Online theology programs give students an opportunity to expand their religious knowledge without disrupting career advancement, family time, or busy schedules. Although achieving an online degree in theology can be spiritually beneficial and educational, it is not exclusively for religious students. Theology degrees give students a deeper understanding of religion through study and not necessarily through practice. The following guide provides a detailed look at what kinds of online theology degrees are available and highlights some of the top online colleges for theology education.
From certificate programs through doctoral degrees, an online degree in theology provides a core background in religious studies in a flexible environment. Quality programs are accredited through the Association of Theological Schools, illustrating a commitment to specific criteria and standards. Many online theology degrees are also flexible and have a variety of student services and support to assist students through the program. Theology programs should also offer a variety of concentrations, allowing students to seek a number of careers after graduation. We’ve scoured colleges all across the country to compile this list of the Best Online Theology Programs for the 2018 school year. Check out who made the list below.
The two most common career paths for theology graduates are educators and religious leaders. Educators of religion usually teach in a postsecondary capacity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary teaching positions will increase 19 percent between 2012 and 2022, faster than the average 11 percent of all other occupations. Religious leaders, from Judaism and Christianity to Buddhism and Islam, have the opportunity to serve as church workers in an established religion, as well as start a new organization. The BLS shows that religious organizational leaders earn an average annual salary of $40,650.
How does one know if a theology degree is the right move for advancing his or her career? Theology majors can come from every industry and faith and generally have a strong interest in religion, religious history, service, and leadership. Below are three examples of individuals who may benefit from earning a theology degree.
Clark had spent time abroad on a service mission with his church and had always been strongly focused on helping people. He loved his church’s message and felt there was something more he could be doing to teach people and show charity. He decided that completing an online bachelor’s degree in Biblical and Educational Studies would help him achieve the spiritual connections he was looking for and equip him with the knowledge and skills he needed to further support his church. Attending online classes gave him the freedom to continue travelling for missions.
Jesse showed promise as the number one statewide salesman at his company and was promoted to be manager quickly due to his successful sales numbers. But he knew that his long-term career goal was to become a pastor and manage people in a different setting. He knew that his innate charisma and leadership skills combined with a religious education via an online master’s program would help him see growth and conversion in his future congregation. He completed the degree in two and-a-half years and started a successful new church.
Allison had studied religious history in both her undergraduate and master’s program. She worked at a university as a professor of theology, but had yet to establish herself as a department authority. She attained an Educational Doctoral Degree of Theology over two years, all while maintaining her normal teaching schedule. Once she graduated, she became a published author and was also made Department Chair.
Because of the large variety of online programs in theology, it is important that students understand what is available before enrolling. Additionally, knowing the career path one wants to take will help him or her determine what type of degree is needed. Degrees can be specialized to focus on a specific religion, ministry, and more. Read on for more information about the different types of online theology degrees.
Some common theology and religion degrees include:
A two-year online associate degree in theology will give the student a broad overview of theology topics and give the student a strong, basic foundation for continuing on to a bachelor’s program. Students who choose not to pursue education beyond an associate degree may be qualified for job opportunities such as church planter (a person who establishes new congregations), missionary, or associate pastor in some denominations. While an this degree will teach students some specialized skills, it is recommended that students also attain a bachelor’s degree for a deeper knowledge and skill set and, thus, more potential job opportunities.
Online curriculum includes approximately 60 credits of general education classes and major classes. General education courses include mathematics, science, English, and history. Major courses will differ between schools and programs, but will often include classes such as Study of The Old Testament/New Testament, General Theology, and Religious Fundamentals. Some programs will also require students to take foreign language courses such as Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and/or Aramaic in order to better understand the roots and original contexts of the holy books.
To be accepted into an online associate degree program, students must have a high school diploma or GED.
Bachelor’s degrees in theology will allow students to gain a broader knowledge of religion and specialize in one aspect of theology; for example, ministry, education, history, or a specific denomination. With a bachelor’s degree, graduates can pursue careers as ordained rabbi, priests, ministers, chaplains and other religious leaders, or continue their education and attain a master’s or doctorate degree.
This degree typically takes four years, or two years after achieving an associate degree. Students will have completed a minimum of 120 credit hours upon graduation. Common courses students will be required to take in online bachelor’s of theology programs might include World Religions, History of Christianity, Contemporary Theology, Christian Leadership and Communication in Ministry.
Acceptance requirements differ between online bachelor’s theology programs, but often require that the student have a high school diploma or GED and submit an application, resume, letters of recommendation, and transcripts.
A master’s degree in theology gives the student advanced knowledge. Specialties include Youth Ministry, Pastoral Counseling, Divinity and more, depending on the program. In some Christian denominations and other religions, having a master’s degree in theology is the minimum standard for ordination. Graduates may choose to pursue careers in ministry, or in non-religious organizations as social workers, teachers, or scholars, or use their master’s degree as a stepping stone toward achieving a doctoral degree.
Masters programs generally consist of 72-100 credit hours and can be completed in as little as two years of fulltime study, but in some cases three to four years. Online curriculum typically includes course subjects like ecclesiology, philosophy, church history, Hebrew, and Greek Bible study. Many programs will require a thesis.
