Following God’s Call into the Theological Academy

by Anna Moseley Gissing

Each month Blogos features an article created in partnership with the Logos Institute’s Logia initiative. This month’s Logia post is by Anna Moseley Gissing. More information about Logia and additional articles are available here.

I was fresh out of college and serving as a youth director at a local church. Because I was new to the area, a friend’s parents, stalwarts in my new city, invited me for dinner. Our conversation turned toward churches, theology, and polity quickly enough, and though it was almost twenty years ago now, I still remember it vividly.

In the midst of a conversation about women in ministry, in church leadership, and what Paul really meant, my friend’s father, an elder in his own church, remarked that he thought God had called men to make hard decisions about leadership because women were too emotional.

This comment sparked in me a desire to know more. To study. To learn how and why people who loved God and loved Scripture would come to this insulting conclusion.

When I started divinity school a couple of years later, I was on my way to a PhD, eager to teach theology and convinced of my call. I fell in love with a fellow student talking theology, and we married a week after I graduated. And my plan faltered. I doubted my call.

It didn’t even cross my mind that my new husband could or should follow me to a doctoral program. It wasn’t that he refused. We didn’t consider it. We decided that we’d go where he was called to a ministry position and then I’d apply. But I’ve never applied.

I won’t go into all of the many twists and turns of this story. I know now that other women have different journeys, and some of their stories include husbands and children following them to grad school or to academic jobs.

And just a few years ago, I too had that experience. My husband and kids moved across the country for me to take a position as a book editor. Life has come full circle.

Over the years, I’ve grown more passionate about lifting up women’s voices—why? For one thing, it’s a matter of justice. For too long women have not been speaking, teaching, and writing as much as men have, especially in the theological disciplines. Those women who have ministered, written, and interpreted Scripture have not had the same influence as their male contemporaries. And God has given both men and women voices, intellect, and passion.

Second, women often see things that have been missed. I’m not arguing that all women are the same and therefore share one viewpoint. But women do tend to notice different things since their life experiences and social locations influence their readings, just like men’s do.

Because women are still a minority in the theological disciplines, their work can sometimes become marginalized and seen as “niche,” “too narrow.” But women’s ideas and research interests are not niche by default. And the more women writing, teaching, and researching in these fields, the more mainstream their ideas will be perceived to be. Sometimes it’s not a function of the ideas themselves but the perception that work by men is unbiased and ungendered while women’s work is not.

It’s true that women often enter the theological disciplines spurred on by research interests connected to their life experience. I was motivated initially by my friend’s father’s comment to study and learn more. I went back to grad school a decade later with different research questions, this time related to kinship language. I wanted to know how Jesus’ redefinition of family in Matthew 10/Mark 3 would sound for first-century listeners and what it might mean for theological reflection on family life. But does that mean that my question is too narrow because it stems from my own concerns about women’s roles in family life, in the biological family as well as in the family of God? I don’t think so.

Third, God is calling women to study, teach, and contribute to the theological disciplines, and it’s important to heed that call, despite the risks and challenges.

How can we help women heed God’s call to the theological academy? It depends on where we sit. As an editor, it’s a priority for me to publish women’s voices—to develop relationships with women scholars, to encourage them as they write, to share their work with the world. If you are a professor, make sure to call out the gifts you see in your women students. Perhaps they too have been doubting their calling and you may be the way that God speaks to them in their discernment. If you are a husband or significant other, you could volunteer to move so that your loved one can pursue this call.

No matter where we find ourselves, we can encourage women by sharing stories of others who have gone before or who are on the path to the theological academy. How have others inspired us? What has worked? What advice would we give our younger selves? Let’s share our stories far and wide.

We must also share our power. What power do you have in your academic institution, in your church, in your life? How can you share your power with another woman? Recommend a woman–pass along her name for a writing project, to an editor, for a lecture invitation. Consider asking her to coauthor with you. Invite her to present her work.

Sharing stories, sharing power, and giving voice to the research of women will help them follow God’s call to lead in the theological academy. May it be so.

Anna Moseley Gissing is associate editor at IVP Academic where she acquires and develops projects particularly in biblical studies and biblical theology. She is also the project editor for the revision of the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Previously she served as associate director of Women in the Academy and Professions and editor of The WellShe has more than a decade of ministry experience serving in local churches and on university campuses and is an elder in the Presbyterian church. Her theological degrees are from Beeson Divinity School (Samford University) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She’s married to Jeff, a Presbyterian pastor and book marketer, and is parenting two elementary-aged kids. She (rarely) tweets at @amgissing.