Jesus Feminist: My Humble (and Slightly Pathetic) Attempt at a Review

I am participated in Jon Acuff’s “Empty Shelf 2014”.  Basically, you clear a shelf off one of your bookshelves and fill it with books you read in 2014.

I finished my first book Tuesday night: Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey.

My thoughts and emotions were all over the place during this read.  Part of the reason is that for most of the book, I wasn’t sure what the ultimate purpose of the book was and I couldn’t decide if I liked the author or if I agreed at all.

First, here were my reservations before reading.
1) I wasn’t sure where she was going to go with the feminist thing.
2) I have some serious issues with the theology and practices of a few of the church leaders who endorsed this book.
3) Sarah Bessey is one of those bloggers turned Christian living writers and, frankly, though they are good writers, their books are often overly sappy and the chapters are disjointed as if they are separate blog posts. (Side note: I think this concern was warranted.  The chapters did not flow well and I did not understand the primary argument of the book until about page 170 of 190. It was a frustrating read in that sense.)

And, to be fair, what I was hoping to find in the book:
1) The secondary heading after the title is “Exploring God’s Radical Notion that Women are People, Too” — I could tell she has a good sense of sarcasm and I wanted to hear her perspective.
2) I think there are many churches that overly limit the role of women and expect women to be flighty, stupid, and of little importance to the body of Christ.  More writers should be calling attention to this injustice.

Now for my thoughts having read the book:
For nearly all of the first chapter, I was right there with the author, saying “Amen” in my head.  You see, you don’t have to look far in the Bible to know that God cares deeply about women.  Eve was created, and he called her “good”.  God met Hagar in the wilderness and gave her water and a promise — He saw her.  Just read the gospel of Luke and you will see Jesus tenderly showing love and grace to women over and over.  And you don’t have to look far to understand that God doesn’t have limits on what women are able to do.  Deborah was judge over Israel – a woman leading a nation judicially, politically, militarily, spiritually…. Mary Magdalene was the first to testify of a resurrected Christ at a time when a woman’s testimony could not be admitted in court.  Yes, clearly God does think that women are people, too.

“Your sons and daughters shall prophesy…”

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So, as I got toward the end of Chapter 1, I was getting kind of excited.  And then, Bessey switched gears and threw out any sense of logic in her argument.  She writes, “The women of the gospel narrative ministered to Jesus, and they ministered with him.  The lack of women among the twelve disciples isn’t prescriptive or a precedent for exclusion of women any more than the choice of twelve Jewish men excludes Gentile men from leadership.”

Ummmm, excuse me, but what the what???

I’m not even going to get into the argument of whether or not women should be pastors and the head of local churches, because, honestly, though Bessey often hints that this is what she believes, she never lays out an argument for this and, by the time I got to the end of the book, I realized the issue of women pastors is not really what the book is about.  However, I found the above statement so contrary to what I believe to be accurate (and absurd, quite frankly) that I got a little angry and put the book down for a week.

I believe in the absolute sovereignty of a loving God.  I believe Jesus is the exact representation of His Father, and therefore is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient.  If, in His perfect wisdom, He believed that some women should have been part of the twelve disciples or of the first apostles, I believe he would have called them.  He was not sitting around helplessly thinking, “I need to announce my inner circle today but all the women are off doing laundry.  This is terrible.  I really wanted Beth and Sally on my team.  I guess I’ll just have to add some more guys.”

That could not possibly be what happened.  Jesus chose the twelve intentionally, and if I believe that, I must believe the reverse — he did not choose others equally intentionally.  It was not an oversight.  That’s all I’m saying about that.

The rest of the book goes on to talk about Bessey’s own experiences in the church, both positive and negative.  I got the sense, after a while, that she has been deeply hurt by the church and writes as one wounded, but longing for it all to be redeemed.  Reading some of the stories in the book made me want that, too.  At times, the tone of her plea sounded a whole lot like, “We just want our place at the table,” which drives me crazy, but I think part of that is her extremely sentimental and poetic writing style.  For example, there is one whole chapter that talks about her labor and delivery experiences and how they were so beautiful and ugly and painful and joyous that the were defining moments in her relationship with God.  Then, she states that there should be more sermons about childbirth and motherhood…..this isn’t theology, more just a personal preference, but I do not want it at all, especially if they are as graphic as her story.

So, what is a Jesus Feminist?  Well, when she finally got around to telling us, at the end of the book.  To be a Jesus Feminist is to fight for justice, to bring restoration.  To not leave one hurt unhealed.  To, in the words of Isaiah, “proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to comfort all who mourn, bestow on them beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.”

After listing many painful statistics about women and children throughout the world and here in the United States, Bessey concludes, “One needn’t identify as a feminist to participate in the redemptive movement of God for women in the world. The gospel is more than enough. Of course it is! But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti’s future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know that girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandoned and abused, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are attacked with acid for a crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can call me a feminist.”

Amen.  Call me one, too.

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