One Academic’s Journey into Postgrad Ministry and Giving Apologetic Talks
Interview with Dr Alexander Fink on 22nd June, 2021 at the IFES Europe Association conference
How did you get involved in postgraduate ministry, and what are some of the things you have done since your time as a PhD student?
Actually, I never actively planned to get involved in postgrad ministry, but following my desire to build God’s kingdom at the university as a biophysics PhD student led me right into it, in four different ways:
1. A student group asked me, whether I would be willing to give a public apologetic lecture on the question “Has science buried God?” at their university. I felt a bit scared to do so, as I had carefully observed several Christian apologists (e.g. at the European Leadership Forum, www.euroleadership.org, and via organising such lectures myself as a student, and of course through books, etc.), but I also felt that one day I had to stop observing others and start speaking myself. As a friend said: “I would rather make a fool of myself than feel ashamed for not having tried everything.”
2. As I was well connected to my (very small) local SMD (IFES Germany) student group, I was involved in organising a podium discussion of six local professors (who identified in some way with Christian attitudes) at my own university on science and faith. In this way, I was connected to a small group of three Christian professors who met once a month to pray together. The event drew 200 students, even though the Euro semi-finals were shown on TV the same evening. There was a wide range of views among the professors, and that made an impression on students, as was clear from some who told me afterwards: “We know that you in SMD have different opinions than several of the professors there, but we respect that you provide a space for open debate! Please, continue this!” That was very encouraging, even though we unfortunately did not manage to repeat that kind of event.
3. And there was this existential quest for a tenured position at university. I realised that I should already start building networks and looking for postdoc opportunities during my PhD. But there was hardly anyone who would sustainably support me and give me orientation, even though there were several Christian professors in Germany who were associated with SMD. A friend of mine had had similar experiences and so we founded an SMD network for research and academic teaching in order to provide a platform to connect experienced professors with PhD students and postdocs who were struggling to get a foot on the academic ground.
4. As my own plans to get tenure failed, I went into industry and without any plan was asked to lead SMD’s graduates’ ministry. That way I also got involved with the PhD student group of SMD, and got connected to IFES Cross-Current (www.cross-current.org), a very fruitful three-year-mentoring program organised in different professional groups, each having about 10-15 mentees from all of Europe, which developed into more and more branches. As a physicist I started a science track.
You have a very active speaking ministry, and give talks at universities around Europe. What are some topics you have recently spoken on?
A frequent topic is “Am I more than my brain?” which discusses the question whether human beings can be reduced to their physiological functions or whether there are good reasons for belief in an immaterial soul that is incarnated in a unique body, as the Bible teaches. Other topics are “Can a scientist believe in miracles?”, “Can a rational person believe in God?”, “Artificial Intelligence, Transhumanism, and Christian faith”, “Big Bang or God? – Yes!” and several others.
In your talks, how do go about building bridges between your academic expertise and the gospel?
One of my strategies is to show that good scientists have different opinions about God and faith. This indicates that the conflict is not between science and faith, but between different faiths or worldviews. And everyone has a worldview, no one stands on neutral ground.
Then it is important to show that God is not an object of science, just like a painter is not an object of their painting. Discovering laws and mechanisms does not refute a creator of these, it opens up many questions, however, why is the universe ordered, why can it be described by rational laws etc.? Hence, one can set off to look for evidence that makes the existence of a creator more plausible than materialistic chance and necessity.
Usually this leads to the question in the audience how we can know who this God is. This can’t be answered by science, but we can only know this creator if he has communicated with us and so we need to check the reliability of the gospels and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
What would you recommend to a postgrad group who wants to organise an apologetic or evangelistic lecture for postgrads with either yourself or another speaker of IFES Europe’s FEUER Academic Network (FEUER is a network of around 100 academics around Europe who have specialised in giving apologetic talks in university settings)?
First it is important that you know your audience! Who exactly do you want to address? Then identify a topic that will hit the heart of your envisioned audience. And try to find a suitable speaker, e.g. via the FEUER network: is it more important that the speaker has a distinguished academic title or should the speaker be able to communicate in a persuasive and/or an entertaining way? These qualities do not always coincide, but all of this can be important.
You might want to brief the speaker in which way he or she can refer to the gospel: should they be careful or can they be direct or raise issues that will result in personal questions during Q&A?
Try to think of a good space: should it be more official? Why not try to get an auditorium or a room at your institute? If a more personal atmosphere is better, then maybe go for a pub or a student center. If it seems suitable, you can also go for a church, but be aware that this is normally a place that secular academics would rather find strange and avoid.
In order to have room for mingling after the talk, it is a good idea to prepare snacks and drinks and comfortable facilities to sit down or stand for good conversations.
Also, you might want to prepare a book table with literature by the speaker and other good Christian authors on the subject.
The best response with regard to large audiences can usually be achieved by organising a debate or a podium of speakers with different opinions. This requires a well-chosen moderator who can get all speakers equally involved and is fair to all views presented. Maybe one can organise that together with an atheist society.
And if feasible, it is always great to invite for some form of feedback by the audience where they can indicate interest in further events of this kind or even personal contact. Think about possible ways of following-up to allow interested people to take the next step as easily as possible.
But most importantly: good organisation is great, but we will never be perfect: so better do something than end up not getting anything off the ground, as the plans have never been completed.
In the end we need to trust God’s perfect working within our fragile human nature anyway!
So this is the time for you to start praying when you want to start such an event and that God opens doors for you!
Alexander Fink is Director of the Institute for Faith and Science (Institut für Glaube und Wissenschaft) in Marburg, Germany (www.iguw.de). He studied physics at the universities of Bayreuth and St. Andrews (UK) and received his PhD at the Institute for Biophysics at the University of Regensburg. After having worked as an industrial product manager, he became director of SMD graduates' ministry (Akademiker-SMD, the German branch of IFES) until 2014. Since 2008 he has been a member of the ELF Steering Committee and has co-led the Scientists Network.