Hearing God's Voice In His Word: Q&A with Kathleen Nielson

Kathleen Nielson
Tuesday, May 1st 2012
May/Jun 2012

Dr. Kathleen Buswell Nielson has written numerous Bible studies as well as various articles, poems, and a book, Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word (2011). Originally intended for women in her church, her Bible studies have now reached thousands. Kathleen serves as director of women's initiatives for The Gospel Coalition. She also serves on the board of directors of The Charles Simeon Trust.

The Gospel Coalition is hosting a conference this summer, and we've had an opportunity to ask a few questions of Kathleen Nielson, director of women's initiatives for TGC. How is this conference unique?

Women have always benefited from the work of The Gospel Coalition, which is led by pastors committed to promoting gospel-centered ministry for the next generation. But TGC has recently begun a more formal women's initiative’desiring both to edify women biblically and to benefit from women's contributions, in the work of strengthening the whole church. This is an encouraging example, I believe, of men and women with shared complementarian commitments working together for the sake of the biblical gospel. Women's voices have joined TGC's blog conversation. Last March, women offered several workshops at TGC's national conference, and this June brings the first national conference for women on the theme, "Here is Our God! God's Revelation of Himself in Scripture." The conference will evidence TGC's distinct commitment to clear expository teaching of the Word, with plenary sessions devoted to unfolding a series of texts in which God shows himself to his people, as well as a great array of workshops! One way to state the distinctive of this conference is to say that it's for women but not all about women. Women need what every human being needs: to know Jesus Christ through his Word, and to learn better and better how to live and speak that Word.

Are we growing together as Christians in our churches? Do men, women, teens, and children alike share the same faith these days when we aren't sharing the same Sunday school lessons, devotional readings, books, or even Bibles? Should there be niche programs in the church and the Christian marketplace for women and men?

Surely in the church we need a balance of gatherings for all, on the one hand, and gatherings for particular groups (such as women or men or youth), on the other. The regular gathering of all God's people for worship under the preaching of the Word should be central, but other groups certainly can have benefit. I spend a lot of time with women's groups because that is a natural (and biblically encouraged, as in Titus) venue in which women learn and share their lives together around the Word. Of course, in any church group surely the aim must not be to study Scripture through a particular interpretive grid but rather to hear God's voice in his Word as clearly and comprehensively as possible. Teens can benefit from hearing sometimes about teen concerns, and women about women's concerns’but the most fundamental and pressing need of all of us is to hear and follow God's voice, as he reveals himself to us in Scripture from beginning to end, book by book.

Surveying the ten best-selling women's books from an evangelical clearinghouse, it seems to us that women are bombarded with an inordinate amount of literature in the self-help genre. There are principles, strategies, "how-to" tips, and personal therapy. As a result, do women get stuck with mostly law and little gospel?

I'm discovering that a lot of women in the church today haven't just stayed "stuck" with the more topical, self-help, or "fluffy" stuff that has indeed too often been offered to women. The great thing about the time in which we live is that so many wonderful materials are available to anyone. My graduate work was in English, not theology; I've been ever so grateful for all the biblical study resources made available to me over the years, through faithful churches and other educational channels. The resources available just through the TGC website are magnificent, even overwhelming. For over a decade, The Charles Simeon Trust has offered training in biblical exposition to pastors; last year's inaugural workshop for women in ministry had a waiting list, and a second, larger one took place in March. Actually, many people in all categories of the church today (sometimes even pastors!) reflect the shallowness of the culture around us in their reading and thinking and biblical study. As members of local churches and the universal church, each of us can play a part in encouraging Christ's body to "consider our ways," as Haggai puts it.

Does this tendency play a role, ironically, in driving women to spiritual exhaustion and even defeat?

A focus on anything other than Christ and the biblical gospel will hurt, as opposed to help, anyone. Women in particular are hearing all kinds of anti-gospel voices today’voices that tell us we should say and do everything, as well as voices that tell us we shouldn't have or express thoughts of our own. Either extreme denies the clear teaching of God's Word. Ever since Eden, such denial has led in the direction of death as opposed to life.

What do you think is the solution? What do we need to change in our thinking or our practice to bring about a reformation of our churches for all members?

I don't think there's any new solution to human dilemmas. According to the apostle Peter, "God's divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises" (2 Pet. 1:3’4). At the least, we can say that these words point us to focus on the Lord himself, through his Word, in order to find everything we need for life and godliness as God's people. That's a pretty old-time solution. It's one that involves hearts and wills to dig into God's Word in order to know him and his great promises. Even as I write these words, I think of this not just as a "solution" but as the most amazing calling one could ever be given’and it is given to each one of us and all of us together as God's people.

What criteria would you suggest for Christian women looking for solid resources for biblical and theological study?

One's own pastor(s) is a front-line resource. Often God provides wise teachers and leaders who can recommend just the resources we need. The first priority is to take in the Word itself, and then with guidance and experience one begins to discern those voices that elucidate the Word with Spirit-filled humility, scholarly care, and attention to the Bible's whole storyline of God's redeeming a people for himself through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 1st 2012

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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