Women Are People Too

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of WomenSarah Bessey. (Howard Books, 2013) $14.99

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copyIn recent years, there has been a backlash against egalitarianism and Christian Feminism emerging from what could be described as the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the Church. Fortunately, the voices coming from the other side have been equally loud, calling for mutual submission in the household and full participation of women in ministry. In this conversation, Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist (2013) stands out. She addresses the Church’s treatment of women with the end goal of “exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.” At first, I thought this subtitle seemed almost satirical, but in light of the more outspoken complementarians who have published recently, it is perhaps more warranted than my initial impression would have allowed.

Bessey’s gentle and humble tone sets her book apart. From the very first pages, it reads as a letter from a dear friend. In a debate which is fraught with conflict, mud-slinging, and name-calling, Bessey looks for the positive, encouraging women to live into their God-given potential. Rather than spending time debunking arguments on the other side (as many egalitarians do with Wayne Grudem and John Piper), Bessey spends most of the book talking about what women have done, and are currently doing in service to God, the Church, and the world. Her book reminds me of The Junia Project in that it seeks to equip and empower rather than to argue.

The core of Bessey’s argument is that her Feminism is a response to what she cares the most about—following Jesus. The best way for Christians to pursue women’s equality is for us to pursue Christ. “We must remember that all of those efforts are ultimately frustrating, sometimes even misguided, without Christ” (184). Moreover, Bessey makes the claim that “the Feminist Agenda” is, indeed, God’s agenda, because God cares about justice.

Nothing changes in a true, God-lasting way when we use people or push agendas or make finger-pointing arguments or accusations of heresy. The justice we are seeking is God’s justice—justice that leaves no one out, no one left behind. His justice breaks chains, rids the world of injustice, frees the oppressed, cancels debts (184).

As a young woman working for a church, Bessey’s writing speaks to me though I am perhaps not her intended audience, as she debunks the myth that church work is the ultimate calling. However, as a woman and a Christ-follower, I have wrestled with the questions that Bessey wrestles with in her pursuit of Jesus. As such, Bessey’s experiences and hopes resonated with me. The only thing I would change about this book would be to use gender-inclusive language for God. I understand that within the Christian world, understanding God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our bread and butter but using masculine pronouns for God becomes a stumbling block for some Jesus Feminists as they seek to understand God at work in their lives.

More than anything, I hope that young and old women read this book and feel empowered to pursue God’s calling on their lives. I hope that my seminary professors, who have done so much to encourage my pursuit of ministry, read it and keep doing what they are doing. I hope that complementarians read it, and, at the very least, hear Bessey’s prophetic voice to begin reconsidering their positions.

Naomi Wilson is the Director of Christian Education at Faith Presbyterian Church of Valley Village, nestled between North Hollywood and Studio City in beautiful sunny Southern California. She loves coffee, sunshine, books, and running.

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God is Red: A History of Christianity in Communist China

God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, Liao Yiwu. (Harper One 2011) $14.99

God Is RedIn God is Red, historian Liao Yiwu tells the story of Christian missionary workers and the house church movement throughout the twentieth century in China under totalitarian government. For his previous writings, Liao has been imprisoned and his books banned. “But what if we, as a nation, collectively lose our memory of the past?” Liao asks.

This question haunts the entire book, a fear that is reminiscent of Orwell’s perennial classic. Liao delves “into the past and present experiences of a particular group of people in search of clues about China’s future,” interweaving and linking several interviews conducted in the Yunnan province of southwest China between 2002 and 2010. Albeit a particular story about Christianity in China, God is Red takes on the political dragon to record the country’s moment of faith crisis in the wake of a push for modernization.

