If your calling lies in the church or ministry, an online master's in theology can help turn your faith into a fulfilling career. In a master's in theology online program, you will immerse yourself in scripture and theological research to further expand your Christian worldview.
Upon completion, you will have the experience and knowledge needed to lead others and spread the word of God. Read on to learn more about the skills you will develop in an advanced program and the career opportunities that await you with an online master's in theology degree.
What are the best theology programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:
|1||Columbia International University||Columbia, SC|
|2||Lincoln Christian University||Lincoln, IL|
|3||University of Dallas||Irving, TX|
|4||World Mission University||Los Angeles, CA|
|5||Fordham University||Bronx, NY|
|6||Biola University||La Mirada, CA|
|7||Creighton University||Omaha, NE|
|8||Concordia University Irvine||Irvine, CA|
|9||Franciscan University of Steubenville||Steubenville, OH|
|10||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA|
- WHAT CAN I DO WITH A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY?
Graduates with a master's in theology are prepared for ministerial work as pastors or parish leaders and educator positions at all levels. Read more here..
- DO I NEED AN UNDERGRADUATE IN THEOLOGY TO SEEK A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY?
Admission requirements vary between schools. Some require students to hold a seminary-related undergraduate degree, while others require them to have any bachelor's. For more accurate information, learners should contact their prospective schools. Read more here..
- HOW MANY CREDITS ARE NEEDED FOR A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY?
Credit requirements will vary between program, but will usually be between 30 and 50 credits. For more accurate information, students should check with their prospective schools. Read more here..
- HOW MUCH DO THEOLOGY PROFESSORS EARN WITH A MASTER'S DEGREE?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2017, religion teachers earned a median salary of $69,590. Read more here..
- IS A MASTER'S IN DIVINITY THE SAME AS A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY?
A master's divinity is considered the minimum degree to assume pastoral roles. The master's of theology is most commonly used as a stepping stone to move into a Ph.D.. program in theology. Earning a master's in theology can reduce the credit requirements of a Ph.D.. program. Read more here..
Most graduates with a theology master's find employment in the church as pastors or parish leaders, but can also find gainful employment at elementary and secondary schools, and universities.
WILL AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
A master of theology is a higher degree by research, so graduates of an online program will gain advanced skills in evaluating, analyzing, and disseminating intensive research. In a master of theology online program, you can also enhance your expertise within a specific interdisciplinary area by choosing a specialization; some options include biblical and historical studies, religion and science, or global studies. After completing the program, you will be eligible for several ministry-related leadership careers requiring a graduate degree, including roles as missionaries, pastors, or postsecondary teachers.
WILL A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY ONLINE PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Master's in theology online programs are designed to be flexible, and are ideal for working professionals, parents, or anyone else with life commitments that may prevent them from commuting to and from campus on a daily basis. Distance learning allows you to focus on your calling without uprooting your job or family; you will earn your degree from the same esteemed faculty who teach on campus, and from the comfort of your own home. If you are required to complete an internship, you are encouraged to connect with an online program coordinator to find a site that is close to your home for further convenience.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY?
Master's in theology online graduates are set to become leaders within the church and the community. Common careers for master of theology students include positions as denominational leaders, mission services directors, and professors at postsecondary institutions, among others. A master's degree will also set you on the academic path to earn a PhD in the field, opening the door to even more advanced roles in the church.
WHAT ARE THE BEST MASTER OF THEOLOGY ONLINE PROGRAMS?
Choosing an online master of theology program is an extremely personal decision, and only you can evaluate whether a school's teaching approach, available specializations, and course outcomes will help you match your academic and professional goals. The following ranked list of schools is meant to serve as a starting point in your search for the best online master's in theology programs throughout the U.S. We weigh criteria such as school graduation rates, career support services, and course offerings to determine academic excellence. Be sure to contact admission specialists at your target school to learn more about specific requirements and opportunities.
