The theology field is not just for pastoral students. In fact, anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the use of theology to effectively address today’s challenging spiritual needs will find this degree beneficial. A master’s of theology online opens doors for career opportunities in lay ministry, church leadership, missions, or pastoring.
Usually structured as an academic research degree, a master’s in theology involves an average of one to two years of in-depth scholarly work in theology and apologetics. However, not all theology programs are alike, so be sure to carefully compare choices. For instance, they may or may not require a thesis track, and many programs allow students to focus on a specific area of ministry that interests them.
Many excellent schools offer an online master’s of theology degree program, giving adults who work an opportunity to take classes when their schedules permit. Online courses not only allow flexibility but are often less expensive than classes at a brick-and-mortar institution.
To make your search easier, we have compared and ranked the colleges and universities that offer an online theology master’s. Below you will find the top 25 ranking of online theology master’s programs for 2016.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||Cost||Address & Contact Info||School Links||Acclaim for Online Programs||School Description|
|1||The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary||Louisville||$$$$$||2825 Lexington Rd|
Louisville, KY 40280-0001
Since 1859, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has been preparing students to share the Word of God with people throughout the globe. Based in Louisville, KY, the school is the oldest member of the Southern Baptist Convention and currently serves more than 5,000 students each academic year. Students can find numerous options at SBTS: the online master’s in theology (ThM) comprises 88 credits and takes three-and-a-half years to complete, providing students with the biblical and theological knowledge they’ll need for future pursuits. Meanwhile, the master of arts in theology trains and educates students looking to work directly in leadership or ministry positions. Specializations available in this track include intercultural leadership or lay leadership. Students can complete their entire degrees online, although a residency option is offered. Classes are on an eight-week rotation and are accessed through the learning platform Moodle. Learners who are members of a Southern Baptist church are eligible to receive half-price tuition.
|2||Dallas Theological Seminary||Dallas||$$$$$||3909 Swiss Ave|
Dallas, TX 75204
With a focus on creating servant leaders, Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas will soon be celebrating a century of fulfilling their mission. The school has invested greatly in their online degree offerings and it shows: approximately one-quarter of all students elect to complete their DTS degrees from the comfort of their homes. Online master’s in theology students looking for academic rigor can find it at the seminary, with approximately 230 graduate degrees held by faculty members who have published more than 450 books. Both the master of divinity and master of theological studies can be completed entirely online, with both taking around three years of full-time study to fulfill graduation requirements. The MDiv allows students to use 29 credit hours to create a customized emphasis, while 12 more hours can be earned via volunteer or leadership roles at churches or ministries. Students with aspirations to complete a doctorate of theological studies receive a scholarship covering tuition for their final 24 required hours, provided they completed their master’s at DTS.
|3||Covenant Theological Seminary||Saint Louis||$$$$$||12330 Conway Road|
Saint Louis, MO 63141-8609
Covenant Theological Seminary trains learners in reformed theology education and has been doing so since 1956. Today the school maintains its original St. Louis, MO campus while also offering a campus in Nashville, TN and a thriving distance learning program. Graduates can be found using their degrees to further the Kingdom in all 50 states and more than 40 countries. CTS’s online master’s in theology is a 48 credit hour program that takes an average of three years to complete and is only offered on a part-time basis. Upon admission, students must take and pass the bible content examination before they can enroll in their first class. Of the required credits, students may use 14 of those as electives to focus their studies in a particular area of their choice. Professors of online classes at CTS work diligently to ensure students have the opportunity to interact regularly, such as discussion boards, group projects, and video conferences.
