conference last year. He said people will learn from him when he teaches that which he is passionate and enthusiastic about. This came into my mind when Kim commented about the need for good and enthusiastic leadership. Also, I do think that the male leadership of the church needs to make this a priority. I was quite sobered when a 20-something woman at the young mom's bible study confided to me that her husband was always reluctant to baby sit the kids so she could attend a bible study, yet she was very happy to be at home for a couple days at a time so he could go hunting. Husbands need to see the spiritual growth of their wives as a priority, and help with providing the good leadership.

May 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim Shay

These comments are excellent and I agree with so much that has been said. My wife and I discussed it, and one thing she pointed to were the inadequacies of women's Bible studies that focus on emotions rather than what the Lord actually teaches in a particular passage. It strikes me as arrogant to study God's Word wanting to focus on myself rather than Jesus Christ and his benefits. When we study the Bible we do have to learn to read it as Christ taught us (Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39-40) and not as we naturally come to it in our earthly thinking. The Bible's teaching is spiritually discerned, and only the regenerate, born from above, believer can understand it by the Spirit.

Christian doctrine is really just a synonym for Christian teaching and we get Christian teaching from the Bible. When we study the Bible we are looking for the doctrine or truths that the Lord teaches through his Word. I've been meditating on Luke 10:38-42. Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to his teaching, and Jesus says that she has chosen the best portion. This portion includes Christ's nearness, for she was near Jesus; submission, for she was at Jesus' feet; and willingness to learn, for she was listening to his teaching. Was Mary a theologian? I don't know, but I do know that she is the example to both men and women of the right heart attitude toward Christ, and this must include submissive learning of Christ's teaching or doctrine, and this is theology, is it not?

May 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill Weber

Not a lot to add other than what has been said but wanted to let you all know how gratified I was to read the initial question and responses. My desire for theology has grown over the years due to precept by precept Bible studies but as someone mentioned above I think part of it is just my wiring. Also the great joy of understanding just a little bit better and being able to share that understanding with women in my small groups and my children. Thank you Father for the desire to know you more through your word!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

I have enjoyed reading this discussion. In few words, I would say that I agree with most of what you have said, my friends. I guess the problem is that women prefer to read emotional books. I disagree, however, with Deanna when she says that women study the Word more; maybe women read more "Christian books" but that doesn't necessary mean that they study the WORD more.

I am grateful to God for all the friends He has given me, most of them godly women who are passionate about the Word of God and encourage me to do the same.

I am grateful for women like you, Rebecca!

I googled "Why don't women like theology" just trying to find exactly this--a few women who I can relate to who LOVE theology--in other words, they love the LORD and want to know as much as they can about Him because they realize that this life is not always about what affects THEM, the bible isn't good just because it's PRACTICAL, it's a revelation to man about who HE IS and therefore if we say we love Him, we should not be so loosy goosy and silly so much of the time in our thinking about eternal things. Obviously I've got a lot of pent up frustration about this, thus the caps, so I apologize if anyone was OFFENDED. I guess I wasn't that sorry. Anyway, I sure wish I had one or two good girlfriends to talk about these things with. I get tired of being looked at cross-eyed by the men b/c they don't know if it's unseemly to have a woman know more about theology than they do, and the women can't change the topic fast enough if it's brought up. I have no desire to be in spiritual authority in the church and I want a godly Christian husband who is the leader of the home, but sometimes I just wonder if this side of me would have just been much easier to live out if I were the opposite gender. I could go on... PS The Doctrines of Grace are awesome! Here's a joke: Do you know why 4 pointers are "Christmas Calvinists?" =="NOEL", get it? "No 'L'" HA, only a Calvinist who loves theology could like that one. =)

July 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterangela davidson

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