Dr. Mark Bowald has had an interesting and diverse career. While he is now a Professor of Theology at Grace, he has worked in social work, business, editing, and television. Throughout his varied career path, one thing has remained constant: his dedication to the Lord.
Bowald enjoys the chance to give back to seminary students, prepare them to go into ministry, and impart the wisdom he’s accrued throughout his career.
Read on to learn about how Bowald’s diverse career led him back to Grace as a theology professor.
How did you come to know the Lord?
I grew up in a family with a long history in the Dutch Reformed tradition and was raised in a family community which valued faith in the Lord for many generations. When I was eight, I became uniquely convicted of my sinfulness and the need for forgiveness. I felt a lot of personal conviction to resolve that, so I asked my mother to help me pray. The anxiety I felt over that went away after I confessed my sinfulness and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
Tell us about your family.
My extended family comes from the Dutch population in west Michigan in and around Grand Rapids and Holland. I met my wife in the used book section of Baker Books in Grand Rapids when I was in seminary. We got married in 1998 and moved to Toronto to pursue further graduate studies at the University of Toronto, Wycliffe College where I also served as Dean of Residence. My wife, Dora Lee, is a special education teacher at Edgewood Middle School and has a distinguished career working in non-profit organizations. My oldest daughter Anna is studying film and marketing at Huntington University, my son Edward is a first-year student at Grace interested in computer science, and my daughter Meredith is in tenth grade at Warsaw High School and is an accomplished student, and soccer and basketball player.
What was your educational journey?
I am an alumni of Grace. I completed my undergraduate degree here with a double major in psychology and business administration. After I graduated in 1990, I worked at Wedgewood Christian Services in Grand Rapids for nearly a decade. I worked in secure residential treatment programming where I eventually was promoted to be an Assistant Program Director, where I managed and trained a team of about 25. During that time, I was going to seminary at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary for my M.Div. with a major in Christian Education. After graduating from seminary, we moved to Toronto where I earned both a Master’s in Theology a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Toronto, Wycliffe College.
How did you end up back at Grace as a theology professor?
After I got my Ph.D. I worked at Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario eventually earning tenure as Professor of Theology and serving as Chair of the Religion and Theology Department. After 12 years there, there was a severe financial crisis, and among their solutions was to eliminate many faculty and staff positions, including 4 department chairs of which mine was one. I looked at other career paths. I had plans to go into full-time ministry, and I also had a unique opportunity to work in the television and film industry as a Production Coordinator and Locations Manager. I worked on a full season of a children’s television show, which is still running on CBS, along with working on several documentaries, pilots, and short films, all with Westwind Films. Then, kind of out of the blue, I learned from John Lillis, who I had a long relationship with, there was an open position for a theology professor at Grace Seminary. After a lengthy application and interview process, Grace offered me the position. We always maintained ties here and especially in Michigan, so it wasn’t too difficult to transition to the US when we moved back almost three years ago.
Warsaw/Winona Lake has completely transformed since I was an undergraduate here. It is a wonderful thing that there are now excellent places to get coffee and ethnic food. I am an avid mountain biker and go on the Winona Lake trails regularly, often with Wally Brath and his family (though I am far less an “adventurer” than he and his boys). When I accepted the theology professor role, I was concerned that there wouldn’t be a decent mountain biking trail around or good ethnic restaurants, but I’ve been deeply and pleasantly surprised on both fronts.
What do you find most rewarding about being a theology professor?
My time here at the seminary has been the most fulfilled I’ve felt in teaching. Here, I’ve had the unique blessing to work with students who are preparing to go directly into full-time ministry. I have the privilege to teach the frontline workers for the Gospel. There’s something uniquely rewarding about teaching theology to people you know will have that ministerial impact very soon; being able to direct my energies toward students who are at the cusp of full-time service to the church has been deeply rewarding.
What topic do you most enjoy teaching as a theology professor?
