For those dedicated to learning about religion, a theology degree can be a doorway to many possible career options both inside and outside the church. According to PayScale, senior pastors earn a median salary of $57,343 a year. An online bachelor’s degree in theology can prepare you to hold leadership and mentorship roles in all kinds of settings, including education and nonprofit organizations. This guide will help you select the best online theology degree for you and your unique career goals.
Online Bachelor’s in Theology Degree Program Ranking Guidelines
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The Best Online Bachelor’s in Theology Programs
1. Liberty University Online
Boasting a student population of 110,000 individuals, Liberty University is one the largest Christian universities in the world and a pioneering force in distance education. Offering web–based programs as early as 1985, Liberty’s current online undergraduate catalog includes programs in aviation, behavioral science, criminal justice, and an online theology degree.
Consisting of 120 credit hours, Liberty’s BS in religion program is designed to build strong research and analytical skills. In addition to broad surveys of the Old and New Testaments, major courses explore both academic and theological interpretations of scripture, research and writing methodologies in religious studies, and apologetics. Students pursuing an online degree in theology must complete a research– or praxis–based capstone, and many choose to minor in biblical studies, church ministries, or Christian counseling.
Liberty’s self–paced online courses are eight weeks long, and feature multiple start dates throughout the year. Through the university’s generous credit transfer policy, students may be able to receive college credit for life and professional experience, including youth ministry activities and evangelism. Military personnel may qualify for special chaplaincy programs, in addition to discounts and scholarships.
Liberty University Online is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
2. Clarks Summit University
South Abington Twp., Pennsylvania
Since 1932, Clarks Summit University has sought to provide its students with innovative, rigorous academic programs rooted in Christian principles. The university’s Baptist affiliation and commitment to biblical authority are evident in its accredited online theology degree curriculum, which emphasizes scriptural interpretation and study.
Clarks Summit’s 123–credit BS in Integrated Studies– Bible and Theology program takes a unique, interdisciplinary approach to religious studies. In addition to required general education classes and 42 credits of religious coursework, students can customize their degree plan through six credits of ministry electives,12 general studies hours, and 33 hours of free elective coursework in any field. Most web–based classes are eight weeks long, and feature numerous interactive components, including group discussions and collaborative projects.
Prospective students are expected to demonstrate their Christian faith in a spiritual resume provided by the university, and should submit a personal essay and pastoral reference along with their application and standardized test scores. Undergraduates pursuing an online theology degree may be eligible for several tuition discounts, including general tuition relief and a Christian Worker discount.
Clarks Summit University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
3. St. Joseph’s College of Maine
Located on Lake Seboga and two hours north of Boston, St. Joseph’s College Of Maine is the state’s only Roman Catholic college. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1912, this private, regionally accredited institution welcomes male and female students of all ages and religious backgrounds. While SJC is primarily a residential school, it also offers numerous fully–online undergraduate and graduate programs, including a BA in theological studies.
Presented in a self–paced format for maximum flexibility, this degree may be fast–tracked for those interested in pursuing an MA in theology or master of divinity. Designed to prepare degree–seekers for church careers as well as graduate studies, its general education curriculum centers upon four focal points: foundations of college–level thinking; the human condition and the human story; nature and society; and art, creativity, and self–knowledge. Major core requirements address Catholic doctrine and sacraments, Christology, biblical studies, and church history. Students may also select 12 credits of theology electives on topics ranging from the history of Latino Catholicism to the theology of the body.
Online students at SJC have numerous resources at their fingertips, from individual academic advising to web–based tutoring sessions offered through the college’s unique SMARTHINKING service. All applicants are automatically considered for merit–based scholarships of up to $19,000, based on standardized test scores and community and school involvement. Tuition for online programs is significantly lower than SJC’s on–campus tuition rate, and the same for state residents and nonresidents alike.
St. Joseph’s College of Maine is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE).
4. DeSales University
Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
The Catholic Church has sponsored some of the brightest Western minds over the past several centuries, and DeSales University hopes to continue that tradition. Committed to upholding the principles of Christian humanism developed by St. Francis de Sales, the university seeks to promote intellectual curiosity, community engagement, and reverence for the natural world by offering affordable, academically rigorous degree programs at its Pennsylvania campus and beyond.
Emphasizing cultural literacy, DeSales’ 120–credit online theology degree program examines the natural world, human achievement, and philosophical themes, inviting students to examine their aesthetic choices in light of Catholic teaching. Required general education coursework covers topics in art, literature, mathematics, and philosophy, and offers a choice between completing two semesters of foreign language study or a two–part world cultures class. Major courses focus strongly on Catholic theology and liturgics, as well as Christology and apologetics.
