Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah BesseyJesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of WomenJesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey by Sarah Bessey

I liked the subtitle on this: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women.

I liked the additional teaser on the cover: Exploring God’s Radical Notion That Women Are People, Too.

I thought I’d be getting a thoughtful look at doctrine and history and scholarship (I mean, that’s what the description promised: “Through a thoughtful review of biblical teaching and church practices…” Instead, the book is heavy on Bessey’s feelings. Not just her’s, but other women’s feelings as well, about being denied opportunities in the church because of being female.

The book is much more of a memoir of Bessey and her experiences, and not really what the title and description promises. And that’s ok – I like memoirs. But I like to know I’m going to be reading a memoir, and not be expecting something else.

At times, it also reads like a series of blog posts cobbled together. I don’t read her blog much to know for sure how much of it is material she might have already published there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair amount is familiar. Update and correction, thanks to a comment from Katie. This is not reworked blog material, although it is on similar themes to what she writes about on her blog. However, as a new-to-her reader, at times the material still seemed not entirely cohesive.

The cobbled-together effect, combined with the difference in focus from what I was expecting made for a disappointing read. Some sections were fantastic, but others were so trite and felt like they were written purely to wring emotion from the reader. I don’t like being emotionally manipulated by what I read, and don’t find emotional arguments compelling.

Why yes, I am an INTJ, with a heavy emphasis on the INT part. That alone might be the reason for my dislike of the book – the approach she takes is not one that connects with me, and instead leaves me feeling aggravated.

Now for a bit of a disclaimer: It’s completely shallow, but I find one aspect of her writing to be so annoying and cringe-inducing that it’s possible that’s impacting my entire perspective of the book. Doubtful it’s that extreme, so let’s say that it’s making me take this down from a 2 star book to 1.5 stars.

Update: Katie has written a great comment, giving an alternate perspective on it. Even if you don’t usually read the comments, I’d encourage you to do so to see what she has to say about the book.

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Publisher’s Description:
Gender roles have been debated for centuries, and now Sarah Bessey offers a clarion freedom call for all who want to realize their giftedness and potential in the kingdom of God. Through a thoughtful review of biblical teaching and church practices, Bessey shares how following Jesus made a feminist out of her.

Book Details

Title: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of WomenJesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey
Author: Sarah Bessey
Category: Nonfiction / Faith
My Rating: 1.5 Stars

Disclosure: I received this book for free from NetGalley for review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Comments

  1. As a huge fan of Sarah Bessey’s, I’m here to unapologetically white knight. Not for the whole book or even your take on it, just one part of the review I can clear up a bit.

    While her writing is familiar to those who read her blog, she did NOT use old blog posts or cobble things she’d already written together. She treads some of the same topics or writes about similar ideas because that’s what her publisher asked for, but it’s new material, it’s not rewritten blog posts. Just for the record.

    I actually loved this, but I did love it as a memoir and a bit of a charismatic manifesto. Bessey is unapologetically a charismatic Christian and that did make some things hard for me, coming from and belonging to a background of essentially polite-discussion-after-church Christianity as opposed to the stand-up-and-shout-Amen variation. It’s not a theological treatise, and I do think the cover of the book and the synopses you find don’t make that clear at all.

    It’s also worth stating that I don’t feel she’s being emotionally manipulative at any point, because she really does write like that and I believe write how she feels/thinks. But it’s what she calls the “happy-clappy Christian” coming out, I think.

    I could see this being kind of a rough go when you didn’t know you were reading a memoir right off the bat. But I did like it, as a manifesto, and I think it would probably be best read by younger Christian women in their late teens/early adulthood who are just trying to figure out where they fit into Christianity if they DON’T just want to stay home and have ze babies.

    • Thanks for your comment and for clarifying about it not being reworked blog posts. I’ll correct that above.

      I’m certain I would have enjoyed it a little more if I’d known what to expect, and hadn’t thought I was getting something else based on the cover and description. That disappointment was tough to overcome, and then the mismatch + emotional writing = bad bad fit for me.

      I appreciate the alternate viewpoint!

  2. Do you think the disconnect between the cover and the content was deliberate or accidental? I could see it going either way.

    • I would hope it’s accidental, because otherwise it’s such a risk that you’ll get readers like me thinking it’ll be something else – wanting that something else – who end up much more disappointed in what it actually is. And I assume you turn off some readers who don’t want the other, but would have liked what it is.

