Jesus Feminist is a wonderfully provocative title, and if that weren’t enough, the cover of the book adds “An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women” and “Exploring God’s Radical Notion that Women are People, Too.”
The notion isn’t really that radical. In Canada, women were legally recognized as “persons” in 1929. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s Women, Men, and the Bible (first published in 1977) helped me think through some of the same issues raised in Jesus Feminist. I’ve written on women in the Bible myself and have long appreciated the way Jesus welcomed, called, supported, and empowered women in the gospels and continues to do so today. As I see it, it’s not so much the Bible’s view of women that gets revisited in this book, but a particular conservative and hierarchical interpretation of the Bible that’s at issue.
Many read the Bible in a different and more mutual way, as author Sarah Bessey points out. Concerning marriage, for example, she writes (page 74):
Like many other Christians throughout the ages, we believe Scripture teaches mutual submission in marriage, and so we strive for our marriage to be a reflection of the original God-created order–we endeavor to make our marriage a restoration of oneness, of equality, of two lives in the concert of playing second fiddle to one another; we are allies and restored image bearers slow dancing here beside the rocks in the light of the moon, affirming the truth that every marriage is as unique as the image bearers within the covenant.
What’s new for me in this book isn’t so much the notion that women are people, or that marriage means mutual submission, but the way Sarah articulates these basic understandings–in vividly poetic language and by sharing her own personal experience. Although we live in the same city, we’ve never met, yet her voice comes through so clearly that I feel as if I know her.
I also appreciate that her feminism is part of a broad vision of Christian mission. For her, the full equality of women isn’t an end in itself, but is fundamentally part of God’s redemptive work in the world that we are called to embrace and live in all its fullness.
I resonate deeply with her words here (page 171):
I’m through wasting my time with debates about women-should-do-this and women-should-not-do-that boundaries. I’m out. What an adventure in missing the point. These are the small, small arguments about a small, small god.
Our big and good God is at work in the world, and we have been invited to participate fully–however God has gifted and equipped and called each of us.
And also here (pages 194-195):
All of this matters, of course, because you matter, because your daughters and sons matter, because your sisters and brothers matter, because the people of God and the entirely of his created world matters, and the mission of God matters, because redemption matters. It matters whether you are silenced in Illinois or in India–whether it’s your actual breathing life or your soul life–so we’ll keep up the holy work, however that looks, keep prophesying with our very lives; we’ll keep worshipping, keep loving, keep making space for God in the world and in each other, space for holy grace to fill. The Kingdom of God will be better with your voice, your hands, your experiences, your stories, your truth. You can go where I cannot go, and someone needs to hear you sing your song. You are someone’s invitation.
Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, and satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.
I could go on quoting from Sarah’s book–her beautiful prose is both invitation and commission to kingdom living. But I’m going to stop here and instead encourage you to get your own copy. If you’re interested in revisiting the Bible’s view of women, if you’d like to be encouraged in a wholistic vision of Christian mission, then this book is for you.
[Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in return for my honest review.]