When BST was on the search for a new lecturer to teach Theology and Christian Thought, we did not envision a six foot four All Blacks supporter, who is a published author, self-confessed denominational hybrid and likes to jam on his guitar to Blues music. Eclectic is definitely one way to describe Dr Michael “Mike” G. Thompson (not to be confused with the American psychologist and author who shares the same name), BST’s newest faculty member. We’re excited to welcome him and his family to the BST community. Read on to find out a little more about our new Kiwi/Aussie colleague…
Tell us about your family
My wife, Nikki, and I met at a Sydney Anglican Church when we were going to university. She was then, and still is now, the person I enjoy talking to most. For a time we lived in Melbourne while I taught at Monash University. We now have three children—Evie (6), Willem (4), and Joey (2)—each of whom is incredibly different to the other. Evie is the artist with a flair for capturing feeling and atmosphere in her paintings and other craftwork. She also has a knack for asking me some of the most challenging theological questions—the same that set alight the fourth century councils! Willem, on the other hand, is a completely chilled and happy four-year-old budding scientist, who has this extraordinary capacity to see the positive in everything. My youngest, Joey, is built like a rugby player. He may be two years old but I would not recommend being tackled by him.
Speaking of rugby, tell us about your New Zealand background
I’m originally from New Zealand and of course, this means I naturally support the All Blacks! We moved to Australia when I was eight years old for my Dad’s work. In New Zealand, we attended a conservative Presbyterian church but then when we moved to Sydney, we started going to an independent Pentecostal church. This is why I call myself a denominational hybrid.
Where do you sit now in terms of your denominational affiliation, if any?
I experienced a major transformative event at a Pentecostal church when I was 16 years old. Even though I grew up in a Christian family, that time was the point in my life where I felt a serious conviction about following Jesus. My spiritual formation in that church environment is often difficult to describe in words, yet it was profoundly important for my Christian walk. Those years are embedded deeply in my memory and I appreciate the outlook it has given me.
At university, I started going to a Sydney Anglican Church and loved the quality of the biblical preaching. Then in recent years, while studying a Master of Divinity at Sydney Missionary Bible College full-time, I came to the realisation that I probably most aligned with the Presbyterian and Reformed set of convictions, though not uncritically. For example, I’d be somewhat closer to Pentecostal scholars when I read parts of the New Testament than I would be to cessationists. My family and I have enjoyed attending a Presbyterian church in Sydney for a number of years and now as we transition to Brisbane, we pray that we’ll find a suitable church for our family to flourish and be part of that community.
Why did you choose to apply to work at BST?
In one sense, my applying for the position of Christian Thought and Theology lecturer was to do with the principal. I met Richard Gibson almost ten years ago, and have appreciated him ever since as a preacher, thinker, and pastor. But the most convincing aspect of choosing BST was the community. When I first came to Brisbane to have a look at the college, something about the place really arrested my wife’s and my heart’s attention. We were drawn to the genuineness of the BST community. We attended chapel, ate lunch with some of the students, and I sat in on Richard’s class on Romans 12-13, which blew me away.
I enjoyed hearing in the interview about the way the college believes in investing in students’ lives. College is really a vulnerable time when God pulls you apart and puts you back together. That’s my experience. I find it exciting but also humbling to be engaged in relationship with people in whom God is doing good work.
But I take a lot of heart from the Apostle Paul’s example. The letter of 2 Corinthians has been a life-changer for me. When faced with the daunting task of justifying his own status (the Corinthians were effectively asking him “who do you think you are, Paul?”) he didn’t rest on his credentials, his personality, or even his position. He could have said, “I’m an apostle so listen up!” But I love the way that instead in 2 Corinthians 3—maybe one of the greatest chapters ever written—he steps off his apostolic “perch,” as it were, and positions himself alongside the ragamuffin Corinthian church, as they together contemplated Christ by the Spirit’s power.
“We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at[a] the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory;[b] this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
That verse is a prayer, a hope and a bit of a motto for what I am seeking to take part in at BST.
Tell us about your teaching background and your PhD
Prior to studying my Master of Divinity (2015-2017), I completed a PhD on Christian Thought and American History at Sydney University (2012) and a Bachelor of Arts (First Class Honours) with a Major in Modern History and Ancient Greek Language (2005). I’ve always had a keen interest in the history of Christians working out how to live with the kinds of questions raised by modern political and international life. That’s what I did my PhD on. These were people who in their own ways were Christian thinkers of integrity—though I wouldn’t agree with everything they held to—trying to work out what it meant to follow Jesus, to learn from him and apply his teachings in an age of nationalism racism and war.
In my research, I looked at thinkers attempting to construct a theological ethics of international and race relations, mainly in the US but also in Britain and Europe. That then led me to explore their theologies of the Church and of the Church’s witness in the public sphere. Are we called to try and change society, to exercise influence or control? Or are we in some way called to be prophetic witnesses without taking power. My subjects were addressing that question in an age of extraordinary world crisis—an age of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, World War II, nuclear bombs and economic crises. I’ve been surprised at how many parallels have re-emerged between their time and ours in the last year or two.
My interest in history and Christian thought has led me to research, tutoring and teaching appointments at universities including Monash University, University of Sydney, and the University of New South Wales over the last decade. In case you haven’t already noticed, I do have a love for study—perhaps only someone with that conviction would consider doing a PhD on history and then go on to do a Master of Divinity—and so I often relish the opportunity to write and produce content that contributes in the public sphere.
Dr Michael G. Thompson is the author of For God and Globe: Christian Internationalism in the United States between the Great War and the Cold War (2015). He is a regular columnist and editorial board member for the Centre for Christian Apologetics, Scholarship and Education’s CASE quarterly, as well as a contributor to other Australian and US journals.
Please pray for Mike and his family as they make the move from Sydney to Brisbane. Ask God to help them as they find a new home and a new church, and that their family will adjust well to the changes, particularly with their daughter’s schooling arrangements in 2018. From Semester 1, 2018, Mike will teach Theology on Wednesday evenings and Church History on Friday mornings.