Westmont Magazine Loving God Through Theology

Karin Spiecker Stetina ’92

Karin Spiecker Stetina ’92 asks big questions. Who is God? Who are we? Who are we in relation to God? A professor at Biola with expertise in theology, church history and the Reformation, she has written books about John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. Her most recent work, “How to Read Theology for All Its Worth: A Guide for Students” (Zondervan, 2020), seeks to help people intimidated by theology better approach and understand it.

The book explains how to read the work of theologians by carefully exploring the context of the historical setting and the author’s background. Karin advises readers to ask a series of questions. What kind of book has the author written? What are the main ideas and arguments?

Most importantly, Karin seeks to tie theology to readers’ daily experience as Christians. “Theology is more than just ideas,” she says. “It’s a way of loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37).”

She encourages students and readers to have “conversations” with the authors they read. Just as they should listen well to fellow believers, they should pay attention to the words of the text. “I always tell them to judge everything by the Word of God,” she says. “The purpose of studying theology is to grow in our faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Karin followed her brother, Eric Spiecker ’90, to Westmont. She majored in psychology, envisioning a career helping kids with learning disabilities. “I had challenges learning how to read, and teachers helped me,” she says. But she also fell in love with religious studies and took a lot of elective Bible classes.

She worked closely with her psychology professors, who mentored her, conducting research with Ray Paloutzian and meeting regularly with Lee Asa. “I asked him lots of questions,” she says. “What do you think about women in ministry? What does holiness look like? It was a unique opportunity to spend time with curious and caring faculty.

“The LIBERAL ARTS give you tools for living a good life. Becoming a well-rounded person was part of my Westmont experience. I learned not to spend all my time studying. My best friends are still my Westmont friends. We get together every year, and I talk to them regularly. They’ve been through the best and the worst with me,” she says.

Karin worked as a psychology lab instructor on campus for a year after graduating. “Then I decided to apply to a master’s program in theology on a whim to explore questions about God and about life that interested me.”

Karin Spiecker Stetina ’92

She earned a master’s degree in theology at Wheaton, got some teaching experience and then completed a Doctor of Philosophy in historical theology at Marquette University. “That was a broadening experience for me,” she says. “But I missed talking about my faith and recognized the value of evangelical schools where you can connect faith and learning.”

She taught at Wheaton for 20 years, moving from full time to part time to spend more time with her four children, now 20, 18, 15 and 12. “I made the really hard choice to step down and trust God with my career,” she says. “My biggest joy is being a mother. I think it’s good for my children to see me using my skills and talents to serve God. I’m careful to keep a good work-life balance. I’m always with my kids when I’m with them.”

When her oldest daughter entered high school, Karin accepted a full-time teaching position at Biola, where she is now associate professor of biblical and theological studies. She happily returned to Southern California and appreciates the diversity of the university’s student population. “It’s a good fit for me theologically,” she says.

“My brother and I are big Westmont advocates,” she says. An English major, Eric teaches and has coached tennis at a high school in Valencia, where he lives.

“The college has shaped my life and my character,” Karin says. She competed on the track team, and Coach Russell Smelley remembered her name when she took her daughter to visit. “I was only a runner for a year and not a good one, so that says a lot about Westmont,” she says. “Faculty invited us into their homes and got to know us as persons and not just students. Westmont is a safe place to ask those really hard questions, and people challenge you to grow and prepare you to be a full adult on your own, to step up and be responsible.

“I’ve learned to rely on God and seek to do his will during the difficulties and challenges of life. My time at Westmont and my experience in life have helped me develop greater trust in God.”