Acceptance into an online master’s of theology program requires that students have a bachelor’s degree and meet any GPA and test score standards set by the school. Many schools, particularly Christian schools, will prefer students who show strong Christian faith and demonstrate a desire to work in a religious setting.
Doctoral degrees are the highest level of education attainable for theology students. It is an ideal route for those who wish to teach at a seminary, college, or university or to work on scholarly research. Given the selection of concentrations students may choose from within the realm of theology, there are several doctoral degrees available, including but not limited to:
Online doctoral degrees can be completed in around 60 credits, and some may offer concentrations such as Christian Ethics, New Testament, and Practical Theology. Degree programs and courses will differ widely depending on the school.
Students applying to an online doctor of theology program must hold a graduate degree in theology or related study and may be required to submit a substantial written essay.
Like any degree, finding the right theology program can be challenging, especially when prospective students have several different options and colleges to choose from. Below are some of the key things theology distance learners should keep an eye out for when researching and evaluating programs and institutions:
ATS, or The Association of Theological Schools, is the nation’s main commission for accreditation for theology degrees. If a program is accredited by ATS, it has passed a series of criteria that meet the standards set by the commission and students can trust that their degree is high quality, with applicable and relevant coursework. Although many theology schools are accredited by ATS, only some of them offer fully online theology, religion and ministry degrees. Below is a sample of ATS-accredited online programs. The list, plus other exceptions, can be found here.
Students should have options when it comes to course availability and scheduling. Flexibility, after all, is one of the main reasons people pursue online degrees. Students should call schools and research course schedules to find the program that best fits their lifestyle.
Because online programs lack the in-class interaction and discussion normally found on-campus, it’s important to make sure your program offers an accessible and positive online discussion forum that facilitates student and teacher interactions. Schools should also provide distance education support such as student advisors or mentors, and tech support for the online learning platform. Online professors should also be easily accessible.
Other student services include internship and career placement or other field experience, workshops or programs for current students and alumni.
As you learn more about schools’ individual degree programs and course offerings, you should keep in mind your areas of focus and make sure schools offer classes that serve your interests and goals.
If you’re curious to know more about the curriculum or teacher, don’t be afraid to reach out to the school for more information.
There are a variety of concentrations and sub-disciplines within theology because there are many different views of God and religion and ways to study them. And just as there are different types of theology, there are different focus areas within theology and the study thereof.
Not all theology degrees are created equal. It’s important to know the difference between concentration areas so you can get the education you need for your specific career and personal goals. Below is an explanation of the five main sub-disciplines of theology and a breakdown of some of the concentrations available. Exact names of degrees and availability may differ between schools, but subject matter will be similar.
Biblical Theology is the interpretation of the Bible. It heavily focuses on each of the biblical texts, their literal and symbolic content, and their relationships and links with other Bible texts. Students can choose a bible studies emphasis as well as other areas of concentration while studying biblical theology.
Practical Theology, sometimes called Pragmatic theology, is the study of the practical use of religion in daily life. It commonly includes degrees in Divinity and Ministry, in which students learn to apply and share principles of religion as they serve God in their lives. Students in practical theology programs can further concentrate on youth, family and individual counseling, and Christian Leadership, as well as other emphases.
Systematic Theology narrows Biblical and other religious content into categorical systems of doctrine. Each main category from sin to feminism is deeply studied, giving students very specific and streamlined information on the principles. Areas of emphases within systematic theology will differ between universities and seminaries.
Historical Theology is the study of religion in terms of historical events both in and out of scripture. Students can focus on world religions, Bible studies, and other emphases while studying historical theology.
Moral Theology is an examination of the ethical aspects of religion and establishes how Christians are taught to live according to religion. Students can pursue degrees in Divinity and Ministry within the teachings of moral theology and can emphasize in various fields.
Most theology graduates go on to pursue careers as pastors or ministers at local churches, or teachers at universities or religious schools, but there are other options for students wanting to take their careers in a different direction. Some less conventional careers theology grads can pursue include missionary, scholar, and organization directors.
For students who want to pursue missionary work but do not want to travel for long periods of time, there is often work at local churches and ministries as missionary interns. You will be trained under an experienced religious leader and develop skills necessary to work as a missionary.
Scholars are similar to teachers in that they achieve high levels of education and pass their knowledge on to students, but unlike teachers, who conduct classroom sessions at schools and universities, scholars publish books and papers in theology journals and speak at conferences and seminars. Scholars may also find guest lecture opportunities at colleges and universities.
You may also be able to find work based on your degree specialty. For instance, if you concentrated your theology studies on Youth Counseling, you might serve well as a child or teen counselor at a public or private school, or in an independent counseling center. The same follows for Family Counseling or Substance Abuse Counseling.
Whether entering college for the first time or changing careers, online programs in theology offer students an exciting curriculum designed to provide multiple career paths upon graduation. Online learning programs are known for providing flexible learning environments, but what about other important factors? The search tool below will not only sift through different degree types, but also take into account important qualities such as accreditation, flexibility, student services, and curriculum to find online theology programs matched to student goals.