|4||Nazarene Theological Seminary||Kansas City||$$$$$||1700 E Meyer Blvd|
Kansas City, MO 64131-1246
Offering classes taught from the Nazarene perspective, the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO has more than a century of teaching experience to offer at its seven campuses in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee, and online. The master’s in theology online MDiv program is comprised of 76 credits and offers two paths: professional and ordination. While the professional is comprised of 18 hours of Christian scripture, 21 hours of church history and theology, 25 hours of ministry foundation and practice, and 12 hours of electives, the ordination path requires 55 hours of course of study requirements and 21 hours of electives. The MA in theological studies, on the other hand, requires 48 credit hours and allows students to customize their learning via 21 hours of electives. A more wide-ranging degree, the MATS is typically undertaken by students looking to broaden their perspectives before honing in on a career path.
|5||The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary||Louisville||$$$$$||2825 Lexington Rd|
Louisville, KY 40280-0001
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary takes its marching orders from the Great Commission, working to educate more than 3,400 students each year from its Wake Forest, NC campus and via distance learning. Additionally, SBTS is proud member of the Southern Baptist Convention. The school’s master of theological studies is unique in that it was designed to cater to international students working in a cross-cultural setting. Admission into this 48-hour credit program is contingent upon a student’s participation in the Global Theological Initiative cohort at SBTS. In order to graduate, students must complete all their classes at a satisfactory level and also produce a researched thesis project. Distance learning offerings at SBTS have grown rapidly since the school first started offering online classes: between 2004 and 2014, nearly 400 students completed 420 degrees.
|6||Phoenix College||Phoenix||$$$$$||1202 W Thomas Rd|
Phoenix, AZ 85013
Although it’s the newest school in this ranking -- having been founded in 1988 -- Arizona’s Phoenix Seminary is the only graduate-level theological seminary within the state. But the school’s reach now extends far beyond The Copper State, with online students hailing from 43 states and 13 countries. Aside from regional accreditations, the school is also professionally accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. Phoenix Seminary’s 48 credit hour master of arts in biblical and theological studies is currently the only program offered fully online, and requires both field education and a researched thesis to be qualified for graduation. The school is currently authorized to train students online from 44 different states, but prospective learners should check with the seminary directly before applying. Once classes start, every student is assigned a personal librarian to help with research requests, while all students are also encouraged to undertake career counseling with the associate dean of students.
|7||Calvin Theological Seminary||Grand Rapids||$$$$$||3233 Burton St SE|
Grand Rapids, MI 49546-4387
Named for the 16th century Protestant Reformer John Calvin, Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan has been around since 1876. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, the school offers five specialized degree programs designed to fit into the lives of busy students. The master of theological studies (MTS) requires 65 credits and takes three years to complete via distance education. This program provides all the foundational knowledge students need, including old and new testament studies, Greek,, theology, and apologetics. The master of theology (ThM) requires 21 credits and was designed for students who already hold a master’s of divinity or MTS but want to specialize their knowledge. Some of the concentrations available include systematic theology, philosophical and moral theology, history of Christianity, and pastoral care. All distance learners are required to attend two campus intensives each year – one in the spring and one in the fall – lasting five days each.
|8||Luther Rice College & Seminary||Lithonia||$$$$$||3038 Evans Mill Rd|
Lithonia, GA 30038-9869
One of the top online colleges in Georgia, Luther Rice has been offering fully online undergraduate programs for more than 15 years. Students do not need to live in the state to take part in these programs, and all learners pay the same tuition rate. The school boasts graduate studies in apologetics, biblical counseling, Christian studies, leadership, and ministry among its online degree-granting programs. The school also offers an online bachelor's degree in religion with a concentration in biblical studies to students seeking specialized curriculum in the Christian faith. Online courses incorporate video lectures and other interactive features that allow students to engage the material, enabling learners to maintain their personal and professional lives while earning a degree.
