Haley Goranson Jacob had planned to study medicine, but some Bible classes at Crown College set her on an academic path that ultimately resulted her being named one of the top new female theologians by Christianity Today magazine.
Jacob, an assistant professor at Whitworth University, is featured in the June article “10 New or Lesser-Known Female Theologians Worth Knowing.”
“I could have never imagined being an academic,” said Jacob, who grew up in a small rural Minnesota town. “But I took some Bible classes that I absolutely loved. The Bible became one whole story with an overarching narrative, instead of a collection of stories.”
Her professors recognized her leadership and communication abilities and encouraged her to attend seminary.
At 22, she enrolled at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.
“I had an inkling that I may teach,” she recalled.
She spent two summers working at Yellowstone National Park, attending the only church in tiny Cooke City, Montana.
When the minister left, she was offered the position.
Jacob had earned two master’s degrees by this point, but had no pastoral experience.
“It never crossed my mind that I’d be a pastor,” she said. “But I knew I’d like to teach and Christian universities prefer their faculty to have preaching experience.”
For the next two years she served as a pastor in an isolated town with a population of around 100 year-round residents. Church attendance swelled during the tourist season, requiring two Sunday services. In the off-season, sometimes her congregation numbered 10.
“It was the strongest community experience I’ve ever had,” Jacob said. “You know everybody very well, and everybody knows you. I loved it. Cooke City became my second home. I go back every year.”
She began applying for doctorate programs and was astonished when she was accepted into her top choice: the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
“I was thrilled!” she said. “But less thrilled to leave Cooke City.”
The next three and half years were a time of intense study as Jacob worked on her thesis.
“It’s a very lonely pursuit,” she said. “I lived with a local Scottish woman, a widow. That was the best part of the experience.”
She chose a small portion of Romans 8:29 for her dissertation: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
“My thesis was on what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ,” she said. “I wanted it to be relevant to the average Christian layperson.”
That thesis, “Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans,” was recently published as a stand-alone book, and is available on Amazon.
Her ultimate conclusion?
“We’re made in the image of God and in becoming a Christian we’re essentially recreated in the image of God’s son,” Jacob said. “Our original function was to have dominion over the earth, but because of sin, the way humans have ruled led to chaos and destruction. But when we’re conformed to the image of God’s son, we’re brought back to ruling our creation by representing God in the way that Christ does; through sacrifice, service, love and peace.”
She said though women theologians are definitely in the minority, for the most part her male peers have been supportive and encouraging.
“I feel like I broke a few molds as far as what the world thinks of an academic,” she said.
After earning her doctorate in divinity, she accepted a position at Whitworth University in 2015, where she currently teaches a variety of Bible classes.
A big selling point for Jacob was Spokane’s proximity to Cooke City.
“Blue collar, small town is very much who I am,” she said.
Then she laughed.
“For me, Spokane is a large city!”
She met her husband, Alan Jacob, at Whitworth, where he also works. They married in December.
When she’s not pondering thorny theological issues or teaching in the classroom, Jacob is happiest outdoors hiking, biking and exploring nature.
“I love Whitworth, and I love teaching,” she said. “This is the perfect place for me.”