Women have been writing and thinking deeply about God for just as long as men have. Yet, this truth seemed to be pushed under the rug until I made it to seminary. During my time at Ashland, I was exposed to dozens of female biblical scholars and theologians. It honestly caught me off guard at first. How could I have missed so many influential persons? How could “popular” church history and teaching ignore so many of the women who helped us get here?
The women listed below have guided me towards a more mature faith. When I believed I had finally figured out some singular piece completely, their writing prompted me to take another look from a different perspective. I owe them tremendously, and I encourage you to pick up one of their works if your exposure to female theologians could use some help as well!
Ann Spangler – Why God’s name matters.
Spangler is best known for her books on the names of God, and for good reason. These books are an immense treasure, ones I have worked through and scribbled on extensively. She’s able to bring the complex subject of original languages down, not just to a level most people can understand, but to a level where it actually becomes attractive. When’s the last time you heard a Bible student excited to study Greek or Hebrew? Spangler preserves the power of the language while also making it accessible and applicable.
Sarah Bessey – A questioning faith is a real faith.
If you ask me how or why I got my hands on the book Jesus Feminist, I couldn’t tell you. It just showed up in a pile of books I ordered from the library one day and I figured “why not.” Whenever I bring books home I always spend a few minutes flipping through each one. I check the table of contents, brush through to see if anyone has underlined or highlighted parts, and reread the section about the author. But once I picked up Bessey’s book, I didn’t set it down again until about 4 ½ hours later when I finished the book. It was that good.
Bessey writes like your best friend who knows more than you and has lived more life than you, but somehow isn’t cocky about any of it. She handles the subject of women in Christianity like a craftsman; building a strong, well-fortified argument, and does so gracefully. This author accepts the messiness of life by exposing her own messes and works to make the reader comfortable enough to share their own stories and to feel accepted even if they don’t.
That same weekend I got her second book Out of Sorts and also read that in an afternoon. Regardless of where you are in your faith, Bessey has something valuable to add to your life.
Carol Newsom – Why Job matters for the modern age.
Newsom is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Emory University. She has written extensively on the Old Testament. But for me, Newsom’s influence comes down to one major work: The Book of Job: A Contest of Moral Imaginations.
Many of you know that Job is my favorite book of the Bible. It’s difficult, beautiful, long, frustrating, and complex. It presents a struggle every Christian has to face at some point in their lives – the reality that God is different than we think. No matter how much we know about God, the reality of who and what He is will always remain infinitely beyond us.
Newsom helped me enter the struggle and accept that I could cherish a God I would always struggle to understand. On top of that, she laid the groundwork for how to enter into conversation with those who think differently than me. Job can act as a template for how we approach the current fracturing in the church. Overall, she is a master scholar and one I hope to study under one day.
Mitzi Smith – How to make the Bible come alive.
My first encounter with Dr. Smith was at my seminary graduation. I was able to graduate during the summer, even though I had one more senior seminar course to take. She was sitting on the graduation stage. Then, midway through the start of the ceremony, the president asked her to come forward and read a portion of Scripture. No matter how hard I try, it’s impossible to do justice to the way she read the Bible. The closest thing I can equate it to is that she set the book on fire for our ears and hearts. She read it as if it was the truest thing we had ever heard, like each word was breaking her heart, and yet it felt good – as if she grew lighter after reading each verse.
Not only was Smith’s reading of Scripture beautiful, so was her depth of understanding. Even though I tend to live in the Old Testament, she opened up the New Testament in ways I had never seen before. There were things laid plain in Scripture that I (and my upbringing) had just always overstepped. Even though I was exhausted by the end of my seminary journey, Smith sent me off with a jolt of revival. Yes the Bible is difficult, yes the journey is long, but the work is important, and the rewards are immeasurable.
Joyce Meyer – An introduction to popular theology.
I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 when I picked up my mom’s copy of Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. I had grown up in Bible studies and youth groups (mostly in Spanish Pentecostal settings), so I knew the basics. But Meyer showed me something, up until then, I had not known was possible: the Bible isn’t only there to make you a better Christian, God wants to make you a better person. This was the beginning of a long journey of my evolving faith.
Joyce Meyer can get a bad rap at times for being part of the “prosperity gospel” crowd. It’s true, I don’t read much of her work anymore. But that does not diminish the profound respect I have for her, and the instrumental role she played in getting me to start thinking about the Bible seriously from a young age. On top of that, she laid much of the groundwork for modern popular female Bible teachers, like Beth Moore, to have such a large scale impact.
At every significant turning point in my theological journey, there has been a woman a there. A female leader or teacher with profound insight and a deep love for God. I hope these women will be a starting point for you to look back at what women have influenced you, as well as motivation to look forward to how women are impacting the church for good!
The idea for this post came from another writer, Maggie Dawn, and her post There are no women on my theology bookshelf.
PS: The title said 5+, so here are the +…3 more women who have had a great impact on my beliefs.
Anne Lammott – Her writing is a cold ice tea on a hot August day (and yes, the ice tea may be spiked).
Katharine Dell – Another incredible Old Testament researcher, and writer on the book of Job.
Pamela Eisenbaum – If you have not read her book Paul Was Not a Christian then consider that your homework assignment.
Uncomfortable about women in church leadership? Here’s a good resource to start with: Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)