I am an unapologetic egalitarian in regard to women’s roles in the church. I am glad to call myself a feminist (at least in the classic sense of the word.)
So when I read Jesus Feminist, I am not reading to evaluate an argument but to listen in solidarity.
Last week, I was recommending three types of books that are important in the egalitarian/complementarian debates to a complementarian friend open to discussion.
First, there are the theological books. These are the books that are primarily focused on the theological and biblical areas of the debate. These are important, but I think they are probably overly valued by complementarians because many complementarians believe that there are no biblical or theological ways to be an egalitarian and still value scripture. However, I have not read any books that I think are excellent in this area. I would recommend, Corporal Punishment in the Bible as a good introduction to the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic that is at the root of most egalitarian theological systems.
The second important type of book is the conversion book. Most of these books are from complementarian to egalitarian. The best introduction to this is How I Changed by Mind About Women in Leadership. This is a book put together with 22 chapters written or co-written by 26 different Evangelicals about how they moved from more complementarian toward more egalitarian. Not all of the voices support full ordination or women as senior pastors, but they all moved more toward the egalitarian side of the debate.
The third type of book is the type that Jesus Feminist fits in. These are memoir/narrative/calling books. They are not primarily theological and while they often have account of conversion, they are more about being a voice for why egalitarian issues are important. I could call them advocacy books, but that would unfairly lump them together with issue books that lean to propaganda.
Instead the importance of these books is hearing the actual voices of women (and sometimes men) as they wrestle with the right way to call women to a different role within the church. These books have the real voices and allow women to define their own views. (Instead of being unfairly stereotyped as people that hate men or reject the authority of scripture or are pushing an agenda at the sake of the gospel.)
Jesus Feminist has a ton of very good quotes. I will not turn this into a quote review, but I do want to highlight a couple. I am somewhat saddened that this needs to be said, but because I have seen the opposite said so often of Christian Feminism, I am glad that Sarah Bessey says so explicitly, “Biblical equality is not the endgame; it is one of the means to God’s big ending: all things redeemed, all things restored. Jesus feminism is only one thread in God’s beautiful woven story of redemption.”
But she also just before this said, “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.” And that also saddens me. I completely understand her point. We can get so wrapped up in debates that we forget the actual ministry of the gospel. And the debates are emotionally tiring and never end. However these debates are important to the conversion of many to egalitarian views.
On the other hand this whole book is Bessey’s attempt at engaging the debate and trying to say that what is important is actually the gospel. And part of the implication of the gospel is a movement toward egalitarian understanding of Christianity.
Jesus Feminist is one of the best of this type of books I have read (and I have read a number.) It tells Sarah Bessey’s own story, it deals with some of the theological and biblical issues, it talks about why feminist issues are important to the gospel, it issues a call and gives some suggestions about how to work on feminist issues (although resists the ‘5 steps to biblical feminism’ type of suggestions.)
This is a book worth reading regardless of where you are on the egalitarian/complimentarian spectrum. It is gentle, but clear and open to discussion.
(I also wanted to say I read much of it during late night feedings or while holding my newborn daughter. From what I have seen, many people have changed their minds about egalitarianism or become more involved because they have daughters. One survey I saw said that most women in business were mentored by men, because there were few women to be mentors. Of those men that were mentors nearly 90% had daughters.)
Added later: Kate Scott in her review at Parchment Girl noted that, “This is what makes Jesus Feminist so unique among its contemporaries: There is no trace of bitterness, no hint of blame, only the infectious desire of one woman to love her Savior wholeheartedly and to see the rest of Christendom do the same.” And I think that is exactly right. The strength of this book is its ability to speak clearly about problems of patriarchy within the church while clearly not being bitter.
The publisher provided me a PDF copy of the book for purposes of review. It was badly formatted for kindle and I was frustrated enough with the PDF and interested enough in the book that I purchased the kindle edition for myself. I have since purchased another kindle edition to give away.
Related Bookwi.se Book Reviews
- Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? by Millard Erickson
- How I Changed by Mind About Women in Leadership
- Corporal Punishment in the Bible by William Webb
- Junia is Not Alone by Scot McKnight