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Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women Paperback – November 5, 2013
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Bessey speaks directly and compassionately to her fellow Evangelical Christians, arguing the case for viewing Jesus as unbounded by gender considerations in valuing the worthiness of humans. Bringing an informed but nonacademic historical perspective to her reading of the Bible and using relevant examples from her personal life, both as a church member and a part of contemporary Western culture, she observes that biblical events and traditional Evangelical interpretations of them are not always what they seem. Never strident, Bessy’s approach is instead solid and clear. Although apostolic admonitions read without the contexts she proposes might bolster sexism, given a larger frame of reference, they fall to her arguments. An excellent choice for a church discussion group as well as an important viewpoint to include in public library religion collections. --Francisca Goldsmith
"Bessey’s warm and intimate writing sets this book apart from others focused on similar topics. Her approach and style offer a unique addition to literature on women’s role in Christian churches." (Publisher's Weekly)
"Never strident, Bessy's approach is instead solid and clear....An excellent choice." (Booklist)
"World, meet Sarah Bessey. Settle in and get to know her because this woman has arrived. Reading Jesus Feminist is like drinking a warm cup of tea while taking a cold shower—Bessey manages to comfort the reader and wake her up at the same time. I cried and nodded and said 'preach, sister!' again and again. Bessey is a treasure and a prophet and I've notified all of my friends (both men and women) that Jesus Feminist is a must read." (Glennon Doyle Melton, author of the New York Times bestseller Carry On, Warrior and founder of Momastery.com)
"Lucid, compelling, and beautifully written. This book will encourage women everywhere to take their high place in Christ." (Frank Viola, author of God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here)
"For some time now, feminism and Christianity have been bedfellows, but primarily in the halls of academia. What Sarah Bessey does is claim the voice of feminism for her own Christian faith—an evangelical faith, no less! The result is a powerful and empowering narrative that both men and women will find compelling and readable." (Tony Jones, theologian and author of The New Christians)
“I love writers who are insightful enough to be cynical but choose not to be. I love books that help me see things I'd never noticed before—in life, in myself, in others, in the Bible, in Jesus. I love writing that makes reading enjoyable and easy, because I know how hard it is to write that way. For these reasons and more, I love Jesus Feminist. It's not ‘just a woman's book.’ In fact, it's the kind of book that will help both women and men see how unhelpful that distinction is.” (Brian D. McLaren, author, speaker, activist)
"It's hard to navigate an extremely delicate and important issue with gentleness and intention. In Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey has clearly proven herself a master at the task. Bessey powerfully, yet gracefully, compels both genders to rethink the role and value of women in the Christian faith, and emboldens women to know and live out that intrinsic value within the Body of Christ. Jesus Feminist is a critically important work; a must-read for everyone in the Church." (Nish Weiseth, author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World)
"Sarah says she doesn't feel a call to preach, but she speaks with the fire and artistry of a great preacher. Her sermon is one of hope: though the Church has often ignored the voices of women or lumped them into one limiting category, a revolution is coming. Sarah's voice is prophetic and she will free other women to speak and act with power, love, and courage. And may it be a summons for men in the Church to speak less and listen a lot more." (Adam S. McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church)
"With grace, humility, and confidence (even in the unknown), Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist masterfully humanizes one of the most controversial topics of the day. Bessey realizes that life, love, and faith cannot happen without community and the understanding that 'controversy' is less about sides and more about being whole together." (Andrew Marin, author of Love Is an Orientation)
"If you never imagined yourself as a card-carrying Jesus Feminist, this book will give you second thoughts. Sarah Bessey makes her case—not as a fire-breathing debater—but as a woman utterly captivated by Jesus who will stop at nothing to follow him. Her winsome writing made me laugh, cry, and stand taller as a woman. Unless I’m mistaken, it should swell the ranks of Jesus Feminists too. Sign me up!" (Carolyn Custis James, author of Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women)
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Then my wife told me I needed to read Jesus Feminist. Her sister had read and loved it. A good friend had read and loved it. And the kind of books I liked to read were nerdy, she said, and no one other than me cared about them. So why not read and review something normal people actually liked?
