Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey: Revisiting the Bible's View of Women

I write a lot. And I read a lot. I find both relaxing, so I try to work both into my day. However, I don't write a lot about what I read. I guess it's because there are just so many other things that I want to write about.

But every now and again, I come across a book that has me so riled, I MUST write about it. If you remember the last adult book I reviewed, I didn't have very nice things to say about it. But this book, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, has me riled in a completely different way.

I want it to rile you too.
Sarah Bessey is a blogger who Sean and I follow. I love her style of writing and most of what she has to say. She is about to publish her first book, and Sean saw that there was an opportunity to get an advance copy and read it ahead of time. Then he told me the title, and I balked. "Uh, no. I'm not reading some feminist book." But he gently prompted me to read the synopsis by posting the link on my FaceBook wall. I knew he wanted to read it, but since I'm the blogger, I'd have to request the copy and agree to review it.

So being the good wife that I am, I did so, albeit begrudgingly. I believe I said, as I hit the download button, "I'll read and review it, but you know that I have to be honest in anything that I write. If I hate Jesus Feminist, then I'm writing that."

Since then, I can't tell you how many times I've thanked him for encouraging me to read it.

To fully understand why I loved this book so much, you have to know a little bit about my background. It would take too long to outline the whole thing, but here is a brief summary: I grew up thinking that women were doormats. They were the lesser partner in a marriage, and peons in the church. If there was sin, most likely it was the woman's fault. Let's just say that my hubby put me through counseling a time or two both before and after we got married. That is an extremely hard mindset to shake once it settles into the brain.

And Jesus Feminist addresses a lot of that.

In her book, Sarah Bessey takes on the subject of women in the church and their role in Kingdom activities. I truly thought that it would have a "men are turds" type of spin to it, but it was actually the furthest thing from that. Her issue is that women aren't "allowed" to pursue their full potential in the church. True, she does briefly discuss women pastors (which I don't agree with), but she takes it so much further than that.

Women are consistently put into a certain box within the church: children's ministry, hospitality ministry, women's ministry, keep the kitchen clean ministry, review Sunday School curriculum ministry, etc. Regardless of the strengths and skills that God has given them, there is this perception of what is acceptable for a woman to do within a church, and she is limited to that. Bessey argues that by trying to fit women into that box, the Kingdom is missing out on some serious contributors.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of those ministries. Nothing at all! In fact, I help with or participate in several of those. However, the fact is that in all of the churches I've been in, I've never been asked if I'd like to help with the maintenance duties or be on the finance committee. No one has asked about my strengths in those areas because...I'm a woman. And the truth is that if two identical candidates were being considered by a church for a ministry with the only difference being gender, the decision is often gender based.

I think the part of her book that I enjoyed the most was the section where she looked at women in the Bible more in depth.

  • Deborah? She was an army commander and a judge.
  • Priscilla? She ran a business with her husband and is actually mentioned by name before her husband in Biblical passages; a decidedly uncultural move.
  • The Proverbs 31 Woman? She worked outside her home. And yet so many Christian women are told today that their place is in the home and no where else.

And the list goes on. As many times as I've read about those women, I haven't ever understood how strong and effective they were in their roles. Roles that were not "with the time" as women truly were second class in that culture. These women had strengths and talents that they used to glorify God and further His Kingdom, and they were commended for that rather than shut down.

And that is where the title, Jesus Feminist, comes from. Jesus saw women as equals in the part that they play in the Kingdom battle. He didn't see gender. But Bessey carefully avoids condemning men. At the same time that she is asking that women be given a chance to use their God-given gifts, she is encouraging an equal partnership with men. I very much appreciate that she never bashes men, and instead sees the bigger picture of what can be done when men and women partner together. What a gift to be seen as equally important to God!

As a woman who has struggled with finding an identity in Jesus and in the church, I found this book met me in a place that I couldn't even verbalize. It's so discouraging to live thinking of oneself as a second class citizen. But the Jesus I follow does not see me as dispensable because I'm "just" a woman. God made me a woman on purpose. He gave me strengths and skills on purpose. And He wants me to be purposeful in how I use them for His glory. He didn't give me my gender to keep me down, but rather because I could most effectively serve Him with my unique talents as a woman.

Jesus Feminist helped me see myself as Jesus sees me: precious, beautiful, vibrant, strong, cherished, and unique. Someone that He loves enough to die for. How encouraging and freeing to find myself loved that much!

It's true, I have the advance ebook version of Jesus Feminist, but I still pre-ordered the paperback version of this book a few days ago. I need a copy in my library to remind myself of my value in the coming days as I do my best to be an effective servant of Jesus. I also wanted a copy to lend out. I hope that by the time my children (boys and girls!) are old enough to read it, my copy will be so dog-eared from so much use, that I will have to buy a new copy.

I strongly encourage men and women alike to read this book and see gender roles from a different perspective. I can't recommend this book enough! It is easily one of my all time favorites!

I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my honest review. No other compensation was provided. This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, please see my disclaimer page.


  1. Wow, high praise for a book you thought you would hate!

  2. You know, I bet our growing up backgrounds are fairly similar from a religious perspective. It took me a long time as well to shake some of the damaging ideas I grew up with.

    This will be a must-read for me!

    I also really liked "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" ;)

  3. I am totally getting this book. While men and women on the whole have different strengths, He made all of us different. Some women are better in a certain area than most men, and vice versa. He made each of us to be individuals and for a purpose. I work side by side with my husband and it is so gratifying that he sees me that way, as capable of that. It sounds to me like you have a pretty awesome hubby too :) Thanks for the book recommendation!

  4. Also meant to say this post was so well thought out and personal too, I really appreciate that :)

  5. I have go to read this book! I firmly believe that women should have more of an active role in decision making in the church. In fact the only thing I think the bible says against women in that regard is they aren't to instruct or teach men, but it doesn't say their opinions aren't important.

    Thanks for the review, this is going on my got to have it list.

  6. Rebecca, this made my day. Thank you so much!

  7. Sounds like a great book! I think women should certainly have a big role in the church. I guess we are lucky to attend the church we do, because it isn't a problem there. Our head of maintenance is a woman and we also have a female treasurer. The funny thing is it's a church that on the outside people would probably look at as being "old fashioned."

  8. Great review! I think I would love this book. I think the author and I would agree on quite a few points, and I also enjoy reading about women of the Bible.

    Thank you so much for being my 999 follower on Twitter. :)

  9. I've read a number of books on this topic too, including an 800 page thesis on the difficult passages pertaining to woman in the New Testament. This interpretation is solid and scripturally sound, despite all the protests that arise from the traditional view (yup, have read those too!). When we put aside our preconceived ideas and cultural mindsets, we might just be surprised by what we find. I will definitely be adding this one to my library, thanks Rebecca!


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