DeSales’ generous policies allow students to transfer up to 75 credits, and distance learners may be able to earn credit for work and life experience. Courses are offered in eight–week sessions four times a year, in a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous formats. Upon admission, each degree candidate is assigned an academic advisor to assist with enrollment and program planning.
DeSales University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
5. Shasta Bible College and Graduate School
Shasta Bible College got its start in 1970, when Dr. Royal D. Blue recognized a growing demand for comprehensive pastoral training programs in the Redding, California area. Today, this nationally accredited institution is known for its unique community outreach programs, adult education opportunities, and web–based degree offerings.
Designed with prospective ministers in mind, Shasta’s 128–credit online bachelor’s degree in theology places special emphasis on leadership and communication. Along with courses in church history, hermeneutics, and biblical study and interpretation, students must complete 14 credits of ministry coursework, including a field ministry component. Another notable feature of Shasta’s online degree in theology is its language requirement, which can be fulfilled through six credits of introductory Greek or Hebrew.
Shasta is a Yellow Ribbon participating school, and eligible veterans and military personnel may receive significant tuition discounts. All distance learners may apply for institutional grants and scholarships. The college also offers diverse internship opportunities through local businesses, nationwide Christian groups such as City Vision, and the U.S. Military.
Shasta Bible College and Graduate School is nationally accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).
6. Southwestern Assemblies of God University
Southwestern Assemblies of God University’s online degree in theology is identical in subject matter and scope to the program offered at its Waxahachie, Texas campus, but with one extra incentive: distance learners receive a 15% tuition grant each semester. Taking a personalized approach to web–based education, SAGU prides itself on its small class sizes, faculty involvement, and extensive student support network that includes job training and career assistance.
SAGU’s accredited online theology degree presents a broad survey of Christian history, both prior to and following the Reformation, as well as the development of Pentecostal doctrine. Other major courses introduce concepts in systematic theology, Christian ethics, and apologetics. In addition, students complete 57 credits of general education coursework; much of which is intended to benefit future ministers and religious leaders. These required classes build fundamental skills in public speaking and composition, and offer an introduction to basic concepts in psychology and the social sciences.
SAGU offers several unique opportunities, including an early college credit program for high school students taking general education or biblical studies courses through the university, and special transfer conditions and grants for members of Christ for the Nations Institute. The school’s Arizona–based American Indian College is the only Christian college in the nation to serve a primarily Native American student body, and its online degree offerings are identical to those presented at its main site.
Shasta Bible College and Graduate School is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
7. Apex School of Theology
Durham, North Carolina
Apex School Of Theology got its start in 1995 as a small North Carolina church school and has since expanded in size and scope to become a fully–accredited institution of higher learning. While ASOT retains deep roots in African–American culture and spirituality, it strives to create an interdenominational, interracial, and gender–inclusive community for all students.
The curriculum for ASOT’s 128–credit online theology degree reflects the school’s commitment to diversity as much as its motto: "Training Church Leaders For the 21st Century.” General education requirements include courses in African–American history and literature, along with public speaking, natural science, and sociology. Religious studies coursework examines fundamental concepts in systematic theology, homiletics, and hermeneutics, as well as church and biblical history. Studies in pastoral care, church administration, and two three–credit field education courses highlight ASOT’s commitment to Christian leadership and experiential learning.
Along with high school transcripts and proof of any college–level coursework, applicants should submit two letters of reference, a health form, and a personal spiritual autobiography. Online liaisons are available to aid distance learners with registration and course access. Admitted students may also request help from ASOT’s writing center, which offers step–by–step assistance with writing assignments.
Apex School Of Theology is nationally accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).
8. Lee University
Based in Cleveland, TN, Lee University combines quality, cost–effectiveness, and Christian values with modern developments in art and science. The Lee University system boasts 30 brick–and–mortar campuses around the world, and strives to cultivate an authentic Christian community among its students. While much of the university’s structure is geared towards on–campus living, Lee also maintains a robust distance learning program. Its six web–based undergraduate offerings include a ministry program and an online theology degree.
Students pursuing a four–year, 120–credit theology degree online complete 52 credits of general education coursework in addition to the major requirements. Core religion courses introduce major Bible study methodologies, fundamental theological concepts, and applied Christian ethics, while specialty classes strengthen students’ research skills through surveys of Johannine literature and the Pentateuch.