As per usual, I listened to my wife, returned to Barnes & Noble, purchased a copy, and started reading. Although Sarah Bessey writes well and although I pretty much agree with her, I found reading the book’s initial pages to be a long, hard slog. She tells stories where I would assert propositions. She asks questions where I would offer answers. She assumes conclusions where I would make long arguments. Her authorial voice is so different than mine. I would approach the topic of “the Bible’s view of women” in such a different way.
Midway through chapter 2 (or was it 3?), I realized what the problem was. It wasn’t her, it was me. Here am I, a man, having a hard time listening to a woman make a case in her own voice on an issue where we agree. Let me repeat that for my male readers: I wasn’t listening to what a woman was saying because she was a woman.
Now, I realize that I am probably not Sarah Bessey’s intended reader. My guess is that she wrote this book for Christian women, not so much to argue for their equality with men from a biblical viewpoint as to assume it and urge them to get on with the Kingdom work God has called them to do. That being the case, good on her!
Still, it’s pretty hard on a guy to realize that his egalitarianism is theoretical rather than practical. That it exists in books and arguments rather than in his willingness to listen to a sister. For Sarah Bessey’s unintended effectiveness in exposing my, well, sexism, good on her!
Back to what the book actually says rather than its effect on me: Jesus loves women. Patriarchy is not God’s design for relations between the sexes. Husbands and wives need to figure out how their relationship works for them through trial and error, rather than based on rules that are allegedly exported from the Bible. Churches need to fully deploy (and employ) the feminine half of the congregation. Women’s ministries need to be missional, since God calls them to change the world, not make a craft. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Christians need to do the hard work of addressing the lack of justice and peace in the world, much of which centers around the ill treatment of women and its side effects. And women don’t need permission; they just need blessing.
To which I say: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, respectively.
Is Jesus Feminist a great book? I don’t know. It’s not the kind of book I normally read, so I don’t have a metric.
Is Sarah Bessey’s a needed voice? Yes. On behalf of women such as my wife, sister, and friend. And to men like me as well.
Personally, I prefer the former. I know that many people think women are overly emotional beings, addicted to soap operas, being emotional around their periods, and Lifetime movies, but I am proof positive that women aren't all the same (basically things that this book touches on, but doesn't really delve deep into). When I read a nonfiction book titled "Jesus Feminist" with "Through a thoughtful review of biblical teaching and church practices" as a descriptor, I thought I was getting a scholarly work, but instead, I felt it was "Chicken Soup for the Christian Feminist's Soul".
I fear I must say something really quick, or people might get offended or get the wrong impression. There is NOTHING WRONG with a personal memoir about how awesome Jesus is, how awesome women are and the wonderful things that many women do. And there are LOADS of women out there that want/need to read books like this, whether to get them motivated or to affirm what they already believe.
I am not that woman. When I saw "Jesus Feminist", I wanted to read about how the modern evangelical interpretation was too stringent and to examine how it was meant to read for the intended audience. And, admittedly, Bessey does do this for a couple of the common "clobber" verses - the ones about wives being silent in church and wives submitting to husbands.
But Bessey spends a LOT of time talking about her own path to feminism and then branches into the many ways women are doing lots of wonderful things in the world. This is great, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't what I wanted/expected from this book. It wasn't how I interpreted the title.
There were other, little things that bugged me. Things like calling your children "tinies". (It's not cute, it's ridiculous.) Things like using Rachel Held Evans as a reference AND having her write your foreward. (Although the reference section is pretty good, some of it felt a bit off to me.) In fact, much of the tone of the book is hinged on tweaking your emotional sensors - something I definitely dislike in a book. I don't like books that write things just to make you cry, and this is definitely one of those books.
So, back to my first question: what do you want to read when you read "Jesus Feminist"? Do you want a methodical nonfiction book, one that will define what feminism is, the verses, how modern scholars interpret these verses, maybe even look into how Jesus acted like a feminist back in his day? If so, you'll find a few chapters, but most of the book will be a disappointment (like to me) or just boring. But if instead, you want a casual talk about how Christians can be this thing called feminist and be varied and different and influential, then this is right up your alley.
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