The Best Online Master's in Theology Programs
Columbia International University
|Columbia, SC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 64%||
Columbia International University offers a master of arts in theological studies to students with strong interests in research and biblical scholarship. Available in an entirely online format, this master's in theology requires 48 credits of coursework. Full-time students can graduate in 1.5-2 years.
This rigorous, academically focused program emphasizes critical research and analysis to prepare theology scholars to create publishable work. Students also learn to contextualize and interpret religious texts and critically assess and explain dogmatic and doctrine-based values and statements.
This program supports two learning tracks: one for students with no previous theology experience and another for degree-seekers with academic backgrounds in religious studies. Regardless of their academic background, graduates are prepared for careers in ministry, missionary work, and academia.
Lincoln Christian University
|Lincoln, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
Founded as a biblical institute in 1944, Lincoln Christian University now ranks among the leading theology and spirituality schools in the United States. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the Association of Biblical Higher Education, and the Association of Theological Schools, LCU generates good student satisfaction scores in postgraduation surveys. About 82% of polled matriculants indicated they would still attend the university given the opportunity to re-choose their school.
The online master's in theology at LCU is an intensive program that includes 10-12 courses. Classes cover topics like historical reviews of theology, the systematic relationships created by Christian doctrines, and philosophical aspects of religious studies. Learners with undergraduate credits or degrees in a related field may qualify for advanced standing and graduate in 18 months.
University of Dallas
|Irving, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 66%||
The University of Dallas offers a master of theological studies through its School of Ministry — a praxis-oriented Catholic institution of higher education. Learners complete core courses alongside electives, which comprise about 40% of the degree's 37 required credits.
Core courses focus on Catholic dogma, rites, and institutions, and students undertake thorough examinations of scripture and church history. Electives cover religious and secular topics. Degree-seekers have the option to earn a concentration in biblical theology or supplement their studies with business and/or liberal arts classes.
The program culminates in a capstone project, which participants complete during their final semester; students conduct focused research on a faculty-approved topic. Graduation requirements also include a rigorous annotated bibliography, designed to ensure students emerge with a thorough and complete grounding in essential texts and literature.
World Mission University
|Los Angeles, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Based in Los Angeles, California, World Mission University was founded by religious scholar Dr. Dong Sun Lim. The institution invites aspiring theologians and church leaders from around the world to advance their academic and spiritual development.
The school's master's in theology features a 48-credit curriculum that helps students develop biblical interpretation and critical analysis skills. Participants also learn to apply religious doctrine to daily situations and lead spiritual communities in professional capacities.
Designed to meet the needs of lay people aspiring to careers in religious service, the program is also suitable for established and emerging missionaries and pastors. Students with previously earned theology credits can earn advanced standing by transferring in up to 50% of the total degree requirements.
|Bronx, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 83%||
Based in the Bronx borough of New York City, Fordham University offers multiple online master's degrees through its Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. Online learners can earn a master of arts degree in Christian spirituality, pastoral care, pastoral studies, or religious education.
All programs honor the Jesuit Catholic school's founding mission statement of providing academically competent, scholarship-oriented religious education opportunities. The university maintains a strong focus on counseling, and religious studies programs teach aspiring counselors to ground their careers in spirituality and Christian values.
Fordham University and its Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education hold accreditations and affiliations with nine external agencies. This marks one of the most varied and complete sets of endorsements of any theological institute in New York.
|La Mirada, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
Southern California's Biola University offers an online master of arts in theology program. Degree-seekers can pursue Greek and non-Greek tracks, with the Greek program providing enhanced instruction in Ancient Greek. This track offers the chance to develop advanced abilities to read and interpret early Christian texts in their original language.
Participants typically complete their 49-credit master's degree in 2-4 years. Students in both tracks take classes like personal foundations for spiritual formation; contemporary theology; and Christ, humanity, sin, and salvation. Participants also complete a capstone seminar.
Biola offers its theology program through the Talbot School of Theology, which traces its history to 1908 and holds accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools. Biola is also accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
|Omaha, NE||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 81%||
Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton University combines the flexibility of online learning with traditional face-to-face instruction in its hybrid master of arts in ministry program. Students can earn more than half of their required credits online.
