A Saturday Book Review: Jesus Feminist

Wouldn’t this be a fun little blog series? Book reviews on Saturdays? We’ll see. 

I have loved Sarah Bessey’s blog for quite a while, so I bought Jesus Feminist almost as soon as it released. It took me awhile to get around to starting it–I hate being in the middle of too many books at once–and I’m just now, finally finishing the book.

It started slow for me. I’m not sure why. In the first few chapters, (though, in all honesty, it’s been awhile since I read them, so maybe my memory is foggy!) it was a little more cut-and-dry, a little less flowery and poetic than most of Bessey’ writing. That caught me off guard, and I had trouble getting into a good rhythm. Still, I was determined to power through and finish.

I’m so glad I did.

I’ve willingly embraced and self-identified with the word feminist for a long time: ever since the day in AP US History when Mr. O’Brien said, “Raise your hand if you want women to vote. Guess what? That makes you a feminist.” I probably identified with the word long before that, but didn’t realize why. It’s a running joke between Evan and I, when I get fired up about some issue or story and he says, “Oh, it’s because you’re a feminist. Ian, your mother is a feminist.” And we laugh. Because doesn’t that word make people uncomfortable? I guess we start to identify certain monikers with the most extreme of their followers. In the same way that we use “liberal” and “right-wing” to deride those on the other side of the aisle, we love to use labels we don’t understand to put up barriers and isolate ourselves.

Personally, I’ve wrestled with the word as I’ve wrestled with my own calling. I’m a mom. I work full-time out of the home, and I work part-time from home. I’m a wife. I’m a writer. I’m a former teacher. I work in ministry. Politically, I waver back and forth between liberal and conservative depending on the issue, and I am staunchly pro-life, but that stance means much more to me than simply being anti-abortion. All that being said, I recognize that many within American evangelicalism will have differing opinions on whether or not I’m embracing my “true calling” as a woman, and whether or not I’m exemplifying “biblical womanhood” (though I shudder to even use that expression).

I, like many women, wrestle with comparison. I fear that if I were to stay home with my kids, I might be doing my most important work but not living up to my full potential vocationally. When I work, I feel guilty that I’m not at home. I imagine this is why more women don’t self-identify as feminists, or at least aren’t talking about it. Because each of us wrestles with the idea that we are simply not enough, that we can’t fully identify with the phrase because perhaps we aren’t fully in one camp or another. But there’s a better way.

Bessey outlines how a desire to participate more fully in the building of God’s Kingdom made her a feminist. She writes, “…in Christ, and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement–for both men and women–toward equality and freedom.  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.”

Once I hit Chapter 6, I couldn’t put this book down. I actually read Chapter 7 twice, in part because my mind needed some extra time to sort out my thoughts but mostly because it was just so good.

As the book goes on, Bessey writes about motherhood changed her understanding of God, her relationship with Him, and her sense of how He’s at work in her own life. I resonated so deeply with what she wrote in these chapters. My relationship with God had changed as a result of pregnancy and motherhood, but Bessey put it into words in a way that I could not. I practically underlined the entire chapter, and I prayed and cried my way through much of it.

Overall, though, the message of this book goes far beyond motherhood or womanhood or feminism. It’s just about the gospel. Bessey’s love for Jesus is captivating, and it oozes out of every paragraph. Her writing is humble, beautiful and encouraging, and at it’s heart, the book is about acknowledging the worth and value God sees in each of us, regardless of gender or gifting. It’s about embracing our identity in Christ, affirming that identity in others, and engaging fully in the work of building God’s kingdom.

“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 gifts of this world.”  (pg. 195)

This is a message I’ll never grow tired of hearing, and one I need to be reminded of often. I have worth and value not because of my capabilities, my accomplishments, or my choices. I have worth and value because I am a child of God.

If you flip through my copy of the book, you’ll find an awful lot of underlining. You’ll also see a lot of “Yes!” and “Love!” and “Amen” scribbled in the margins. It’s that kind of book.

“That’s the work of the gospel, isn’t it? Not me first; it’s you first–we’re all equal to serve. I want both men and women to flourish in their God-ordained self; I want women around the world to be safe and well educated, to have rights of citizenship, voting, and property; safe arrivals of their babies, the choice of marriage for love, freedom from sexual exploitation. Our energy goes toward the Kingdom as part of our participation in Kingdom living, and we do it on behalf of others first.” (pg. 195)

Let it be so, Jesus.


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