Having a Theological Vision

Editor’s Note: This essay is an excerpt from the author’s doctoral project titled “Reaching Generation Z with the Gospel at a Christian University through Faith Integration, Radical Hospitality, and Missional Opportunities,” completed as part of the Doctor of Ministry program at Knox Theological Seminary. The content has been edited to adhere to MTC’s guidelines. For the full dissertation, please refer to the provided link.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
— Jeremiah 29:7


In Chapter 1, I outlined the current cultural context at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and the biblical foundation it provides for ministering to my Gen Z students. In this chapter, I will build upon this foundation and describe my theological vision for effectively reaching them with the gospel. But first we have to answer the questions, what is a Christian university? What does it mean to be credentialled in servanthood? How important is mentoring? I will explore the answers of Dr. Kenneth G. Elzinga, the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia, in conjunction with the thoughts of the late Dr. Timothy Keller from his book Center Church, in which he offers a template for effectively reaching people with the gospel through doctrinal foundation, theological vision, and ministry expression. By considering a university as a cultural center, we will apply Keller’s template and develop an effective paradigm for reaching students with the gospel.


The University as a City with a Cultural Center

A city can be thought of as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic concentration of people living and working near one another, focused on their livelihoods. This sounds a lot like most universities. The population is diverse. Students live and work near one another. There is a commonality of purpose. Most schools have a governing code of conduct or a set of guiding principles to which all students must agree when beginning their four years of undergraduate study.

Of course, a university is not exactly like a city. The student population is not typically multi-generational, although the governing authorities and the faculty, a minority of the population nonetheless, help round this statistic out. Students that attend a university know it is a temporary way station in life. And a university by definition is a university with a cultural center.

A Christian university then may be thought of as a cultural center with a unity of truth, and that truth is the gospel. [1]  The gospel must be the guiding force shaping the culture at a Christian university, and the culture-shapers are the faculty, called to seek its welfare (Jer. 29:7). They are the ones who spend the most time with the students and, therefore, have the largest potential for modeling Christian character in loco parentis. Shaping Christian culture at a Christian university is not a job to be left to “the Dean of the Chapel… or the job of the Dean of Students’ office.”[2]


The Three Distinguishing Characteristics of a Christian University

Kenneth G. Elzinga cites three distinguishing characteristics of a Christian University.[3] The first is teaching. The classroom, the lecture hall, the laboratory all become places where Christian faith is supposed to be naturally integrated as part of the curriculum.[4]

Joel Carpenter, Calvin College’s former provost, explains that the classroom at a Christian university is the place where a professor can “focus on questions of faith and knowledge and a Christian worldview. Every professor must in some sense become a lay theologian.”[5] This sentiment is echoed by Graeme Goldsworthy, former lecturer at Moore Theological College and author of According to Plan, who writes, “All Christians are theologians, but some are more able theologians than others.”[6]

Professors at Christian universities must be willing to assume the role of theologian, regardless of the academic discipline stated on their diplomas. Additionally, they are to look upon their role as missionaries, sent to the cultural center, as if it were a city, where scripture commands that they “seek its welfare” (Jer. 29:7). Elzinga says that professors willing to assume this charge can play a significant role in helping to change the life of the students who are enrolled in their classes.

The second distinguishing characteristic of a Christian university is credentials and not necessarily academic credentials. As Elzinga notes, “We put them before our names, after our names; we calibrate and quantify performance; we rank people all the time; we look up to and look down on people according to performance-based credentials or titles.[7]  However, “De-emphasizing [academic] credentials is a mark of Christian higher education.”[8] We have only to look at the Apostle Paul and how, despite being one of the most learned theologians of his day, he introduced himself as a privileged servant.[9] “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1); “Paul and Timothy, Servants of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:1).[10]

The third distinguishing characteristic of a Christian university is mentoring students in the same way that Christ mentored the disciples. Mentoring involves modeling for the students what it means to live the Christian life. This is also the role of the faculty, who hopefully have been pilgrims, sojourning through the world longer than the students, and have acquired wisdom through empirical data and from sin, its consequences, and the resulting redemption.[11] Elzinga reminds us that Jesus invited his followers to become his disciples. Jesus is our ultimate example as professors in Christian institutions of higher education:

