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February 26, 2007

Minding Your Mind

fragile_mind.jpgWalk into any Christian bookstore and case the shelves of books on women's issues, family living, and patterns of leadership. You will be hard put to find little or anything written on the role of the mind or the importance of the intellect in developing and maintaining a sturdy, healthy faith in and walk with God. Go to any women's retreat or women's leadership conference. Speakers and seminars appealing to women's hearts and souls and talking about spiritual disciplines abound. Discussion of women's roles as mothers, daughters, single women, keepers of the home, and as home-schoolers dominates the teaching hours. But is there much or any focus on the importance of the mind, of the crucial role that good reading and responsible study play in its development? Is there much mention of becoming an intellectual as well as a spiritual disciple of Christ?

Sadly, many women are probably intimidated by the word intellect (I always define the word carefully when I use it), even though what it means is the power to know as distinguished from the power to feel and to will. Yet, every one of those women would agree, at least in theory, that we must know the word of God as well as feel it. Knowing involves the use of the intellect.

As an example, in the two or more decades I have been speaking at women's conferences and retreats, I have often chosen to address the importance of good reading and solid Bible study in the Christian life. Often, the leadership has been hesitant when they hear my choice of subject, wondering if perhaps something more practical, more mainstream (dare I say predictable) would be a better subject - something like how to have devotions or how to discern the will of God or how to pray more successfully and consistently.

Some women's ministries leaders have seen the significance of what I want to teach, but they have also understood that my seminars will have to be titled carefully to get numbers. In other words, I must artfully design a title that suggests something "more interesting," "more user-friendly" than thinking about the mind implies, something that, in a sense, cons the women into going to such a session. Somehow a consideration of Christian thinking seems so much less a priority and far less spiritual than subjects to do with Christian behaviors even though the mind is what processes what we feel and will and can lead to a more thoughtful and deliberate Christian lifestyle.

In an articulate book called When Life and Beliefs Collide, Carolyn Custis James argues that all women are called to be theologians - in other words, to have knowledge of God. She notes that the Bible, not to mention church history, "records the stories of countless women whose theology led them to make significant contributions at home, in the community, and in the church" (p. 19).

When people - in this case, women - neglect the use of their minds, they may get caught up in idle activities, too many activities, silly reading and leisure habits which lead, finally, to a shallow understanding of what it means to live the Christian life. Their faith may also be too thin to sustain them in the hardships that invariably accompany the average existence.

Their Christian understanding, undeepened by knowledge, may become boring whether they admit it or not. As J.I. Packer says in his popular book Knowing God, "The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life, blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction, and understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life, and lose your soul" (pp. 14-15).


Thank you for your comments on Minding Your Mind. I have stuggled with going and being involved in Womens Ministry because of that very fact...not intellectual enough to hold my interest. The enemy seeks control of our minds if he has that he has everything. And by the way he is the "father of lies" Knowing God is our only defense.

Because "feminism" has been a dirty word in evangelical circles, and because intellect and education (of all sorts) are linked with feminism, the life of the mind gets dumped. And frankly, our culture doesn't like bright or educated people very much -- we always vote for the personable ones, not the well-educated or thoughtful ones, for example.

We become our own enemies when we ignore the God-given ability to think, reason, and learn, and we devalue God's gifts. Smart women will always run into trouble, but Jesus never promised us a trouble-free life.

You are a woman after my heart. When I was women's ministry director at my former church, my emphasis was on the bible studies and even restructured the retreats to have an emphasis on teaching rather than fluff. I did notice a slight drop in attendance at the retreats.

We ladies with a passion for the bible (its study and life application) need to keep pressing on with the truth, one person at a time. After all, Jesus does say to love God with our heart and mind, doesn't he?

Thanks once again for another encouraging topic, letting us know we aren't alone!

Another viewpoint is found in this verse

Ecclesiastes 12:12b KJV
"and much study is a weariness of the flesh."

How do I know about this verse? Because I studied the Bible.

Okay, not only trying to be a jokster, I agree there is a time and place for both but we have to accept that not all women are where we're at. Actually when I came across this verse it was a mentor who shared it after I told her I felt like a married nun, meaning all I seemed to be spending my days doing was caring for my family, praying and studying. I was eventually tired of that routine. She mentioned that there could be such a thing as too much study, and gave me this verse.

