She has published multiple books. She speaks to groups all over the world. She holds memberships in multiple theological societies.
But for Robbie Castleman, associate professor of theology at John Brown University, the accolades are not what are important to her. Instead, she points to her life verse, Acts 20:24:
“But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.”
Her journey brought her from a successful job as a critical care nurse to a different focus as a theologian.
“I discovered I felt most at home with myself when I was teaching,” Castleman said.
Then, in the late 1970s, Castleman said her gift for teaching was affirmed “in no uncertain terms.”
Castleman knew she would miss nursing, but she also knew God was calling her to be a teacher. She started intentionally looking for ways to advance her theological education, eventually earning a doctorate degree.
The entire process took about 25 years, but she never quit. In 1988, she started working for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Florida State University.
Moving to Arkansas
In 2001, Castleman and her husband, Breck, felt their ministry in Florida was coming to a close. Nine days later, John Brown University contacted Castleman to tell her about an open position, which she ended up filling.
“The timing really caught my eye,” Castleman said. “If JBU had contacted me ten days sooner than they did, I wouldn’t have paid nearly as much attention.”
Castleman compared teaching to discipleship, because good teachers meet their students where they are at, but then push them forward.
“When you raise the bar, you have to help them get over it,” she said. “You don’t try to be so far ahead of them that they can’t see you, but you do lengthen your stride and set the direction of the journey.”
Junior Jonathan Marks, a biblical and theological studies major, said Castleman’s classes are “amazing” because she forces students to think and analyze Scripture and theology at a deeper level.
“Dr. C’s best quality is that she genuinely wants to see her students learn,” Marks said. “To that end, she challenges them with difficult material.”
Starting in 1981, Castleman published a variety of Bible study guides. Then in the early 1990s, an editor at InterVarsity Press contacted her, encouraging her to consider writing a book.
The resulting book, “Parenting in the Pew,” focused on how to include children within the worship of the church. On Feb. 1, InterVarsity Press released the third edition of this best seller.
InterVarsity Press is also currently publishing “Story-Shaped Worship,” which Castleman describes as her “first real academic book,” about the theology of worship. It is set for release on May 1.
“Most books on worship focus on a particular denomination and are thus not applicable to many Evangelical Christians,” she said. “That’s where I saw the gap I wanted to address. Worship should be shaped by the gospel story, not by the worship band.”
Marks said the biggest lesson he learned from his classes with Castleman related to this topic.
“Worship is more than just singing,” he said. “It involves a complete focus on what God gets from us—we are glorifying him, not getting a spiritual high.”
In addition to her work teaching and writing, Castleman participates in a variety of theological societies. One of these is the Institute of Biblical Research, where she coordinates a hermeneutics research group. The scholars involved look at biblical interpretation as the intersection between study of the biblical text and theology.
Castleman said the Institute is both evangelical and fair to women, which can be unique in Christian circles.
“As a woman who is a pure theologian and yet also an evangelical, I don’t fit a lot of niches – I’m fairly homeless,” Castleman said. “I don’t only do things which are commonly associated with women.”
“I have never lacked support from the faculty and administration at JBU,” she continued. “But every semester there are students who refuse to take my classes because I am a woman.”
Castleman said she does not make a big deal about the issue because she knows she is doing what God called her to do.
“I won’t argue about it,” Castleman said. “No one has a right to do anything other than to give themself away. The language of empowerment is foreign to the language of God’s kingdom.”
Throughout the process of pursuing her education, Castleman said her husband encouraged her “up one side and down the other.”
“We have both done some adjustment for one another over the years,” Castleman said. “And we have both been blessed by one another’s worlds.”
Mr. Castleman said his wife always had a strong sense and desire for doing the Lord’s will, so he fully supported her in pursuing academic study.
The Castlemans have two sons, Robert Dayton and Scott Breckinridge, and five grandchildren. Castleman said that their boys both follow Jesus, though in “very different ways.”
Robert works as a full-time artist and recently moved to Bentonville to work at the Crystal Bridges Museum. Scott serves as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs, Miss.
As a full-time pastor, Mr. Castleman said that the two of them make a good team.
“We complement and supplement one another,” Mr. Castleman said. “We learn from one another, borrowing from the reading and studying that the other has done.”
“Robbie usually comes across as confident and passionate because of how she throws herself into teaching,” Mr. Castleman said. “But students may not see the cautiousness and humbleness which lies underneath that.”