Lee offers a 50% tuition discount for undergraduates enrolled in any religious studies degree program. Military personnel and first responders enrolled in undergraduate, non–ministry programs pay only $250 per credit.
Apex School of Theology is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
9. Brescia University
Since 1925, this Owensboro, Kentucky institution has offered world–class academic programs from a Catholic perspective. The development of BUOnline has made it possible for distance learners to receive the same top–notch education as their on–campus counterparts. Featuring accelerated 8–week courses, BUOnline offers numerous convenient degree plans, including an online theology degree.
Designed to meet standards set by the National Association of Lay Ministry, BU’s online degree in theology curriculum thoroughly explores the distinctive liturgical practices, doctrines, and catechism associated with the Catholic Church, as well as the traditions and beliefs of other major religions. Introductory biblical studies courses encourage students to examine the Old and New Testaments from multiple perspectives, building strong research skills along with scriptural knowledge. In addition to religious studies, learners must complete 57 hours of general education coursework in areas such as language, fine art, and the natural sciences before earning a degree in theology.
The university has frozen its undergraduate online tuition rate of $425 per credit hour until spring of 2022.
Brescia University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
10. Southwestern Adventist University
Southwestern Adventist University’s online theology program gives distance learners access to the same high–quality curriculum presented at the school’s Keene, TX campus. Emphasizing biblical exegesis and the practical application of Christian principles, SWAU’s theology program prepares students for a variety of career paths. While many graduates pursue pastoral roles, others go on to work as missionaries, religious editors, Biblical researchers, evangelists, or go into hospital chaplaincy.
Striking a balance between faith, science, and secular philosophy, SWAU’s theology degree combines general education coursework with specialized religious training. In addition to classes in psychology, English composition, life science, and history, students pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in theology explore Christian ethics and philosophy, biblical archaeology, homiletics, and trends and techniques in evangelism.
SWAU boasts impressive job security for emerging theological students, with a large percentage of graduates gaining positions in Adventist churches after earning a bachelor’s degree in theology.
Southwestern Adventist University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
What Will I Learn in an Online Theology Bachelor’s Program?
Each online theology degree features a different set of electives and mandatory courses. However, there are many common classes that all students should expect to take. The courses below are examples of classes that are generally included in theology programs.
- Studying and Teaching the Bible
- This course guides students through an academic reading of the Bible. Students will learn to utilize the Bible in various contexts such as Bible study groups and religious studies courses. They will then be able to tailor their teaching of the Bible to different age groups and demographics of readers.
- Church History
- Some versions of this class may focus on church history specifically in the U.S., while others may look at church history throughout the world. This course looks at the historical background of the church, as well as the various movements and events that shaped the church over time.
- Biblical Languages
- This course examines the various languages involved in the writing of the Bible, including Hebrew and Greek. Students are provided with a foundational background in both languages, as well as with knowledge on how these languages had specific impacts on the translations and interpretations of the Bible over time.
Choosing a Program
Each online theology degree program is different, so it’s important to consider all aspects of the programs you’re interested in. Some programs offer students the opportunity to specialize their degree by pursuing specific concentrations or certifications. For example, some programs may offer a biblical studies concentration or a focus in world religions. Each of these concentrations will shape the progression of your degree differently and provide you with different skills and knowledge.
Coursework will also vary depending on the program you choose. Programs may emphasize subject areas like ministry, religious education, biblical studies, and historical studies. Many programs require students to complete a final capstone project or thesis. Potential students should look at these factors when choosing an online degree in theology.
Online Bachelor’s in Theology Careers
A degree in theology doesn’t only prepare you for careers within the church. In fact, many graduates work outside of the church as teachers, counselors, and nonprofit employees. The careers below are just a few examples of jobs that someone with a degree in theology could pursue.
- Social and Community Service Managers
- Social and community service managers design, implement, and oversee various social services programs meant to directly benefit a community. They often work for nonprofit organizations whose missions are to help and advocate for community needs. They may also work in government roles.
- Median Annual Salary: $64,680
- Projected Growth Rate: 16%
- Fundraisers raise money for all kinds of organizations. Those with a background in theology may choose to work as fundraisers for church-backed organizations, events, or initiatives. Their goal is to raise funds for projects that will benefit people in the community in a positive way.
- Median Annual Salary: $54,130
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- High School Teachers
- Those who earn an online bachelor's degree in theology may consider earning their teacher's certificate and teaching religious studies courses at the high school level. Religious studies courses are often offered at private religiously-affiliated schools. Some private schools may consider hiring ministry professionals that do not hold a formal teaching certificate.
- Median Annual Salary: $107,320
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics