Westminster Seminary California
My First Year At Seminary
My First Year At Seminary

As I look back at my initial application to Westminster Seminary California, I cited the goal of developing a robust, working knowledge of the Scriptures to equip me for Christian service. I acknowledged that I wasn’t certain where my degree would lead, but that I was confident a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies would provide a solid foundation with which I can continue to pursue my passion for keeping God’s Word central in my personal sphere of influence in order to serve the Church.

God never disappoints. Now with my first year of seminary drawing to a close, I cannot begin to fully explain the ways He has shaped, challenged and nourished me intellectually and spiritually through my studies here. With the guidance of skilled professors and the companionship of fellow classmates, I’ve delved into the Gospel from a systematic point of view, using the helpful structure of Biblical theology, according to the ancient church’s historical response, and in one of its original languages. All of these angles have only made the good news of Christ shine brighter and become more beautiful as they display the life-changing drama of redemptive history.

My decision to come to Westminster and learn more about the Gospel was one that developed over the course of time. Although I have always loved the study of theology, it wasn’t until I began to encounter other expressions of faith beyond the Reformed world that I saw a personal need to continue my study in depth. During my college summers, I directed mission camps for teens across the country with Group Workcamps Foundation. Visiting with families and elderly couples from Kentucky's Appalachian hills to North Carolina's coastal towns, I heard Christ explained by believers across cultural contexts and denominational lines. The year before I came to Westminster, I worked for a ministry called Bible League International that trains local Christians in over 60 countries worldwide to spread the Gospel and bring people into relationship with Christ and the Church. When I visited our ministry in Ecuador, I listened to testimonies about Christ from indigenous Quechua tribes in the Amazon Basin, shrimp farmers living along Santa Elena’s shore, and ex-convicts in the bustling capital city of Quito. 

These diverse encounters have made me reflect on the many cultural expressions of Christianity, the many ways people communicate Christ, and the many contexts in which Christ must be communicated. Although I have seen beauty in the unity we share as believers regarding the story of Jesus and his love, I have also experienced the damage that Biblical misinterpretation and shallow doctrine can have on individuals, churches, and communities. Consequently, the use of Scripture as the foundation of a Reformed world and life view was something I began to long to cultivate. I realized more and more that I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the Word to teach people in my community, but I knew that I was not fully equipped to do so. 

During that period, my family began listening to Dr. Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn podcasts, which frequently led to discussions of theological issues around the dinner table. I started to read books by Westminster’s professors and tentatively research seminary options, but I withheld from moving any further towards a decision: I wasn’t sure if, as a female, there could be a place for me at seminary. Finally one day during my break at work, I entered our soundproof radio studio and dialed Westminster’s main number. My hands were shaking as I said, “Hi, my name is Joanna, and I’m interested in coming to seminary. Do you accept women at your school?” Starting from that first encounter over the phone, I was overwhelmed by the positive response of the WSC community. Every point of contact, from that initial conversation to their gracious response towards my late application, made it clear that there was never a question in their minds that it is important for women to be theologically trained in order to serve the Church in a variety of capacities.

As this semester ends and I anticipate next year’s studies, I look forward to supplementing Hebrew with Greek, to learning about not only the shadows of Christ in the Pentateuch but also his true form in the Gospels, and filling in the missing gaps that will flesh out a comprehensive Biblical Studies degree. Most importantly, I long to continue this hard work of understanding the Scriptures in order to share the fruit of my labors with others. I find myself feverishly taking notes during lectures and writing in the sidebars: “Remember this! Keep this!” because I cannot wait to take the principles I’m learning and apply them to some form of instruction, whether it’s in a tiny Sunday school classroom of three-year-old children or a lecture hall brimming with college students. I am extremely grateful that as a woman in seminary, there is a place for me at this institution. Opportunities like this one will allow me to continue my journey as I seek to serve Christ, His Gospel, and His Church.

Joanna VanderWoude

MABS Student