I am not a huge book catalogue guy. I prefer to limit my literary lust to creeping used bookstores and haunting the forgotten stacks of local libraries. But there is one that I am always excited to receive: the Zondervan Academic catalogue. I love their design aesthetics. Mostly, though, I am secretly hoping one day to learn all the old languages using Zondervan’s great resources, and I would own every volume of the Counterpoint series if space and money were not an issue.
We all have our secret weird habits, perhaps.
I have recently been thinking about gender in the seminary and Bible college setting. Much of the culture of belief, worship, and social action that happens in local congregations is shaped by the academic conversation that takes place among biblical scholars, theologians, and professors of education, spirituality, leadership, and history. Within the evangelical world, we have a new generation of thinkers who are seeking to open up church pulpits, seminary lecterns, and the shelves of Christian bookstores to women. People like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, John G. Stackhouse, Jr., and Henry Webb represent some of the many men and women thinking out loud on women in leadership and staying connected to evangelical communities in that conversation.
It is fair to ask what is happening at the upper levels of theological conversation in North America that will shape the evangelical experience of gender in the generation to come.
Historically, Christian thought and leadership has been primarily the domain of men. This has been no less true of contemporary evangelicalism. While there are exceptions, they are exceptions that prove the rule. Walter A. Elwell’s 1993 Handbook of Evangelical Theologians lists 33 prominent evangelical thinkers, all of whom are male. The Wikipedia list of influential evangelicals has a greater female presence. Of the 35 influential evangelicals of the 20th century, there is one woman, Aimee Semple McPherson, a Pentecostal preacher and media savant from flapper girl days. While we might think that more recent shifts will have brought a revolution on this point, the ratio of 21st century evangelicals is just as severe, with only three women of ninety-nine: Joyce Meyers, a preacher and popular author; Jeri Massi, an author and documentarian, and Joni Eareckson Tada, an inspirational speaker and radio host. There were no women listed among the biblical scholars or theologians, and Meyers is listed under “authors and speakers” not “pastors and preachers.”
Of Time magazine’s “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” list in 2006, there are two women—Joyce Meyers and political consultant Diane Knippers—as well as two couples. The Church Report’s list of “50 Most Influential Christians In America” from the same period puts author and tele-pastor Joel Osteen, evangelist Billy Graham, and mega-church pastor Bill Hybels in the top three, with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson in fifth and Rob Bell in tenth. Joyce Meyer is the only top ten female at seventh, with TV personality Paula White at nineteenth, and three other women in the top fifty.
In a broader survey, Ed. L. Miller and Stanley J. Grenz’s Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theology surveys fifteen theologians in thirteen theological streams within the 20th century; only the “Theology of Woman’s Experience” features a woman, Rosemary Radford Ruether. Prominent evangelical theologian, Alister E. McGrath, collects literally hundreds of readings in his The Christian Theology Reader,  which covers mostly modern theological selections with a few ancient and medieval ones; only fifteen readings are from women, including feminist authors Sallie McFague, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Phyllis Trible, novelist and Christian thinker Dorothy L. Sayers, and Julian of Norwich, whose writing in this volume is on the topic of God our Mother. Evangelical theologian Millard J. Erickson’s 3 Volume Readings in Christian Theology includes 108 selections, most of which are from the modern era; not a single woman’s work warrants inclusion in his list.
Needless to say, women do not feature prominently in the historical theological conversation, and, aside from celebrities and popular authors, are no more influential in the evangelical scene. Perhaps Sallie McFague, echoing Letty Russell, is correct:
“feminist, black, and Third World theologies need to be qualified by an adjective, whereas white, male, Western theologies are called just theology.”
Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham in 1956 to be theologically conservative and socially liberal, and now arguably the leading mouthpiece for popular evangelical thought, is more optimistic. In the cover story for October, 2012, “50 Women You Should Know,” Sarah Pulliam Bailey argues that,
“It’s not just a golden moment for Christian women, of course, but for the entire church, as we benefit from the fruit of their manifold gifts.”
Despite the apparent absence in the lists above, Bailey argues that, “Today evangelicalism continues to feel the effects of women’s leadership.” Bailey mentions, specifically, author Rosalind Rinker who was influential in the 1950s:
“The idea that Christians could talk to God as a friend, conversationally, was Rinker’s radical idea that is now commonplace.”