Courses are delivered in eight-week terms, and learners typically progress through the program by taking one class at a time. Terms run year-round, and students complete campus residency requirements during the summer months.
Creighton also incorporates spiritual retreats into its ministry program, with students embarking on an eight-day journey of focused inner growth. The institution embraces its Jesuit Catholic roots, with instructors doubling as professional and spiritual mentors.
Concordia University Irvine
|Irvine, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
The online master's in theology program at Concordia University Irvine emphasizes the practical applications of a degree in Christian religious studies. The degree path features a cohort structure. Available emphasis options include Christian education leadership, research in theology, youth ministry, theology and culture, and servant leadership.
Each class typically includes 10-20 students, enabling professors to offer personalized attention to learners. Participants take core courses like systematic doctrinal theology, creeds and confessions, and a survey of historical theology. They also complete a thesis.
Many courses in this 32-38-credit program feature synchronous, real-time delivery. Learners of all religious affiliations are welcome, and applicants do not need any previous theological training. GRE scores are not required.
Franciscan University of Steubenville
|Steubenville, OH||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 77%||
Ohio's Franciscan University of Steubenville embraces the Franciscan model of higher education, which values relationship building and a sacramental approach to intellectual growth. It also celebrates student diversity.
Students in the school's master of arts in theology program can customize their delivery format by opting for a hybrid or fully online program. Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree and submit three letters of recommendation.
Students can choose from two specialization tracks: catechetics and evangelization (available exclusively on campus) and canon law (available to online learners). The latter option provides the academic foundation needed to pursue advanced studies at the Catholic University of America's School of Canon Law.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
The online master of arts in religious education program at Liberty University features 60 credits of coursework. With start dates offered throughout the year, eight-week terms, and an asynchronous delivery model, this online program offers a flexible and accessible education.
Blending Old and New Testament perspectives, course content explores the doctrinal and dogmatic aspects of the Christian faith. Designed as a professional program with a strong academic focus, the program trains students for careers in ministry. Graduates gain a generalized scope of institutional and educational knowledge and are qualified for careers in Christian education and pastorship.
This program is offered through Liberty's School of Divinity, which holds a specialized endorsement from the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Theology Program?
To get the most out of studying your master's in theology online, it's important to find out which program best suits your needs. Details vary depending on the school and program chosen, but the following covers the basics of what you should expect.
CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN THEOLOGY
|Concentration||Description||Careers This Concentration Prepares For|
|Biblical studies||Course electives focus on scripture, including intensive study of an ancient language, the history of Christianity, spiritual formation, and how to interpret theological themes. This provides a deep understanding of the religion.||Ministry director, foreign or domestic missionary, school enrollment counselor, chaplain, social worker, youth pastor|
|Religious education||This concentration explores education with a biblical perspective. Students have the opportunity to develop professional competency in specific types of instruction, such as catechetical or secondary education, and may prepare you to complete a teacher certification.||Catholic (elementary, middle, or high) school teacher, Catholic school administrator, director of religious education|
|Christian leadership||The Christian leadership concentration allows you to specialize in an area specific to your ministry needs or area of interest. These may include revival strategies, ministry administration, or church planting.||Community leader, teacher, youth leader, nonprofit organizer, director|
|Pastoral counseling||Pastoral care or counseling combines biblical, theological, and pastoral training with the skills needed to provide care. Depending on the subject areas you focus on – which may include marriage and family, psychology, and human sexuality – the concentration might prepare you for licensure.||Clinical counselor, marriage and family counselor, chaplain, addiction counselor, youth pastor|
CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN THEOLOGY
Coursework can vary between programs. To give you an idea of a typical master's in theology online curriculum, sample courses are listed below.
- Church history: This course provides foundations in historical, biblical, and theological training, exploring Christianity through different cultures and eras. Historical theology can provide skills useful for teaching, research, and doctoral studies.
- Spiritual formation: Spiritual formation emphasizes spiritual growth and gaining a deeper understanding of concepts and practices leading to a Christ- and community-centered life. This subject can equip you for a future as a spiritual director or leader of a spiritual formation ministry.
