Aidan Luke, who studied at Morling College in Sydney (MDiv, MAMin), graduating in 2015. He is currently serving as the pastor of Mudgee Baptist in regional NSW.
TGCA: Can you tell us about your life before studying theology, and how you ended up at college?
I remember when I was in 6th grade my teacher told me that one day I would be either a lawyer or a pastor (undoubtedly a comment on my generosity when it can to sharing my thoughts on whatever the topic of the moment might have been). Initially it looked like I might end up as a lawyer. I took law and commerce at ANU in Canberra, though by the end of first year I was beginning to have second thoughts. With all the hubris of youth, I picked up some correspondence studies in theology and philosophy on the side, which quickly became an all-consuming passion. I would quite happily have made the leap into full-time theology studies, but my father wisely counselled me on the value of first finishing my studies at ANU and spending a little time in the ‘real world.’
TGCA: What were the high-points and low-points of studying theology?
One of the high points was being able to devote four years to going deeper into Scripture—and to do so in a community of students who shared the same desire: all under the watchful guidance and encouragement of many of the most godly men and women I have ever been blessed to know. The lowest points were always when we were just beginning to see the beauty of a passage or doctrine and it was time to move on to the next one. It’s amazing how quickly the time goes, and how deep is the word.
TGCA: Do you have any particular lessons from (or regrets about) your years at college?
It was a real joy being able to live on campus with other students and faculty. I loved being able to step out the front door of our townhouse and strike up conversations about our latest assignments or that morning’s sermon in chapel, all while our kids are playing together on the playground or tearing down the road on their scooters. Being married with three little kids, it was a great place for us to spend some time as a family. We saw in many ways how Christian community should be, and grew relationships that will always be precious and a great source of mutual support for after college, both for myself and my wife. On the other hand, it was all too easy to remain in the Christian bubble, enjoying campus life and focusing on the prospect of ministry after college. I regret not taking the time to be more actively involved in the local area, especially in the housing commission estate across the road from the college.
TGCA: Were there any surprises?
I went into college with some firm convictions on many of the usual hot topics. Although the basic contours of my theology remained the same, I was surprised by the extent to which my understanding was deepened and in many ways refined by interacting with different perspectives. Often I was challenged by the views expressed by my fellow students, or seeing the rich diversity in the faculty, not to mention the breadth of insight in the broader community of faith as it stretches throughout the world and back in history. The more I came to understand different perspectives, the more I appreciated the centrality of the gospel as the basis for our unity, and the need for humility and grace when we engage with questions where the evidence is not as clear.
TGCA: How has studying helped you live and serve Jesus?
Undoubtedly one of the great emphases at college was on the relationship between theology and life. We were constantly being pushed to see the way that our theology should and inevitably does shape the way in which we live, whether it is the assurance that flows from being gripped by the sovereign mercy of God or the perfect union of love and authority modelled for us within the Trinity. Now being out in pastoral ministry it is a joy seeing the way that the great truths of Scripture have the power to change lives, not only as I see the Spirit at work in the lives of the fine folk here in Mudgee Baptist but also in my own life as I am continually amazed by the glory of Christ and the hope we have in him.
TGCA: What factors went into your decision to study where you did?
For someone like myself who was considering Baptist pastoral ministry in NSW/ACT, it made sense to go to Morling as the Baptist training college. At the same time, I remember the Principal talking about how Morling was evangelical first and Baptist second, and the prospect of studying with students from diverse traditions sounded like a useful way for me to reflect on my denominational convictions. It was helpful knowing a few recent and current students who raved about the faculty at Morling, not only for their depth of insight but also for the pastoral concern they showed for students. Perhaps above all was the reputation Morling had for providing a balance of theology and practice, as I was keen not only to grow in my understanding of the Word but also in how to put it all into practice and effectively minister to others in a local church context.
TGCA: Do you have any advice for people who want to go into ministry but aren't sure whether they need to study theology?
Paul calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The more I learn about myself and those around me, the more convinced I am that so many of the problems we face—our anxieties, doubts, fears—are driven by a failure to grasp the depth of the grace and hope we have in Christ. And it never ceases to amaze me how even the most obscure doctrines can help me to see more clearly and rejoice more fully in his glory. There is nothing more helpful for anyone contemplating ministry (whether as a vocation or simply as part of life) than to get closer to the Word, to think deeply about the diverse excellencies of Christ, and to learn better how to point others to his glory in a world where we are bombarded with so many competing claims to the truth.
TGCA: Are there principles you would suggest for those working out where to study?
To begin with, consider the theology and values of the college. I actually first began studying theology by correspondence through a secular university before I realised the difference it makes when your lecturers are crafting course material and choosing readings without being guided by a conviction that Scripture is the Word of God.
Secondly, look for the kind of relationships that will help you grow and provide space for you to serve others. Listen to what current and former students say about the character of the faculty (hopefully you will spend much of your time following them around), but also think about the church family to which you will belong. As precious as college will be, a key part of your preparation for ministry will hopefully be what you learn in the context of a local church. One of my greatest joys was the time I was able to spend as part of a gospel-centred church family, being mentored by a godly pastor and other great men of faith, and being able to live out what we were learning. Indeed, as much as I loved being able to live with my family on campus, I would encourage you to consider taking up the new opportunities in distance education and remaining as part of your current church family. I’m sure it would be a wonderful blessing for them!