The Main Thing: Gospel-Rich Theology and the Students of Boyce College

Bridge and PillarsCollege is supposed to teach you many things, and those many things are all important in their own way. The big ones, of course, are pretty comprehensive, like character, virtue, a mind awake, and a noble work ethic. The next tier is more personalized but still vital: a major, a vocational direction, and a set of relationships you’ll keep for the rest of your life. And you can’t ignore the functional wisdom that leads to flourishing in the real world: balancing life, planning ahead, meeting deadlines, and getting along with roommates. College is meant to teach you many things.

I just finished grading 68 papers for Christian Theology III here at Boyce College. I learned a lot about my students in these papers, and I did my best to help them grow in their biblical understanding, their theological articulation, their mental organization, and their written clarity. I affirmed a lot of things in their papers and challenged a lot more.

But after all my markings and all my critiques, after hammering these undergrads on the finer details of writing, after draining two Pilot G-2 pens on their 10-page papers, something special stood out to me, something I never would’ve seen without a 6-inch stack of theology papers to wade through.

Boyce College students know the gospel.

They don’t just know that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). They’re taking that gem, that “trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance,” and rotating it beneath the multi-angled light of Scripture. They’re doing real theology: text and context, definitions and distinctions, objections and responses, propositions and proportions.

They’re grasping the difference between justification and sanctification, the relationship between faith and works, the definition and timing of regeneration, the meaning of substitutionary atonement, the logic and limits of the order of salvation, the nature and benefits of the resurrection, the relationship between preservation and perseverance, and much more. Sure there are mistakes and missteps, confusions and distortions, understatements and overstatements. But their gospel — the gospel of Jesus Christ — has clear contours.

What’s most delightful is that their grasp of the gospel is firm enough that I know they didn’t get it from me from a few hours in a Monday night theology class. Their kind of convictional clarity comes from old ladies teaching Sunday School, from tired dads who did family devotions, from long-standing youth pastors and high school mentors, from faithful pastors preparing weekly sermons. For many of these students (though not all), we’re just trying to build on their foundation with chapel speakers, tough assignments, robust theology books, late-night dorm discussions, and a Southern Seminary culture where Christian theology matters because Christian theology is the hope of the world.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16), and if college is about concretizing your intellectual and moral foundations for the rest of your life, then there’s nothing more important than leaving college with a firm grasp on the what‘s, when‘s, why‘s, and how‘s of the gospel. Get that, and you’ve got what ultimately matters. Miss that, and everything else you’ve got barely matters.

I don’t know how much money they’re all going to make; I don’t know if they’ll end up as influencers or culture-shapers; I don’t know if their lives will be filled with serenity or struggle, wealth or poverty, notoriety or obscurity. But what I do know gives me great comfort: There are a bunch of students at Boyce College who know precisely how God saves people.

Yes, I know: Intellectual assent is not the same as saving faith. The demons believe, too, and they tremble. Knowing the facts of the gospel does not equal knowing the Christ of the gospel. The dangers of religious environments are incalculable, and those of us ministering in these contexts must warn ourselves and our communities constantly.

But the fact that you can know the gospel without believing the gospel doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the gospel. The enemies of faith are not knowledge and understanding but self-deception and spiritual presumption. Knowing your theology well has its dangers. But it also has its delights.

So as I look over my screen at the stacks of theology papers piled high on my desk, I see more than paper. I see the fruit of God’s good work through a mighty host of saints who have guarded the “good deposit” (2 Timothy 1:14) by investing it in the lives of the next in line. I see the labors of my colleagues at Boyce College who spend themselves studying and writing and teaching and preaching and grading and mentoring. And I see the hope of the world laid out clearly and carefully in page after page of 12-point font with 1-inch margins — the good news of Jesus Christ in the doctrines of the gospel.

Knowing how God saves people through Christ isn’t the only thing you need to know in life, but it is the main thing. And if you can launch out from college knowing the main thing, I say that’s a good start — for life and for eternity.


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