Taking apologetics to our universities

Michael Beardsley,  Current MDiv student

We caught up for a quick chat with Michael Beardsley, a current Master of Divinity student, after the recent Apologetics MA intensive with Mike Bird, to find out a little more about Michael and what he got out of the intensive. Michael previously completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science and came to Christ through Power to Change university ministry. He has now has been working with the same ministry for the last 6 years, including a 2 year stint in Japan.

Firstly, why did you choose to study at BST?

I chose to study at BST because I most strongly resonated with the interdenominational focus on missions largely because of my experience of becoming a Christian through Power to Change. After being involved in ministry, I wanted to continue to grow and develop in my understanding of the faith in a more formal setting so that I could grow both in my personal maturity as well as my practical ministry skills in seeking to share the gospel with others.

What does your work with Power to Change at universities involve?

Our main distinctive is evangelism and discipleship. We’re centred around walk up evangelism on campus. Even our discipleship, when we meet together with other Christians, is centred on evangelism. So for me as a missionary, I just walk up to people and ask if they’re interested in having a conversation about beliefs and spirituality. Our aim is to seek to have conversations that can bring people closer, in some form, to understanding the gospel better. We also look to have people from all different cultures and connect them in through an English conversation class or Christianity explained, or a Bible study. We want to move them beyond just one conversation towards relationship and connection.

What kind of response to you normally get?

Sometimes the reactions are, “we don’t want to talk” or “no…because science”, but there are also quite a few people that are open to discussion. Caucasian Australians can be a little more challenging and also more opinionated. They’re quite happy to share what they think and have conversations about it. It’s actually not uncommon to have conversations go for a whole hour. People from other faiths and other cultures are also very open to talking to people and sharing their ideas and thoughts. We find a lot of people are generally willing to talk. Very few are hostile.

What did you get out of the Apologetics MA Intensive last week?

I tend to get a lot of practice with apologetics because of what I do but one of the things I found particularly helpful was to have terminology clarified and positions clearly laid out. Even though a lot of it was familiar, like the classic arguments for the existence of God, having sources that lay them out clearly, as to what they are and being able to discuss the merits has been beneficial. One of the biggest things for me has been the discussion that’s come from it, learning this is where it applies and where it’s not so strong, going in favour with one kind of approach over another and even finding out some of the questions people have in common.

Having discussions on what is the current climate has also been really insightful. The prevalence of other religions and the conversations that happen around them helps us to recognise what are the things we need to read about, learn about and be prepared to answer. For me personally, after having these conversations in class, I’ve been challenged in the practical area of how would I answer some of these things?  I usually direct people away from their questions and focus on explaining the gospel, and part of that context is I don’t often get to meet with people several times to really walk through some of the questions. It will be good for me to look back over the material and see, what do I need to grow in and how can I respond to some of these questions?

How does this further relate to the work you do in universities?

A big part for me was realising that our students also have to deal with these same challenges. I’ve noticed a trend amongst our students that they share the gospel but then they don’t always keep their non-Christian friends. When they join us they’re at their most evangelistic but often they just end up hanging out with other Christians. Part of it for me now is helping them to respond to some of these issues, and to have those challenging conversations, not end the friendship. It’s also about having the bigger mindset that it’s not just about my apologetics but how do I train new Christians and other people coming up in our organisation. I don’t have all the answers but I can try and help point them in the right direction or help them to think about, “if you have a friend who believes this, how do you respond to them?” Up until now, I haven’t given this a lot of thought so this intensive has given me some practical tools to take back to uni with me.

What would you say to someone considering doing an MA Intensive?

Well, this is my second intensive this year. Honestly, there’s the challenge you’re getting so much content and information at one time but it also becomes your mind-world, so to speak. You tend to just think about the topic and go deeper in your mind with it because you’re saturated with it. I find it inspires me to look for other resources and do further reading. Doing an intensive creates better class discussions because you can talk about it, you can explain it, you can spend hours on the teaching side and you’ve still got hours for discussion. One of the bigger challenges is setting yourself the practical challenge at the end, saying this is how I’m going to review the content, or this is what I’m going to do with it. You’ve got to be proactive in carrying it forward. Being in an intensive creates stronger memory sense. You tend to remember those specific discussions and sitting around and debating. It carries the feel of everyone’s in this together, you see each other every day all day and mingle together. For me, it’s been incredibly helpful.