Theology is the academic study of the divine, which in the United States usually refers to Christian theology. After earning a doctorate degree in theology online, graduates can pursue careers in areas such as ministry and management. Doctoral-level theology curricula provide students with specialized knowledge and unique skills while strengthening their scriptural understanding.
In addition to providing insight into theological topics, a doctoral degree qualifies graduates for high-level positions and leadership roles, including postsecondary teaching positions at colleges and universities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for postsecondary teachers will increase 15% between 2016 and 2026. This guide explores important factors in choosing the right school, options for financing your degree, and career paths for graduates.
For career information, skip down:
- What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Theology Program?
- Accreditation for Online Theology Doctorate Degrees
- Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Theology Graduates
- Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Theology
The Best Online Doctorate in Theology Programs
1. Liberty University Online
Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty offers a variety of online programs, including a Ph.D. in theology and apologetics. The online doctor of theology is an intensive-based program; in addition to completing online coursework, students attend on-campus intensive courses lasting either a week or a weekend. Students earning their doctorate in theology online should be prepared to travel to Liberty's campus several times per year.
The program requires 57 credit hours, 27 of which comprise coursework in theology and apologetics. Required classes cover topics including miracles, apologetic methods, and bibliology. Students also take 18 credit hours of electives, three credit hours of research, and nine credit hours of dissertation courses. Students must pass language exams in German and either French or Latin.
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
2. Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Regent's D.Min. program offers a wide variety of concentration options, including Christian leadership and renewal, clinical pastoral education, community transformation, military ministry, and ministry leadership coaching.
Students can earn the doctorate degree in theology online or at Regent's campus in Virginia Beach. Although each course in the program previously required a week-long campus residency, students can now complete all course requirements entirely online. The program follows a cohort model; all students progress through the program at the same pace.
The program requires 36 credit hours, including 18 hours of core courses, nine hours of concentration courses, and nine hours of doctoral work. Core classes include leader's life and values; vision, mobilization, and management; and a retreat focusing on leading spiritual formation and renewal.
Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS). The divinity school is accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of The Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
3. Lexington Theological Seminary
Pastors can earn a doctorate degree in ministry online through Lexington Theological Seminary. The online doctor of ministry requires 30 graduate semester hours, 24 of which comprise required courses and electives. A final project accounts for the remaining six hours.
Required courses include leading congregations through adaptive change and interpreting contemporary cultural contexts. Elective courses explore topics in practical and classical disciplines. Students must complete two electives on campus in Lexington, Kentucky. During the final project, students dedicate six semester hours to addressing a problem or issue in theology.
Applicants to the theology doctorate online program should hold a master's of divinity from an ATS-accredited school and at least a 3.0 GPA. Applicants should also have at least three years of post-master's ministry experience or a significant amount of experience prior to graduate studies.
Lexington Theological Seminary is accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of The Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
4. Amridge University
Based in Montgomery, Alabama, Amridge University offers a variety of online programs, including an online Ph.D. in biblical studies. While earning the theology doctorate, online students complete 51 semester hours comprising program-specific coursework, concentration classes, electives, and a dissertation component.
Students earning a Ph.D. in theology online concentrate in either the Old Testament or New Testament. The Old Testament concentration requires 30 hours, nine of which comprise textual courses exploring topics including biblical ethics, historical and archaeological research of the Old Testament, and biblical etymology and exegesis. The New Testament concentration features coursework in topics such as synoptic gospels, the gospel of Luke, and the Book of Revelation.
Students can finish the program in as few as four years, although completion time varies based on the student's course load, language fluency, and pace of study. Applicants must have completed undergraduate or master's coursework in Latin or Greek.
Amridge University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
5. Faulkner University
Faulkner University is a private, Christian school in Montgomery, Alabama. The university offers a fully online Ph.D. in biblical studies that prepares students for careers in research, teaching, and ministry. Students complete 54 semester hours, including a dissertation and defense. The dissertation comprises four modules, and distance learners complete the defense over a conference call. The program does not have any residency requirements.
Students pursuing the theology doctorate online take courses in areas such as biblical scholarship, Christian ministry, and biblical hermeneutics. Other requirements include advanced studies in biblical languages, textual criticism, and restoration theology. After passing a language proficiency exam, students complete six elective seminars focusing on primary biblical texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Students must also pass exams in a secondary research language, such as German, Spanish, Latin, or French.
