By Luma Simms
In his book, Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul writes:
“Countless times I have heard Christians say, “Why do I need to study doctrine or theology when all I need to know is Jesus?” My immediate reply is this: “Who is Jesus?” As soon as we begin to answer that question, we are involved in doctrine and theology.”
These words have been imprinted on my mind for years.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “the wretch” is at one point recounting to Dr. Frankenstein the story of young Safie’s family, whom he had watched and learned from while hiding from the world for an extended period:
“Safie related that her mother was a Christian Arab, seized and made a slave by the Turks; recommended by her beauty, she had won the heart of the father of Safie, who married her. The young girl spoke in high and enthusiastic terms of her mother, who, born in freedom, spurned the bondage to which she was now reduced. She instructed her daughter in the tenets of her religion and taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect and an independence of spirit forbidden to the female followers of Mahomet. This lady died; but her lessons were indelibly impressed on the mind of Safie, who sickened at the prospect of again returning to Asia and being immured within the walls of a harem, allowed only to occupy herself with infantile amusements, ill–suited to the temper of her soul, now accustomed to grand ideas and a noble emulation of virtue. The prospect of marrying a Christian and remaining in a country where women were allowed to take a rank in society was enchanting to her.”
We notice several things from Shelley’s contrast between a woman in early 19th-century Christian culture and a woman in the Islamic culture. The Christian culture produces an atmosphere where women are encouraged to “aspire to higher powers of intellect” and to an “independent spirit” which for Shelley translates into a woman who has learned how to acquire knowledge and use it to think through issues. Christian culture promotes a love of learning. Christian culture promotes an atmosphere where grand ideas are exchanged and women are encouraged to be part of that exchange. It promotes an atmosphere where virtue is sought and aspired to. In a pre–feminist culture, the fact that Shelley can see what a Christian society can do for women is astounding.
Sadly, it’s hard to find much of this thriving intellectualism in our current evangelical culture. Instead, I’ve heard some say that a woman’s education is for the sake of teaching her children or interacting with her husband. Unfortunately, those very people rarely say that women should be educated to bless their neighbors, or the culture as a whole. This pigeonholing of the exercise of the female intellect is indicative of an anti–intellectual culture for women in the church which could lead to leanness of soul in women. We should not be surprised that this anti–intellectualism bleeds into how women approach the scriptures and Bible study. Consider the Proverbs 31 woman, who is valued in the modern church for her labor and industriousness far above her intellect, though it is implicit that her intellect goes right along with her hard work (See vs. 13, 16, 18).
As the secular world sends women the message to empower themselves, free themselves, and break the glass ceiling for themselves, the temptation in evangelical culture seems to be primarily reactionary, countering with overly simplistic ideas like “all you need is faith,” or, “forget the theology, here are 5 steps to a peaceful you.” These notions are unhelpful at best and void of a solid theological framework, they are useless for us as Christian women.
The gospel brought an immediate inheritance for Christian women in the pagan cultures to which it spread. The gospel was meant to transform our minds as well as our hearts, and history shows that it did just that in dramatic ways for Christendom. Time and time again Paul directs us to grow in our knowledge of God. Jesus himself told us that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind (Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27 emphasis mine). How can we know God without taking the life of the mind seriously?
A Way Forward
So where do we go from here? First, my prayer for our pastors is that the gospel would be preached with depth every Sunday from the pulpits of our churches. Second, scripturally defined womanhood under the paradigm of creation–Fall–redemption/recreation should be studied and written about with the hope that the ideas flow out into the evangelical culture. Third, I pray pastors catch a vision for the value of “fat–souled” women—women who are filled with the knowledge of the Lord and who aspire to intellectual pursuits. I agree with John Piper when he says, “wimpy theology makes wimpy women.” A Christian woman’s highest joy and pleasure is the person of Jesus Christ. When her spiritual taste buds awaken to the richness and sweetness of the Savior, nothing else will satisfy.
Although it is true that knowledge can puff up, humble submission to the Holy Spirit will kill pride. This paves the way for the Spirit to use women to push back the forces of evil, leavening the Kingdom of God into a world which sits with darkened minds. Jesus, the true knowledge, sheds light and opens to us all other knowledge. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).
Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife, and mother of five children between the ages of 2 and 19. She has a B.S. degree in physics and studied law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible teacher. Her book Gospel Amnesia can be found at GCD Press. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.
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