Faith Worked Out: Elspeth Darley
We're delighted to share this fantastic interview with Elspeth Darley; exploring the challenges and joys of studying Theology, balancing academic study with relaxation time, and advice for going on to further study. So much wisdom shared, so grab a coffee, and have a read! MP Team x
1. Current book on bedside table? Haha several, I’m a chronic multi-tasker: The Bible, Eusebius History of the Church, Eagleman’s The Brain, C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew
2. Song that you’d listen to on repeat? ‘Seek First’ by Housefires
3. Favourite ice cream flavour? Pistachio
4. Most underrated virtue? Self-denial (or more broadly humility)
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do!
I’m currently working part-time in events for Cambridge Community Church, C3, and studying full time for an MSc in Psychology. Josh and I married July 2014 after I graduated with an MPhil in Theology, it had been my intention to apply for a doctorate in Theology, but it felt as though the boot didn’t fit.
I began dreaming what I would do if I didn’t go down that track, and psychology had always interested me. January 2016 I was sat in front of the computer with an application for an MSc psychology conversion course, and the PhD in theology, and was totally stumped – I remember saying to God, ‘Have the last four years been for nothing?’ That was on the Monday, and on the Wednesday I went to a mid-week Church group when one of the leaders approached me directly and said, ‘Elspeth, God says to you the last four years haven’t been for nothing!’ I was shocked.
Several weeks later at another event, a lady in the Church said she felt God would say to me that the surface of a diamond has many sides that continue in different directions, but that they were part of the fashioned whole. So I submitted the MSc for Psychology.
It’s been both fun and a learning-curve managing time studying a new discipline, working and being present for Josh! I’m still maintaining my interest in theology and languages, trying to be disciplined in these things. I think we all have seasons where we just need to get on with what God has given us, and there’s grace in that – now I’m the one struggling out of bed in the morning!
This January I felt God really impress on me that this is a season for putting my head down and studying in preparation for the future. That said I applied for a doctorate in Counselling Psychology, had interviews, and just received an offer for a place beginning September. On paper, I’m surprised I was even offered an interview; I have zero-to-no clinical experience required for the course, but have known God’s faithfulness in this.
I felt God clearly say, ‘Elspeth I qualify you’. It’s not about letters after your name, or certificates on the wall, or by might and power, but it’s about God who opens doors.
I was reminded of Joseph and Daniel in the bible; the latter had all the formal qualification and experience to move into the position God had for him, but God directly raised Joseph from prison to power without any formal experience, only reliance on God and His voice. I think God is still doing that today, some are born with doors open, have all the relevant experience for the God-given role, while others God directly calls and equips.
2. What was the best part about studying Theology as a Christian?
I think it’s crucial to know why you believe what you believe, no matter the level of understanding. That said, I loved approaching questions I’d never thought about, and being more thorough with articulating my position on certain things. I felt the course equipped me with basic skills to formulate opinions, like learning the tenants of several biblical languages, the history of interpretation and collation of scripture etc.
3. What was the biggest challenge with studying Theology as a Christian?
Knowing why you believe what you believe isn’t without it’s challenges however. The process, and deconstruction, of assumptions and ways of thinking and doing felt unnerving at times. It was never as obvious as questioning the existence of God, or even the life death and resurrection of Jesus. It was more nuanced, what do I really believe about the authority of the scriptures, issues around Christology and Jesus as Lord, styles of worship etc.
If I can talk abstractly, I do believe in an objective Truth which exists outside of my perceptions and experiences. Therefore, I resolved not to be afraid of doubts because if Truth exists apart from me, then it can stand against my questioning.
4. You’ve talked about the ‘mindset that one is trained in when tackling the content. A mindset of continually questioning, undermining, doubting.' How did you avoid carrying this mindset into faith setting/church?
Ecclesiastes 12 resonated with me, ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth’, because when doubt about the character of Christ arose, and scepticism crept in, I couldn’t argue with my personal revelation of who God was and how I had experienced and encountered Him. Personal testimony helped validate claims about God that I was struggling with.
Practically, during this time my inclination was to sit under heavy exegetical teaching in Church, with more meditative worship, but it was very clear which Church God wanted my husband and I to commit to – and it felt the opposite of what I wanted. I really struggled with the dark room and flashing lights, the heavy-application of the messages and the overwhelming time of worship. Yet, God was tearing off cynicism and re-softening my heart towards His presence and not just information about Him; the importance of relating to God and not just writing about Him.
5. Any advice for Theology students wanting to go into further study?
Practically speaking, further study is costly in all its senses, but I do not believe this should ever hinder you from moving forward. Don’t disqualify yourself, that’s God’s prerogative. Ask, knock, and if it’s in God’s plan then the doors will be open. If God’s ordered it, then He will pay for it and be sufficient for you in it.
It’s important to guide against individualism that studying can encourage; you study alone, your grades help you on your path, the best thesis’ spout new insight into unexplored research. If we guard against individualism, then we’re also protected against pride when we’re excelling or despair when we’re not. Taking time out once a week has been fundamental in my walk, not so much because it’s a Sabbath when I feel I should be studying, but because it’s a statement ‘God you’re in control, not me.’
More than anything, I believe the Christian student needs integrity and self-discipline; there will be moments when you can’t just write an essay, but need to wrestle through the implications of your argument. The Christian will need to defend their position and defend it well – even if it’s opposed, try to earn respect. I was in a recent interview at the discussion topic was, ‘What is your advice to a homosexual couple wanting a child’ – it’s important to know who you are in Christ, to stand strong and to have a genuine wise voice of ‘Grace and truth’.
6. How can we maximise church and CU support whilst studying Theology at Uni?
I cannot stress how important it is to find a Church and commit to it. The biggest deciding factor in my walk has been, which Church leadership can I submit to, regardless of style, because it is crucial to commit to that Church. Give of your time, treasures and talents to really invest in that community. As students it’s easy to become inward looking: I am paying to study, I am attending lectures for my learning, I need to work alone, I am working to get my best grade. I had to learn to step outside of myself and learn to serve – despite the pressures of deadlines! I couldn’t rely on my home Church because God has called me to this place for the next three or more years as I study and His calling doesn’t begin the day I graduate! My Church helped bring me back to life, it helped me get out my head and into freedom.