The list that follows is not numerically aggregated, but divides these influential women into categories, including: Science, Business, and the Environment; Arts, Entertainment, and Sports; Writing and Publishing; Social Justice; Political Life and Thought; Church Life and Ministry; and Education.
It is a list that contains both Marilynne Robinson and Sarah Palin, business leaders and pulpit preachers, farm wife bloggers and antislavery activists. While it includes academics and scholars, and could be augmented with any number of seminary professors whose work may yet prove to be influential, and with rising leaders like Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, none of these women are particularly influential in theological development—in the ongoing God-talk of evangelicalism or the larger Christian community.
While I appreciate Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s work, there is something ostensibly forced about the Christianity Today list. The other lists are filled with men we know; the CT list is about women we should know, but generally do not. At the time this list is being compiled by the editors of Christianity Today, Hanna Rosen of The Atlantic is arguing that,
“Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed.”
It is difficult not to note the incongruity in more conservative Christian circles that editors need to draw attention to forgotten or ignored corners of women’s activities, citing as the most recent precedent to the list a devotional author from the mid 20th century.
And, all the while, evangelical colleges and seminaries train female students in all the theological disciplines, as if graduates were expected to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing conversation. Perhaps the Christianity Today list is meant to offer a correction by shining light in corners we don’t always see.
However, that desire to highlight influential evangelical women, even as they are still emerging, is not a temptation for the editors at Zondervan, the leading evangelical academic publisher.
I decided to go through the Fall 2015 Academic Catalog and count the names of authors that appear on its pages and see what we can expect of a future generation of women’s voices in the academy. Zondervan’s Academic listing is heavily weighted toward biblical studies, languages, and traditional theological disciplines. That, combined with the fact that they highlight well established scholars and thinkers, are reasons to expect a male dominated catalogue.
My method was simple: as an author’s or editor’s name appears, I listed it as male or female. I had to Google a few names, and in only one case was it so unclear that I left it off. I counted the sheer number of book authors but highlighted a few other categories as well.
When it came to monographs or books with six authors or fewer, I counted 235 names. Of those 235 contributors, 222 were male, or 94.5%. Truly, only one out of every twenty scholars that Zondervan is pleased to present to the public is female. I also decided to count the number of “features”—these are when one or two books is featured in such a way as to dominate the page. Again, 94.5% of these authors were male, or 85 out of 90.
Not every category is quite as severe. The education and Christian living sections had more women. But among the series listed—usually collections of biblical commentaries—99 out of 119 authors are male, or 83.2%. There is one Old Testament series, the Story of God Commentary, that has 9 of 22 of its authors that are women, or 40.9%. Taking out the Story of God series and four other series have 69 out of 76 authors that are male, or 90.7%. Of single books with more than 6 contributors, the rate is about the same: 89.8% male.
When we think about the inclusion of women voices in the formation of evangelical pastors, professors, missionaries, and teachers, we see then a comfortable range of 5-17%. When all the names are added up, 90.6% of them are men.
Perhaps, though, it is worth looking at the ratio of men and women who offer recommendations. These are generally well known names, and will by nature be of an older generation of scholars. Of those who offer recommendations, 91.4% are male. The 9:1 male:female ratio remains in place from one generation to the next.
Some caveats are perhaps needed to counterpoint this unscientific survey.
A catalogue is about PR and does not highlight all its authors. Wondering if a larger online search would prove much different, I went to the Zondervan Academic page. On that front splash page, the five featured books are all by men, and the two featured bloggers are men. The CounterPoints series I love so much is almost all male. Of the six people that went into the production of the Women in Ministry book, only one is a woman. Indeed, I struggled to find any women in the traditional theological disciplines, with notable exceptions in missiology and ecclesiology. There are women writing on devotional practice and biblical studies, but these are exceptions that prove the rule.
There are other responses we could give. Many of Zondervan’s readers and contributors don’t think that women should be teaching men in the church. Complementarian Wayne Grudem, for example, has multiple books with Zondervan. Perhaps the lack of women is a concession to a particular customer group.
In that case, though, there should be no women academics on the roster. Either you are open to women teachers, or you are not. There is no theological position that states that leadership should be limited to one woman for every nine men. At least none that I know of.
Compromise is important, but some compromises are like being sort of pregnant or mostly dead or a little murderous.