On the other hand, I'm leading a group in what one might call "fluff". Yet I am spending hours preparing to present this fluff. The fluff, it turns out, has helped many women turn their lives around and rediscover a vibrant Christian walk and confidence in God. There is a time and place for both.

Amen! Women's Bible Studies and retreats that appeal to the 'warm fuzzy' side of life leave me cold. Consequently, it has been very difficult to find solid, thoughtful interaction in a group setting here in my small town. I plan to pass this article on to several friends.

I can only add my thanks to that of others for your raising an issue many women struggle with. We need to be sure that we women are challenged to continue to grow mentally in our faith as well as in our emotions. I think of Priscilla in the Bible, of Susannah Wesley, of Luther's beloved Kate, and so many other women who clearly were involved in doctrinal, intellectual development for themselves and those close to them. Christ's call to love God "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Luke 10:27) is just as valid for women as men, yet too many "women's" programs seem to stop with the heart and soul.

I am delighted to see your comments encouraging women to exercise and grow their intellectual knowledge of God's word! I agree with prior posts that we need a balance of both approaches because we must respect where individual women are at in their faith walk as well as their abilities. I believe the predominantly male pastors of churches must also support maturing our faith through our intellect. I was basically driven out of my role as Dir. of Women's Ministry (and also the church) because the Pentecostal Sr. Pastor became enraged at anyone who suggested we can grow through any means other than his viewpoints and his preaching. Women in the ministry were becoming excited, empowered and healed. They also became less vulnerable to manipulation as they truly came to understand who they are in Christ. I'm saddened by this experience and fear solid women leaders will avoid churches as long as intellectual gifts are considered a threat rather than a positive resource.

I have attended a few "women's retreats" and I really felt they talked down to women. I enjoy "fluff" too, but just because it is a "woman's conference", does that have to mean it is superficial? These conferences seem stuck in the traditional roles of the 1950's when a woman's place was basically "in the home", while today's women are business leaders, doctors, lawyers, political leaders, ministers, and homemakers. There doesn't seem to be any acknowledgement of "non-traditional" women. Of course, it has been over 10 years since I attended a conference, so hopefully that has changed. I am not a fan of "home-schooling" either. It seems to me that the national drive to home-school is being fueled by folks who still believe that a woman's place is in the kitchen. Ostensibly a father can be the home-school parent, but these folks know that the at-home parent is still more likely to be the mother because of cultural values. If you home-school and are not guilty of this prejudice, please do not take offense.

I just picked up a book "10 Lies the Church tells Women by Lee Grady. I do not agree with everything but it is a really good starting place for women who think they don't need to know scripture.
How are we ever going to teach our children, the younger women and sinners if we don't know scripture. How are we ever going to build any kind of faith. We just have to get out of the kitchen and into the world if we are going to make a difference. The church is 2/3 women and we are losing all that energy and brain power, if only 1/3 of the church is being used. The devil will win by telling us that is a man thing.

This is so refreshing to me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, they have challenged me.

For the bulk of my adult life, I have had to seek out circles of men to have discussions about scripture and its application to our lives. I'm attending a church right now where I teach the middle and senior adult Bible study class. That's as close as I get to discussion of this sort. It's almost as if the other women don't WANT to know the Bible. As if they don't care about the difficult topics. They'd just prefer to have someone else chew it up and feed it to them.

What a waste of resources.

I so appreciate this article and reading the comments. I have often felt I am the only woman in the church who desires the deeper, intellectually stimulating truths of Scripture. Its nice to know I am not alone.

Thank you! Yet it is not only women who lack study and intellectual habits, as the men in church also often merely parrot the iconoclasms they've been told. People are so accustomed to being told WHAT to think that they seem to have forsaken HOW to think for themselves, and it seems a threat to them when someone does not simply go with the flow.
I also know women who have bought into the idea that intellectualism is "unspiritual," which I find quite at odds with Scripture ("be transformed by the renewing of your mind" - It does NOT say "by the frenzying of your emotions"). I do find that many women use their feelings as a basis for their decisions, which is sad and usually ends badly. Feelings are like a thermometer, measuring the impact of the changing circumstantial weather on our skin. But a thermometer is not a compass, nor can it be used as one. It is the mind, and what is true, that should determine actions and course.
Thank you again for bringing this issue to the forefront.

