“Are you a feminist?” I ask him, purposely provoking a conversation.
“Do you believe that women and men are equal in the sight of God and should be treated with mutual respect?”
“Of course! But I’m not a feminist.”
This is a conversation I’ve had many times with male friends and family members. Many times these people tend toward a complementarian perspective and the response is no surprise. Others really do subscribe to egalitarian theology and are simply opposed to using the term “feminist.”
Feminism is one of the most misunderstood movements in history. Christian feminism probably more so. For so many in the Christian world, feminism has become a dirty word. Evangelicals, especially, are afraid to label themselves as feminists. For whatever reason, the word “feminist” can evoke the image of a butch, bra-less woman with a lot of anger at men. But this is not feminism.
Feminism arose as a response to a patriarchal society. We wouldn’t need the word “feminist” if women and men had equal standing. Christians wouldn’t need feminism if the doors were open to women in all levels of leadership, if sermons promoted mutuality in marriage, and if women were not assumed to be interested only in children’s ministry or kitchen duty. But this isn’t our world… yet. And that’s why we need Sarah Bessey’s gentle reminder of the way of Jesus. Her bold new book, Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women is a beautiful anthem for Christian feminists—both a rallying cry for feminists and a warm invitation to those hesitant to claim the label.
If you’re looking for a scholarly exegesis of biblical passages about women, this is not the book for you. But there are plenty of books that come from academia on this topic. Instead, Bessey presents a fresh voice for Christian feminism that is accessible to all people.
Weaving biblical exposition into her personal reflection, Bessey describes how Jesus made her a feminist: his love broke down boundaries of gender, class, and ethnicity; and the entire redemptive arc of Scripture champions the case for women’s full inclusion in God’s kingdom. Our choice is whether or not to participate.
We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language. Feminism is just one way to participate in this redemptive movement. (p. 14)
With deep emotion, Bessey shares the stories of women who inspire her to join God’s redemptive movement to heal the world. These “spiritual midwives,” she calls them, are the authors and preachers, the friends, sisters, and aunties who are making God’s kingdom a reality on earth. She explores the biblical narratives of women in the Old and New Testaments. She describes Jesus’ love for women and his out-of-the-way approaches to drawing women into the kingdom. Bessey also explores Paul’s revolutionary messages about women and wives and highlights women evangelists and apostles that worked alongside Paul, such as Priscilla and Junia.
The spiritual midwives in her own life and the women of biblical and church history helped Bessey give birth to a new vision for biblical womanhood. Instead of defining biblical womanhood by a set of household chores, Bessey writes,
I am a biblical woman because I live and move and have my being in the daily reality of being a follower of Jesus, living in the reality of being loved, in full trust of my Abba. I am a biblical woman because I follow in the footsteps of all the biblical women who came before me. (pp. 97–98)
Bessey writes with energy and enthusiasm. Her words flow in a lyrical current. Her joy is contagious. Her book is the exact opposite of the brusque, violent, and unsettling images the word “feminist” evokes to some. Instead, Jesus Feminist breathes life into the often-maligned concept of feminism, reminding us that feminism is something Christians should celebrate.
If you want a book to give to your feminist friends and your feminist skeptics, pick up Jesus Feminist. Bessey’s gentle and profound reminder of the biblical message of feminism has the power to break down barriers, unravel misconceptions, and raise the spirits of undercover Jesus feminists.