FIRST-PERSON: Let us be women

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- The incomparable Elisabeth Elliot once said, "The fact that I am a woman doesn't make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman." Her words echo down through the decades as a new generation surveys the wreckage of cultural confusion and joins her cry: "Let Me Be a Woman."

My identity as a woman is no accident. As I study Scripture, I see the intentional differences God designed between male and female, the relational dynamic between them, and the distinct responsibilities both men and women have in His church -- all for the display of His glory and grace.

Thus, as a complementarian, I am convinced that the poetically nuanced details of Genesis 2 and the culture-transcending implications of 1 Timothy 2 provide patterns that guide and inform my life and ministry.

Also as a complementarian, I am convinced that the contribution of women is vital to the flourishing of the church. Our voices and gifts matter, and we must to learn to leverage them according to God's purpose and design. This means learning to love the Lord with all our hearts, our souls and our minds.

As equal image-bearers of the divine (Genesis 1:26-29), our minds are worth the investment in theological education, in all its rigor and depth. This belief does not contradict my complementarian convictions; rather, it expresses them.

We women are hard-wired for community with other women. It's part of what makes the genius of Titus 2:3-5 so enduring; we learn in community. It isn't enough simply to study theories of biblical gender roles or a theology of womanhood; we instinctively want to see those theories lived out in the context of woman-to-woman relationships. We look for other women who exemplify their convictions in every sphere of life, both personally and professionally. The refrain to "Let me be a woman," becomes "Show me how to live like one," as the simplicity of Scripture's counsel competes with rival cultural beliefs. Our identity in Christ makes us a "different kind of woman," so we search for an ideology that is both theologically consistent and intellectually complete.

Looking back on my years as a seminary student, it wasn't just the content of my courses that shaped and formed my perspective. It was the community. I discovered a community of women who challenged each other to think, to grapple with an argument, analyze a theory and articulate a theological position. We were a community of women who pushed each other to love the Lord with all our minds and to devote ourselves to standing under the authority of His Word without compromise (Mark 12:30-31).

We were a community of female students who were forming our beliefs and convictions alongside female professors who exemplified those beliefs and convictions, as we discerned together Scripture's implications for our lives and ministries. It was a safe place to grapple with our own experiences and to bring our perceptions face-to-face with the Word. (Many a woman who entered Dorothy Patterson's Biblical Theology of Womanhood course as a strong-willed feminist emerged as a stout-minded complementarian!) Our professors invited us into their lives as they strove to express their beliefs with consistency and excellence -- as wives, as mothers, as teachers, as scholars, as women.

Ten years later, I am teaching a new cohort of female students. The world they inherit seems far more hostile and broken than just a decade ago.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we desperately need theologically grounded women who will devote themselves to God's precepts and become all that He designed them to be.

We desperately need theologically grounded women who can respond to cultural tidal waves like the #MeToo movement, who are armed with a theology of women's dignity that doesn't look to transient social solutions for pervasive spiritual ills.

We desperately need theologically grounded women who will cut through well-intended, yet misguided attempts to conflate male-female equality with the tenets of secular ideology, who can uphold the worth of every woman without painting Jesus as a first-century feminist.

We desperately need theologically grounded women who can articulate sound doctrine on human sexuality with compassion and clarity, who will not shrink from Scripture's teaching on sexual ethics in a world that is increasingly sexually enslaved.

And we desperately need theologically grounded women who will take up the culture-transforming ministries of our spiritual foremothers, who will advocate for the unborn, for the poor and the oppressed, and who will labor for the spiritual growth of those for whom they are responsible.

Drawing from Scripture, we desperately need theologically grounded women who can confront ungodliness with prophetic truth like Huldah, spur leaders to faith-filled action like Deborah, diffuse volatility with spiritual wisdom like Abigail, and nurture with doctrinal precision like Priscilla.

The theological education of women within a community of women truly is a worthy investment.

That we are "equal yet different" is not a trivial placation; it is a principle that energizes our intellectual pursuits as a means of worshiping the God whose image we bear.

Katie McCoy is assistant professor of theology in women's studies at the College at Southwestern, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and editor of the BiblicalWoman.com website (www.biblicalwomen.com) of Southwestern's women's programs, where this column first appeared. For an additional column by Katie McCoy on women's roles in the church, go to biblicalwoman.com/why-women-are-critical-to-the-mission-of-the-church.
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