Readers will find this an easy book to get lost in: Liao recounts the interviews cleanly without losing the humor, as well capturing the Chinese way of telling a story poetically,

I followed Brother Yang, clutching both hands in front of my chest, tears streaming down like raindrops. I tell you, I wasn’t overcome with grief. I felt grateful. For the first time in my life, I didn’t think about myself or about human beings. I was thinking about God, who is above us, above all living things, above the highest mountain, above Erhai Lake. My parents gave birth to me, but God gave me life. I didn’t know that before. Cancer helped enlighten me, giving winder to my heart, which had been downtrodden in the mud, and made it fly and feel the bliss of heaven. Continue reading

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A Thicker Jesus

A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, Glen H. Stassen (Westminster John Knox Press, 2012) $25

a-thicker-jesusFrom my days at Fuller Theological Seminary, I so enjoyed the perspective taught and embodied by Dr. Glen Stassen.  His ethics course and seminal text, Kingdom Ethics, gave useful language for budding young seminarians like myself on how the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount must infuse every part of our ethical decisions.  His stories about marching with Dr. King inspired me about the value of civil disobedience and political actions today.  His teachings on just peacemaking, gender roles, and the death penalty deeply guided me into the methodology of forming ethical convictions with the narrative of Scripture as a framework. And more than that, his faithfulness as an educator and a follower of Christ gave life to his teachings and proved an authentic model of deeply reflective pastoral engagement in the world through the power of the living Christ.

Though it had been years since my time with Dr. Stassen, I was eager to dive into his newest text, A Thicker Jesus and the book did not disappoint. I was immediately struck by how helpful this text would be for the field of practical theology as it matures as an academic discipline.  As a academic, Stassen only wants to deepen the conversation about Christian discipleship rather than water down any convictions for the sake of accessibility.  Stassen’s work serves as a robust text for defending a Christian ethic of incarnation and engagement in social inequalities.  Building upon the shoulders of his major influencer, theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stassen propones that one of the primary challenges for the Church today is to confront secularism with a costly discipleship that will provide the resources for renewal and revival. Incarnational discipleship, as defined by Stassen, will represent three spheres: a thicker interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth, the holistic sovereignty of God, and the Holy Spirit moving the church to what Stassen calls a “repentance from ideological entanglement.”  I could not agree more.  He looks to utilize such a formula as a model to help resolve some of the many challenges facing the Church in the 21st century.  Heroes of the faith throughout Christian history, in his assessment, all share the common trait of a ‘deep and specific interpretation of the apostolic and biblical witness to Jesus Christ.’ Continue reading

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Lamin Sanneh: Culture, Translation and the Life of Faith

Summoned from the Margins: Homecoming of an African, Lamin Sanneh  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2012) $24

Summoned from the MarginsMy claim is that no one language can substitute for the truth of God, that as children of God we learn and speak the language of faith always imperfectly and provisionally, and that the divine perfection is beyond cultural advantage or disadvantage.

This is the heart of the book, Summoned from the Margins, by Lamin Sanneh, Professor of World Christianity at Yale University.

Born in Gambia, trained at Edinburgh and Harvard universities, Dr. Sanneh has made the transition from Islam to Christianity, from Methodist to Catholic, over the space of half a century. His book is the exploration of a conversion from unlikely places to unimagined ones: summoned by a Savior to a religion about which he had little knowledge, and a marginal one in a society where the everyday came into tangible contact with, and was largely dictated by, Islamic thought.  Along the way, Dr. Sanneh explores how Christianity dialogues with Islam, and why the two religions often clash in dialogue, coming as they do from two paradigms that often speak past each other.

Following a post-secondary education in The Gambia, Sanneh decided to apply for the full scholarship offered to students at that time by the United States government for enrollment at an American university. He arrived in Virginia in 1963 into the turmoil and conflict of the civil rights movement. “…Nothing in our background prepared us for America: we had no value system to deal with race, and no fund of personal experience to draw on for understanding or self-preservation.” Nevertheless, he continued on in pursuit of his studies, realizing along the way that his interest in history matched up with his religious interest. Continue reading

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Literary But Not Literal: Spong on the Gospel of John

The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, John Shelby Spong (HarperOne 2013)  $26.99

fourth gospelJohn Shelby Spong is something of a legend within the contemporary Christian thought leadership. Through a 24-book writing career and two-and-a-half decades as bishop to New Jersey Episcopalians, Spong is known for trenchant comments in interviews, dismantling the claims of evangelical orthodoxy, and furious pushback from those who deem him a heretic and a threat to the Christian flock.