Faulkner University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS). The Kearley Graduate School of Theology is a candidate for accreditation from the Commission on Accrediting of The Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
6. Luther Seminary
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, offers two online Ph.D. programs: an online D.Min. in biblical preaching and an online D.Min. in congregational mission and leadership. Students completing their Ph.D. in theology online must fulfill some residency requirements.
Most full-time students complete the D.Min. in biblical preaching in three years. Students spend three weeks per year on campus, during which they complete a colloquy, a core class, and an elective. Students complete all other requirements online, with a cohort of peers. Learners use web conferencing to discuss topics like thesis progress and spiritual well-being.
The D.Min. in congregational mission and leadership typically requires four years of full-time study. The program consists of seven seminars, each of which requires an on-campus meeting. Cohorts meet on campus once every six months.
Luther Seminary is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Luther also holds accreditation from the Commission on Accrediting of The Association of Theological Schools (ATS).
7. John Wesley University
High Point, North Carolina
The doctor of ministry in Christian leadership at John Wesley University is designed to prepare practicing pastors and ministers for leadership roles in their congregation or other Christian organizations. The program is ideal for students with a master's in ministry and experience in the field.
The program follows a cohort format; students earning the doctorate in theology online complete coursework in small groups and meet twice per year at JWU's campus in High Point, North Carolina, to connect with peers and professors. With an average class size of about 10 students, learners receive individual attention to foster academic growth. With the exception of residency requirements, all coursework is available online.
Core courses include developing leadership strategies, global awareness in ministry, and biblical leadership in a multicultural environment. Elective courses explore topics including revitalizing God's people, administration and nonprofit leadership, and preaching with power.
John Wesley University is nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).
What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Theology Program?
While course offerings and program requirements vary by school, some topics are integral to any theology curriculum. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in theology online generally take some or all of the following classes.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Theology
- Biblical hermeneutics: This course covers advanced concepts and methodologies in scriptural interpretation, as well as the history of biblical exegesis. Students analyze scripture from diverse literary, historical, and theological perspectives, exploring the relationship between authorial intent and current interpretations.
- Biblical languages: Most students earning a theology doctorate online must master at least one ancient language before enrolling in upper-level, text-based seminars and beginning dissertation coursework. Common language options include Hebrew, Koine Greek, Aramaic, and Latin.
- Systematic theology: This course incorporates readings from patristic texts, scripture, and historical and contemporary writings. Lectures present an overview of major theological concepts and address topics including biblical anthropology, the interplay between scripture and doctrine, God's existence and attributes, and doctrinal differences between Christian traditions. Students examine ideas such as eschatology, sanctification, and soteriology.
- History of doctrine: Learners explore the development of Christian dogma chronologically, beginning with the emergence of the Church and moving into the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and post-Enlightenment thought. In addition to major doctrinal innovations, students learn about historical and social forces that have shaped Church doctrine from the Patristic Period to the present day.
- Advanced scriptural research: Building on previous coursework in hermeneutics and language, this class explores analytical techniques and investigation methodologies used to perform doctoral-level research. Students prepare to develop their dissertations by examining texts from a variety of sources, in multiple languages, and build a thesis statement around a central hypothesis.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate Degree in Theology?
The amount of time necessary to earn a doctorate degree in theology online depends on factors including graduation and residency requirements, field-study components, and transfer credits. While most full-time students can earn a Ph.D. in theology online in four years, completion time varies based on program structure, pacing, and delivery method.
Asynchronous programs generally take less time to complete than synchronous programs. Asynchronous course feature self-paced coursework and flexible deadlines; students review class materials and complete assignments at their convenience. Although flexible, asynchronous programs require dedication and strong organizational skills. In contrast, synchronous, cohort-based programs provide structure and faculty support; these programs emphasize student collaboration and group learning. Due to their more rigid structure and scheduling, cohort-based programs generally take longer to complete.
Accreditation for Online Theology Doctorate Degrees
Choosing an accredited school impacts future job opportunities; many employers only hire candidates with degrees from accredited institutions. Accreditation ensures that colleges and universities operate according to academic and ethical standards.
