Book Review: The Preacher’s Wife

The Preacher's Wife Kate Bowler

A friend passed his copy of this book to me, mentioning that he didn’t have time to read it but thought I might like it. He was right! Kate Bowler is an engaging and informed writer, whose bestselling Everything Happens for a Reason is a powerful engagement with the prosperity gospel in the face of her own incurable cancer (her more academic book, Blessed, is on my to be read pile!), and The Preacher’s Wife is a sympathetic and honest account of the phenomenon of American evangelical women celebrities. Bowler takes a historical look at how women, particularly but not exclusively preachers wives, have been recieved in American evangelicalism. This is a very readable book – interesting to anyone who is looking at American evangelicalism, or feminism and related topics.

One of the things that makes The Preacher’s Wife so fascinating is the primary research Bowler has done. The book is peppered with quotes from interviews with a range of women, as well as photographs from magazines, conference posters and other paraphernalia. This draws the reader deeper into a fascinating world. Similarly, Bowler has a number of appendices that make this book well worth getting a hold of:

  • Megachurches in the United States
  • Researching Megachurch Pastor’s Wives
  • Some Demographics from the Profiles
  • Women in Conservative Seminaries
  • Women on Staff at Megachurches
  • Highlights of the Timeline of Women’s Ordination

The way that culture and theology are so intertwined is perhaps one of the key themes of this book. Whether it is notes on the marriage of Ruth and Billy Graham, observations about televangelists and their wives, or reflections on Beth Moore, Bowler is engaging and entertaining. The fragility of female power in the various spheres of evangelicalism is a key takeaway, too; “Most women’s power in modern megaministry was contingent and noninstitutional. The only way that women in ministry were going to achieve a lasting influence was if institutions changed. But transformation was so often precipitated only by crisis“. I’m grateful to Bowler for writing this book, for shedding light on some of the darker parts of the movement I’m a part of, and for making me think about the role I have as a white male evangelical. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her blurb for the book “Kate Bowler will take you places you could not have gone on your own. She is a scholar who knows how to tell a story, a theologian who can make you laugh out loud, and the kind of listener who earns the trust of her subjects and readers alike. She won’t tell you what to think, but she’ll introduce you to people you’ll never forget, and you’ll be the better for it“. I agree, and would recommend The Preacher’s Wife to you if this short review has piqued your interest.

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