Thank you for addressing this topic on Minding Your Mind for women. The Word of God emphatically states that we are transformed by what? The renewing of our minds. As the leader of a Christian women's organization, I have the distinct opportunity to tap in the minds of women world-wide. It never ceases to amaze me how much we have to offer if only we would utilize the very gifts God has given us...including our remarkable minds. (Your mention of author, Carolyn Custis James warms my heart as her book entitled Lost Women of the Bible inspired a series of studies I've written based on the women of the Bible. She truly is a woman who challenges women.) Hats off to you for a well-written article.

Why is it OK for women to admit that "Oh, I'm not very clever", when you would rarely hear a man saying this? I have several lovely women friends who have said this to me- their husbands have high powered, intellectually demanding jobs, which are also well paid enough to allow their wives not to work. But this also seems to allow them not to think either. I am seen as a bit of an oddity because I think about my faith, the world etc. It's been great to read the contributions from others and realise I'm not that odd!

How refreshing to have my concerns for the Christian woman confirmed that we are more than just physical beings, but deeply spirit-filled beings, designed by our Elohim to be body, soul and mind. Too often women in our Lutheran synod are looked on as merely homemakers, wives, mothers, and "good" church women, doing the required things of rearing children, baking pies and cleaning the church. Understand that there is nothing wrong with the aforementioned things, but as women of God, we need to be prepared to meet the challenges of life, which is done through the study of God's Word, and then teach that Word to our children and grandchildren, using our minds as well as our hearts. Praise God for such indepth studies as Bible Study Fellowship, Precepts, and LifeLight, just to name a few, that delve deeply into the Holy and Perfect Word of God, while also making the Word applicable to our daily lives.
Reading this outstanding article reaffirms my desire to continue a passion of searching God's Word, while encouraging other women to do so, and writing studies that will lead them deeper into the Word, and not just the fluff that only belittles their knowledge and understanding.

Thank you for this very encouraging article, there may be some encouragement I can add.
I have recently started leading a group for young (17 to 20somethings) woman, straight out of youth group.
What I found encouraging is when I asked them what they wanted to do during our time together they asked for a workshop on how to study the Bible.
I feel so blessed that I can help the next generation of Christian woman thinkers!

God is so faithful to always have a "remnant" and to let us know who they are. Intellect and femininity are often cast as polar opposites, but we know better. I'd like to testify to you ladies that I went through a period in time when I felt so isolated and "out of it" that I dumbed myself down to be more "in" with the ladies I knew. So instead of reading Brennan Manning, I read Terry McMillan; rather than finish my book of essays about the contribution of the African-American church to politics and culture, I wasted my time with magazines that told me how to bake and organize recipe cards. Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with those other things, they just aren't me. This habit almost destroyed my life because I veered into things that were not healthy or edifying, and I de-valued who God created me to be. So now, I can get back to Ravi Zacharias et al.! And I'm no longer embarassed about my close-to-genius-level IQ. I don't go around bragging about it, but I don't feel ashamed, either. God is good.

What about having a seminar,retreat call it what you will for women who want meat and not milk.

God gave me a brain and the ability to use it. I was blessed being raised by parents who never saw gender as a hinderance to using my intelligence. Using my abilities in the "worldly" sense I've become a professional engineer recognized by many honors with my own consulting business. Yet this has been used to bless my family since I am able to work at home. I love digging into the Word and am continually amazed how God connected each and every idea. I love being able to research an idea and have God show me something wonderful. I am also the mother of two daughters, 9 and 2. Our culture, despite the advances of women, still puts down a smart, intelligent woman. I constantly remind my girls that God made them smart for a reason and that their ability to use their brains well is a gift from Him. I pray for God to give them strength and courage to use their intelligence to His glory.

In the last 10 years (I'm 62 now) I've intensified my personal Bible study to include prophecy in the Bible (Walvoord), a topical study of the work of the Holy Spirit, a serious study of our enemy, the devil, a study of the Scriptural basis for sound doctrine in the book of Romans, and a deep, long-term study of the Sermon on the Mount.

My observation is that more and more women ARE engaging in deep Bible study. One gal I know downloads Bible studies to her iPod and listens while she's on the treadmill after work! It's great to watch her striding along, writing (illegibly?) in her little notebook. Then she picks up her 3 and 5 year olds and heads for home -- pumped in more ways than one!

