Dr. John Kwak has spent the past 26 years in various leadership roles, including as a campus ministry staff worker with InterVarsity, pastor at churches in Southern California and the Northwest, and now as faculty at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. (And for good measure, he has also been managing his family’s tax and insurance business for 10 years, working as a licensed tax consultant on the side.) John graduated from Talbot in 2004 with an M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics and an M.A. in New Testament, before going on for his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Rochester, where he specialized in the philosophy of language. John has been married for 19 years and has two daughters.

Q: Share briefly about your upbringing, family, and place you grew up.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, as the only child of immigrant parents from South Korea. My mom especially was (and still is!) a fervent believer who raised me in the church with a high value for the Bible. My parents spent the majority of their professional lives working in tax and insurance, building a now many decades old family business that especially catered to the Korean immigrant community in Portland. My wife and I are honored to be assisting my mom in carrying on the family business to this day, convinced that work in business can be no less missional and ministerial when you bring the right kingdom heart and mindset to it.

Q: How did you hear about Talbot/Biola? What led you to come to the school?

During my undergraduate years at Claremont McKenna College, Frank Pastore and Ben Shin from Talbot brought a touring apologetics seminar called “TIBS” (Talbot Institute of Biblical Studies) to our campus. I eagerly attended, having a rapidly growing interest in apologetics and philosophy at the time. When Ben saw my enthusiasm, he later invited me to a meal with none other than JP Moreland. That privilege and convo introduced me to Biola’s M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics program and further fueled my fire for the subject matter. Once I further realized that many of the program’s amazing professors (Geivett, Craig, Moreland, Rae) were the very ones who authored a great number of the books already on my shelves, I was sold! (Funny side note: The same Ben Shin who God used to introduce me to Biola ended up becoming my brother-in-law many years later as our wives are sisters!)

Q: Share some of your favorite memories from Talbot. What did you gain the most from your time at Talbot?

Too many great memories to choose from! I consider my years at Talbot some of the very best in my life. It was there I most flourished as a student, where my passions for philosophy and God could be experienced as one. Every class felt like a kid-in-a-candy-store type of experience, amazed that studying something so intrinsically fascinating and fun (and spiritually formative!) could also open a legitimate career path. Other highlights: being mentored philosophically and spiritually by Doug Geivett (a good friend to this day), studying under apologetical giants like Bill Craig and JP Moreland, getting my first crack at adjunct teaching (thanks Dr. Rae!), dating my eventual and beautiful wife (she wasn’t a Biola student, but she was certainly around!), meeting the incredible guy who would become the best man at my wedding (fellow Talbot philosophy alum, Gary Osmundsen), and being introduced to ultra-competitive ping pong (thanks Shawn Lorenzen!).

Q: What are you doing now in the ministry? How did Talbot prepare you for this?

I’ve been blessed to be an assistant professor of pastoral theology at Western Seminary in Portland since 2020. It’s truly a dream job! Surrounded by genuinely Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-exalting faculty and staff, I teach both master’s and doctoral courses on a range of subjects including church and society, ethics, apologetics, leadership, and spiritual formation. I’ve also taken on a number of administrative roles at the seminary, viz., assistant director of the D.Min. program, chair of the ministry and leadership department, and most recently accreditation liaison officer. It’s definitely a full plate, but I’m loving every minute of it. And without question, none of this would be possible without my time at Talbot. I still use so much of what I learned there in both Bible and philosophy, not to mention just how to think well, in each and every class I teach. I definitely learned to “love God with all my mind” at Talbot, and I now try to impart that same value to all of my students.

Q: What advice would you give to current Talbot students?

Treat every day, every class, like the privilege that it is. Hold off (if you can) on taking on outside work/ministry commitments while you’re a student, because your opportunity to study in such a rich environment is so precious and will be gone before you know it. And invest not only in your classes but your relationships. You may (more likely, will) never find others who are as passionate about your academic interests as those who surround you now.

– Interview by Ben Shin