Institutions can hold regional or national accreditation. Typically, for-profit vocational and technical schools receive national accreditation, while nonprofit schools such as state universities hold regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is more common and more highly regarded than national accreditation. Credits earned from regionally accredited schools transfer easily, while credits earned from nationally accredited institutions rarely transfer to regionally accredited schools. In addition, some financial aid opportunities, such as employee tuition reimbursement, are available only to students attending regionally accredited schools.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) uses accreditation status to determine which institutions receive federal funding. The ED and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee accrediting bodies in the United States. CHEA is an advocacy group that monitors the activities of accrediting bodies and ensures they maintain high assessment standards. CHEA maintains a searchable database of accredited schools and programs.
Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Theology Graduates
Doctorate in Theology Careers
While some earn a doctorate in theology online in preparation for becoming ministers or priests, others pursue diverse roles after graduation. A Ph.D. in theology provides both the specialized knowledge and the academic experience necessary to qualify for high-level positions. The careers below are a few of the many options for graduates of Ph.D. in theology online programs.
Postsecondary Teacher: Also known as professors, postsecondary teachers lead classes at colleges and universities. These teachers specialize in one or more academic disciplines. They present lessons and assignments, assess students through exams and tests, and develop course syllabi. Many also conduct research and publish academic papers and books.
- Median Annual Salary: $75,430
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
Writer: Writers' tasks vary considerably according to the nature of their work, the intended audience, and publication methods. Some writers with a background in theology compose scholarly works, and others produce books and articles for mainstream readers and publications. Writers may work alongside editors, literary agents, and publishing companies.
- Median Annual Salary: $61,240
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Interpreter/Translator: Because many doctorate degree in theology online programs require studies in foreign and ancient languages, graduates often work as translators. These professionals may translate biblical texts, patristic texts, or contemporary religious materials. They may also provide localization services for churches and missionary organizations.
- Median Annual Salary: $46,120
- Projected Growth Rate: 18%
Social and Community Service Manager: These managers develop outreach programs and social services in response to the needs of communities or specific populations. While some of these professionals work for state or federal government organizations, others work with religious organizations to implement faith-based initiatives, such as homeless shelters, food banks, and crisis pregnancy services.
- Median Annual Salary: $64,680
- Projected Growth Rate: 18%
Minister: While the roles and duties of clergy members differ by affiliated religion or sect, most lead congregations, conduct worship services, and offer moral and spiritual guidance. They work in diverse settings, including churches, military bases, and universities. Ministers must have strong communication, writing, and public speaking skills.
- Median Annual Salary: $50,800
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Doctorate in Theology Salary
Because graduates choose from many different career paths, salaries vary considerably among individuals who earn a doctorate degree in theology online. Position, workplace, professional experience, and geographic location impact a professional's earning potential.
Demand for certain roles varies by region, and the local cost of living influences wages. Below, we show the annual mean wages for ministers in the highest-paying states. However, this data does not account for the individual's professional experience.
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Professional Organizations in Theology
Professional organizations offer resources for professionals in the field and for students earning a Ph.D. in theology online. These organizations generally provide networking opportunities, such as conferences, seminars, and virtual discussion groups, and many offer exclusive job listings and members-only career services. Professional associations may also sponsor private fellowships, grants, and scholarships. The organizations below are dedicated to the advancement of theological studies and related disciplines.
- Association of Practical Theology (APT): Founded to promote critical theological discourse, APT maintains an extensive private archive of scholarly writings and course development materials, as well as members-only job listings.
- Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE): FTE provides a forum for future Christian leaders, theologians, and academics to explore matters of faith. FTE offers more than 10 grants and fellowships and a variety of digital study resources.
- Hartford Institute for Religion Research:: As a source of religious data and policy-related research, the Hartford Institute maintains an exhaustive database of statistics on topics such as megachurch leadership, ministerial job growth, and Orthodox monasteries.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Theology
Students pursuing a Ph.D. in theology online have a variety of financial aid options. Begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid, including loans, grants, and fellowships. While some students finance their education through private loans, federal student loans typically offer lower interest rates and more lenient repayment options. The government also offers work-study programs and tuition reimbursement plans to those studying in high-demand fields. Some employers offer similar incentives for employees pursuing a work-related degree.
Scholarships and fellowships are ideal sources of funding because, unlike student loans, they do not need to be repaid. Students may receive these awards based on academic merit or financial need. Colleges and universities often sponsor scholarships, and many religious organizations, companies, special interest groups, and professional associations offer awards.