|9||Assemblies of God Theological Seminary||Springfield||$$$$$||1435 N Glenstone Ave|
Springfield, MO 65802-2131
Operating under the umbrella of Evangel University in Springfield, MO, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary encourages cross-cultural dialogue and the understanding of other faith traditions, regardless of a student’s own beliefs. Learners who elect to pursue their master’s of theology (MTh) online will become very familiar with the Canvas learning platform, using this tool to submit assignments, find required reading, interact with professors, and discuss topics with their peers. The MTh online is a perennially popular option, as each of the required 48 credit hours can be completed in an asynchronous fashion to allow maximum flexibility for students with outside responsibilities. Unlike other programs, AGTS also considers previous undergraduate coursework: students who studied religion previously may only need to complete 39 credits to graduate. In addition to coursework, students also submit a research paper of seminar quality and a portfolio demonstrating how they’ve achieved the program’s learning outcomes.
|10||Bethel Seminary-San Diego||San Diego||$$$$$||6116 Arosa St|
San Diego, CA 92115
Although the main campus of Bethel University is located in Saint Paul, MN, its San Diego campus affords students hands-on experience in cross-cultural ministry and service. The San Diego campus has a distinguished program that includes a master of theology taught completely online. Bethel is the largest school in the 13-member Christian College Consortium, but each student is assigned a cohort to work with throughout their coursework, making distance-learning a more personal experience. In addition to this intimate style of teaching and learning, students visit the campus twice a year for seven-day intensives. Online students can also take advantage of a range of support services during their time at Bethel, including an online writing center, pastoral counseling, technological assistance, career support, online libraries, and a range of student organizations.
|11||Columbia International University||Columbia||$$$$$||7435 Monticello Rd|
Columbia, SC 29203-1513
What started in 1923 as a small bible college, designed to educate locals and future missionaries, has now blossomed into Columbia International University. Today the school has nearly 20,000 alumni working to further the message of God in more than 150 countries. If a student can’t make it to CIU’s South Carolina campus, CIU will come to them. The master of arts in theological studies is a fully online master’s of theology program that focuses on instilling an interdisciplinary knowledge of biblical principles, history, theology, and intercultural studies. The program is offered with two different tracks, for students with no previous biblically-related credit hours and those who have at least 30 previous credits. Students in the former category will spend two years completing 48 credit hours, will those in the latter only need 33 credits.
|12||United Theological Seminary||Dayton||$$$$$||4501 Denlinger Rd.|
Dayton, OH 45426-2308
United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH is one of the oldest schools in this ranking, with a distinguished history reaching back to 1869. However, despite the school’s longevity, its commitment to providing an excellent education and learning experience remains stronger than ever. A recent survey of their students found that 95% felt they were growing intellectually, while 89% said they were growing spiritually. The master’s in theology online was designed specifically for people who believe their ministerial capacity is augmented through the academic study of religion. Within the degree, students also have the option to concentrate their learning in the history of Christianity, systematic theology, or Wesleyan-Methodist studies. The program culminates with 48 credit hours and can be completed in two or three years of full-time study. In addition to online coursework, students attend intensive weeks four times per year at the Dayton campus.
|13||Jewish Theological Seminary of America||$$$$$|
As the only school in this ranking operating in the Jewish tradition, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America offers a fully online master’s degree in Jewish education via the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education. In addition to the core curriculum, JTSA is committed to providing individualized degrees that allow students to tailor them to future goals. To that end, the school provides four concentrations: pedagogy and teaching, educational leadership, arts education, and educational technology. For students seeking a study abroad opportunity, the Davidson School in Israel also provides an experiential educators program. Although most classes are completed online, students are required to visit the New York City campus to complete four courses on-site. These are typically done during the JTS Summer Sessions, a month-long intensive program. Students must also complete a practicum, but these can take place near their home.
|14||Urshan Graduate School of Theology||Florissant||$$$$$||704 Howdershell Rd|
Florissant, MO 63031
Owned and operated by the United Pentecostal Church International, Urshan Graduate School of Theology offers a range of programs, including an online master’s in theology. All programs are delivered via FinalSite, a learning platform that allows students and professors to interact via discussions, live classes, lectures, and assignments. Upon enrollment, learners choose from either the general or research track, both of which require 48 credit hours for graduation. While the general track allows students to complete 18 electives in any discipline to concentrate their knowledge, the research track allows for six electives and requires students to complete a capstone thesis project. This path also includes a more intensive biblical studies course requirement. During the first few courses, students are allowed to change tracks, should they find the other to be more suitable.
