A Word of Praise for ‘Jesus Feminist’ from a Complementarian

I just finished reading Sarah Bessey’s little yellow book, “Jesus Feminist”, and I want to applaud, hug her, and raise my wine glass in a toast.

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copyIt’s a beautiful book: redemptive, hopeful, saturated with the words and tone of the gospels. It is conversational yet profound. For all that she has tackled a hot-button topic, she has created a safe place in the pages of her book. It calls on us to consider that God has called and gifted ALL his children, men and women, to follow in His footsteps and participate in the great and wonderful work of seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth. Where ever we are, who ever we are: we are beloved, we are called, we are needed, we are commissioned.

How can you not want to applaud at these truths?

But did I mention that I’m one of those “complementarian” types? As much as I read about the roles men and women in the current church debate, I am still persuaded that Scripture has assigned different roles to men and women in marriage and ministry. For reasons I don’t want to dive too deeply into in this blog post, I am not convinced by the argument for “mutual submission”. I still can’t explain away that the Bible describes a wife’s submission to her husband and his love to her as being a model of our submission to Christ and His love to us. I understand submission as being a word which implies a voluntary yielding to authority, which by necessity means there has to be an authority relationship for submission to happen. We submit to Jesus, but he does not submit to us. He LOVES us. He SERVES us. But he doesn’t submit.

But do you know what? I don’t believe it matters that much, and Sarah Bessey’s book is a wonderful example of how believers can be on exactly the same page even if we disagree over interpretation on some points. To draw a line in the sand on this issue and stand toe-to-toe ready to shout is, as Bessey describes, “an adventure in missing the point.”

Why? Because the bigger issues at hand are the love and character and servant-heartedness of God’s people. When Bessey describes her egalitarian marriage, it sounds a lot like my complementarian one: we aim to serve one another, we put one another first, we are trying (with God’s gracious help) to put one another’s needs ahead of our own…. and friends, the way of other-person-centered love WORKS and brings joy in marriage, no matter what title you put on it.

In high school geometry I learned that complementary angles are two angles which add up to a Right Angle (90 degrees). I always understood complementarity in relationships to mean men and women together, both adding value side by side. I don’t believe that having different roles, or even acknowledging that there are relationships of authority and submission, necessarily means I am supporting patriarchy. Jesus and the Spirit submit to the Father (and not vice versa), but there is no patriarchy there.

Where oppression occurs, it occurs because of sin and a failure to love. Wives who are loved and nurtured in such a way that they flourish (as Ephesians 5 enjoins husbands to do) are unleashed to live a life of radical discipleship. I know this: I am a complementarian wife who teaches, who serves, who speaks, whose husband makes time for me to write. This is not the case for many though: there are many oppressed in the name of authority – and believers can and should speak up about this. Using authority for oppression is NEVER okay for God’s people. Never. The problem is not necessarily the existence of authority: it’s the sinful abuse of it. As one example: South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela is very different to how it is under Jacob Zuma: same system, different character.

I loved Sarah Bessey’s little yellow book. Loved it. Even though I thought we might be on “opposite sides of the fence” on a thorny issue. Even though I was nervous about the word “feminist”. I want ALL my beloved sisters to read the words of comfort and commissioning in this book, without fear of taking ‘sides’. This book is not about taking sides on “the women’s issue”; it is about men and women together being on Jesus’ side. I love that she has, in putting the emphasis on Jesus and His call to love God and love each other and love this world for all we are worth, put the spotlight squarely where it needs to be.

We are LOVED. We are commissioned. There is work to do and a world to serve and people to love. And for Jesus’ sake, this one-here-woman shouts a hearty ‘Amen’. If that’s what a Jesus feminist is, count me in. Even as a complementarian.

18 thoughts on “A Word of Praise for ‘Jesus Feminist’ from a Complementarian

  1. “I don’t believe it matters that much, and Sarah Bessey’s book is a wonderful example of how believers can be on exactly the same page even if we disagree over interpretation on some points.” – Yes! I’m egalitarian but can accept a soft/mild complementarian view (strict…no). Sadly though, I’ve experienced such divisiveness from some on BOTH sides of this issue. Some egals accuse me of not really being egal, because of my diplomacy. I even withdrew from an online egal group because of it. I was verbally attacked for attending a complementarian seminary, with insults about my seminary as well. No compromise – fully egal or nothing! So frustrating. But I have also been shunned by complementarians, who will have nothing to do with me because of my egal views. So thanks for your post and the spirit of it Bronwyn. I recently won a copy of this book and will read it soon!

  2. Oh Bronwyn, I wish we could sit down and have coffee together. I think we would get along famously! This was fantastically written.

    I “lean” more as a complementarian, but my DIL is egal! I am learning to listen to her heart on this issue….thankfully there is no animosity over it! Maybe I will read Jesus Femenist and she and I can chat about it!

    Above all else put on love which binds us all together……..

  3. Some of you best writing, Bronwyn. Which just goes to show–God has commissioned you, as a writer, as someone who speaks to many both male and female (Nic follows your blog and loves it) with a position of spiritual authority. And yet you’re also a model of a godly marriage and–dare I say it–wifely submission.

    Because it’s really about “men and women together being on Jesus’ side.” Thank you.

  4. Bronwyn, I am getting to this late but I want you to know I really appreciate your perspective. I think there is a lot of elitism and super moral self-righteousness on both sides of this issue that clouds our judgment. I have an egalitarian perspective and marriage, but I am a Mark Driscoll and Piper fan on many things and so appreciate what Reformed theology brings to the body. It took me a while to get here and I am still learning exactly how to live this out. But I know it involves more humility and less angry rightness. So thanks again for being genuinely open on this. I’m sure that’s what Sarah would hope for.

    • Thanks Sarah 🙂 your words are SO encouraging. I started reading more egalitarian stuff this year and said to my husband one night “I think I may have become an egalitarian today. But don’t worry, I don’t think this is going to change our marriage at all.” Haha! I’ve since found I still have more unanswered questions and can’t figure out where I stand on a few key issues and can t quite say I’m “changing camps”, but none of that kept me from feeling incredibly supporting of and empowered by the emphasis Sarah put on us being fully fledged and commissioned daughters of Gods kingdom!

  5. Love this post Brownwyn. It’s refreshing to hear a complimentarian not be quick to jump to ‘Sarah Bessey bashing’ and give a fair and balanced review of her important book.

    I’d love to be face-to-face with you one day so we could discuss these things more. I think we’d have a lovely time. 🙂 My understanding of submission is that it is yielding to another person’s will, not necessarily their authority (though we also use the word in reference to authority). To me, mutual submission is about yielding to one another – giving each other the “right of way”. It takes a lot of trust and humility, but our care and intention to ‘yield to one another’ has been a beautiful basis of a loving marriage for my husband and I – far before I ever even knew the words “egalitarian” or “complimentarian”. 🙂

    But regardless of “the issue” – you’ve beautifully expressed the heart of the matter, which is about loving women as He does and making room for them to be all He’s created us to be. I think we’re all learning how to do that better, myself included. Thanks for your willingness to ‘go there’. Keep on writing about the hard stuff – you do it with much grace. x

    • I would LOVE to talk with you face to face, Adriel! This would be one of so many things I’d like to chat about 🙂 maybe next time I’m in Australia, or you’re in Oregon….

  6. Lovely review, Bronwyn. While I embrace the egalitarian camp, I believe there’s something higher and better than theological positions… In the end, I’m sure Jesus won’t ask about our theology so much as, “How did you treat each other?” 🙂

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