Debates have been raging for centuries about gender roles and a woman's place both in the church and outside of it. For women who are searching for answers to these questions and fervently seeking their place in God's work and the kingdom of heaven, author Sarah Bessey gives a thoughtful presentation on how following Jesus made a feminist out of her. She speaks directly to her audience with the hope that each reader will find the path to their own spiritual gifts and potential, encumbered by patriarchal church practices, and be able to step into a freer knowledge of what God has in store for women, who are every bit as important to Him as men.
Jesus Feminist was the latest pick for my church book club. I hadn't heard of it before, but the title intrigued me. I have to admit, though, that before I started reading it, based on the sub-title, An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women, I guess I was expecting a scholarly book that would dig into the Biblical views of womanhood a bit more. The author does have a couple of chapters where she takes a closer look at some of the often used Bible verses for supporting female submission, particularly the words of the apostle Paul, and gives a new take on them by exploring their historical and cultural contexts, which I appreciated. I also enjoyed the part where she discusses the original Hebrew words for woman in Genesis, ezer kenegdo, and how the translation of these words have been watered down to mean something they don't. A part of me wanted more of these types of scholarly explorations, because IMHO, they're the only thing that may persuade those who believe that woman is subordinate to man.
However, the further I read, the more I realized that this isn't the type of book Sarah Bessey was writing. She didn't seem to set out to challenge theology, so much as to celebrate and affirm the female experience within the context of Christianity and the church. She writes in a very conversational style that makes the reader feel like she's addressing them personally. Right in the Introduction, she invites the reader to join her by a bonfire on the beach, which of course, if a very relaxed environment that promotes healing and meditation, and she references it a few more times throughout the book. Then in the final chapter, "The Commission," she again addresses the reader very directly, sending them forth into the world to minister wherever and in whatever circumstances they might find themselves. With her bookending the narrative in such a personal way, it allows the reader to insert themselves into the author's vision and find encouragement and affirmation in her words.
Jesus Feminist was a very easy-to-read book that had a lot of good things to say about womanhood and who we are as a gender, especially in relationship to our faith. I was particularly encouraged by the section where the author discusses how Jesus related to women. It was very eye-opening for me, because it shows Jesus as someone who truly cares about women. He never bullied, dominated, or put down any woman who came to him, not even those who were considered fallen women, but instead, he always treated them with love, kindness and dignity, no matter where they were in their lives. IMHO, more Christian men need to follow Jesus' example, especially in light of current events. Another inspiring chapter was the one in which the author discusses many of the women of the Bible, as well as Christian women down through history. She explores how their contributions were integral to events of their times, and in many cases, we wouldn't be where we are without them. I also enjoyed the sections in which the author relates events from her own life and how they've shaped her and her evolving understanding of God over the years.
I know that many readers might take one look at the title of this book and turn away in disgust. As the one male member of our book club discussion said, "It's a shame that the word feminist has taken on negative connotations, when it's really about equality for both genders." The author herself has come up against many skeptics since starting to call herself a Jesus Feminist, but her love for Jesus is very clear in her writing and her faith informs her position. While this book may not persuade those who've dug in their heels and refuse to have anything to do with a book that's associated with the "f-word," I personally found it to be an uplifting book that gave me some new things to think about. I think that any woman who might be struggling with their place in the church and in God's plan could find encouragement here too.
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