|15||Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary||Kansas City||$$$$$||5001 N. Oak Trafficway|
Kansas City, MO 64118-4697
Operating from the multicultural location of Kansas City, MO, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary teaches from the Southern Baptist tradition but is committed to ensuring students also learn about other faith traditions. Can’t get to Kansas City to get your postgraduate degree? Enter the master of theology online provided by MBTS. Administered via OnlineYou and Blackboard, the Master of Theological Studies is a 45-hour program with numerous emphases available, including: church planting, church revitalization, Christian counseling, leadership, discipleship ministries, missions, preaching and pastoral, and even a Korean language track. Aside from coursework, students also complete a leadership practicum after taking a required church administration course. For busy students already deeply involved in ministry efforts or those who have personal responsibilities outside the classroom, MBTS provides six different start dates throughout the academic year and allows learners to complete courses asynchronously.
|16||Winebrenner Theological Seminary||Findlay||$$$$$||950 North Main Street|
Findlay, OH 45840
Although Winebrenner Theological Seminary is now an independent graduate school of theology, it was part of the University of Findlay in Ohio until 1961. Today the school offers a range of biblically rooted degree programs for students looking to gain an academic understanding of theology. The online master of arts in practical theology is a more extensive program than others, requiring four years to complete 60 credit hours. It was developed as a hybrid experience, with 33 credits being taught as intensive courses at a retreat center near the Findlay campus. The other 27 credits can be completed through online learning. In addition to core courses, students also have the option to complete a concentration in biblical studies, Christian leadership, or pastoral ministry. Students with previous academic credits in theology may be able to test out of a few courses by passing a bible exam. In addition to regional accreditation, the school is also accredited by The Association of Theological Schools.
|17||Payne Theological Seminary||Wilberforce||$$$$$||1230 Wilberforce-Clifton Rd.|
Wilberforce, OH 45384
Created in 1894, Payne Theological Seminary has a long and unique history. It is the oldest black seminary in the U.S., one of six currently in operation. The Afrocentric curriculum is accredited by The Association of Theological Schools, while students at both the Wilberforce, OH campus and the online campus enjoy courses provided by qualified and knowledgeable professors. The online master of divinity (MDiv) offers four areas of concentration within the required 90 credit hours: biblical studies, historical studies, theological studies, or practical ministry. In addition to the online component, there are six courses students must complete via campus intensives in the spring, fall, or summer. Additionally, students must also complete a one-year, supervised experiential learning experience in both church and non-church settings. Administrators help students find a suitable church or organization in their region.
|18||Interdenominational Theological Center||Atlanta||$$$$$||700 Martin Luther King Jr Dr SW|
Atlanta, GA 30314-4143
The Interdenominational Theological Center is a unique entry in this ranking as it is a fully ecumenical institution comprising multiple denominations. ITC was formed in 1958 after four denominational seminaries came together to form one graduate school of theology. Its main location is within the Atlanta University Center, but students enrolled in the master’s in theology online program can be found peppered throughout the country. Courses are taught via Moodle and encourage students to interact with their professors and peers regularly to gain both spiritual and academic support. Because many of the school’s students are full-time pastors, ITC’s degree can be completed entirely online without any trips to campus for intensives. The master of divinity combines both biblical theory and pastoral practice, giving graduates the skills and knowledge they’ll need, whether returning to their position or seeking out a new religiously-focused role.
