Just over a year ago, my husband and I embarked on the process to become certified biblical counselors with ACBC. We did the training and reading, and then just kind of stalled from progress during our move overseas and subsequent orientation period. But recently I’ve picked up my pace again, and lately I find myself immersed in exams. There are 43 total- half are theology and the other half are case study/philosophy essay type exams. These days I have a goal to write at least one (but some days two) theology exam per day. It is grueling, but so good. I love theology, and I’ve enjoyed digging deep into Scripture and commentaries and basically creating my own doctrinal statement, which is tracking to be (when I’m finished) about 20,000 words. I just passed the halfway mark a few days ago, and I felt impressed to stop and write on my blog to you all. Though I believe that every woman should be studying theology, my particular heartbeat is for pastors’ wives.
It’s not that pastors’ wives aren’t acquainted with theology, per se. A lot of us have degrees from Bible college or seminary (but it’s totally okay if you don’t.) And we are surrounded by the Bible and hopefully good teaching and preaching on a regular basis. But if this is so, why do so many pastors’ wives lack confidence in expressing and articulating theology? Why do we leave it to our husbands to handle the theology? Why do some doctrines seem so fuzzy still, or a non-issue in our daily life?
Writing these theology exams has caused me to stop and think about what a wonderful exercise this has been for me. But- even before I started these exams, I read about doctrine often in the books I choose. I sit under the best preaching there is (I may be biased about my pastor, but he’s my favorite person!) Still, digging and searching and comparing and rooting my beliefs even more deeply has done spiritual good for me in a way that reading books and listening to sermons can’t do. Here are a few reasons why I think every pastor’s wife should study theology:
1. Bible college/Seminary was a long time ago
In my case, my theology degree was earned 15 years in the past. For many of you, the length of time between college and now is even longer. Some didn’t go to college, and many didn’t study for ministry or get a Bible degree. Some got saved later in life, and/or were called to ministry later in life. You married an electrician and now you’re a pastor’s wife. (Wait, how did that happen?) Whatever your situation is, now is a good time to refresh your theology.
While in college, I worked my way through the entire Bible and studied doctrine. But the study I did 15 years ago is not enough for now and the rest of my life. I’m not saying that Scripture isn’t sufficient; I’m saying that stuff gets fuzzy and we lose our ability to articulate what we don’t keep fresh. Before we moved overseas, I parted with my box of files of college notes. I thought that someday I would review them, but I finally faced the truth that I never would. If I studied that stuff again, it would have to be fresh. So here I am, studying fresh. And I’ve been able to solidify my position on a few things that I didn’t fully understand before. All this to say, unless you are currently enrolled in seminary, you likely have some fuzzy stuff too. You don’t have to tackle all the doctrines at once like I am doing (I don’t have a choice). You can pick one and study it out, then move along. You might be surprised what you will learn and understand in a fresh way.
2. You need to be able to articulate what you believe for the purpose of evangelism
I like to go to a local coffee shop some days to study and write. At a corner table, with my computer, a stack of theology books and Bible, and my favorite hot drink (a red cappucino), I at first felt fairly incognito. But perhaps a woman with books and a computer is a rare sighting, because almost every time I go, someone asks me what I am doing. When I tell them, they want to know more. A few people have point blank asked me, “What do you believe?” Others have had specific questions about specific areas of spiritual life that they are curious about. Because of what I am studying, I have had boldness to share what I believe about Jesus, salvation, what it means to be a true follower of Jesus, and more. When someone asks you “What do you believe?” you better be ready to tell them! And what a joy it is to be able to speak up with confidence and the authority of Scripture…and readiness! 1 Peter 3:15
3. You are a counselor to someone
You don’t need to be a certified counselor. It is nice to have, and worth working for- it shows you have studied and done the preparation work and have been given a stamp of approval from others that you are qualified to handle the Word of God properly and use it to help others. But every single one of us should be biblically literate enough to counsel. Counseling comes in many forms- parenting, mentoring, discipling, etc. Any time you pour into another person with Scriptural advice, you are counseling. Wouldn’t it behoove us, then, to be sure that we are rightly handling the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15), and that we know what God’s Word says? Aside from remedial counseling (which is a natural part of pastoral ministry), we are often called upon to do impromptu counseling. I have been asked to do this via video chat a couple of times recently. It’s natural to scan your brain quickly, wondering what to say, especially if you have only a few hours (or less) to prepare. But if we are grounded in the Word, and depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance, we do not need to panic.