Christian higher education exists because there once was a Galilean who made disciples. His disciples called Him rabbi, or teacher. And therein lies a principle by which teachers today are to invite — not coerce, but invite — students to be their disciples, that is, to mentor them. Jesus taught His followers the Law and the Prophets. But He also lived among them and even washed their feet. I have often wondered what the Lord’s illustration of foot washing means to the professoriate of the 21st century. Students in Christian higher education need to know that the faculty value the character and moral compass of their students: that professors admire godliness; that the faculty’s deepest satisfaction as professors comes from seeing students become what God wants them to be — people for whom Jesus Christ is preeminent.[12]

How then can a professor at a Christian college allow Christ to animate these three characteristics to effectively reach Gen Z with the gospel? How can teaching in the classroom become discipleship, servanthood trump academic credentials, and mentoring become foot washing?[13]

The late Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, developed a strategy of gospel renewal[14] to reach the church’s cultural center. In his book Center Church, he explained that Redeemer’s successes could be measured in terms of fruitfulness through a theological vision of a “restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.”[15] I believe a similar model could be applied to my cultural center to reach students.

James Eglinton, the Meldrum Senior Lecturer in Reformed Theology at the University of Edinburgh, summarized the biblical basis for Keller’s successful ministry in New York City:

Keller spelled out how the doctrinal foundation of a church gives rise to a particular theological vision, which is a set of intuitions, sensibilities that guide how a church exists in its cultural surrounds. And that theological vision is then something that takes us to a third thing, which is expression of ministry. So, these three things are really important… doctrinal foundation, theological vision, ministry expression.[16]

We assume professors at Christian universities are doctrinally sound in their beliefs or they shouldn’t be there in the first place.[17] But orthodoxy must become orthopraxy. Keller compares orthodoxy, or doctrinal foundation, to the hardware on a computer and orthopraxy, or ministry expression, to the software. Bridging belief and practice is “middleware,” which he defines as theological vision.[18]

Richard Lints, professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary underscores the importance of having a theological vision:

A theological vision allows [people] to see their culture in a way different than they had ever been able to see it before… Those who are empowered by the theological vision do not simply stand against the mainstream impulses of the culture but take the initiative both to understand and speak to that culture from the framework of the Scriptures… The modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed. [19]     

Among the specific set of questions for the development of the theological vision that led to the successes at Redeemer are several that mirror those that govern my ministry:[20]

  • What is the gospel and how do we bring it to bear on the hearts of people today?
  • What is the culture like? How can we connect to it, challenge it and communicate with it?
  • How innovative must we be to reach people?
  • How will we make the case to our people about the truth of Christianity?


My Theological Vision

My theological vision is to build a culturally relevant bridge between biblical theology and science so my students can understand who they are in Christ. I want them to know that they are not, as the materialist posits, a random colocation of atoms but eternal souls, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), with beautifully designed and complex biochemical machines, made in the image and the likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). I want them to be excited about life and about their future because they understand that God has a plan for their lives (Ps. 139:13-16), and that they have been put on this earth at this specific time for a specific purpose (Est. 4:14). I want to use science in both the classroom and the laboratory to help create an awareness of God’s presence everywhere, visible or invisible (Col. 1:16), such that they will learn how to be “surprised by Joy,” as C. S. Lewis wrote: “to attend, to come awake, remain receptive or run the risk of missing God who is everywhere incognito.”[21] My vision for them is to become people for whom “Jesus Christ is preeminent.”[22]

Solomon’s words for the necessity of a vision are a serious reminder to those of us who are charged with the oversight of our students at Christian universities: “Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Prov. 29:18).



In this chapter we compared a university to a cultural center to establish a paradigm to help share the gospel effectively. We looked at three necessary characteristics of faculty at Christian universities: faith integration in the classroom, servant leadership, and mentorship. We suggested Timothy Keller’s Center Church template as a model that professors can use to effectively bridge doctrine (orthodoxy) and ministry expression (orthopraxy) with theological vision. I explained in detail my own theological vision, through which the gospel, in its proper cultural context, must be connected and communicated to a generation of young people using innovative methodology tailored to a curriculum that makes the case for the truth of Christianity. In the chapters ahead, I will detail the various aspects of my methodology, developed over the last five years, to reach my students with the gospel fruitfully.

[1] Duane Litfin, Conceiving the Christian College (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 79. “It has long been noted that the idea of a university as opposed to a multiversity, presupposes a unity of truth best safeguarded in the glad confession that all truth is God’s truth.”

