Thinking about Theology Majors


Attending a Christian college is a great way to connect with one of the world’s oldest faiths, especially if you plan to study it or pursue a career with a Christian organization. Read the lists of majors at Christian colleges and universities, and you’ll notice that many offer degrees in theology, religion, or biblical studies. They’re similar, but not exactly the same.

Jason Lief, who teaches theology at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, says theology classes are about studying the Bible and what it says about human relationships with God. Students are encouraged to wrestle with what being a Christian means to them. Lief also sees theology as the study of religion through the ages, from modern theologians to medieval female mystics. Dordt offers a class on Islam and Judaism as well, but it focuses on how Christians should relate to those with different beliefs. He says one advantage of studying Christianity is that it teaches how to work with people in different areas, such as economics and politics.

Graduates of these majors often work in Christian ministry, attend seminary, or pursue graduate degrees. Others may teach or go into social work. But those aren’t the only options. “A degree in theology or philosophy shouldn’t limit you,” Lief says. “People who are hiring in the business world are hopefully looking for people who know how to think, who are wise.”

When there’s a job opening at the Ayuda Community Center, a Christian nonprofit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, an applicant’s major or area of study doesn’t matter as much as practical experience, says Kate Perez, Executive Director.

Perez likes applicants who are fluent in Spanish, since many of the people Ayuda serves speak the language. What’s really important, though, is a passion for, and commitment to, Ayuda’s work: providing programs like a summer camp, an arts program, and a legal clinic for low-income people.

Education grounded in Christian principles leads to all kinds of fulfilling careers.

Josh Werienga, Church Co-Founder

When he started college, Josh Wierenga wanted to be a lawyer. But before he graduated, he helped start a new church, and running it has become his full-time job.

Wierenga attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and declared a major in political science. His goals changed after his sophomore year, when he was asked to work part-time in youth ministry at a Christian Reformed church in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. The next year, he left for a few weeks during winter break and noticed he missed spending time with kids at the church. He found youth ministry was his true passion.

As a senior, Wierenga and a group of like-minded friends started to talk about launching a new church in Holland. At school, Wierenga and his peers sought a Christian community focused on relationships. That idea became Real Life Fellowship, a nondenominational church serving people of all ages. Wierenga calls it “an honest, real, messy group of people that are trying to build relationships with Christ.”

Wierenga graduated from Calvin in 2005 and from seminary in 2008. At Real Life Fellowship he acts as a worship guide and shepherd, which he says aligns up with the fellowship’s philosophy that everyone is a leader in some way. At school, Wierenga learned important life skills from living in a community with other students and studying philosophy from a Christian viewpoint, experiences that have helped him through his career.

Bethany Rowe, Grant Manager

Bethany Rowe graduated from Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, in 2002. She describes her alma mater as a college that trains students to use their faith to make a difference in the world. And she’s doing that now at her job where she manages charitable grants for a Christian foundation in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Rowe works for two funds: the Robert L. and Kathrina H. Maclellan Foundation, which focuses on local ministries, and the Christian Education Charitable Trust, which awards grants to Christian education organizations within 500 miles of Chattanooga. Her job is to connect all the dots on the way to awarding a grant: reviewing applications, working with the deciding panel, and working with grantees to ensure everything goes smoothly.

After graduation, she participated in ministry with college students, worked at a church, and got a job as a paralegal. She ended up at the Maclellan Foundation after deciding she wanted to work for an organization that invests in people and the work they do for others.

By majoring in biblical studies, Rowe became a good writer and analytical thinker, qualities she finds useful at work and in her studies for a master’s degree in public ad-ministration. “One of the things that Covenant’s really good at is teaching their students to think,” Rowe says.

She also appreciates that Covenant focused on putting Christ first in all areas of life. “Wherever I am, in whatever I’m doing, first, I’m a Christian,” Rowe says. “How do we, as believers, take what we believe and make a difference in our communities?”

Chris Book, Nonprofit Administrator

Born in Zimbabwe to missionary parents, Chris Book majored in religion to prepare for his own work as a missionary. But at least half of what he learned at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, he says he discovered through work outside the classroom.

Book remembers a challenging mission trip to Colombia, where he helped build homes and dig trenches. He and his peers worked at a remote outpost, and the group stumbled upon a supply plane taking off a week before they were due back in the United States. But they decided to stay, sensing they were needed in Colombia. “It was a very lonely feeling, seeing that plane take off without us,” Book recalls. But he learned about God’s guidance and answers to prayers.

After graduating from Messiah in 1978, Book worked as a missionary in Zambia for three years, teaching locals about growing food sustainably. When he returned to the United States, he worked as a maintenance man at Paxton Ministries, an organization in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that provides housing for disadvantaged adults. Many residents have mental illnesses or mental disabilities, and many face financial hardship. Book worked at Paxton for about 25 years, eventually being named Executive Director.

Paxton’s mission extends beyond giving people a place to live; it provides companionship and assurance that they are not alone. “People do have value, even though they have been stigmatized by society,” Book says. “They were created in God’s image.”

He has since moved back to Zambia to help run the Macha Research Trust, a medical facility that studies malaria.

J. David Thorpe, Architectural Illustrator

In high school, J. David Thorpe looked up to students majoring in religion at Whitworth College (now Whitworth University) in Spokane, Washington. “It was almost a no-brainer,” he says. “Whitworth was the only school I applied to.”

He found his studies to be extremely engaging and inspiring in his religion major, which the school now calls theology. After graduating in 2005, he accepted an internship ministering to college students in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As much as he liked it, he learned he’d enjoy ministry more if it wasn’t his full-time job.

Thorpe’s dad was a commercial artist and he had grown up watching his father work. And he’d loved a class at Whitworth concerned with “suburban sprawl,” studying urban transportation and how cities grow. A chance assignment at his job in retail—drawing a proposed remodeling of the building—led to other drafting opportunities. He eventually got requests to design homes.

“The more I studied what I was drawing, I realized that cities work in ecosystems,” Thorpe says. “If there’s a traffic jam, it’s not just because the road’s too narrow. The ecosystem question is, ‘Why are 10,000 cars going the same direction?’”

While Thorpe is still involved with college ministry in Colorado Springs, he draws renderings of homes, businesses, and neighborhoods full time. His mission is showing what communities would look like if people could walk where they needed to go instead of driving.

“I love what I’m doing because God cares for people and God cares for this world,” Thorpe says.

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