The year 2015 was an important time of transition for Christian Scholar’s Review. It was the year when Don King, having served with distinction as General Editor since 1999, would yield that role to a successor in order to devote full time to his students at Montreat College and to continue his scholarly work on the poetry and prose of C. S. Lewis, Joy Davidman, and Ruth Pitter, influential figures in British spiritual and literary life in the 20th century. Following an extensive search, the Editorial Board had selected Mark Bowald, Associate Professor of Religion and Theology at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, as Don’s successor, and the two had worked together closely to ensure a smooth transition. The board was confident that Mark would follow in the steps of his predecessor, maintaining the highest standards of Christian scholarship and also seeking to broaden both the topics addressed in its pages and the readership whom its quarterly issues reached. On both counts, in the five years of his term, Mark has achieved noteworthy success.
It was also a time of transition – entirely unexpected – for Mark Bowald. Just as he was formally taking up his new position for CSR in the spring of 2015, he learned that, owing to a budget crisis, his position and several others would be eliminated at Redeemer. The arrangements that I had negotiated as Publisher with the Redeemer administration for released time and administrative assistance, signs of Redeemer’s high regard for a valued faculty member, fell victim to financial woes.
The rest of us on the Editorial Board were shocked by this development and, anticipating that editing the journal would be too burdensome a role for a newly independent scholar, we were ready to re-open our editor search. Mark surprised us, however, by assuring us that he would take up his work for CSR even while looking for a new long-term academic home and cobbling together several part-time projects in the meantime – projects that showed the breadth of Mark’s background and his interests, such as adjunct teaching at several institutions, editorial work for academic publishers, and helping to create and produce educational television programming,
Alongside these activities Mark continued to work diligently to solicit and review manuscripts in every scholarly field in which Christian voices are needed. Working closely with Managing Editor Todd Steen (Economics, Hope College) and with the Associate Editors who coordinate peer review in major areas of scholarship, he showed himself to be a resourceful and imaginative editor. He was able to discern the potential in submissions that were far from publishable in their present form, yet offered a distinct perspective on an important topic. He did not hesitate to turn down submissions that were not up to the standards of the journal and its readers. But in doing so he took care to provide constructive criticism and encouragement to the unsuccessful contributors. His editorial “no” was more often cast in terms such as “not yet, but please stay in touch.”
One of the qualities that particularly distinguished Mark’s work as General Editor – one that is clearly rooted in his personal and educational history – is his ability to weight the merits of positions far different from those that he affirms. It is not that Mark has no strong opinions, or is hesitant to voice them – far from it! (If you get him started on craft beer, be prepared for a long disquisition.) And yet he discerned very quickly that effective leadership of an interdisciplinary and ecumenical enterprise such as CSR requires an open mind. One must be ready to follow any argument to its conclusion and must help others whose conclusions you reject argue their case with greater clarity and cogency.
Anyone who has spent more than a few months in academia can surely cite examples of the opposite tendency: department heads who drive out junior colleagues who challenge them, editors who find one reason or another to reject submissions that do not fall into their favored school of thought, senior administrators who hire for complaisance more than competence. Mark is a conspicuous counterexample to this all-too-human tendency. Especially in his own home disciplines of theology and philosophy, he has been eager to listen to the voices, and consider publishing the writings, of faculty members at mainline and evangelical colleges, from Catholic and Protestant viewpoints, from what would conventionally be labeled conservative and progressive standpoints. Do you have something to say about an issue that is important to the church, to the academy, to the society? Then say it, as persuasively and as engagingly as you are able. There will be room for you around the table of CSR’s interdisciplinary conversation. That has been the consistent message conveyed by CSR to its member institutions and to its contributors under Mark’s leadership.
In his last year as General Editor, Mark at last found a new academic home – and for him it was a return home. Having received his undergraduate degree in 1990 from Grace College in Indiana, he pursued graduate studies at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan and at Wycliffe College of the University of Toronto in Ontario, and in 2019 he was appointed to the theology faculty at his alma mater. Grace has changed dramatically in the years since he was a student there, Mark has told me, but the deep commitment to preparing students to live as agents of renewal in the world and the close Christian fellowship among faculty, staff and students remain unchanged. Historically rooted in the Grace Brethren churches, Grace and its companion seminary now serve students from a wide range of denominational backgrounds. Appointment of a recently ordained Anglican priest to teach theology – this was one of the fruits of Mark’s several years in between academic positions — would have been inconceivable in the 1990s, but it fits well with the institution’s breadth of vision today.
Having worked with Mark during his five years as General Editor, and benefited immeasurably from our many conversations about matters theological and philosophical, I extend my congratulations as the mantle is passed to a new editorial team. (My role as Publisher role was passed on to Todd Ream a year ago.) I am sure our conversations will continue, whenever we are able to sit down together in fellowship again. And I am confident that Mark’s keen theological and philosophical insights, and his sympathetic engagement with diverse perspectives, will benefit his students and colleagues at Grace.