Christian apologetics is critical in our time. God uses people of either gender who are grounded in sound doctrine and know why they believe what they believe! The alternative is to leave the field of witness to people who are (a) guessing at what the Bible means, (b) turning off or mis-leading people with weird or incomplete interpretations, (c) or just not answering questions because they don't have anything to say! Once called to Christ we have a responsibility for His reputation within our sphere of influence. Let's get it right!

Maybe these people who put down smart women don't remember Lydia, Phoebe, and others who paid Paul's tab for years out of the proceeds of their businesses and wealth! Don't fret. Get a correspondence course from the Moody Bible Institute or the Dallas Theological Seminary and go for it!

Does anyone have trouble finding other women to talk to on a deeply theological level? ARG! Small town blues. Fortunately, I married a philosopher, but sometimes I really long for a group of women with interests similar to mine!

In my ministry I play a subversive role. I coordinate the children's rotational Sunday school program at my church. Over the last 3 & half years I have had the pleasure of opening up the Bible to volunteers who want to teach it to children...mostly women who have grown up in the church but never really read the Bible. For just a few, the adult Bible study aspect has become really important. None of them are studying on their own at this point, but they seem to have come to recognize that their monthly exposure to a new passage is important on a personal level--not just preparation to teach.

On balance: I am a very verbal person--I love to study, write (especially liturgy)...yet if I didn't sew, my prayer life wouldn't be the same. I used to do alterations & found myself praying for the person who belonged to the garment. Actually, that was the only time in my life when I experienced "praying without ceasing." Yet when I was sewing full time, I felt that the verbal/intellectual side of me was sagging, wasting away. I took commissioned lay pastor classes online for several years & didn't have time to sew & became depressed. Now I make sure I feed both the creative and intellectual sides...back to "if only I had another theologically minded woman to talk to." better yet if she loved quilting.

On Home-schooling: I home-schooled my daughter for 2 years. WOW. It wasn't always easy, but the intellectual engagement was amazing! We started middle of third grade. After beginning with a study of WW2, she wanted to go back to the beginning of time, so that is what we did. From 4000 bc to 100 ad we used the Bible as a back drop. We had some great discussions. By the time she re-entered public school, I don't know (& didn't care) where she was in relation to her peers, but wow! could that girl think for herself! And I had learned so much! History had never before been so alive for me. Absolutely no regrets...home-schooling takes a lot of brains. And a great reason to let your husband do the house-keeping. (mine can't cook, but boy, can he clean) My daughter is now in high school, a straight-A student, the favorite of most of her female teachers because she is not afraid to think, AND she is a source of POSITIVE peer pressure (perhaps because she thinks for herself, has goals, and really cares about others). We have a really good relationship, too (in fact strangers mistake us for sisters)--we have long, deep discussions, often theological in nature.

I think, someday, she could become the woman, the friend, I can talk to on my level.

Well written and well said. I know that whenever I hear of a woman speaker coming to church, I go to the movies because I know that it will "feeling oriented, "light," and "touchy." But if Professor Rosset spoke, I would come to a service even if it started at 5:00 AM. Sadly, men are going after emotions too more than the mind because more women are in the church than are men. Balance is needed. We are to love God with all of our "hearts" and "minds." Great article!

Wow! What a refreshing site! I loved reading all your comments. I am a 60 year old woman biologically, but do not feel "ag-ed" yet. In fact to the contrary--life is wonderful and free and I can read and grow without much interuption--except for 7 grandchildren and 20 piano students and the role of "pastor's wife to 1200 dear souls".
Thank you Rosalie for pushing women to think and study--we need to stretch our minds and be all God wants us to be. Plus, we need to be there for our children during their growing up years. Today's mom has a tough balancing act with the many sirens calling her name. After raising 4 children who are now a college professor, a pastor, a business man and a music teacher all raising their own families, I only affirm that the "mom" needs to keep maturing intellectually so she can prod each child to do the same. This is a difficult pill for many young women to swallow--our society is becomming so shallow and superficial. I am praying for women like Rosalie to keep on keeping on. Thank you

I have the honor and priviliege of teaching 30 women (in two different classes) in my church - Theology - the deep Master's level type stuff (curriculum is The Word and The Leader from the discussions we have are so fun! Men in our church are jealous even though they do have thier own Timothy leadership class -because our class works harder and studies more! At the end of the first year they write their own personal Statement of Faith and the second year we study leadership very in depth (we meet once a month so they have plenty of time to give to their 5-10 hours of homework and reading as well as accountability groups). Good theology leads to doxology (worship)- and changed lives - I'm watching it happen over and over again and it is thrilling to be a part of. I am grateful to be in a church that applauds women studying in this regard and exercising their gifts in this way.

