This was adapted from the Lifeway Research article “Give Your Church the Gift of Theological Education,” originally published on March 9, 2023.
Theology is for all because theology is simply growing in knowing God. We are all operating out of what we believe is true about God, which means we are all operating out of a theology. Our goal is to be wise theologians who rightly know and worship God as women who are seeking to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
At fourteen years old, I read Systematic Theology from cover to cover. My youth minister had gifted me his copy from seminary—likely to buy himself some time away from the barrage of questions I came armed with each week. Unfortunately for him, that break was short. I was so hungry to understand God and His Word that I couldn’t put it down, which led to more (and more complicated) questions—a double miss for my poor minister.
As I considered college, I wanted to pursue an education in theology. I had felt God calling me to the ministry at twelve years old and had wrestled with what that calling meant for my future. What was I going to do? I didn’t feel called to missions, but as a young female, I had not seen women serve in any other capacity other than as a pastor’s wife. And theological education seemed superfluous if missions was the route for me (and as a fiercely independent young adult, that route also seemed to have too many variables for my liking). So, I entered college as a nursing major, knowing the sight of blood made me extremely queasy but that medical professionals were highly valued on the field.
The shift to education in theology
I lasted about three weeks before I changed my major to English and Christian studies. Writing and reading had always been my first love, so I hoped God could use those on the mission field—maybe in teaching English as a second language. I must mention here that I had some champions cheering me on in theological education. It was their insistence that made me think it truly could be valuable, even if I wasn’t training for similar work to the students who studied alongside me. Their encouragement moved me to pursue a double major because one was going to be for “real-world work” (I needed some marketable skill to make money to live) and one was just for me because I loved it.
Little did I know there would be a world of opportunities to use my gifts aligned with my calling for God’s glory, despite so many asking why I’d waste my money getting a degree I’d never use. I’m so glad I pursued a “just for fun” degree because, by God’s grace, I’ve used it every day in my work, in my church, and in my family. And I’ve been able to continue studying even now. My training has likely kept me from teaching all sorts of accidental heresies or misinterpretations in years of children’s ministry, women’s ministry, and resource writing and editing. What I thought was just an extra degree has been a beautiful guardrail for me in orthodoxy, protecting not just me but many around me as my responsibilities in ministry grew.
Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation. You want to grow in your clarity of understanding and discussing God, His Word, and the gospel, but you don’t know where to begin. You don’t have the time or the money to enroll in seminary, but you do want to grow. Here are three ways to begin today:
1. Learn from teachers via video online.
There are multiple platforms that offer theological training. My favorite for women is Lifeway Women Academy. It is designed for women and taught by women, with the first two courses focusing on hermeneutics (how to study the Bible) and systematic theology (what we believe, organized systematically to synthesize what the Bible teaches on each doctrine). I got to teach on Christology and salvation in the second course, and it was such a blessing to me!
2. Read books that sharpen and challenge you.
Today, the teaching of world-renowned theologians is as close as your phone. Download a title or two to get started. Here are some recommended starting places:
- Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin (on how to study the Bible)
- Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves (asking: who is God?)
- Everyday Theology: What You Believe Matters by Mary Wiley (Bible study to give you a foundation in systematic theology)
- None Like Him by Jen Wilkin / In His Image by Jen Wilkin (noncommunicable and communicable attributes of God)
There are so many others, but five is a good starting place. Within Lifeway Women Academy, you’ll find a broader reading list.
3. Do theology in community.
Theology is for the church. The Bible is written to the church. There’s no better way to learn than to learn together. Cultivate a place in your local body to ask questions, talk through what you are learning, and sharpen one another. Read one of the books above together. However you choose to engage, we go farther and do so more successfully when we go together.
A lifelong pursuit
Education in theology is a gift, and there are so many avenues for instruction. I pray God gives you a hunger for Him, no matter what education you do or do not have. The beauty of theological education is that there are no truly terminal degrees. We never stop learning and growing as God sanctifies our hearts and minds into the image of Christ. Developing our theology is a lifelong journey and one that acts as both a guardrail and an accelerant in the ways of God, producing the fruit of righteousness.
Mary Wiley is the author of Everyday Theology, an eight-week Bible study exploring essential doctrines and why they matter in our everyday lives. She holds a BA in Christian studies and English from the University of Mobile and an MA in theological studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband, John, have two children and live in the Nashville area. She works in publishing, and you can follow her on Instagram.