The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities

Kate Bowler
Princeton University Press
Published Year: 
Cover of Kate Bowler book "The Preacher's Wife"

Duke Divinity School Professor and New York Times best-selling author Kate Bowler has written a new book providing an in-depth look into the world of Evangelical women celebrities and their precarious hold on power.

The book, The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities, was published Oct. 1 by Princeton University Press. An associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America, Bowler offers a sympathetic and revealing portrait of megachurch women celebrities, showing how they must balance the demands of celebrity culture and conservative, male-dominated faiths.

Bowler is the author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, the first history of the prosperity gospel movement based on divine promises of health, wealth, and happiness, and also The New York Times best-selling memoir Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, which she wrote in 2018 after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35. She also hosts a popular podcast “Everything Happens with Kate Bowler” that sparked a national conversation about the difficulty of speaking frankly about suffering.

In The Preacher's Wife, Bowler explores the important figure that has appeared since the 1970s on the center stage of American evangelicalism—the celebrity preacher’s wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, many women have carved out unofficial positions of power in their husbands’ spiritual empires or their own ministries.

The biggest stars—such as Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, and Victoria Osteen—write best-selling books, grab high ratings on Christian television, and even preach. Bowler examines the many parts, whether standing alone or next to their husbands, these leading women of megaministry play: the preacher, the homemaker, the talent, the counselor, and the beauty.

Boxed in by the high expectations of modern Christian womanhood, they follow and occasionally subvert the visible and invisible rules that govern the lives of evangelical women, earning handsome rewards or incurring harsh penalties, explains Bowler. They must be pretty, but not immodest; exemplary, but not fake; vulnerable to sin, but not deviant. Black celebrity preachers’ wives also carry a special burden of respectability.

In this account of women’s search for spiritual authority in the age of celebrity, Bowler shows how despite their influence and wealth, these women are denied the most important symbol of spiritual power—the pulpit.

Read reviews of the book by New York Times best-selling authors Barbara Brown Taylor and Nadia Bolz-Weber, Publishers Weekly, and others.