      Although I assume the title & subtitle were picked for attention, and I have no issue with that (or them). It’s the description that aggravates me. Truth in advertising! It leads to happier readers! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Bummer. When I saw the cover in my feed, it sounded intriguing. I’m not big on memoirs, so I think I’ll pass on this one.

    • I’m having to restrain myself from gasping “you don’t like memoirs!?!?!” and making it a mission to figure out one that would make you change your mind ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • I’m kind of picky about memoirs, too, Kate. I think it’s really easy to make the mistake that your own private navel-gazing is interesting to other people, and it’s not, always.

        • Oh, definitely not always interesting (and I think that’s partially why I generally don’t like celebrity memoirs. Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean your life is interesting.)

          But I love it when a talented author can sculpt a story that makes their experiences resonate and becomes something interesting to a broader audience.

        • Glad I’m not the only one, Katie.

      • Haha. I’m up for the challenge if you want to make a suggestion.

        • Yay! Any particular topics that might make you more inclined to like a book. Like you love France, so one set there would be more appealing. You don’t really like sports, right, so that’s not a draw. Historical time periods? Careers? Locations?

          • Hmm. Maybe something with a mother-daughter or sister tie-in? Perhaps pre-WW2 or something more contemporary? Maybe Australia or England if not the US or Canada? Or maybe Africa? That’s kind of all over the place, I know.

          • That helps a lot.

            Ok, thinking quickly before I put the baby down for her nap. Australia with a lot of mother-daughter content = The Road from Coorain. Excellent excellent book (although I think the very beginning is a bit slow – don’t give up on it right away if you decide to try it). Time period is post-WW2. It’s got a great sequel too, True North.

            Africa has Casting with a Fragile Thread, which also has the sister tie in. It’s contemporary.

            Both of those books were ones I highlighted in my 31 Days of Great Nonfiction series from 2012 & 2013, and there are lots of other great memoirs on those lists. At least I think so. ๐Ÿ˜‰

            And another contemporary one from Africa is Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, and the author has several other books, including at least one memoir, although I haven’t read the others.

  4. Just about every blogger I read IDOLIZES Bessey and I just have never been that into her, so it’s nice to get someone else’s take on the book–all my usual review people thought it was The Best Lifechanging Book Ever but I suspected I would disagree. But hey, I’m an INTJ too! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    It does help to know it’s a memoir going into it, since I sometimes like memoirs and may still read it as that. I don’t come from that “happy clappy” Christian background, though, and I often have a hard time relating to memoirs by evangelicals. Do you know of any books that are a more intellectual take on the topic? I get very frustrated with progressive Christians whose main arguments are, “well, but this FEELS right.” That is not convincing to me, and makes me want to disagree with them even when I’m actually open to their point of view initially.

    I don’t know. This comment sounds bitter and I don’t mean to be, but I do get tired of the way people talk about the Besseys and the Held Evanses of the world (I’ve read little of either of them because the way people describe them is so off-putting, and yet clearly they’ve made a big impact on a lot of people).

    • I don’t come from that sort of background either, but I can usually read about it in a “this is fascinating – it’s like a foreign culture!” sort of way.

      And YES to the “this FEELS right” argument being so frustrating. That’s … not an argument. My T nature demands a real argument, not just FEELINGS.

      I actually liked Held Evanses’ earlier books Evolving in Monkey Town (now retitled to Faith Unraveled) and I *really* liked A Year of Biblical Womanhood), although her latest was a disappointment to me.

      Have you tried Lauren Winner? I gave her book Girl Meets God 4 stars, although it’s been so long I don’t remember specifics. She’s a history PhD & teaches at Duke , and if her book had been heavy on feelings I doubt I’d have thought so highly of it. She’s got several other books related to faith that I have been wanting to get to. Give her a try for a more intellectual look at the topic than this one was.

      • I do find it interesting in a “foreign culture” way too, but I maybe because of living in Oklahoma or the people I know or something, it seems everyone is Super Conservative Evangelical or Super Progressive Evangelical and both sides seem more concerned about convincing you they’re right than anything else. So I get irritated sometimes by these books.

        The thing is, logic is just as fallible as emotion–both are human and thus a part of the post-Fall world. Both can be used to convince yourself of lies and both can lead you away from God. I know our INTJ personalities see logic as superior, but it’s good to remember there’s a place for both reason and emotion in the world.

