Following God’s call to study

Kirsten Mackerras

We had the privilege of catching up with BST alumni, Kirsten Mackerras, while she was here in Australia visiting family. Kirsten graduated from BST with a BMin in 2011, and a BTh (Hons 1) in 2013. After finishing her studies at BST, Kirsten completed an MA in Ancient History at Macquarie University. She is now two-thirds of her way into her PhD in Early Church History at Oxford University.
Tell us a little about the journey that led you to BST?
I went to BST straight after my gap year after finishing high school, so I was quite young. My original plan was to study science at university in Canberra but I ended up taking the gap year on a whim, thinking I’ll give God this year and then I’ll go follow my plans. Famous last words! Throughout that year, I kept getting the sense that God had something else for me that was not the standard university degree/job path. Originally, I thought it was missions so I tried to go on a couple of mission trips but they all fell through. So I thought, if I can’t go on missions then I’ll go and study at Bible College to equip myself. I looked around on the internet and found BST. I sent an email at very late notice and ended up accepting an offer 11 days before term started. I was still living in Canberra at the time, so I packed up all my things, drove up to college and arrived the day before college started! There is no way it would have come off without the very clear guidance of God in it all. I felt God was saying, “This is where I want you to be and I want you to be here now.”
How would you describe your time at BST?
I really enjoyed my time at BST and enjoyed the community. Although I was young, I wasn’t the youngest as there were a few other school leavers around the same age. I was also a resident on campus for 3 years in the dorms and then a year down in the units. I had my struggles with some health problems at the end of second year, which were difficult to work through, but it was a good to be part of this community. I especially enjoyed the mentorship and support of the faculty. I had some classes that were really interesting and enriching. John Coulson’s Corinthians class was so good I took it twice! I was also on the student committee and was very involved. One of the highlights of my time at BST would definitely be the friendships. I made some really good friends, deep friendships. We would all hang out in the common room until 2am talking. Good memories!
When you graduated from BST, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do next?
Once I finished my BMin here I decided I wasn’t done, so I stayed on to do Honours. Some of the lecturers had said they thought I could do a PhD and do theological lecturing, so I thought I’ll try Honours and see how that goes and if I like it then maybe I’ll take the next step. So I did Honours and I really enjoyed writing my thesis and my research. When I finished up here I thought ok that’s it, I think this is the green light to go for my PhD. So all of the steps after that were aiming towards a PhD. I went and did a Masters at Macquarie University in Sydney and then once that was finished went straight to the UK to study my PhD at Oxford. I’ve now been there 3 years doing early church history and I’m really enjoying it.
What does a normal week studying for your PhD look like?
It’s a lot of self-directed research. I spend a lot of time sitting in the library. It takes a lot of discipline! There’s a seminar once a week in my subject, which is early church altruistics. I see my supervisor who’ll direct me and tell me what I need to be working on. I’ve also taken some language classes while I’ve been there and I’ve done a little bit of teaching. But the main thing is sitting in the library reading history and writing about it.
Do they have a good size Christian community at Oxford?
There are a lot of strong Christian groups at Oxford and some flourishing churches. There’s a lot of Christians and lots of programs for Christians to develop as leaders and to think about how to integrate their faith into their studies. I’m involved in a group that does apologetics, which is really aimed at training people to think apologetically, particularly for doctoral students to use their research and find the connections to apologetics and evangelism. I really enjoy the culture at Oxford of sharing ideas.
You have another year or so left of study – where to after that?
I’m thinking that God is saying to stay in academia and stay researching for a while. I’m not sure whether that will mean ending up in a Bible College or ending up at a university. Each of those has different opportunities and challenges. So I’m not sure where God is leading me but my plan for figuring that out is to apply for a bunch of jobs and I’ll get the job that God wants me to have. They tell us the job market is really hard after finishing a PhD, so I expect I’ll be offered maybe one thing and that will be God’s green light. I’m open to go wherever God wants me.