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What's in a Name?
The Story Behind 'That GirlBoss Theologian'.
When I first signed up to Substack, I wasn’t quite sure if it was going to be the writing platform I was looking for.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure if I was actually looking for a writing platform. I had not long finished writing 100,000 words of a PhD thesis (with tens of thousands more weeping silently on the cutting room floor). I simply wasn’t sure how many more I had in me —words, that is. (At this point, everyone who knows me is vigorously rolling their eyes at the mere suggestion that I might ever be short on words).
So, I was somewhat hesitant about signing up to something I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to see through and which might not be the right platform for me to see it through on. This explains why, when I created my Substack account, I basically went with the first title that came into my mind— Train of Thought.
More than two years and 55 posts later, I felt it was time to really settle into these digs a little more. Key to that was a new name. This place needed a name that was a little more considered. A little more thoughtful. A little more “me”.
Which is why it is pretty hilarious that I ended up choosing That GirlBoss Theologian. Why is that hilarious? Well, because I’ve not once in my life called, referred to or even thought of myself as a GirlBoss anything. So in one sense, nothing could be less “me” than this new title. But in another sense, nothing could be more fitting.
Let Me Explain
In my last post I wrote about how I did a PhD in order to write a book… a very specific book. My focus was narrow - I was researching singleness. Yes, I spent the first two years feeling like I was fumbling around in the dark, trying to work out what on earth I was doing and wondering how I’d convinced sane people to let me even attempt it. And yet, the whole time I knew what the goal was. Learn stuff about singleness. Write stuff about singleness. And then move on—probably back into church ministry.
But that isn’t quite what happened. I submitted my thesis. A pandemic broke out across the globe. My thesis was passed by all three examiners. I was awarded my doctorate. But instead of heading back into a full-time ministry role, I found myself continuing to do the same kind of research and writing I had done for four years… just with an expanded focus and sans a doctoral supervisor.
You see, my years spent researching singleness at a doctoral level had not just taught me what to think theologically about singleness. They had taught me how to be a better theologian. Period.
However—and here comes the but—it took me a while to really understand that. To really own that. To recognise the new sphere of Christian ministry, leadership and responsibility I had stepped into.
When that recognition did (finally) come, well, it came from a rather odd direction.
Maggoty Girlboss Theologians
A while ago I wrote an open letter to Douglas Wilson & Michael Foster. You can read it here. It remains my most viewed post, by a very long shot.
Suffice to say, the letter generated some… discussion on social media.
I had a lot of men and women wanting to sign their name to the bottom of it. But I also had a number of small-minded, unkind men doing what small-minded, unkind men do best on Twitter. One such small-minded, unkind man directed a rather specific comment at me.
I mean, come on, you have to give the guy points for creativity, right?
I’m still unsure exactly what [Name Redacted] was trying to say. But in the end, it didn’t matter. The tweet quickly took on a life of its own and became a meme in my small corner of Twitter.
Maggoty GirlBoss Theologians started crawling out of that rotting corpse of good intentions and rep.re.sent.ing. ✊
One even launched her own line of MGT apparel. (If you aren’t a Maggoty GirlBoss Theologian yourself, never fear! You can still look cool in your very own Friend of a Maggoty GirlBoss Theologian t-shirt).
It was all quite hilarious. What [Name Redacted] had meant for mockery, we MGT’s (and our friends) used for good. And also for some much needed comedic relief.
I’m a Real Life Theologian. Oh My!
But here’s the thing.
It took a tweet from a small-minded, unkind man to help me to realise an important truth about myself.
Wow. I really AM a theologian.
Now in the most important sense of the word, all Christians are theologians. All of us “study” God. All of us seek to know him better. All of us seek to understand the truth of Him and so also the truth of everything. And so, I knew that I had been a theologian all along.
But that inane comment from that silly man helped me to realise that my theological studies (four years undertaking a Bachelor of Divinity and another four years undertaking a Doctorate in Theology) had taught me to engage at a more formal theological level. They had skilled me to dialogue with theological thought leaders. They had equipped me to be a theological thought leader (even if in a very specific sphere).
For the first time ever, I began actually to think of myself as a theologian.
I started owning my place as a female theologian amongst many male theologians.
I gave myself permission to recognise I had an interesting, important, though in no way inerrant theological contribution to make.
I came to understand that my diligence and my hard work had earned me the respect of others I was engaging with in the theological field.
When I worked out that, goodness, I really was a theologian, ‘Maggoty GirlBoss Theologian’ became somewhat of a (satirical) badge of honour.
Not honour in myself, of course. But honour in having been entrusted by God to serve his Church in this way, in this moment. Honour in having his Spirit equip me, so I might endeavour to undertake it faithfully. Honour that none of it is I, but that all of it is Christ in me.
And so, here you are. Reading a Substack post from That GirlBoss Theologian But since we’re all friends here, you can add in the adjective ‘Maggoty’ any time you like. 😉
PS. Today I came across this quote (from a book published in 1955) about the purpose of the theological task. I thought it would make a marvellous postscript to this post:
‘“Christian Theology … is but the handmaid of the pastoral ministry. Its concern must always be to contribute, however remotely and however little, to the helping of ordinary men and women in the living of Christian lives, and towards the full appropriation of the benefits of Christ’s passion.”
Conscience in the New Testament
C.A. Pierce (1955), page 120
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