While this website focuses on the work of women at the Ph.D. level, we also like to feature women who aspire to be biblical scholars. Jennifer Guo has just traded in her career as an accountant for full-time graduate study. Already her passion for research has produced a well-trafficked blog ranked in the top 50 Biblioblogs. Guo recently became a member of SBL and will be attending the SBL conference this fall.
Up until halfway through my undergraduate studies I was a staunch atheist. My whole life I had thought that science had all the answers or at least had the potential of answering all the important questions; I was 100% convinced that nothing supernatural existed or could possibly exist, and, accordingly, I never sought anything spiritual.
Like Paul on the road to Damascus to persecute the fledgling Church, the Lord ambushed me with an encounter in the library of a university renowned for the natural sciences, on my way to a Bachelor degree in chemistry. My conversion was radical and dramatic – I went from atheist to “Jesus freak” through that one encounter with God in the library, with no questioning or seeking or floundering in between. Starting the very next day I was “all in,” seeking the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
A week later I was gifted a Bible and I started devouring it, reading it multiple times a day, every day. By God’s grace I grew very fast, and soon started serving in both campus ministry and in my church, primarily in leading Bible studies and prayer meetings. Throughout the 10 years since then I have continued serving in various ways in college ministry, in church, and in a parachurch performing arts ministry; but I never felt called to pursue full-time vocational ministry and, until recently, never thought I’d go to seminary. But I’ve recently felt called to pursue academia, and I will be starting an M.Div at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School this fall.
My Academic Journey
Among those who know me, whether in real life or online, I’m known as a huge Bible/theology nerd. I’m sometimes asked how I “know so much” or how I came to love biblical studies and theology since I’ve never had any formal education in these areas. I think a big part of the reason is simply in the way I’m wired. I’ve always been a nerd, so naturally when I became a Christian it influenced the way I pursue God and connect with God.
When I first became a Christian many people gave me books, and I remember being wholly uncaptivated and unsatisfied by them. Sometimes I thought they were doctrinally off; other times they were fine, but I was just personally bored by them. So I began to do online searches related to questions I was having and topics I was interested in, and that was how I initially discovered exegetical and theological books. I distinctly remember the first theological book I ever read (J. I. Packer’s Knowing God) and the first expositional book I ever read (D. A. Carson’s Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10) because I felt like my life was changing as I read them. Those were the first times my mind was stimulated by Christian books. And so, I continued to read theology books and Bible commentaries. I often read them as devotionals because theology and biblical insight moved my heart to love God more and my soul to worship and exult in Him.
For the next several years I primarily grew in my biblical and theological knowledge through online resources (I have a free resource page on my blog to help point others, especially those without formal education and university library access, to great free and open access resources). I listened to a lot of seminary lectures and read many books from seminary course syllabi. In recent years, through social media and blogging I’ve connected with a handful of biblical studies doctoral students as well as scholars and professors. This connection has been a huge blessing because it has allowed me to get a peek inside the biblical studies guild and to sometimes catch wind of what’s going on at the cutting edge of research. I’m very thankful for so-called bibliobloggers; they are an incredible resource for biblical studies nerds outside the guild.
As far as my own blog, I started it as sort of an echo chamber. Throughout my journey thus far as a Christian I’ve never really known anyone in real life with whom I could discuss the things I was reading and thinking about, so I started blogging as a way to process and think. I soon discovered that even if you’re a nobody, if you blog consistently and write good content and have decent traffic, publishers are more than happy to send you free books to review on your blog. So blogging has been a huge blessing for me because a) it gets me a steady stream of awesome free books; and 2) like I mentioned above, it has connected me to many biblical studies scholars and students.
It’s hard for me to say at this point what I will focus on if I end up pursuing a Ph.D. I wish I knew already so that I can begin focused reading in the area, but my interests are just too broad! For as long as I’ve been a bible/theology nerd, my favorite areas have been Pauline studies and soteriology (in this area Douglas Moo has been a huge influence on me. In fact, his NICNT volume on Romans was the first commentary I ever bought). But since Pauline studies is probably the most oversaturated area of the oversaturated discipline of New Testament studies, for about the past year I’ve forced myself to primarily read in other areas. Outside of Paul (though Paul has something to say about this as well!) I’m probably most captivated by the topic of the origin and development of Christology (e.g. the work of Larry Hurtado).
Though it doesn’t seem typical, I hope to do some extra academic work during my M.Div (e.g. presenting at a regional academic conference and/or publishing a paper). I have a lot of ambition and I don’t quite know what to do with it or how to channel it, so I hope to find someone at Trinity who will guide and mentor me academically. As far as what my future holds beyond the next three years, I’m just trusting that whether I go on to get a Ph.D. or not, whether I end up getting a tenure track position or not, that God has a purpose for me getting this M.Div.