Hermeneutics. I can trace this interest all the way back to my undergraduate years at Grace, where in my psychology classes, I was very interested in how people interpreted the world. In seminary, I was reading about how culture can affect how Christians look at faith, and I became interested in looking at how we can disentangle ourselves from the way culture hinders us from both reading Scripture and living our lives with fitting faithfulness. Those are questions that are gathered under the larger umbrella of hermeneutics. That’s by far my favorite class to teach as a professor of theology because I get to embrace and dig deep into that question with ministry students.
Tell us more about your film career.
I always had an interest in film and the theology of culture. For many years when I was living in Wycliffe College, which is right downtown on the U of T campus, I attended the Toronto Film Festival, especially sessions where directors and actors and producers shared about their filmmaking processes. Once I began working at Redeemer, I taught film classes every year as part of my regular teaching load. A former student of mine at Redeemer was a prominent television producer. She was taking classes in between production projects. She and her family struck up a deep friendship with my family, and when I stopped teaching at Redeemer, she and her husband invited me to work for them in a variety of capacities, including as a Production Coordinator. They also gave me free rein to be involved in all aspects of pre-production, production, and post-production as much as I wished. I spent almost three years working for them and have industry experience across all aspects of film and television production.
Tell us about your work with Christian Scholar’s Review. How did it impact you?
Christian Scholar’s Review is an interdisciplinary journal serving primarily the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) especially professors who teach at those schools. About 12 years ago, I was invited to be an associate editor in charge of theology. After six years as an Associate Editor, I was nominated and elected to be the General Editor. I was blessed to engage with the research of scholars in so many fields with which I was not familiar. My first five year term just ended, and I decided not to sign on for another 5 years so as to direct my energy to my own writing projects. The work of a journal editor is like having a hungry, angry parrot on your shoulder; you never know when it will squawk and demand your attention with emails and authors questions and deadlines. It’s not a position conducive to pursue your own writing. Nevertheless, CSR is a wonderful journal with wonderful people. It was a truly enriching experience.
How did your education from Grace prepare you for your career as a theology professor?
Both my business major under Bill Gordon and my psychology degree under Mike Grill contributed clearly to my teaching and ministry vocations. Bill Gordon had a winsome way of engaging teaching that impacted me. He found joy in the discovery of teaching, and it was so infectious that it whet my appetite to be in the classroom myself. In psychology classes, I remember having classroom conversations on how different things can impact how we understand God and faith. I should mention here that one of the most impactful classroom moments in my Psychology curriculum was a couple classes I had with Tom Edgington. (I apologize to him in advance for how he may feel this marks him age-wise). The themes of integrating faith and learning in Tom’s, Bill’s, Mike Grills’, and others here at Grace set a healthy stage for the rest of my academic vocation.
What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Here at the seminary, we have some new initiatives coming, including some out of the generous grants we have received. We continue to pursue new programs like military chaplaincy and music leadership ministry. We are also continuing to expand our Deploy program, and I’m excited to see how the Lord will use these and contributing to them especially.
I also have three book projects that will continue to take shape in the next years: one on Augustine, one on hermeneutics, and another on systematic theology. They’re all at different stages, but they’re starting to gain more specificity in terms of when they’ll be completed and what they’ll look like.
Visit Grace to meet theology professors like Rev. Dr. Mark Bowald who will share their passion for ministry and equip you to go into full-time ministry immediately after graduation.
Alumnus of Grace College, earning a B.Sc. with a double major in Business Administration and Psychology in 1990. Earned an M.Div. at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary and a Th.M. and Ph.D. in Theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto. 20+ years of experience teaching theology, advising and mentoring students at both undergraduate and seminary levels. Past Lecturer of Ministry and Spiritual Formation at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and Theologian in Residence at St. James Church in Paris, Ontario. Previously, he taught for 11 years as Associate Professor of Theology at Redeemer University College in Ontario, Canada also serving as department chair. Editor of Christian Scholar’s Review.