Zondervan is either selective about this doctrinal limitation, or is theoretically open to women. If it is the former, we may ponder the wisdom of putting future scholars in the hands of a ministry that just can’t decide; if it is the latter, where are the women? Every major evangelical publishing house has women authors teaching topics like education and spiritual growth, including Zondervan. It seems the problem is with academic work.
It could be that Zondervan is just very bad about grooming emerging scholars. That may be true. The Story of God Commentary series has a number of emerging scholars, and a much higher percentage of women. All the evangelical publishing houses struggle with a gender balance that even comes close to matching St. Paul’s. In Romans 16, for example, 35% of the names are women (9 out of 26). Even more poignantly, when Paul highlights some special role at the end of Romans, 7 out of 12 women are highlighted, or 58%.
I am struggling to understand what the threshold point is—when evangelical culture will reach the level of the apostle Paul on gender balance. If we use cultural values as the baseline, both Zondervan and St. Paul are out of step—but for the opposite reason. Paul adjusts for a male-dominated culture by including women; Zondervan adjusts for an increasingly egalitarian culture by securing male domination in the foundational theological disciplines.
It was once quipped about my religious community that while we don’t have bishops, we have editors. That’s true of evangelicalism in North America. Editors and publishers play as great a formation role as pastors or theologians. Greater, I would argue, for publishing companies and editors shape the kinds of resources that pastors and theologians use in teaching and preaching and shaping new generations of Christians who are thinking about God, the Bible, and culture.
Yet here we are in 2015. Zondervan is neither committed to the principle that women should not be teachers or theologians (at least 1 in 10 Zondervan academic authors are women), but neither are they including women in the published conversation (only 1 in 10 Zondervan academic authors are women). If you pop on over to the popular-level teaching, there are plenty of women authors. Either women are teachers, or they are not.
It could mean that Zondervan only trusts women to speak to “soft” theological issues, like how we live out our faith (ethics, prayer, spiritual theology, etc.). These may be the kitchen disciplines, while father in the study is doing the real theological work. If this is Zondervan’s articulated stance, I would like them to speak it out loud for the sake of honesty.
I do wonder, though, if the publishers in the Zondervan corner offices are so invested in the Grand Rapids Reform-evangelical culture that they don’t know that their bookshelf is so masculine. I presume that Zondervan and the other evangelical publishing firms are peopled by authentic Christians seeking to do their best for God and our theological neighbourhood. If this severe gender disparity is a matter of sheer ignorance, I hope they will consider addressing it in the future.
Let’s presume they know about the gender imbalance. I think that someone may say, “if there aren’t evangelical women theologians writing and editing at the Zondervan level, Zondervan can’t publish them.” This suggestion is heightened by the fact that many female evangelical theologians have chosen to publish with centrist, progressive, and secular firms, leaving fewer to land in the Grand Rapids slush pile.
Fair enough. But I think two factors make this suggestion a problem.
First, Zondervan is a heavily “canonical” publisher—at least in their catalogue advertising and the splash pages of their website. They lean heavily on the older generation of scholars. I suspect this has to do both with trust—older scholars will meet deadlines and do solid work every time—and the sheer necessity of strong sales. As a book sits on the bookstore shelves, all you see on the binding is a last name and a title. The last names carry a lot of weight. Even the egalitarian thinkers I mentioned above come to the front of the shelf because of their names.
While I understand the realities of using older scholars to anchor your publishing firm, if you are not invested in bringing up new generations of scholars you will miss out on a lot of things. If we believed that theology was stationary, we would just reread the top 100 books of Christian history. Instead, we believe that God-talk moves and transforms and rises up to meet each generation’s questions and hopes and learning needs. If publishers are not publishing emerging scholars, they are missing what the Holy Spirit is doing here and now.
And if publishers are not publishing emerging scholars, they aren’t publishing emerging women theologians. In this approach, publishing firms will always be a generation or two behind the actual God-talk in the seminaries, classrooms, and pulpits. This includes the number of women evangelicals out there in their 30s and 40s and 50s who are publishing elsewhere.
The second problem comes from the first. I suspect that there are far fewer women than men studying for the traditional theological disciplines like systematic theology, apologetics, and biblical studies. I saw it in my own theological training. Of the closest friends I made at Regent College studying Bible and theology, most were men. While the larger introductory classes had a mix of men and women, the upper level focussed sections had mostly men. This is a school committed to egalitarian education with women throughout the faculties (except biblical languages, until more recently, and not gender parity). Indeed, some of the Zondervan big names were my teachers.