[2] Kenneth G. Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education vs. Christians in Higher Education,” in A Higher Education: Baylor and the Vocation of a Christian University, ed. Elizabeth Davis (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012), 17.

[3] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 14.

[4] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 14. “If the faculty members in Christian higher education simply believe their job is to teach what they learned in graduate school and then go home and be good church members, integration won’t take place. And the school will produce a generation of students of which many will come to believe that there is a gap (if not a chasm) between the secular and the sacred.”

[5] As quoted in David S. Dockery and David P. Gushee, The Future of Christian Higher Education (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Publishing, 1999), 117-18.

[6] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 29.

[7] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 15.

[8] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 15.

[9] Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ, (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), 127. Paul introduces himself as a doulos, “with the loss of the etymological sense of ‘slave’, ‘bondsman’ or ‘servant’ [with] the emergence of a new theological meaning, that of instrumentality (rather than servitude), of being Yahweh’s chosen instrument (as in the case of Moses, Joshua or David) or tool (as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus) for the achievement of his purposes among humankind.” Doulos here is not in the sense of unconditional subjection and bondage but “an official title of honor that stresses instrumentality and is reserved for a few men who are entrusted by God with special tasks in and for the church.”

[10] As a member of our university’s servant leadership committee, I have emphasized to our hiring committee the importance of a candidate’s testimony and not just his or her degrees, awards, and publications during interviews.

[11] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 17.

[12] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 16.

[13] At the beginning of every academic year, PBA has a foot washing ceremony in the Rubin Arena. Leaders and student leaders wash the feet of all incoming freshmen.

[14] Timothy Keller, Center Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 54. “Gospel renewal is a life-changing recovery of the gospel. Personal gospel renewal means the gospel doctrines of sin and grace are actually experienced not just known intellectually.”

[15] Keller, Center Church, 20.

[16] James Eglinton, “Tim Keller and American Neo-Calvinism,” The Gospel Coalition Podcast, November 24, 2023.

[17] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 11. “Christian higher education, to merit that designation and imprimatur, should be dominated by a faculty who are followers of Jesus. By that I mean the majority of faculty at an institution of Christian higher education should be Christians. The designation or description makes no sense if that is not the case.”

[18] Keller, Center Church, 17.

[19] Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology, a Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993). 9.

[20] Keller, Center Church, 18.

[21] Devin Brown, A Life Observed, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2013), 34.

[22] Elzinga, “Christian Higher Education,” 16.

Art by Joe Nalven


  • Gregory J. Rummo

    Gregory J. Rummo, D.Min., M.S., M.B.A., is a Lecturer of Chemistry in the School of Arts and Sciences at Palm Beach Atlantic University and an Adjunct Scholar at the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He is the author of The View from the Grass Roots, The View from the Grass Roots - Another Look, and several other volumes in the series.

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One thought on “Having a Theological Vision”

  1. If you haven’t read it already, I would read John Henry Newman’s Idea of a university

    Newman was a Catholic Cardinal in 19th Century (British ruled) Ireland who wanted to establish a Catholic university, the book is a series of lectures he gave advocating for the same. It’s outside my field and I am not doing him justice, but my take was that he was talking about teaching the universal knowledge of humanity (hence the term university) and that he wanted each specialist to only teach his own specialty, leaving the theologians to teach theology.

    (I don’t know if it would have been possible to teach the universal knowledge of humanity in the 19th Century — it definitely wouldn’t be possible now — but I digress…)

    As this is very different from what you appear to be saying, I’d suggest looking at what he had to say — not that he was necessarily right, only that it was his view on how things should be laid out.

    The other thing that jumped out at me is your use of the term “in loco parentis” and while you are technically using it correctly in terms of what the Latin words mean, and I understand what you mean by “modeling Christian character” — that’s not what “in loco parentis” means in most of higher education today.

    Instead, it is viewed as a license to unlimited authority over students and to do whatever you please to them. It actually extends beyond the authority that a parent has over a small child because the Child Protective folk would be involved if a parent treated a child the way that places such as UMass Amherst routinely treat students.

    I argue that “in loco parentis” is actually a RESPONSIBILITY and not a right, and I suspect that is how you view it, but I would caution you about using such an incendiary term in the age of Behavioral Intervention Teams and the rest.

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