Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, Sarah Bessey. (Howard Books, 2013) $14.99
In recent years, there has been a backlash against egalitarianism and Christian Feminism emerging from what could be described as the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the Church. Fortunately, the voices coming from the other side have been equally loud, calling for mutual submission in the household and full participation of women in ministry. In this conversation, Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist (2013) stands out. She addresses the Church’s treatment of women with the end goal of “exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.” At first, I thought this subtitle seemed almost satirical, but in light of the more outspoken complementarians who have published recently, it is perhaps more warranted than my initial impression would have allowed.
Bessey’s gentle and humble tone sets her book apart. From the very first pages, it reads as a letter from a dear friend. In a debate which is fraught with conflict, mud-slinging, and name-calling, Bessey looks for the positive, encouraging women to live into their God-given potential. Rather than spending time debunking arguments on the other side (as many egalitarians do with Wayne Grudem and John Piper), Bessey spends most of the book talking about what women have done, and are currently doing in service to God, the Church, and the world. Her book reminds me of The Junia Project in that it seeks to equip and empower rather than to argue.
The core of Bessey’s argument is that her Feminism is a response to what she cares the most about—following Jesus. The best way for Christians to pursue women’s equality is for us to pursue Christ. “We must remember that all of those efforts are ultimately frustrating, sometimes even misguided, without Christ” (184). Moreover, Bessey makes the claim that “the Feminist Agenda” is, indeed, God’s agenda, because God cares about justice.
Nothing changes in a true, God-lasting way when we use people or push agendas or make finger-pointing arguments or accusations of heresy. The justice we are seeking is God’s justice—justice that leaves no one out, no one left behind. His justice breaks chains, rids the world of injustice, frees the oppressed, cancels debts (184).
As a young woman working for a church, Bessey’s writing speaks to me though I am perhaps not her intended audience, as she debunks the myth that church work is the ultimate calling. However, as a woman and a Christ-follower, I have wrestled with the questions that Bessey wrestles with in her pursuit of Jesus. As such, Bessey’s experiences and hopes resonated with me. The only thing I would change about this book would be to use gender-inclusive language for God. I understand that within the Christian world, understanding God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our bread and butter but using masculine pronouns for God becomes a stumbling block for some Jesus Feminists as they seek to understand God at work in their lives.
More than anything, I hope that young and old women read this book and feel empowered to pursue God’s calling on their lives. I hope that my seminary professors, who have done so much to encourage my pursuit of ministry, read it and keep doing what they are doing. I hope that complementarians read it, and, at the very least, hear Bessey’s prophetic voice to begin reconsidering their positions.
Naomi Wilson is the Director of Christian Education at Faith Presbyterian Church of Valley Village, nestled between North Hollywood and Studio City in beautiful sunny Southern California. She loves coffee, sunshine, books, and running.