Best-selling author Sarah Bessey speaks at Calvin writing festival

Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing Conference on Monday, April 16. The conference, which started in 1990, brought together writers, publishers and editors to the college in Grand Rapids on April 14-16. Bessey’s discussion, entitled “Unqualified: Why Everyone Can Write About Theology,” took place in the school’s Covenant Fine Arts Center auditorium.

Bessey, a blogger, mother and successful writer, has been published in Huffington Post, The High Calling and Relevant Magazine. She has also published two books. Her latest book “Out of Sorts” was published in 2015 and deals with sorting through an evolving Christian faith.

She talked about her most popular book, “Jesus Feminist,” during her Festival of Faith and Writing Conference presentation. “It was never intended to be about Christian Feminist Theory,” Bessey said.“It was just supposed to be a book about the Kingdom of God.”

In the book, Bessey uses scripture and biblical context to argue for equality. She also uses what she calls “narrative theology.” This essentially explores theological topics by telling stories from her own life.

Bessey also spoke during the writing conference about how her narrative theology and her lack of seminary background caused many other writers to refrain from endorsing “Jesus Feminist.”

“One writer, whom I respected very much, told me to talk to him after I went to seminary,” Bessey said. “But what I wanted to do was take this topic, a topic that doesn’t make it out of the world of academia, and present it to the rest of us. Why couldn’t I do that through stories?”

She went on to discuss how this encounter prompted her to ask questions about her ability to write.

“What makes a person qualified to write a book about God or talk about God?” Bessey asked. “Does a person have to go to seminary? Be able to read Hebrew and Greek? Does a person need to be white, American and male? Does a person need to have a perfect moral record?”

Bessey then proposed that Christians are both qualified and unqualified. “That’s a tension we get to hold as believers of God,” Bessey said. “We are all wrestling with theology, and as artists, of course our wrestling will end up in our work.”

To show that education does not necessarily lead to qualification, Bessey brought up a story of the apostles Peter and John in Acts 4. The passage deals with their arrest and describes them speaking confidently to the Jewish Council.

“It says in the passage, ‘The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures,’” Bessey said, quoting Acts 4:13.

“Now I know that when I pray I need to make sure to bask in God’s love and express my love for him,” Bessey said. Audience members could see this idea as she started her presentation by praying and expressing her love for her creator.

Bessey also explained that in past years, she’d grown tired of wrestling with scripture, doubting that she’d ever become a published author.

“I actually hit my lowest point after attending this writing conference nine years ago,” Bessey said. “It’s funny how it’s come full circle now. Jesus is sneaky like that.”

“I thought that I’d never find my voice or be able to build a platform,” Bessey said. “But I felt like God was telling me to go home and write and that he’d meet me there. I felt like God told me that writing would be the altar where I’d meet with him every day, regardless of whether or not I ever got published.”

Bessey closed her presentation with prayer, encouraging writers in the audience to not shy away from discussing heavy spiritual topics in their works, praying, “In the name of Jesus, I send you free to wrestle.”

Bessey’s two books are available at bookstores and on Amazon. One can view her blog at 

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