A Gentle Testimony

Given Spong’s reputation for boundary-pushing and dangerous thinking, I was a bit surprised to see this gentle testimony in the preface:

Jesus walked beyond the boundaries of his religion into a new vision of God. I think that this is what I also have done and that is what I want to celebrate. God is ultimate. Christianity is not. The only way I know how to walk into the ultimacy of God, however, is to walk through Christianity. I claim not that the Christian path is the exclusive path, but that it is the only path I know and thus the only path on which I can walk. (x)

This sentiment, not wolf-like at all, represents the book’s deep, non-creedal commitment to Christianity as “the way of Jesus” that inspires life. It’s also a foundational component of the book that might resonate with readers who want to hear more from non-literalist Christian writers, teachers, and lay members. The Fourth Gospel is designed for that audience; it’s a thoroughly Christian literary reading of John, and emerged from a five-year study of the gospel text, translations, and all major commentaries on John’s gospel published since the 1800s. Continue reading

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The Poetry Drone: Prophecy for Our Time

The Poetry Drone (known lovingly as the “Po Dro”) is a creation of LA-based poet, David Shook. In a modern-day effort to “beat swords into plowshares” Shook is seeking to arm a drone with—not bombs—but anti-war poems printed on flower paper. The project’s received considerable media attention with write ups in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Vice, Huffington Post, and even a mention in The New Yorker. It is what Dave Harrity of Antler calls “a contemporary act of prophecy, though it professes no religious affiliation.” In his brief interview with Shook, Pedrito Ortiz finds out where Shook got the inspirationally “ludicrous” idea for this project, as well as his take on poetry and politics. To learn more, visit the Kickstarter page here.

—The Editors

Poetry-DronePedrito Ortiz
How did you come up with the idea for the poetry drone?

David Shook I had just translated an interview that Nathalie Handal did with the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, who I admire a lot. In it he discusses his work with the Colectiva de Acciones de Arte, a collective he was a part of under Pinochet, which eventually led to two of his most inspiring projects: writing a poem with a plane in the sky over Queens, and bulldozing another into the Atacama desert in Northern Chile. The next day, I was meeting with a visual artist, my friend Laura Peters, to discuss an installation I had commissioned her to build for a festival, an enormous nose made of foam, about 2’ by 3’, to promote Mario Bellatin’s Shiki Nagaoka. We were discussing the nose, brainstorming other unconventional methods of promoting literature, when our waiter, another friend of mine, approached. He listened in for a second before offering his own seemingly ludicrous suggestion: a poetry drone. He might have been stoned. I left the meeting and immediately went home to google drones, to see if the idea was even possible, affordable, legal. A couple days later I launched my fundraising campaign.

PO Do you consider yourself a political poet? Continue reading

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Sex, Shame and Healing: A Memoir of a Sex Surrogate

An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner, Cheryl T. Cohen Green with Lorna Garano (Soft Skull Press, 2012)  $15.95

an-intimate-life-sex-love-and-my-journey-as-a-surrogate-partnerFollowing Helen Hunt’s portrayal of her in last year’s The Sessions, Cheryl Cohen Green decided to write a book to better explain her profession as a sex surrogate. Based in San Francisco and a student of the Masters and Johnsons model of sex therapy, Cohen Greene offers a series of vignettes interspersed with her memoirs of a good Catholic girl who grew up to disappoint and frustrate her parents. A familiar and cliché trope perhaps, but given the nature of her work a curiously unique one. What does one do as a sex surrogate? And how is that different from prostitution?

