“What gave you such a passion to encourage and equip women to be better theologians?” “How did you become such an avid reader and lover of theology?” These are questions that I am often asked. It all started in a coffee shop. I was a newlywed fresh out of college, and although my degree was in education and art, what I really wanted to do was open a coffee shop. My ideas and business plan were appealing enough for my mom to want to go in with me as a business partner. The Mudd Puddle opened its doors in downtown Frederick, Maryland, in 1998. I was a mere twenty-two years old.
Although we were not a “Christian coffee shop” as such, mom and I decided to have some Christian books available in a reading corner. Every now and then we would play Christian music or have Christian bands perform live on the weekends. Apparently, word got around that mom and I had some Christian paraphernalia, and all sorts of people from different churches began to frequent our café.
Being a coffee barista is similar to working as a bartender because you begin to learn people’s life stories and know what they are going to order as they are walking in the door. Many customers became my friends. I began having some great conversations about the Christian faith with a handful of women from different backgrounds. It got to the point where a few of them asked me if I would be willing to lead a weekly Bible study after hours. I was a bit apprehensive about leading this group because I needed a teacher myself. But they were persistent, so I organized it on the condition that I would be more of a facilitator of conversation and study than a teacher.
Most of you reading this know just how naive I was. Our small group of women represented an eclectic mix of denominations from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, nondenominational, and Pentecostal churches. I thought that when we all sat together and opened the Word of God, we would all be able to recognize and submit to the plain text of Scripture.
What I didn’t realize was that we were all pretty bad theologians, and we came to the text with our own ideas that we read into Scripture. I was not equipped to be a good teacher. I recognized the need to provide a confession from my church for the Bible study on what we believe about man, God, and his Word.
Thankfully, I was able to get help from the elders of my church, and they worked with me and brought our little Bible study in as a small group under their leadership. But I had so many questions. That’s when my pastor introduced me to systematic theology books that he thought would be helpful. He shared his commentaries and answered many of my questions. I remember thinking, “Wow, I get to read these?” It seemed like material only seminary students and pastors read. I considered it both a great privilege and a great responsibility.
Of course, the more I read, the more questions I had. This led me to discover so many great teachers of the faith. Some of the first I remember reading were Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and St. Augustine. I began reading R.C. Sproul’s books, as I found he was helpful for teaching. Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace helped me to better understand the dispensational background I grew up in.
The next thing you know, I was asking for Calvin’s Institutes and his Commentaries for my birthday. My husband and I were at a Baptist church at this early stage of our marriage, and he had come from a Catholic upbringing. So this group of women wanting to study Scripture together also had Matt asking our pastor more questions. And in our own conversations and learning, the doors of the Reformed faith were opened wide for us.
That small group of women grew as more women from my church joined us. It’s natural for me to be conversational, intuitive, and maybe even a bit charismatic in personality, so I knew how important it was to have my passions and gifts grounded in the truth. Some of these women from the coffee shop had been taken in by damaging teaching. I began researching different authors and well-known preachers whom they would quote from radio broadcasts or televised sermons, and I was horrified. There is a lot of false teaching being marketed to Christian women.
When I began to look at the books offered at the Christian bookstore, I was disgusted. Why would I want to go from reading Jeremiah Burrough’s Evil of Evils to The Prayer of Jabez? And the books targeted specifically for women are even worse. They are insulting. It makes me sad that so many women walk into the Christian bookstore thinking they can buy something to help equip them in the faith, and they may very well walk away worse than they were when they came in.
So as we would go through a book of Scripture, or do a book study in my women’s small group, I began constantly comparing the truth of God’s Word to what is being falsely taught about it in the so-called evangelical subculture, as well as combating what secular culture proclaims.
We are all theologians—that is, we all have our own ideas about who God is. The question is, are we good theologians who know God truly, according to his Word, or are we poor ones? Jesus prayed to the Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Jesus prayed for us to be good theologians. It is an eternal matter!
Learning more about Reformed theology eventually led my husband and me to the Presbyterian church. And after spending over a decade as a Presbyterian, I can say that Presbyterian women are just as susceptible to read and teach poor theology.
Lately, some of us women have been speaking up that we want more depth in our studies. We are insulted by the theologically light women’s studies that barely scratch the surface, over-stereotype us, or teach harmful doctrine. We want to be well equipped to articulate our faith and be serious students of Scripture. Men don’t have to read countless books on more Christian approaches to car repair and taking out the trash, but we seem to be flooded with so-called Christian ways to slim down for God and organize our homes. I have to say, my Pinterest account is much more interesting than these Christian books.
And yet women’s small groups are valuable in the church. In this information age that we are living in, many of us are finding that the conveniences of technology cut us off from meaningful, mentoring relationships that shepherd us in our unique role. In Titus 2, the apostle Paul points out the importance of women teaching and learning from one another. Intentional small-group studies under the supervision of local church elders provide a good opportunity for women to both share and grow in their faith.
While it is certainly prudent to discuss some of our distinctive roles as women in these groups, that doesn’t mean that we want the low-calorie version. Thankfully, there has been more on the menu for us lately. There has been a resurgence of Christian women writers who care about good theology—praise God! I am thankful for authors like Nancy Guthrie, Kathleen Nielson, Melissa Kruger, Gloria Furman, and Hannah Anderson. I encourage you to read them and use their books in your studies. They keep the focus on God, particularly the revelation he gives us in Christ through the gospel, rather than on our own skills as a wife, mother, or hostess with the mostess, even when some are teaching on these topics.
But we don’t need to limit ourselves only to women authors and women’s issues. While it is good for us to read about feminism, marriage, parenting, and homemaking, there is more to a woman than this. Ask your elders about some good commentaries to use for an expositional Bible study. Ask your pastor what systematic or biblical theologies you might learn well from. Become a well-rounded theologian. Read from some dead guys (and gals). They aren’t just for seminary students and pastors.
My coffee shop had the motto, “Fuel for the thinkers of today.” It sure was that for me and the group of women who loved to talk about how what we believe about God shapes the way we live our everyday lives. Boy does it ever!
The author has just become a member of New Hope OPC in Frederick, Md. Her book, Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary, was reviewed in the July 2014 issue of New Horizons.