James Robertson’s journey to faith and the Felix Arnott Prize

At this year’s graduation ceremony, the Australian College of Theology (ACT) bestowed a special award, the Felix Arnott Prize, on one of our 2019 graduates.

The Felix Arnott Prize is conferred upon the Bachelor of Theology student who achieved the highest overall marks (the best GPA) of every student in the ACT consortium of 18 Bible Colleges across Australia. It is a particular honour requiring an exceptional level of scholarship—so much so that there are years where the prize is not offered to any student.

This year, the winner of the award was our very own James Robertson. Read his story below, and the many twists and turns of his life, that led him to this moment, and see how God uses his word and his grace to redeem his own…

My name is James but most people call me Jimmy. I grew up ten minutes south of Noosa Heads. I had a very stable home, and a private school education. I loved playing sports, and most days after school you would find me grovelling on a bodyboard. It didn’t matter if there weren’t any waves, bodyboarding was my way of unwinding.

I eventually honed in on a science track for my senior years, with hopes of working in conservation. However, that wouldn’t be the case; I dropped out half way through an environmental science degree. Instead, I spent quite a few years wondering what my calling might be, reading books on political science and economics, smoking weed and working at my greengrocer job, which I loved but ultimately found entirely unfulfilling.

I think I’ve always been a spiritual person, though I was never satisfied enough to settle in any dogma or creed. I went through Catholic confirmation when I was a lad and whatever childlike faith I had was buttressed by the education and culture of my primary school. However, my parents didn’t go to church or read the Bible at home.

My childlike faith quickly disintegrated in high school when my mate showed me Zeitgeist—a pseudo-documentary that claimed the Jesus story was just another iteration of pagan mythology. I didn’t know any better and was launched into a new age spirituality complete with a conspiratorial worldview. Only by sheer fortuity did I eventually start reading the Bible for myself.

I became interested in prophecy and end times and began opening up Revelation. Eventually, I started reading the whole Bible on its own terms.

One night, Jesus became real for me. The love and judgment of his cross confronted me and I called on him for forgiveness, praising him as Lord.

Since I was converted in isolation, I persisted in accruing knowledge for myself while proudly resisting the fellowship of the church. One day I was listening to an apologetics podcast and the host was talking about how he visited Moore College in Sydney.

I was like, “What’s that?” I didn’t even know what Bible Colleges were! The next day I saw an ad for Brisbane School of Theology Open Day. I came along, and I felt called to study here without having a clear idea of where I was heading, trusting that it will bear fruit in due course.

BST has been more than a place of theological study for me, it has been my home—and not just because I lived here. Between classes, personal study, community lunches, hanging in the common room or on the lawn, fellowship groups and chapel, BST envelopes you in a rhythm of life that opens you up to joy.

I started my degree with a whole bunch of new residents, so it’s been great to have that continuity of learning, growing and sharing this new chapter together. Looking back it’s amazing how much things have changed.

In my penultimate semester I began struggling with what was then undiagnosed anxiety and depression. Fortunately, my mentor at the time could relate personally and gave me every academic, spiritual, material and administrative support to help me complete the semester.

Nevertheless, that semester was a real eye opener for me; how my pride and self-satisfaction was getting in the way of the purpose for which I was studying. I took the time in what would have been my last semester learning how to manage my mental illness and returned to complete my studies the next year part-time.

I didn’t even know about the Felix Arnott Prize until the very end of my degree when my mentor mentioned it. Obviously, I didn’t do this degree for the awards or accolades but it’s nice to be recognized for all my hard work—though it’s slightly embarrassing to be called out among your peers knowing how hard they work as well.

I guess the prize just underlines that I am where I should be and doing what I am called to do.

I’m currently undergoing an Honours Program with BST, focusing on Old Testament. I’m viewing this period as a pivot point or transitional stage from study to ministry…

We are very proud of Jimmy, and all that he has done to achieve this great result. Join us in praying for him as he launches into a new season of ministry.