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Biblical scholars’ revelations

Dr Elizabeth Boase (left) and Dr Vicky Balabanski, Co-Directors of Biblical Studies at Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in South Australia. Photo by Caryn Rogers
DR ELIZABETH Boase and Dr Vicky Balabanski hold almost 30 published works between them, have two Bachelor degrees apiece and PhDs in their respective Testamental theologies: Dr Boase in Old Testament, and Dr Balabanski in New Testament.

Though the Co-Directors of Biblical Studies at Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in South Australia have both proven to be extremely successful in their field of choice, the path hasn’t always been straight forward.

“My parents died when I was in primary school,” said Dr Balabanski.

“For me that was the beginning of taking very seriously the faith they had instilled in me.

It confronted me with big questions.

“I was really into the bible, unlike everyone at my school and in my whole universe.

At Methodist Ladies’ College in Melbourne, I was the only student in biblical studies in Year 12.

It meant I had night time classes and put me a bit out of kilter with the rest of my peers.

“People said to me, ‘You can’t study theology straight after school – you need experience’.

“I allowed myself to be talked into it, and went on to Ormond College to do an Arts degree, graduating with honours.

I met and married my husband.

“But after that – I went into theology,” said Dr Balabanski.

After working as a speech pathologist for five years Dr Boase was challenged by her minister about the thought of ordination.

“After I picked myself up off the floor, I told my husband – he said he could picture it,” she recalled.

“So I enrolled in a couple of units at Murdoch University (WA).

“A lot of things started making Biblical scholars’ revelations sense, and stopped making sense, during that time.

“What became clear over a few years of study was that ordination wasn’t right for me, but biblical studies was.

“My Old Testament teachers really encouraged me to do my own thinking, creating a place where I could use my brain in
ways I’d never been encouraged to before.

“I wanted people to catch a picture of how wonderful the Old Testament is.

“The sense of a Creator God who encounters us in our full humanity is what I find in the Old Testament; it resonates in
a way with who I am.

I struggle with a whole lot of Old Testament elements too, but there’s something profound in the divine human encounter that helps me to understand.

“If I were transported back to my life as a 14-year-old, I definitely looked like I’d pursue Old Testament – everyone at
school thought I was Jewish with how much I enjoyed talks from the Rabbi!” she laughed.

Dr Balabanski puts pursuing New Testament studies down to “the providence of God”.

“I love literature, language, Biblical scholars’ revelations ideas and specific narrative,” she said.

“When I’d finished my honours degree in Divinity, I felt I just hadn’t gotten to the bottom of the Synoptic gospels, so I took
my studies further in that.”

Dr Boase was also caught up in the literature and language, initially captivated through the book of Job.

“I can still remember writing a paper on Job 42, having a six month old child, and never wanting the essay to finish
because I was so caught up in thinking about the big questions of who God is in all that!”

When asked to define ‘women of faith’ the pair share that this immediately assumes the form of pious and proper women,
which neither of them believe themselves to be.

“I think of women of faith as being people other than who I am!” Dr Boase quips.

“It’s silly though, my faith is really important to me.

When I think deeply about the title, it’s the image of a strength and surety of who you are before God that sticks with me.

Dr Balabanski said that as women come in many shapes and forms, so too do women of faith.

“I feel very privileged in what God, in faith, has enabled me to see and do and be.

“I don’t carry my faith as a badge of honour; it’s a privilege that I’ve participated in.

“Particularly at the time when I came into biblical studies, I was riding on the wave of others’ commitment to feminist theology and women’s participation in the church.

“I didn’t have to fight the nasty fights; I got to enjoy the benefits.

My predecessors took the knocks, so I feel a bit of a weakling in some ways,” Dr Balabanski admitted.

Although around the same age Dr Boase came into biblical studies, career-wise, 10 years after Dr Balabanski.

“Apart from my early days of studying, the issues of women’s roles in the church had, at one level, been neatly packed away,” said Dr Boase.

“What’s interesting now though is that we sometimes have to go back and address those issues, language issues, roles etc.”

Dr Balabanski said there is work still to be done.

“Sometimes when we speak about women in ministry the attitude is that we’ve done that, we’ve moved on from there,” she said.

“But inclusive language has disappeared off the radar really; people aren’t putting the same level of energy into its
importance,” said Dr Balabanski.

Dr Boase said that while she hadn’t written anything that has feminist critique she is still shaped by it.

“The way I talk about God and human beings in relationship with God, the feminist critique is there informing everything I do.”

Dr Balabanski said people shroud the word ‘feminism’ in various guises.

“For me feminism is a benign word, but that’s not the case in other circles.

“It can be an emotive thing.

For the generation of believers who came after me, feminism became just an awkward word, with that movement being
associated with ‘man-haters’ and gender-polarising.”

Dr Boase said gender roles in the church are an ongoing challenge today, particularly in positions of leadership.

Dr Balabanski said the challenge is in finding coherent ways to have leadership while looking ultimately to God.

“In the end it’s not the final responsibility of one leader to bring about the reign of God.”

Caryn Rogers is editor of New Times

Photo : Dr Elizabeth Boase (left) and Dr Vicky Balabanski, Co-Directors of Biblical Studies at Uniting College for Leadership and Theology in South Australia. Photo by Caryn Rogers