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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)
“Sarah Bessey is so gifted a writer, so smart and welcoming and humble, the Church might not even notice how often it gets kicked between its ‘doctrinally sound traditions,’ where it hurts. But what makes Jesus Feminist so fantastic, so challenging is Bessey’s ability to be both the friend who tells us the truth about womanhood inside our churches and the sage who shows us how Jesus embraced equality and how we can do it better. With Jesus Feminist, Bessey is a modern-day Moses, seeking to not only free a Church held captive by dogma but also to redeem generations of women who have been stifled and silenced far too long.” (Matthew Paul Turner, author of Churched)
"Jesus Feminist is a book that needed to be written! With honest vulnerability and a strong biblical foundation, Sarah Bessey shares her very personal journey and insight regarding the roles and qualifications for women in ministry." (Helen Burns, author of Miracle in a Mother’s Hug and What Dads Need to Know About Daughters and Moms Need to Know About Sons)
"I want to write like Sarah Bessey. What she does with words is extraordinary, and the topic she's chosen is so deeply important. Jesus Feminist is a beautiful, challenging, rich, gutsy book, an absolute must-read." (Shauna Niequist, author of Bread & Wine)
“I’ve read countless books addressing the place of women in the kingdom, and I have never, ever read anything so lovely, so generous, profound and humble as Jesus Feminist. If you’re expecting anger or defensiveness or aggression, move on. If you are looking for intelligence and warmth and spirit, read this immediately." (Jen Hatmaker, author of 7 and Interrupted)
“Jesus Feminist is a revelation, a genre-defying tour-de-force that soars above the caustic rhetoric that has defined these conversations in the Church. Sarah Bessey throws combinations like a literary Muhammad Ali: sharp-edged prophetic critique, elegant poetry, theological provocation, humble memoir, endless charm. There is so much heart, wonder, and most of all authentic soul in this book; you won’t know what hit you.” (Jonathan Martin, author of Prototype)
“Sarah Bessey makes me want to get to know Jesus all over again, but this time specifically through my womanly flesh, engaging God with the glorious gift of being a woman rather than in spite of it.” (Enuma Okoro, author of Silence and Reluctant Pilgrim)
“Jesus Feminist summons the Church to join in a conversation about women in God’s Kingdom. Sarah Bessey disarms us and then hands us a cup of tea. She creates a safe space for deep discussion, gentle reflection and holy imagination. She calls, converses and commissions us into the wild ways of Jesus. This is a holy invitation for all my sisters to come to the table at last. A must read!” (Kelley Nikondeha, co-founder of Amahoro Africa)
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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.
For the completely uninitiated into the world of Christian feminism, the early chapters briefly probe how traditional "clobber" passages like 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (keep your mouths shut, ladies!) and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (no teaching men either!) should shape our theology and culture. Bessey gently suggests that Paul's apparent silencing and subordinating of women in these verses should be taken within the particular context and for the particular audience for whom the letters were written. This is an argument that I've seen articulated more effectively by Greg Boyd, Rachel Held Evans, Richard Foster and others, so I didn't feel Bessey added anything "radically" new to the conversation. But for those who aren't familiar with Christian egalitarianism or have been taught that biblical womanhood unequivocally means silently submitting, ever-yielded to the men in their lives and churches, glorifying God best and only in their proper sphere at home, Bessey's ideas might be new and might prompt some thoughtful questioning.
The Canadian author describes her own epiphany when she realized her upbringing and her own marriage didn't match her local church's female narrative during her brief years living in Texas: "evangelical sermons on marriage were filled with "Oh, you know women" jokes. Generally speaking, women were perceived as soft, emotional, and naturally nurturing, while men were positioned as natural leaders, hating to talk about relationships, and requiring more sex. ... There was a lot of talk in those days of the "feminization of the Church" and how guys needed to step up and be men, which apparently resembled the ideal of benevolent dictators, rather than the Son of Man."
But, instead of stirring up my inner rabble-rouser, this book allowed me to know Sarah Bessey more-- from her "happy-clappy" Jesus-loving Pentecostal upbringing to her beautiful, accidentally egalitarian marriage to her traumatic experiences in childbirth to her eye-opening trip to Haiti. And I like her. I like a lot of what she says. I've always loved the idea of the Body of Christ, with each member knit together in life, functioning and expressing the Head. Much of what Bessey writes seems rooted in this biblical principle.
"Jesus Feminist" argues gently that women should be allowed to teach, lead and work in their marriages, their churches and other spheres of influence. Marriages and all relationships within and outside of the church work best and glorify God the most when all members are allowed and encouraged to use their unique gifts, which, contrary to some patriarchal views, might look like a woman "leading the charge" as the breadwinner of her household, as the CEO of a company or as the lead pastor of a church. But it doesn't have to look that way. It could also simply be women taking the lead to serve where they see needs. And it absolutely does look this way in many, many churches across the full range of the patriarchal/egalitarian spectrum.
Bessey's oft-repeated metaphor of coming outside to join others at the beach-beacon bonfires, I now see is not as a call to eschew socially conservative churches or to shirk a love-and-respect-complimentarian-style marriage. Her message is much less controversial. Bessey is advocating that all women (and men) seek God earnestly and obey His still small voice. That we initiate justice and Christian community through servanthood in the places where injustice runs rampant-- be it the lonely corridors of a state-subsidized nursing home or the slums of Haiti, the local shelter for battered women or the well-greased machine of child-trafficking in Asia. That we be led by God's stirring in our spirit and use our unique, God-given gifts to act upon those motions. And that we are commissioned to initiate genuine community with other women, to together take a step toward our true Head and submit to Him our eyes, ears, hands and feet. We are called together to identify with Christ and His unifying mission.