Westmont Magazine Women as Theologians
Although Carolyn Custis James ’70 took as many religious studies classes as she could from Professor Robert Gundry, she never considered going to seminary. She didn’t know any women who were. Thankful that Gundry had taken her to a whole new level of studying the Bible, she nevertheless majored in sociology and worked at a hospital after graduating.
Then Dallas Theological Seminary opened its doors to women in 1975, and she joined four others in the first coed class. While many men welcomed their presence, some did not. One professor pointedly remarked on the non-existence of great women theologians.
The observation annoyed her at the time, but it stuck with her and began an ongoing train of thought. How important is theology for women?
After earning a master’s degree in biblical studies, Carolyn served on the staff of Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas, for three years. Then she married Frank James and joined him in Philadelphia where he was working on a doctorate in theology at Westminster Seminary.
Unfamiliar with churches in the area, she decided to work at a hospital. Unexpectedly, she got involved with computers and began a whole new career developing business applications. When she and Frank and their 3-year-old daughter moved to England in 1989 so he could pursue a doctorate in history at Oxford, she started her own software business there.
Meanwhile, she pondered the importance of theology. As she wrestled with difficulties in her own life, she began to understand that our knowledge of God determines how well we will respond to the inevitable tragedies and challenges that occur — and how effectively we can minister to others.
“I knew basic ideas about God, but I had never concentrated my attention on him, never given his character much thought or taken time to study his attributes. My efforts to study and read the Bible tended to be self-focused. I wanted encouragement and nourishment for myself. . . . Terrible as it sounds to me now, I wasn’t looking for God. I was looking for ways to make life better for me.”
The James family moved to Orlando in 1993 where Frank teaches historical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. While she still worked with computers, Carolyn began speaking and teaching at women’s conferences nationwide. She became convinced that women need to study theology, and discovered a serious hole in the market for women’s religious books. Not one woman had written a deep, rich book about theology for women.
Carolyn decided to fill this gap and developed a proposal for a book examining the importance of theology for women. Stan Gundry (Professor Gundry’s brother), editor-in-chief at Zondervan, helped her convince the publisher that the book was important and would sell. After much persistence, Carolyn has published “When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference.”
Her premise is that women need theology not just to survive the storms of their own lives, but to minister to their families, friends, and communities. In fact, theology is unavoidable.
“The moment the word why crosses our lips, we are doing theology,” she argues.
Structured around the biblical accounts of Mary and Martha and the Hebrew word ezer (helper) used in the creation accounts, the book makes a clear and compelling case for the importance of theology in women’s lives. Carolyn even identifies Mary as the first great New Testament theologian.
“Mary’s interactions with Jesus demonstrate that nothing in a woman’s life is more important than her theology. Knowing God is a woman’s highest calling and her most pressing need. What we know of him, whether it is a little or a lot, is all we have to hang on to when the storm hits and we are being pulled into the downward spiral of worthlessness, despair, and defeat. It is also what energizes and guides us as we tackle the task before us — as mothers, daughters, wives, and friends.”