Unfortunately, Cohen Greene’s memoir doesn’t answer either of those questions. I’ve read several articles, books, and essays on sex surrogacy and while this is certainly one of the more human treatments of the profession, the book suffers from the author’s inability to expressly name how her work differs from prostitution – a fact that she readily admits neither The Sessions nor, in her final paragraph, she herself has been able to resolve. Continue reading

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A Little Borrow, a Little New, What’s Scriptural to You?

A New New Testament, Ed. Hal Taussig (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) $32.00

NewNewTestamentOne of the primary questions you will need to ask yourself before picking up A New New Testament is whether you are comfortable reading religious texts at all. For many Christians, there is a strong compulsion to categorically reject “extra” texts – the Book of Mormon and the Apocrypha being the most readily known examples.

Collected here are a handful of documents that challenge, even at times subvert, conventional doctrine and what we think we know about the Christian Scriptures. Are we comfortable with Paul being a celebrity, even (arguably) a heartthrob to young girls as he is in The Acts of Paul and Thecla? Editor Hal Taussig is one of the world’s foremost scholars on worship and culture of early Christian communities and his scholarship is most evident in the introductory notes to each book (even the globally accepted standard 27 with which you are most familiar). It is there, in the notes and commentary rather than the 10 “new” texts that Evangelical thought will be most challenged. Taussig makes no apologies for his scholarship but presents a more well-defined constellation of beliefs that were being discussed after the death and supposed resurrection of the Christ. Continue reading

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Postmodern Apologetics?

Hillhurst Review Editor-in-Chief, Ryan Bell, has joined a group of bloggers at The Spectrum Blog to reflect, chapter-by-chapter, through Christina M. Gschwandtner’s book Postmodern Apologetics? (Fordham University Press, 2012). His post on chapter 2, “Emmanuel Lévinas and the Infinite,” is online now. Read it below and join the conversation at The Spectrum Blog.

postmodern apologeticsJust over two years ago I got a tattoo on my left forearm. It is a single word in Hebrew: hineni. In English, hineni means, “Here I am.” It is what Abraham says to God when God calls his name, asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is what Samuel says after discovering that it is God, not Eli, calling his name. It is what Isaiah says when he is overcome by the glory of God in Isaiah 6—“Here I am.” In Lévinas’ native French, it is easy to see that the expression is in the accusative. The speaker is not the actor but is rather the acted upon, the called upon, the “accused.”

For Lévinas, this is the appropriate response when we are encountered by the other. He departs from Heidegger in a fundamental way in his approach to phenomenology. For Heidegger, the emphasis was on the knowing subject, concerned with Being and apprehension of the things themselves. Lévinas argues that this desire to apprehend and understand objectifies the other—particularly the human other—and reduces them to “the same.” This approach to philosophy collapses what Lévinas sees as the irreducible alterity of the other. This difference must be maintained, otherwise we do violence to the other.

In a telling statement, Gschwandtner writes:

What is other or different or strange or incomprehensible is scary, unsettling, and fearful. The stranger has always been a threat on some level. So what do we do when something or someone is “strange” or “different”? Either we destroy: try to eliminate the scary stranger, to wipe out anything that induces fear. Or we assimilate, comprehend (encompass), make like us—so the stranger really becomes merely another version of the self. Lévinas calls this “reducing the other to the same” (42).

Read the rest here.

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Thriving in the Connection Economy

The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2012) $24.95

icarus-deceptionAre you an artist? In today’s connection economy you better be.

Seth Godin offers an ultimatum to the readers of his self-proclaimed most daring book yet, The Icarus Deception, a book he funded on Kickstarter, meeting his $40,000 goal in the campaign’s first three hours. Godin challenges his readers: become and artist or…

  • Remain stuck where you are—lonely, bored, and uninspired.
  • Face the slow death of the status quo.
  • Risk trusting that the system will take care of you.
  • Become the Man’s Dancing Monkey.
  • Be safe and sorry.