Knowing that many pastors’ wives are not in the Word daily, I think it is also true that those same pastors’ wives have a general, fuzzy understanding of theology and doctrine and the Gospel. This limited time in and knowledge of the Word prevents them from knowing it solidly enough to pass it along to others in a counseling role. They prefer to pass people along to someone else when people need spiritual soul care. To be sure, there are times when we must pass people along to others more qualified than we. I do this on a regular basis within my ministry to pastors’ wives, especially when there are topics that I have not studied out. But in this particular blog post I am referring to theology and Bible doctrines, not specialty areas per se. Every one of us can and should be trained in the Word, enough so that we are grounded in truth ourselves, and can confidently pass it along to others. You are a counselor to someone, (even if only to your children -the most important people of all!) And if that thought terrifies you, you have some studying to do.
4. Theological conversations are for everyone
My husband and I thoroughly enjoy hashing out theology, and we have since before we got married. Maybe we are nerds, but in truth, we really just want to stay sharp and able to help ourselves and others spiritually. Because of the intensity of what God has led us through, we’ve never had the luxury of settling into a mediocre life or ministry. We are generally both reading or studying something that is interesting, inspiring, controversial, or a gray area that we want to understand better. We both love to learn. It is so good for us to discuss these things, comparing Scripture and weighing the Words of God, even tackling nuances to define what we believe. We both also have people in our lives with whom we talk theology and the Bible and what God is doing in our lives. These types of discussions are not for the purpose of division or straining at things that don’t matter. Rather, these discussions allow us to test out what we are studying and to consider various angles of approaching a topic, various Scriptures that weigh in on a subject. These conversations also allow us to humbly differ with others who may not land in exactly the same place that we do.
I so appreciate the friends in my life who go deeper than just surface talk in conversation, and who welcome deep engagement in theology and Scripture, embrace the topics that don’t have simple conclusions or easy answers, and who will hover with me (and I with them) in the unsure places, when we play devil’s advocate and ask “out of the box” questions that bring us closer to truth. Don’t settle for staying in your padded room of theology that you learned years ago but have never refreshed or studied in depth…or tested by faith. Climb out of your box, find a friend to engage with and bounce things off of while you study, and learn not to fear conversations that challenge your intellect (or that challenge what you’ve always heard in your circles.) P.S. I am NOT talking about doubting Scripture or deconstructing our faith. I am talking about searching Scripture and asking ourselves critical questions to make sure we are thinking biblically, and not allowing ourselves to be spoon fed everything we believe, or just automatically still believing everything we were taught earlier in life, without ever having studied it out.
5. Your own heart needs theological depth in order to thrive
Last but not least, you need to study theology for your own heart. Actually, it is for your own heart first before it is for anyone else. Something that I have noticed lately during my times of studying for these exams is that my heart is being reawakened in certain areas/topics. I think it’s so easy to get lulled into rhythms of thinking we are already biblical, and we get used to what we believe. In re-earthing truths about substitutionary atonement recently, I found myself ready to rise from my seat in the coffee shop and explain it to everyone around me. There is so much hope, so much joy in this doctrine! I knew it was there, of course. I studied it years ago in college, and have heard it preached many times since then. But I took a morning to seep my heart in it, looking up Scripture after Scripture, and I emerged with a renewed passion for what Christ did for me. Those truths were immediately applicable to the counseling setting, to people carrying heavy burdens of guilt and shame. But they were first applicable and heart renewing for me.
Studying theology will deepen your joy in the Word of God, and will overwhelm you with love for Jesus because of what He has done for you. If the idea of studying theology is dry and boring to you, you don’t have the right study tools and books. Or perhaps you aren’t even in the Word- the ultimate study tool. And it’s more than a study tool- it’s a living book where you behold Jesus Christ, and are changed by the study and application of who He is.
Let’s not ever settle for letting others study theology for us. Knowing who God is and what His Word says and means is where we begin to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Happy studying!
A Kindred Spirit