I (Helen) have read a few books on the topic of women in ministry, ranging from the more scholarly (Good News for Women by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis), to the tongue-in-cheek (A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans). I’ve read excerpts of others, including Discovering Biblical Equality (especially the articles by Gordon D. Fee), and Why Not Women? by Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton. While all of these books and articles have contributed a lot to my thinking and studying on the topic of women in ministry (for a Women in Ministry lecture and for personal interest), Jesus Feminist by Canadian author Sarah Bessey, has been such a breath of fresh air for me. While I wouldn’t say she presented anything earth-shatteringly new for me as a student of this topic, her approach won me over. This approach is probably best encapsulated by her final sentences in her “thank you” chapter at the end of the book: “And Jesus: if I had an alabaster box full of expensive perfume, I would smash it on my front sidewalk. I just want to be with you, walking in your way, always” (p. 206).
The title “Jesus Feminist” might put some off, but Bessey gets right down to explaining how Jesus made a feminist of her, in the very first chapter. She outlines the history of feminism, reminding the reader that “feminism’s roots are tangled up with the strong Christian women’s commitments to the temperance movement, suffragist movements, and in America and England in particular, the abolitionist movements of the nineteenth century” (p. 12). She defines feminism as “the radical notion that women are people too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance – not greater than, but certainly not less than – to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women” (p. 13-14). She asserts that “in Christ, and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement – for both men and women – toward equality and freedom” (p. 14). She tells her own story of how she became a self-proclaimed “Jesus feminist,” and how it is Biblical to support such a claim. And she does it all with humility, grace, a distinct lack of snarky-ness, and with her eyes on Christ through it all.
I sincerely wish I could quote paragraph upon paragraph of Bessey’s book in this review; if I owned the book (I borrowed it from the library)I would have underlined something on every page. Jesus Feminist not only reminded me of the importance of embracing and championing the gifts of women in the church (including teaching and leadership), it really ministered to me as I read the freeing words of this woman who is completely in love with Jesus. Her words are not poised to be the winning jab in a theological fighting match, but are rather poured out in a desire to please her Savior, and uplift and celebrate others who love Him. The topic of women in ministry can sometimes feel like a never-ending debate surrounding a few verses of the Bible (often taken out of their historical context), but in her chapter “Kingdom Come,” Bessey reminds her readers,
“The Kingdom is a glimpse of true manhood and womanhood, without fear or stereotypes or abuses from the world. We are the restored image bearers in concert together, all participating, all parts functioning with holy interdependence. It’s trust and laughter and holy risk taking; it’s vocation and work and worship. It’s sharing leadership and responsibility. It’s turning away from the language of hierarchy and power to the posture of servanthood. It’s affirming all the seasons and callings of each other’s lives. It’s speaking out and working and advocating on behalf of our oppressed brothers and sisters around the world” (p. 165).
I really cannot say enough about this book. Other works may have more deeply informed my understanding of Scriptural interpretations and historical context of verses in question (and for a detailed, thorough examination of such verses, I recommend Good News for Women), but Jesus Feminist causes me to look to Jesus first and foremost: the Man and God who loved, championed, affirmed, and celebrated women, and longs for them to be actively involved in building His Kingdom, through the gifts His Spirit has given them.