Why aren’t women choosing these disciplines?
Part of it may be the local evangelical culture of North America. In my PhD in Britain, I am surrounded by women scholars. So I find the lack of a woman’s voice in North American theological discussion a little jarring.
But I think this is the real issue: girls grow up in our churches with male theological voices, then read male theological voices in biblical translations and theological books. They may not be actively excluded, but I think we can do better than that.
If we think that women should be among our theologians—and Zondervan thinks that, evidently—then we should actively pursue the best and brightest young minds and invite them into the more traditional theological disciplines. This means putting before them the examples of other women that speak to these topics.
Which means that Zondervan should be intentional about including women as the face of the Zondervan suite of scholars.
I think Zondervan knows this at a certain level. In their brand new book, I (Still) Believe: Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories Of Faith And Scholarship, edited by John Byron and Joel N. Lohr, they include stories of 18 biblical scholars. Note the “canonical” approach that Zondervan takes. These are the stories of established scholars who have nurtured their faith, rather than younger scholars trying to define faith in a rapidly evolving social culture. I know that 1/3 of these scholars are retired or semi-retired—perhaps more. There are lots of gray hairs in the manuscript pages of this new book.
What is intriguing, though, is that 2 of the 6 photos are of women, and 5 of the 18 “leading” scholars are female theologians.
I just wish that Zondervan trusted women like these enough to bring them to the front of their bookshelf and include this sort of ratio in the academic catalogue.
My concern is not just the viability of Zondervan. I love this publisher, and the “gray hairs” that they publish. These leading scholars have shaped me, and shape me still. I hope one day to be in the Zondervan catalogue.
But I hope to be in that catalogue on the same page as one of the women that are adding so much depth and variety to the theological conversation today—the kinds of conversations we are having in atriums, cafes, libraries, blogs, facebook groups, and listserves. Zondervan is in some degree of danger that it will become increasingly irrelevant—not because of the theologians they publish, but because of the ones they don’t, and because of what they communicate when they offer the public a male-dominated scholarly pool.
So, dear evangelical publishers, if you read this, please consider the impact of how you curate your publications. The Zondervan catalogue betrays an inconsistent theology at play in evangelical publishing. For those of us emerging into the theological conversation, it isn’t just a marketing problem. We can shop elsewhere. We do, in fact.
Actually, and I know this is harsh, your policy of including 1 female for every 9 males feels less like poor policy and more like a breach of trust.
As an editor recently wrote on one of my manuscripts, I will say to evangelical publishers: please consider revising to match your purpose.
 Walter A. Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993).
 See the reprint here: http://www.7culturalmountains.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=39896&columnid=4338.
 Ed. L. Miller and Stanley J. Grenz, Fortress Introduction to Contemporary Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998). Despite being only one women among fourteen men, Reuther does make the cover.
 Alister E. McGrath, ed., The Christian Theology Reader (3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
 Millard J. Erickson, ed., Readings in Christian Theology: Volume 1: The Living God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973); Readings in Christian Theology: Volume 2: Man’s Need and God’s Gift (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976); Readings in Christian Theology: Volume 3: The New Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979). Outside of feminist theologians, there are simply very few women in this upper echelon of influential theologians. Erickson’s project, perhaps, is too early to capture the stream of women thinkers that emerge, and there is no particular space in his project for theologies of identity. It is notable that a century ago in the ninety essays, including two anonymous insertions, of R.A. Torrey, ed., The Fundamentals (4 vols., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), there is at least one woman author. These essays, with prominent names like Torrey, Benjamin B. Warfield, and James Orr, offer a critique of liberal Christianity and affirm a moderate, biblically-based perspective that would first be called fundamentalism, and later emerge as evangelicalism.
 McFague, Models of God, 47.
 Christian Smith and Michael Emerson, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1998), 12. Christianity Today is a response to the more liberal Christian Century.
 Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “50 Women You Should Know,” 23.
 Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “50 Women You Should Know,” 23.
 Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “50 Women You Should Know,” 23. Bailey argues that previous divisions of public and private life in the new social media also degrade the distinctions argued by traditionalist evangelicals.
 Hanna Rosen, “The End of Men,” The Atlantic (Jul/Aug 2010), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/308135/.
 Noted by Arland J. Hultgre, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 578.
For a response to this post by Katya Covrett, Executive Editor at Zondervan Academic, see here.