From Scotland to Waco: New Testament scholar prepares to join Truett faculty

Dr. Elizabeth Shively will be joining the Baylor family as a new professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Photo courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Shively

By Abigail Gan | Reporter

In July, Dr. Elizabeth Shively, senior lecturer in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, will be assuming her new position as professor of Christian Scriptures at the George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

Dr. Todd Still, dean of Truett Seminary, said there were 87 applicants for the position and the pool was “deep and wide.” Still said the seminary looks not only for excellent teachers, but also for excellent scholars.

“Dr. Shively has already produced significant studies in New Testament in general [and] in Mark’s Gospel in particular,” Still said. “She has established herself as a leading figure in the study of what many regard to be the earliest gospel.”

Still said Shively will be a great addition to an already capable and committed faculty.

“Dr. Shively has a habit of heart that says, ‘I’m here to serve. I’m here to serve the students. I’m here to serve the church. I’m here to serve the university. I’m here,’” Still said.

Shively said her journey to her field and to Truett Seminary has not been clear-cut.

“I feel like I’ve always gotten where I am kind of accidentally or in spite of myself, or that God has led me in ways that I didn’t expect,” Shively said. “And I feel like that’s been characteristic of my life.”

Shively grew up in a Christian family and said she doesn’t “remember a day that [she] didn’t know the Lord.” She got her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

“I had a bit of a renewal when I was in college. I just wanted to serve God, and I was trying to figure out what that was going to look like as a music major,” Shively said.

Shively went on to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where she studied church music with the hope of doing some kind of music ministry. She said she studied the Greek language there, and it changed her life.

“It was at that point where I thought, ‘I need more of this,'” Shively said. “And so I added the [Masters of Divinity] to my church music degree.”

After Shively finished her master’s degree, she was invited to join the staff at Park Street Church in Boston and stayed there for six years.

“I felt like when I was in seminary, the people who had the biggest influence on me were my professors who either had been in ministry or who were currently in ministry,” Shively said. “There was something that they were able to connect with — with life and theology and just the messiness of life that I think was really helpful in that. I wanted that.”

At Park Street Church, Shively was on pastoral staff, oversaw women’s ministries and was the minister of adult education. She said her experience helped her connect what she had learned about in scripture to the real world.

“I feel like being in that situation helped me to do theology, biblically, in a very practical and sometimes messy way,” Shively said.

Still said this experience working in ministry adds to Shively’s accolades.

“Dr. Shively represents in her person the very kind of faculty that we want at seminary: dedicated to the Lord, dedicated to the church,” Still said.

Shively was also the first woman to preach at Park Street Church, and she said doing so and being able to connect texts to the congregation was formative.

“That was a really wonderful experience, to just be able to think in new ways about how I was handling scripture before God and before people at church,” Shively said.

Shively said this experience even shaped her doctoral studies at Emory University, leading her to choose her secondary concentration in homiletics — the art of preaching or writing sermons — in addition to her primary concentration in the New Testament.

Currently, she is teaching at the St. Andrews School of Divinity, where she has been for 11 years.

“Another reason I’m excited to come to Truett is because I feel like I’ll be able to make that kind of text-to-ministry, text-to-life connection every day,” Shively said. “It’s just not something that I’ve been able to do at St. Andrews because it just isn’t the focus of the university. … This opportunity to come to Truett is, I think, fulfilling my deepest desires.”

Shively said a Bible chapter that has been present in her life is Psalm 103.

“You know, life has not always been easy,” Shively said. “And whether just in my personal life or even in my academic life, it’s easy to despair or to have our eyes on the wrong things. This psalm, I think, has been a bedrock for me — and allowing me to have a way of reminding myself and actually speaking to myself what’s true, no matter my circumstances.”