        That doesn’t make an emotional argument any more convincing to me personally, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • This doesn’t specifically relate to the topic of Bessey’s book, but I’d like to second the Lauren Winner rec. I didn’t like her second book, Still – but loved Girl Meets God and her newest, Wearing God, is amazing. It’s a look at the different ways God is described within the Bible and it really makes you reread verses you thought you knew really well with kind of a new eye.

      HEAVILY recommended.

      • Well, that’s disappointing to hear about Still – I was hoping it’d be as good as Girl Meets God. But that’s great to hear about Wearing God – I was already really excited to read it because of the premise, and hoped that it’d live up to it.

        • It’s still worth reading – I’ve found that the response to it varies pretty wildly, people either love it or are veeeeeery ‘meh’ (which is how I felt). I would probably still own it if I saw it used or on seeeeeerious sale, but it’s a book that felt very unfinished to me – like I was reading a second draft someone had mistakenly published. And that bothered me a lot.

          But I’ve seen people really just fall head-over-heels for it, so I don’t know. If you find it at your local library, I would still recommend giving it a try. But it definitely doesn’t live up to either Girls Meets God or Wearing God.

          • Thanks, ladies! I put Girl Meets God and Wearing God on hold at my library. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Thanks for the input – happily my library has all of her books, so it’ll be easy enough to give them a try. (I’m so spoiled by that awesome library.)

            Well, easy enough to get the books to try them. Getting them to the top of my reading list is another matter. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • I just finished Wearing God. Thank you, thank you, for the recommendation! It was excellent. I ended up ordering it on Amazon before I was even done with the library’s copy–which since I’m in the midst of a KonMari Tidy, is big praise.

            Girl Meets God is also in my library stack. Thank you again, Sheila and Kate!

          • That is big praise! I really need to bump that book up higher on my list and get to it soon!

          • It is the “thoughtful look at doctrine and history and scholarship” you said above that you wanted from Jesus Feminist (though on a different topic, obviously). I had to rush reading it to send it back, but it’s one I can see rereading, even just in pieces, and as being a good resource for Bible studies or devotions. It had that mix of personal connection (it’s not a memoir though she does refer often to her work at a women’s prison) and scholarly research that is exactly what I was looking for. I’m not saying I agreed with everything she said, but she referred constantly to the Bible itself and historical church figures and not just personal feelings and modern theologians. I do think you’ll enjoy it.

    • I’m curious Katie as to what topics you would like a more intellectual approach on in a book? I read a lot of Christian commentary and theological books. I might be able to suggest something.

      • It’s just not a subject I’ve read widely in. Contemporary issues and the church, general more recent theology.

  5. Thanks for posting about this book Sheila! Like someone mentioned in the comments, some bloggers are gaga for her. I’ve read a few of her posts but I too would’ve been looking for something other than a memoir based on the outside cover. Glad to know its not what I would’ve expected. I am, however, rather curious and confused as to something you said Bessey felt which was “denied opportunities in the church because of being female.” What church does she attend? My church (United Methodist) lets women do it all.
    I also agree with Lauren Winner being a good choice. I’ve read Still. It was good but not as much as girl meets God.

    • I don’t recall her specifically mentioning which denomination she attends, but Katie (the first one; we’ve got two Katie’s and one Kate commenting here) said she’s charismatic.

      I did wonder why she never really mentioned the possibility of switching to a different denomination (even if to explain why she wouldn’t). Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Wesleyans are all open to women being ordained, at least as far as I know without actually double-checking. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Although I don’t know where she lives precisely and what churches are even in the area.

      That’s one of the things that makes the book less memoir-like. If she’s wanting to talk about Christianity as a whole and the role of women, then it’s not just a matter of switching denominations – there are still so many that don’t allow women to take on any leadership roles. But so much of the book was a memoir, so why doesn’t she talk about that?

      • Yeah, I don’t remember specifically which, if any denomination. I know she’s in Canada. And I could see, if you’re a reformer sort of personality, why you would stay and agitate for change rather than just switch, but did she nor even mention at all that many denominations ARE egalitarian?

        Also, some Lutherans ordain women and some don’t. In America, ELCA is the more “liberal” denomination and LCMS is the more “conservative.”

        • Thanks for the clarification on the Lutherans. I should have guessed that the different branches would have different opinions on this.

Trackbacks

  1. […] did I get it: Borrowed it from the library. Why did I get it: It’s been on my TBR, and then a discussion in the comments on an earlier post motivated me to bump it up to the top of the […]

  2. […] first book, Jesus Feminist, was one of my most disappointing reads last year. It wasn’t the book I expected it to be, […]

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