A theology degree can qualify you to work as a minister, lead an international mission, or help others through community service programs. If you are curious about religious doctrines, enjoy speaking or writing about your faith, or want to use your education to serve God, then a theology degree might be right for you. Even if there are no seminaries in your vicinity, you still have many options for earning a high–quality online theology degree. Keep reading to learn how you can start your theology degree today.
A theology degree gives you an education in religious ethics, morality, history, philosophy, and literature. While theology can focus on any religion, U.S. theology degrees typically focus on Christianity. Theology is also primarily a philosophical discipline, although people can and do use their theology degrees to enter practical, faith–based professions.
The basic theology degree is an associate degree. This two–year program can help you qualify for an entry–level position in any number of religious organizations. However, in order to minister, teach, or lead, you will likely need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in theology. If you plan to use your theology degree to serve in a leadership role through a church, religious organization, or charitable foundation, then you may wish to earn a master’s degree. With a doctoral degree in theology, you could have the opportunity to teach at the university level or lead important research efforts in your field.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
When it comes to theology, the accreditation your program needs will depend upon the specific content. For example, a program that focuses on ministry may need to be accredited by a different entity than a program that emphasizes Bible studies. And of course, different religions and sects have their own accrediting standards for their schools.
Some accreditation agencies that might be relevant to your interests include:
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Theology Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Theology
An associate degree in theology is typically a 60–credit program that you can complete in about two years. In this program, you’ll be exposed to the basic tenets of theology and philosophy, and get an introduction to religious traditions and influences. As with any other associate degree, you’ll also be learning skills like writing, communication, and the basics of research, all which can help you in future courses or in employment. With an associate degree in theology, you could qualify for entry–level employment through a non–profit or community service organization. However, to advance toward a career in the ministry, religious leadership, or education, you will need to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree.
What Theology Courses Will You Take?
- Biblical Studies in the Old and New Testaments
- Church History
- Introduction to Philosophy
- Introduction to Theology
- Pastoral Counseling
- World Religions
What’s the Difference Between an AA and AS in Theology?
Generally speaking, the difference between an associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS) is in the overall focus of the program. An AA in theology will give you a basic grounding in theological principles, and will also require you to take several liberal arts classes. An AS in theology, will give you the same education in theology but also focuses on scientific principles and courses. If you’re interested in how the literature of the Bible can be interpreted and evangelized, an AA may be better for you. If your focus is on the anthropological aspects of Bible study, perhaps an AS is the way to go.
Bachelor of Theology
A bachelor of theology is a 120–credit course that can be completed in four to five years. In this type of program, you’ll delve into subjects like ethics and philosophy, while also deepening your understanding of biblical and historical theology. Depending on your program, you may also learn practical skills, such as interpersonal relations, counseling, and religious leadership. At this level, you’ll have the opportunity to begin focusing on a concentration based on your area of interest. Completion of a bachelor’s degree in theology may qualify you to seek ordination for some religious orders, and can also qualify you for a leadership role in a number or religious or community organizations. A bachelor’s in theology degree will also allow you to continue into a graduate school program if you choose.
What Theology Courses Will You Take?
- Christian Ministry
- Greek Language
- Hebrew Language
- Systematic Theology
What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and a Bachelor of Theology?
While it may seem like splitting hairs, the differences between a bachelor of arts (BA with a major in theology) and a BTh (bachelor of theology) are worth highlighting. The BTh is a somewhat shorter program, taking as little as three years to complete. It focuses more specifically on theology courses and is a good choice if you know that you want to go into ministry. The BA with a major in theology, on the other hand, is a more rounded liberal arts education with a focus on theology courses. Because you’ll be taking more classes, it does take longer to complete—at least four to five years. A BA can be the better choice if you plan to enter a master’s program afterwards.
To add one more wrinkle, some schools also offer a BS (bachelor of science) in theology. As with the associate degree, this will come with a heavier emphasis on science courses. Most schools offer either a BA or BS, but not both.
Master of Theology
The master of theology (ThM) is a postgraduate degree that takes one to two years to complete. These programs require specialized advanced courses in theological research. Some programs might require comprehensive exams and/or a research thesis. A master of theology could also help you take the next step toward a Ph.D. in theology. A ThM degree will allow you to teach theological subjects in some accredited seminaries and graduate schools. This degree is also commonly held by ministers, religious counselors, or chaplains.
What Theology Courses Will You Take?
- Advanced Diaconal Studies
- Hebrew and Christian Scriptures
- Church History
- Christian Ethics
- Pastoral Care in Human Crisis
- Spiritual Life and Evangelism
What’s the Difference Between a Master of Theology and a Master of Divinity?
The master’s in theology is generally more academic in nature. If you want to continue to a doctorate in theology, the master’s of theology may be the right choice. The coursework you do in your ThM program can reduce the credit requirement of your doctoral program, and improves your overall qualifications as you seek to advance in your career. A master of divinity (MDiv), on the other hand, is preferable if you plan to go directly into ministry. Your courses will focus more on leadership and administrative skills, preparing you to take on pastoral duties. If you do choose to enter a doctorate program after an MDiv program, that option is still open to you.
Doctorate in Theology
The doctorate is the terminal degree in theology. This program typically requires 50+ hours of advanced course work, followed by a dissertation. Some programs also require retreats or that you pass a language competency exam. Generally, you can expect to spend four years working toward completion. With a doctorate in theology, you’ll be qualified to lead a congregation, helm a religious organization, conduct field research, or teach at the university level.
What Theology Courses Will You Take?
- Ancient Zoroastrian Tradition
- Apologetic Methods
- Biblical Hermeneutics
- Biblical Languages
- Modern Christian Liberation Movements
What’s the Difference Between a Doctorate in Theology and a Doctorate in Philosophy?
On a practical level, the Th.D. and Ph.D. are equivalent programs. Both are terminal degrees in the field. The biggest difference is that a Th.D. will focus more on Christianity specifically, while a Ph.D. in theology may cover other religions and practices.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do You Need?
The specific licensing or certification you need will depend solely on what you choose to do with your theology degree.
One of the most common reasons to pursue a theology degree is to become a minister, pastor, preacher, priest, rabbi, or other religious authority figure. All these authority figures must be ordained, or consecrated and elevated to clergy status. Your specific religion and denomination will determine how you can achieve ordination. Individual religious organizations set their own standards and educational requirements. Additionally, some religions will accept a broader range of applicants to ordination than others. For instance, the Catholic Church will not ordain women, LGBTQ+ people, or married men. In the Jewish faith, women and LGBTQ+ people can be ordained within the Reform or Conservative movements, but not in Orthodox Judaism. There are no governing bodies that will apply across the board, so it’s important that you research the parameters and requirements of your specific religious affiliation to find out how you can be ordained.
What Can You Do With a Theology Degree?
If you are wondering, “What can I do with a theology degree?” there are plenty of options. Your theology degree can lead to many inspiring and rewarding jobs in both religious and secular organizations. For more detail, check out a few of these top theology degree jobs:
What Kind of Salary Can You Earn With a Theology Degree?
Your theology degree could open the door to a variety of careers in religious leadership, community organization, and social service. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median annual salary information as of 2018 for these top theology degree jobs:
|Directors of Religious Activities and Education||$40,810|
|Community and Social Service Specialists||$42,620|
|Social and Community Service Managers||$65,320|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Theology Associations or Societies You Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for theology associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.