Book Review: Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey

“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out. Then you didn’t.

Out of Sorts: a state of being in one’s heart or mind or body. Often used to describe one’s sense of self at a time when you feel like everything you once knew for sure has to be figured out all over again.”

Thus begins Sarah Bessey’s book, Out of Sorts. Because she authored Jesus Feminist, Bessey’s new book was a must-read for me. I (Helen) loved Jesus Feminist and Bessey’s focus on Jesus throughout it. I looked forward to reading her second work, and purchased it within days of its publication.

Out-of-Sorts-Cover

The subtitle of Out of Sorts is “Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.” Bessey approaches the idea of evolving faith by sharing her own story of getting to know Jesus “through the happy-clappy songs of [her] tiny, happy-clappy childhood churches in the prairies of Canada,” through a season in which she and her husband realized the height of success was not full-time vocational ministry, through miscarriages and moves across the continent, to exploring other denominations’ expressions of faith. She describes her journey beautifully, making rest stops at subjects such as theology, interpreting the Bible, expressions of church, the gifts of the Spirit, and community. It was in these rest stops I found some of the most encouraging, “highlight-able” messages.

I loved what Bessey had to say about finding Jesus in expressions from different communities of faith. I grew up in a Presbyterian church that was liturgical in some senses. When I truly came to faith, it was in the context of being part of a Pentecostal young adults’ service. Since then, I have attended churches of numerous denominations, and have lately been embracing a liturgical prayer book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. At the same time, I’m part of YWAM, a multi-denominational organization. My evolving faith has found value in various ways of worshiping and praying, and walking “the well-worn paths that the pilgrims before me had carved out.”

Bessey’s chapter on grief and lament also resonated with me. I’m teaching Colossians on Monday, and I’ll be sharing about making Jesus center, in all seasons of our lives. As Bessey says, “As I sort through my faith, I’ve come to believe that almost all of our theology – and therefore our practical lives – has its roots in what we believe about the nature and character of God. It all tracks back.” Making Christ Cornerstone in our seasons of grief and lament, rather than falling back on pat answers and doing our best to retain the appearance of “victorious Christian living” in situations when we inwardly shudder, is part of sorting out our faith, and I loved Bessey’s honesty in addressing this.

While so much of Bessey’s book had me nodding along in agreement, the first half of “Getting into the Word: On Reading the Bible” left me with some major discomfort (specifically with regards to Bessey’s approach – borrowed from Peter Enns – as she sought to reconcile stories of genocide in the Old Testament, with Jesus in the New Testament). I loved what she had to say about her journey of understanding Paul’s letters (which is pretty much a testimonial of the value of inductive Bible study!), but in her efforts to understand the Old Testament, I felt Bessey was venturing down some very slippery (and not very inductive) slopes. At one point in Out of Sorts, Bessey says,

“We can be afraid to question. We are afraid that if we let ourselves question our theology or doctrines…we will be at risk…What if we go the wrong way? What if we find our way to the fabled slippery slope and tumble head long into the fall? What if what if what if?…And yet there is something exhilarating about a slippery slope. And there is usually rest waiting at the bottom.”

On one hand, I agree: if those slippery slopes lead us to know and love God and love our neighbor more fully, and to truly get to the bottom of how God is calling us to live out the timeless truths of Scripture, I’m for engaging them. Bible study is about asking questions! But when those slippery slopes call into question whether or not the Israelites actually heard the voice of God, I will not be getting out my toboggan to see what’s at the bottom, so to speak. (A friend and I were reading Out of Sorts at the same time – well, she finished it first! – and after wrapping up Bessey’s chapter on reading the Bible, I wrote her a long essay on genocide in the Old Testament, which I will spare you from. Long story short, God’s mercy is all over the Old Testament, and we needn’t put holes in the Bible to find it. His character doesn’t change.)

Overall, I did enjoy my reading of Out of Sorts. If you are wrestling with a particular issue, Bessey won’t address it and solve it for you. Her aim is to encourage you in your own journey of sorting out your faith, as it evolves and changes. While I strongly disagree with her interpretation of some Scripture (which is a big “while” for me, being a Bible teacher and all), I love her focus on Jesus, and her desire to love and serve Him, no matter where she is at in sorting out her own faith.

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