Theology in College Ministry
According to R.C. Sproul, “Theology is the study of God.” This is theology in the most basic sense. John Frame, while he would not disagree with Sproul, does focus on the more practical aspect of theology when he says, “Theology is a practical discipline,” and “the application of the Word to all areas of life.” Here, Frame is simply giving the great end of theology: namely, godly living. This understanding of theology should not surprise us.
Since theology is the study of God as revealed in the Scriptures, theology is going to produce the same results the Scriptures produce. Paul makes it clear that the Scriptures were given with practical ends in mind. Scripture aims to teach, reprove, correct, and train Christians in righteousness for the purposes of maturing and equipping them to live God-honoring lives full of good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If this is what Scripture does, then theology, when it is properly done, will do this as well. With this in mind, it is evident that theology would be instrumental in a college ministry.
Each college ministry ought to have two main concerns: 1) The external journey of gospel advancement on college campuses and 2) the internal journey of personal holiness in the lives of the Christians within the ministry. Theology will be essential in accomplishing both these endeavors. Let us first look at how theology is important for gospel advancement.
Theology in the External Journey
College students come from many religious backgrounds. There are international and local students that have never heard the name of Christ. Some students are staunch atheists, while others are indifferent agnostics, nominal Christians, and so on. These students have no hope and are without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). They are as restless as the tossing sea and without peace (Is. 57:20-21). Their end, if they remain apart from Christ, is eternal conscious torment (Rev. 14:11). As Christians, we are under divine obligation to speak to them about Christ crucified.
However, we must not assume we are to merely walk around on college campuses yelling, “Christ was crucified! Christ was crucified!” Rather, we must speak to them about what we have received. We must speak to them about the faith, the theological and doctrinal truths once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This takes theological precision.
For instance, if unbelievers are going to confess Jesus is Lord, we must inform them of Jesus’s divinity. If they are going to believe in their hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we must articulate the theological significance of his bodily resurrection. If they are going to boldly declare that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” we must talk about the significance of Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah and God’s redemptive purposes for the world through him.
These few examples demonstrate that any biblical truth we seek to use to evangelize college students is going to be a theological truth. Therefore, if we are imprecise theologians, we will not love our lost neighbors on college campuses very well. We might even accidentally share heretical teachings with them! Or—and this has its dangers as well—we might share orthodox teachings in an unclear way.
However, the more precise theologians we are, the better we will love our lost neighbors. We will be able to teach deep, rich theological truths to unbelievers in hopes that God will be pleased to reconcile them to himself through the person and work of Christ. It is evident, then, that theology is important in the external journey of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ on college campuses. Let us now turn our attention to the importance of theology in college ministry regarding the internal journey of growth in personal holiness.
Theology in the Internal Journey
Some students, having come from a healthy church, enter college with a high level of spiritual maturity. Other students come to faith in Christ during college and, as a result, are spiritual infants. Either way, theology is essential for both the mature in Christ and the infant in Christ to progressively grow in holiness.
Christian students live on a college campus surrounded by other students and professors who have a different understanding of the world. These individuals want Christian students to come under their tutelage so they can influence how these students both think and live. However, the Christian on the path to becoming a better theologian is not swayed by these worldly philosophies, nor is he tossed back and forth by every argument in opposition to God-revealed truth. Thus, students need to be good theologians to protect their minds from the pervasive influence of worldliness on campuses.
Furthermore, it is through the ministry of the Word that Christians are equipped to faithfully labor for Christ (Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s sovereignty in election should fuel us to endure a life of suffering on behalf of the elect (1 Tim. 2:10). The resurrection of the righteous should make us steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). Judgment Day should motivate us to please Christ with the brief lives we have (2 Cor. 5:9-10). The hope of Christ’s second coming should compel us to pursue purity (1 Jn. 3:2-3).
All these theological truths that arise from properly understanding the Word equip Christians to labor for personal holiness as well as gospel advancement. I cannot think of anything more exciting than having Christian students equipped to live lives of holiness and fruitfulness on their local college campuses. This will only happen if the college ministries in which they are in strive to give them an ever-increasing knowledge of rich theological truths through teaching and discipleship ministries.
Lastly, it is important to remember that college ministry is a transient ministry. Students are only in the ministry for a brief season. And because college ministry is very transient, it is also important to understand that these young students need to be equipped to serve the local church for the rest of their lives. With this in mind, If a college ministry can dedicate time and energy to laying a solid foundation of theological truths in the minds of its students, it will enable the students to faithfully serve a local church, not just during college, but also for… Click To Tweet Thus, if a college ministry teaches sound theology, that same college ministry will end up contributing to the health of many churches for years to come.
It is evident that theology is essential to college ministry. Therefore, weave biblical theology throughout your teaching ministry. As you teach, show them the importance of the land, the covenants, and the Kingdom of God. Take time to focus on systematic theology as well. Recommend and give away good books. Articulate the doctrine of justification like the reformers and the doctrine of sanctification like the puritans. To the glory of God, labor and toil to introduce students to the magnificence of these great biblical doctrines.
 R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s A Theologian, (Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014), 3.
 John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, A Theology of Lordship, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2008), 9.
 Andrew M. Davis, An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness, (Greenville: Ambassador International, 2014), 17.