“Jesus Feminist” and the Why We Need Women Theologians

Although John Piper and I would disagree on how this plays out, a quote of his has stood out to me:

Wimpy theology makes wimpy women. Wimpy theology simply does not give a woman a God that is big enough, strong enough, wise enough, and good enough to handle the realities of life in a way that magnifies the infinite worth of Jesus Christ.”

A few months back I read the book “Jesus Feminist” by Sarah Bessey. The book is simply marvelous. A lot of female theologians tend to bullhorn their theology in a way that is counteractive.  Bessey writes in a way that is empathetic and has a way of saying, “You may disagree, but we both love the Lord the same. Neither of us is more right than the other.”

Her book reminds me why we need female theologians:   We need people to express God’s Word in ways that are sensitive, nurturing, and that narrate the stories of our lives. Bessey’s book does that.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

So may there be grace and kindness, gentleness and love in our hearts, especially for the ones who we believe are profoundly wrong. The Good News is proclaimed when we love each other. I pray for unity beyond conformity, because loving-kindness preaches the gospel more beautifully and truthfully than any satirical blog post or point-by-point dismantling of another disciple’s reputation and teaching. (p5)

Years ago, I practiced anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over. I practiced being defensive —about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics. And then I went on the offense. I repeated outrage and anger. I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every inflammatory blog post, pontificate about every question. Any sniff of disagreement was a dinner bell clanging to my anger: Come and get it! Rally the troops! Like many of us, I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart, and I wondered why I had no real joy in this ongoing search for truth. . . I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism anymore. I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath (pp. 5-6).

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.  (p. 14).

I’m pretty sure my purpose here on earth isn’t to win arguments or perform hermeneutical gymnastics to impress the wealthiest 2 percent of the world. (p. 16).

Throughout the records of the Gospels, I saw how Jesus didn’t treat women any differently than men, and I liked that. We weren’t too precious for words, dainty like fine china . We received no free pass or delicate worries about our ability to understand or contribute or work. Women were not too sweet or weak for the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or too manipulative and prone to jealousy, insecurity, and deception to push back the kingdom of darkness. Jesus did not patronize, and he did not condescend. (pp. 17-18).

“God bless your mother— the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” Yet Jesus replied to this common blessing with “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”  Women aren’t simply or only blessed by giving birth to greatness; no, we are all blessed when we hear the Word of God—Jesus— and put it into practice. We don’t rely on secondhand blessings in Jesus.  (pp. 20-21).

I stopped expecting everyone to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done. In fact , I stopped using the word should about God altogether, I sought God, and he was faithful to answer me. I came to know him as “Abba”— a Daddy. He set me free from crippling approval addiction, from my Evangelical Hero Complex, from the fear of man. He bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul, restored the joy of church and community to our lives. I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical. And I found out that he is more than enough, always will be more than enough— yesterday, today, forever. (pp. 49-50).

Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of living in the Now and the Not Yet of the Kingdom of God, your wounds and hurts and aches, until you are satisfied that Abba is there too. You will not find your answers by ignoring the cry of your heart or by living a life of intellectual and spiritual dishonesty. (p. 52).

People want black-and-white answers, but Scripture is rainbow arch across a stormy sky. Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual; it is also a grand story, mystery, invitation, truth and wisdom, and a passionate love letter. (pp. 56-57).

It’s dangerous to cherry-pick a few stand-alone verses, particularly when they are used as a weapon to silence and intimidate, effectively benching half the church in the midst of holy harvest season when the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. But it is equally dangerous to simply get on with doing what we “feel” is right. We cannot ignore any portions of Scripture simply because they make our (post) modern selves uncomfortable. We can’t simply dismiss the parts of the Bible we don’t like— not if we call ourselves followers of The (whole) Way. Nor should we weigh the desires or practices of our own culture and personal experiences to the exclusion of Scripture or tradition  or reason. Theologian N. T. Wright believes that to affirm the “authority of Scripture” is precisely “not to say, ‘We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise anymore questions.’ It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions.” (pp. 58-59)

But then who is the spiritual head of your home? Only Jesus. Only ever our Jesus. (p. 74).

No, 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).

Stop waiting for someone else to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, a place, that you are called. Didn’t you know, darling? The One who knit you together in your mother’s womb is the one singing these words over you, you are chosen. Stop waiting for someone else to validate your created self: that is done. Stop holding your breath, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, through your quietness, your submission, your home, your children, and your “correct” doctrine that God has already freely given to you. Because, darling , you are valuable. You have worth, not because of your gender or your vocation or your marital status. Not because of your labels or your underlined approved-by-the-gatekeepers books or your accomplishments or your checked-off tick boxes next to the celebration you’ve mistaken as a job description in Proverbs 31. (pp. 192-193).

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