|19||Luther Rice College & Seminary||Lithonia||$$$$$||3038 Evans Mill Rd|
Lithonia, GA 30038-9869
Luther Rice University & Seminary is based in Atlanta, GA although it was originally founded in Florida. This private institution teaches from the Southern Baptist tradition and exists to provide a biblical education to those who feel called to work locally or globally. The school’s master of theology online requires no visits to campus and allows students to complete coursework and assignments at times that suit their schedules. Although the MDiv requires 90 credit hours, students are allowed to transfer up to 45 credits at the time of matriculation. Ninety-six percent of graduates said they were satisfied with their experience at LRUS and can now be found spreading the gospel throughout the world. Students can choose from two different paths: the open electives track allows students to customize their study with 24 hours of electives, while the biblical languages track provides students with the opportunity to learn both Greek and Hebrew.
|20||Wesley Biblical Seminary||Jackson||$$$$$||787 E. Northside Drive|
Jackson, MS 39206
With a mission of creating “Spirit-filled shepherd-theologians and leaders for the 21st century,” Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS teaches from a non-denominational perspective that embraces a Trinitarian faith. It is one of the 270 graduate schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, and WBS also holds regional accreditation. The MA in theology requires two to three years of study to complete the required 50 credit hours. All online master’s in theology students are required to take Greek language in real time via the learning platform Zoom, unless they have previous beginner’s Greek language from their undergraduate coursework. Aside from the postgraduate degree, online students may also elect to complete a graduate certificate in biblical and theological studies. Before qualifying for graduation, students must successfully pass a summative evaluation focused on ministry studies.
|21||Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary||Pittsburgh||$$$$$||7418 Penn Ave|
Pittsburgh, PA 15208-2594
The oldest institution on this list, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary was created in 1810 in Pennsylvania, shortly after the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America was founded in the same state. Even before distance education existed, the school had numerous campuses to ensure students had access to the education they needed to spread the gospel. That mission holds true today with the master of theological studies degree offered entirely online. Requiring 60 quarter hours, full-time students take four to five courses per semester, allowing them to graduate within two years. These classes are divided into four themes: biblical studies, doctrinal studies, church history, and pastoral studies. Upon graduation, students have historical knowledge, a theoretical framework, and practical hands-on skills they need to be successful in ministries ranging from churches to non-profit organizations. Concentrations available include doctrinal and historical studies, biblical studies, or biblical counseling.
|22||Pentecostal Theological Seminary||Cleveland||$$$$$||900 Walker St NE|
Cleveland, TN 37320-3330
A Church of God institution, Pentecostal Theological Seminary is tailored to students who want to bring the message of God to the world. Learners seeking a master’s of theology online have two choices at PTS: a master of theological studies with an emphasis in pentecostal theology or biblical studies. The former requires 48 hours while the latter requires 60 credits, but both are available fully online. Each program was specifically designed for students who aspire to postgraduate academic study of theology. However, those with a desire to answer the call of ministry upon graduation will also be well-equipped to do so. In addition to rigorous academics for current students, PTS also places great emphasis on continuing to work with alumni and ensure they have the tools they need to fulfill their God-given potential. The alumni network at PTS is active, and current students can turn to those already in the field for pastoral guidance.
|23||Iliff School of Theology||Denver||$$$$$||2201 S University Blvd|
Denver, CO 80210-4798
Iliff School of Theology in Denver is an inclusive, multicultural, and highly esteemed school that attracts those who are passionate about heeding the call of the Great Commission. IST values diversity and that shows in the vastly ranging group of students who choose to complete their postgraduate biblical educations through the school – be it on campus or online. All online classes are taught via Canvas, and administrators are on hand to ensure learners are able to get the most out of their distance educations. Through the “Journey” Master of Divinity degree, Iliff believes a hybrid program is best for providing both flexibility and ensuring that students get the necessary interaction with peers and professors they need to thrive. Prospective students should be prepared to visit campus three times a year: for one week in the fall, two to four days in the winter, and two to four days in the spring. All of the online classes are lead by the same fully qualified, full-time faculty leading campus-based courses.