You are what you read :)

Amen! It's about time somebody had the courage to say this. I've pretty much thought the same thing for most of my adult life. Segregated ministries--women's bible studies, Sunday School classes--simply did nothing for me. They were mostly concerned with "warm and fuzzy" issues like how to relate to your husband better. Even now, I find that most Christian things for women, like books and magazines, focus on those same issues. That's why I avoid them, too.

From Kathryn:

"I have attended a few "women's retreats" and I really felt they talked down to women. I enjoy "fluff" too, but just because it is a "woman's conference", does that have to mean it is superficial?"

True story: many years ago I was at a woman's retreat where one of the speakers talked about how to balance your checkbook properly. I was so disgusted I walked out. Looking back, I feel terribly sorry for those women. I suppose before this they had probably been having their husbands do it.

PJ said:

Thank you! Yet it is not only women who lack study and intellectual habits, as the men in church also often merely parrot the iconoclasms they've been told. People are so accustomed to being told WHAT to think that they seem to have forsaken HOW to think for themselves, and it seems a threat to them when someone does not simply go with the flow.

I totally agree with the above, because that has been my experience for most of my life. We've been discussing this entry over on The Scroll, and the consensus there is that it goes beyond women. There's a general disdain for anything intellectual in Christian circles, especially the fundamentalist ones. Again, I can testify to this firsthand. I grew up in churches where the attitude was pretty much "The Bible says it, so I believe it." They also saw any attempt to study the Bible in-depth as something done by "liberals" who were trying to undermine God's Word. Sadly, I still find this attitude in some Christians.

Feminism does not equal intellect. In fact this is one of the isms that has kept us from having a relationship with the LORD based on HIS Salvation....
One of the first things I learned of the LORD is that HE desires HIS children to reason...both male and female. Just as we as women cannot depend on our husbands for salvation, so we cannot depend on someone else to speak to us of GOD if we ourselves cannot approach HIM with questions and get the answers.
We make these things so complicated, yet they are very easily understood through HIS least when we allow the PERSON of the HOLY SPIRIT to be real to us.

Helen, I totally agree that God wants all His children to use their reason and intellect whether male or female. I also agree that we must be able go to God with our questions to get the answers we need. Not that you can't ever ask someone else, but we are all priests before God (I Peter 2:5). We are commanded to always seek His guidance. That is why I find the "husband as priest of the home" idea so repugnant. It is unscriptural and it removes the wife from God's presence. If memory serves me right, one of the reasons we had the feminist movement was to declare that women are people with intellect as well as bodies, that anatomy truly wasn't our only purpose in life, as opposed to the popular view of that time that women were inferior to men in the brain department, and were destined to have babies and serve men "because the Bible says so!".

Thank you so much for this excellent post. A breath of fresh air!

As a college-degreed professional in a predominantly blue collar town, the only place I can go for an intelligent, engaging conversation is to the librarian at the public library!

I am so happy this morning to have come across this site.I too have desired meat.I have been very lonely as far as finding other women like myself in my Church and small rural town. And men look at me with a glazed over look or patronizing whenever I question, or go a little deeper than the "fill in the blank" power point lesson. Not that the brothers are anymore "thoughtful" about scripture...but I feel as though they get irritated that I am. Extremely painful in the body of Christ. I am so blessed to see the tides turning. SO blessed. I am attending a women's conference at the end of July. I can't "walk out" if it focuses on decorating or doing your, I'm praying it engages my mind and heart. Thank you for uplifting my day!
Love In Jesus,

I identify with the aloneness. I think I have begun to flag in zeal though. I hope God does not let me go as I seek to be alive in a seemingly spiritual desert. He is good. He is able.He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Thank you for your insight,I was browsing for blogs about women's issues and came across this wonderful article. I sent it to my Women's Conference Committee, we are excited to see so many women agree their is a need to relate our stories on a level that we can digest as reality.

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