“The connection economy works because it focuses on the lonely and the bored. It works because it embraces the individual, not the mob; the weird, not the normal” (59).

This book beckons the everyman and everywoman into a new and burgeoning world based on an entirely different set of economic principles. The Icarus Deception is not a how-to-manual, a self-help book, or a roadmap. It’s more like a compass that positions risk at due north and includes a packing list telling you what to bring with you on the journey (emotional labor, abundance, vulnerability, and connection) and what to leave at home (comfort, applause, the resistance, and the lizard brain).

True to form, Godin is extremely accessible in his most recent book. Whether you are unemployed, a school teacher, a Fortune 500 executive, a homemaker, a pastor, a professional musician, a high schooler, or an office worker, Godin has something to say to you. He predicts the excuses you may employ as to why you, your job, or your situation won’t apply and works to reject your cynicism and self-doubt. The only way to avoid seeing yourself in this book is to close it.

“We’ve been trained to prefer being right to learning something, to prefer passing the test to making a difference, and most of all, to prefer fitting in with the right people, the people with economic power. Now it’s your turn to stand up and stand out” (19).

As with any pioneer, understanding Godin is about re-wiring some fundamental understandings of our story and vocabulary. For example:

  • What did the Industrial Revolution do to our identities, our jobs, and our sense of success? It turned us into obedient cogs in a factory system where compliance equals security.
  • What is art? Whatever you do when you’re truly alive.
  • Who makes art? You do. Because everyone does, or at least everyone can.
  • What’s stopping you? The lizard brain mixed with misplaced fear of shame and failure.

“Your worldview, by its nature, keeps you from seeing the world as it is. A lifetime spent noticing begins to turn into the ability to see what others can’t. Artists learn to see all over again. Art is the act of pointing a light at the darkness” (148-49).

I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s blog everyday since 2008. That’s 1825 days. As one of the only consistent and most frequent voices in my life, I often feel like Seth is speaking directly to me and my life circumstance. Whatever my title at the time: student, friend, girlfriend, mentor, entrepreneur, daughter, pastor, business partner, teacher, etc., I have often been struck by this strange sense that Seth is watching me. That he’s following my journey and nudging me to think just a little bit bigger, to be a little more daring, and to do my work a little differently. And my life, my relationships, and my calling have actually been transformed as a result.

If you’ve never read Godin before, The Icarus Deception is a great place to start. If you’ve been reading him for years, The Icarus Deception will read like a familiar, yet perfectly surprising classic.

In a world that is disjointed, in which we struggle to understand one another and find some sort of common ground and shared experience, Godin gives a bit of unity to each of our stories. He forces us to look inside the particulars of our own lives while he poignantly speaks to that place, asking us to make a connection.

“What we are drawn to is the vulnerability and transparency that bring us together, that turn the “other” into one of us” (41).

This book will confront your assumptions about getting ahead and challenge the excuses that are holding you back from making a difference. Godin will ask you to pick yourself and find the guts to make important, interesting work. He will ask you to become a better kind of person— a better boss, a better parent, a better artist, a better human—which is the work of a lifetime.

“If you want to, you can be never finished. And that’s the dance. Facing a sea of infinity, it’s easy to despair, sure that you will never reach dry land, never have the sense of accomplishment of saying, “I’m done.” At the same time, to be finished, done, complete – this is a bit like being dead. The silence and the feeling that maybe that’s all” (191-92).

Samantha Curly is originally from Chicago where she hails as a Northwestern Wildcat alumna. Samantha is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. She is the co-founder and executive director of Level Ground, a nonprofit organization that seeks to create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through art. A writer by nature, Samantha also enjoys film, bread baking, and running. Check out her blog at Sam’s Storybook.

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