- Intercultural studies: Intercultural studies, which generally integrate theology with ethics, sociology, and anthropology, develops global leadership skills and appreciation for diversity. These skills can prepare you for work among other ethnic and cultural groups, such as military chaplaincy or diplomatic positions in overseas U.S. embassies.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY?
On average, a theology master's program online requires students to earn 34-38 credit hours, and this can be accomplished with about two years of full-time study. Some programs can be completed in 18 months while others take up to four years. This depends on the depth of instruction, the specialization or concentration you choose, whether you study part time or full time, and whether the school offers an accelerated track.
There are also variables specific to distance learning to consider as online degrees are presented in various formats. Asynchronous delivery provides flexible, 24/7 access to coursework that you can complete on your own schedule. Synchronous and cohort learning mimic the traditional classroom; all students attend online classes at the same time.
CERTIFICATIONS AND LICENSES A MASTER'S IN THEOLOGY PREPARES FOR
- Biblical counseling: Gaining online seminary licensure in counseling can open the door to roles in vocational, family, and ministry settings, such as pastors or high school counselors. Some curricula are designed around certifying agencies' requirements so that students automatically graduate with certification. Coursework will qualify you to sit for licensure examinations.
- Teaching: Agencies such as the Religious Education Department of the Catholic Education Office grant certifications with different requirements for various age levels. A master of divinity online concentration in teaching is usually required to qualify for certification.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Theology Degrees
Proper accreditation is important to the ministry as it demonstrates that you received a quality education – one that meets recognized standards in curricula, faculty, learning resources, and governance. Accreditation also allows you greater flexibility if you pursue education beyond your master's of divinity online, as some institutions won't accept credit from unaccredited schools.
Most online seminary schools are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Regional accreditation, compared to national accreditation, is more widely accepted between schools and sought after by employers.
The DOE and the CHEA have a strong influence on accreditation. Both oversee the approval of accrediting organizations to ensure they meet strict regulatory criteria, which in turn, ensures the quality of accredited schools. You can find a database of accredited institutions on the the DOE's and the CHEA's websites.
Employment Outlook for Online Theology Programs
Ministerial and theological work is not for everyone. Students blessed with the belief, patience and grace for religious training are a rare breed, and prospective theological students should understand and evaluate the rigors of studying in an advanced program before pursuing an online Master's in Theology.
For those called to theology, both the classwork and the career opportunities that await after graduation are incredibly rewarding. Students can expect to deepen their understanding of Christian principles and the Bible. The programs listed above provide exposure to the world's most influential religious texts, while renowned faculty train students to become experts in religious history and cross-cultural ethics. Those programs prepare you for a career in religious-based academia or for life in the ministry, and the school will offer insight into the challenges inherent in providing religious counsel in the modern world. Students also emerge from school prepared to integrate scripture with modern technology in either academia or the church.
Most graduates with a theology master's find employment in the church as pastors or parish leaders. Beyond religious organizations, theology degree-holders often find gainful employment within educational institutions, including elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and professional learning facilities. Though master's degree-holders are typically eligible for teaching jobs at churches and schools, most colleges require theology professors to hold a doctorate.
Obtaining a Bachelor's in theology may help you qualify for an entry-level job, though most theological careers require at least a master's degree. Fortunately, fulfilling positions are increasingly in demand for postsecondary graduates: the BLS projects an employment growth of 8.9% among religious workers between 2012 and 2022 and reports an annual mean wage of $34,700 as of May 2014 for professionals in this occupation, an increase from a reported $31,600 in 2011.
While the coursework in any postsecondary program will challenge people of all backgrounds, the online format facilitates efficient instruction while providing sufficient resources for students to succeed. Distance learners have as much access to world-class faculty and a variety of theological subfields as residential students, and the online format is ideal for working professionals to strengthen their bond with Christ without disrupting their professional and familial responsibilities. If a career and a life in theology is your true calling, earning your diploma from one of the best master's degree in theology programs online is the perfect way to get started.