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Hershael York (foreground) is pictured with some of the students in a biblical exposition for women class at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – In the midst of graduation season, female students from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are reflecting on their “encouraging and inspiring” experience taking a biblical exposition class for women this semester.

Since joining Southern’s faculty in 1997, Dean of Theology Hershael York has taught classes designed for male students, such as preaching and pastoral ministry. But he wanted to create a class he could teach to female students that would fit within complementarian theology.

The resulting class, biblical exposition for women, met this semester for the very first time. The class focused on teaching women how to better understand, exegete and communicate Scripture.

The course met one night every other week for several hours. More than 90 students, both graduate and undergraduate, attended in person and online.

York said the class comprised women of different backgrounds, ages, majors and future ministry goals.

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Julie Calio graduates with her M.Div degree from Southern Seminary.

One of those students was 56-year-old Julie Calio, a graduate student who just finished her M.Div. this semester, a degree she started nearly 30 years ago.

Calio first attended Southern in the early 1990s where she met her husband John, who was in his final year of school at Southern. He was one of the very first people she met upon arriving to campus.

The couple married and moved to Chicago in January 1992 following John’s graduation. Julie would continue to commute to classes at Southern until she became pregnant with twin boys a few months into the couple’s marriage.

Calio told Baptist Press she even remembers emphatically reminding her husband to make sure to mail one of her school papers to Southern as she was on the way to deliver the twins.

After that school semester finished, she was faced with a choice.

“I knew that I could not both raise my twins and go to school at the same time well,” Calio said. “After I decided to quit school, I always wondered if I would be able to finish.”

Julie would go on to work as a substitute teacher while raising the couple’s eventual three children. Her husband served as a church planter and pastor in Illinois until his retirement in the fall of 2021.

As he approached retirement, the couple was faced with another decision: What to do next.

“I proposed the idea of going back to Southern and finishing my degree and my husband told me ‘Julie you’ve followed me everywhere, so I would be happy to follow you back to Southern.’”

Calio pursued an M.Div. with a focus on Great Commission studies. York’s biblical exposition course served as an elective.

She said the class was a blessing to her not only because of its content but also because of the bond formed among the students.

“It was a wonderful class,” Calio said. “Most of the time women are a minority in classes and there may be just a couple in each class, but this class was all women so that was very fun. There was a camaraderie and acceptance among all of us and it just felt great. It was great to know that there are other women who so desire to know the Bible to the best of their ability. It has been a life-changing class.

“Some of the things that Dr. York has taught me is that the biblical text truly means something, so we have to understand how to pull from it and relay it correctly to our audience. All Scripture is written so that it can show us how to become more like Christ, and applying the truth of Scripture was one of main principles in the class.”

Calio graduated this month, and she hopes by early 2023 to start a podcast to help women read through the Bible in a year.

“There is power when people read the Word of God, and even though the Bible is a top-selling book I still don’t think that people really read it,” Calio said.

“I firmly people that if we can get not just women, but all people to read through the Bible and know what they believe it will make a drastic change in their lives, our churches, our country and the world. The Gospel changes people’s lives and we learn about it through God’s Holy Word.”

Another student in the class was 26-year-old Anna Kinde, a graduate student majoring in Christian ministry.

Kinde said she was working as an elementary school teacher at a classical Christian school before starting at Southern in the fall of 2020. She desires to teach women the Bible in whatever future vocation she may have.

“It was encouraging and inspiring to see the different ways Christian women are serving faithfully in the church,” Kinde said. “There is a different feel to the class being all women. Everyone comes from with different life stages and has different stories, yet these are all women who want to learn how to be faithful with the Word of God, and then learn how to communicate that truth better.”

York said he was thrilled with the group of students he had in the class, and their future ministry desires ranged from being a pastor’s wife to going on the mission field to teaching the Bible to women.

He praised their commitment to and passion for the Scriptures within complementarian theology, which teaches that while men and women are both made in God’s image and are equal in His sight, He has ordained separate, complementary roles for them within the home and church.

“It was a really wonderful group of students, and they came into the class really excited about learning exposition,” York said. “They were happy, engaged, astute and communicated well.

“There was also no pushback about complementarian theology from the students. The theory that there are women trying to take over pulpits or preach in the SBC didn’t hold up according to this class.”

Calio said she highly recommends the class to other female Southern students, and encourages all women to recognize the importance of knowing the Bible.

“When I was growing as a female Southern Baptist I always wondered why God had given me this desire and gift of loving His Word so much, and wondered if He had even made a mistake,” Calio said. “It wasn’t until I got much older that I realized what a gift it was to have a passion for His Word.

“I’ve heard it said that as Southern Baptists we’ve done a poor job of telling women what they actually can do. Women need to know that they are to know the Word of God, and we are to know what we believe and why we believe it.”