|24||Moody Bible Institute||Chicago||$$$$$||820 N LaSalle Blvd|
Chicago, IL 60610-3284
Founded by father of the Holiness movement D.L. Moody, Moody Bible Institute has been working to spread the gospel worldwide from its Chicago campus since 1886. The school promises that all students, regardless of their major, spend more time studying the Bible than any other book to ensure they are knowledgeable and competent in Christian concepts upon graduation. The school’s master’s in theology online is offered as an MDiv and works to develop biblical expertise and advanced preaching skills. Completed in a cohort sequence, students spend four years – including summer classes each year – completing the required 90 credits. These hours include core coursework and two semester-long internships in the student’s local community. Learners will also have the opportunity to hone their preaching and counseling skills after taking courses in narrative preaching and pastoral counseling during their third year.
|25||Clarks Summit University||Clarks Summit||$$$$$||538 Venard Rd|
Clarks Summit, PA 18411-1250
Looking for a school where Christ is at the center of every course offered and every faculty member’s goals? Pennsylvania's Clarks Summit University has held this mission close since 1932 and instilled it within the more than 13,000 alumni who have completed their biblical educations at the university. As of 2016, graduate enrollment includes 145 students, meaning all learners enjoy small classes and personal attention from their professors. SUP is also unique in how it structures the online master’s in theology. Offered as a master of arts, the goal of the 30 credit-hour program is to prepare students “for any ministry God lays on your heart.” With this mission in mind, students are given the freedom to design plans of study that incorporate both their skills and passions for theology while also gaining the academic girding they will need to take on pastoral or ministerial roles.
Further Educational Opportunities
A master’s in theology is usually the first step toward a doctor of divinity degree. Upon completion of a divinity doctorate, graduates may choose to go on to complete a doctoral program in theology in order to better serve their congregations.
In a similar vein, some academics consider a master’s of divinity to be a precursor to a master’s in theology, especially for those looking to actively serve as the leader of a ministry. The basic distinction is that a divinity degree is what practicing ministers, priests and pastors are expected to hold if they do hold an advanced degree, whereas a theology master’s is more scholastic and research-intensive in nature and could be pursued by someone who solely intends to stay an academic conducting research and publishing their work. To better understand common differences, refer to this explanation by Gordon Conwell Seminary.
For students looking for more nuance and guidance regarding the proper graduate path, consult with the Association of Theological Schools, the body responsible for accrediting virtually all legitimate theology and divinity programs in the U.S.
While the master of divinity is likely the degree needed to become the head of a congregation, there are a number of alternate and equally rewarding careers to pursue with a master’s in theology in hand; popular paths include work as a church retreat coordinator, as a church or charity administrator, as a director of church or faith-run activities or as the head of a student ministry.
If teaching is your passion, a degree in theology is usually the minimum requirement to work within the theology department of an accredited postsecondary institution. Outside of teaching is intensive research work, which almost always is overseen by a college or university as well. But regardless of whether it’s teaching or research that drives someone with a Master of Theology to stay in school post-degree, most institutions expect their master’s grads that stay on to work towards a doctorate, in this case, either in theology, divinity or religious studies, and often on a strictly set, multi-year timeline.
Considering how varied the positions available to a master’s in theology graduate are, it is no surprise that income and prospects for positions also tend to vary. Using data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we’ve identified several popular careers theology grads qualify for, a few of the industries the BLS identifies for each position and every position’s average annual wage for May of 2014:
- Clergy – $47,730 – Industries employing clergy include religious orgs, medical and surgical hospitals, home health care services, nursing care facilities and state government.
- Directors, Religious Activities and Education – $38,480 – Industries employing religious directors include religious orgs, elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and professional schools and the “Federal Executive Branch” of the government.
- Philosophy and Religion Teachers, Postsecondary – $63,630 – Industries employing religion teachers include colleges, universities and professional schools and junior colleges.
- Religious Workers, All Others – $29,620 – Industries employing all other religious workers include religious orgs, home health care services, elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and professional schools and medical and surgical hospitals.