Apologetics is about rationally defending a position or view whose truth is challenged. Usually, apologetics refers to the defense of the Christian faith, laying out a case for the accuracy of its historical claims (such as the resurrection of Jesus) and for the soundness and coherence of its theology (such as the doctrine of the Trinity).
Even so, most religious as well as secular worldviews have their own apologetics. For instance, Richard Dawkins's book The Blind Watchmaker is an apologetics for Darwinian materialism.
Apologetics has been popular since the rise of Christianity and it has proliferated at different points in church history. Nonetheless, modern academia has largely sidelined it. That may, however, be changing. Graduate students can now find an array of master's as well as doctoral apologetics programs.
TheBestSchools.org has researched the top apologetics graduate degrees in the United States and ranked them according to the quality of faculty, level of accreditation, diversity of degrees offered, cost, and overall accessibility.
The faculty criterion refers to whether a school cultivates a high academic standard through the professionalism and apologetic expertise of its faculty, who, preferably, are accomplished apologists themselves.
The accreditation criterion identifies the level of accreditation, namely, whether the school's credentialing will be recognized on a résumé.
The "degrees offered" criterion refers to the variety and weightiness of degrees offered. A "certificate of apologetics" is not readily marketable, even within church circles, and represents little accomplishment. But a ministry-intensive school such as a theological seminary might be expected to have a DMin, or MDiv, and a Certificate, as those would serve its ministerial purposes.
Cost figures refer to the "per-credit-hour" rate and do not include additional fees, scholarships, cost of living, travel expenses, etc. Prospective students should recheck any of those numbers, as cost is the most flexible of the statistics here. Tuition and fees routinely fluctuate every year.
"Accessibility" refers both to the convenience of the campus, and access to classes, be it through online classes, streaming, extension campuses, distance learning, hybrid, night-classes, intensive courses, etc.
Also noted in the descriptions are key distinctions that may stand out, such as location, school emphases, apologetics opportunities on campus, etc.
The 10 Best Christian Apologetics Grad Programs
1. Biola University
La Mirada, California
The most academically prestigious school on the list is Biola University and its graduate extension Talbot Theological Seminary. Their faculty includes such notables as William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Philip Johnson, Craig Hazen, John Mark Reynolds, Doug Geivett, Scott Rae, Greg Koukl, Paul Nelson, and others.
Graduates of Biola are generally top-notch philosophers and academic apologists. Biola prioritizes transforming collegiate education in America by placing its graduates in prestigious PhD programs around the country. Also, the campus culture is apologetics-intensive, with numerous free and low-cost lectures and conferences, some which take place elsewhere around the country and can be used towards fulfilling the residency requirement for out-of-state students.
Set in Los Angeles, the cost of living is high and the traffic can be a real problem, hindering accessibility. Another downside is the lack of online learning options. The 36--credit hour M.A. in Apologetics can be achieved through a distance-learning track, but even it has an on-campus requirement (via two week-long, intensive modules). On the other hand, the 9- to 10-hour distance-learning "certificate in apologetics" can be transferred into the M.A. in Apologetics program for up to 6 units of credit.
The cost for Biola is higher than most at $485 per credit hour, but there are no accreditation issues to worry about.
2. Southern Evangelical Seminary
Matthews, North Carolina
SES is a true apologetics school with all its degrees having an apologetic emphasis, including the BA, MA, MDiv, ThM, and DMin. Even its PhD is apologetics-intensive, though technically it is in philosophy of religion.
Founded by Norman Geisler, SES explicitly emphasizes apologetics and evangelism, distinguishing it, in practice, from Biola's more academic initiative. However, SES comes second only to Biola in credentialed apologetics faculty, including Richard and Thomas Howe, and visiting faculty Gary Habermas, Ravi Zacharias, and Ron Rhodes.
Campus life is rich with apologetics teaching, preaching, and ministry opportunities, such as Ratio Christi (a university-focused apologetics ministry and outreach) or the international missions troupe TEAM (Truth, Evangelism, and Apologetics Mission). Night classes and several recently added, fully online degree programs make SES highly accessible to non-traditional students. SES also hosts the largest annual apologetics conference in the country.
The biggest drawback is that the school has only TRACS accreditation, lacking accreditation from the more-recognized SACS or ATS.
Students of SES will get a broadly evangelical education with the distinctive flavor of Thomistic philosophy (i.e., classical, systematic, and synthetic/non-analytic), plus a strong emphasis on evangelism.
Cost is a reasonable $333 per credit hour.
3. Houston Baptist University
Houston Baptist University (HBU) is a seasoned mid-level denominational school located in Houston Texas which only recently (2013-2014) introduced their 36 credit hour Master of Arts in Apologetics program (MAA). The program is available in residence or online (with no residency requirements).
While newcomers often struggle for viability, HBU is exceptional. Under the leadership of Christian college captain Robert Sloan (formerly of Baylor University), HBU acquired Dr. John Mark Reynolds from Biola University. Reynolds had done a masterful job organizing the Torrey Honors institute (an undergraduate classical/great books program) at Biola before coming to head up the Masters of Apologetics program at HBU. Reynolds wasted no time in hiring some accomplished apologists and scholars like Michael Licona, Nancy Pearcy, Bruce Gordon, Jerry Walls, Holly Ordway, Mary Joe Sharp and others. Visiting scholars include William Lane Craig and Lee Strobel. John Mark Reynolds has since moved on to other pursuits entrusting the department chair to the literary apologist Dr. Philip Tallon.
The MAA program has a classical flair, in part because of the (classical) Honors College permeating the undergradate program. The program is especially strong in literary and aesthetic forms of Christian apologetics. And students testify that the bounty of apologists and scholars lends a range of opportunities for mentoring and academic advising. Though HBU is denominationally Baptist, the MAA program targets "Mere Christianity" (C.S. Lewis coinage). So it's amenable to Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants alike regardless of denomination.
The cost is moderately high at $500 per credit hour.
4. Liberty University
A Baptist favorite, Liberty University (LU) offers several advantages in its apologetics program.
First, PhD candidates at LU may pursue a rare, dual-emphasis degree in "Theology and Apologetics."
Second, and more importantly, Liberty stands out for its extensive use of online programs. LU is the most online-accessible school on the list. Online classes and distance classes do, generally, lack a bit compared to traditional resident classes. But for non-traditional students online classes are invaluable.
Also of note, LU has resurrection-expert Gary Habermas.
Liberty Univerity's graduate credit rate ranges from $565 for full time to $615 for part-time students. LU also has a block rate of $2,750 for both of their Rawlings School of Divinity Master programs.
LU is accredited. Students can expect a conservative Baptist apologetic, though not necessarily as Calvinist as, say, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
5. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary & Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky & Wake Forest, North Carolina
Two entries from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS; pictured left) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS; pictured lower left). Both have apologetics tracks in their MDiv programs. Southeastern has the benefit of several extension centers including one in Charlotte, North Carolina, close to Southern Evangelical Seminary (non-baptist) mentioned above. That proximity has created some shared resourcing and mutual support in apologetics training.
Southern also has the rare PhD in "Apologetics and Worldview Studies." Southern has a staunch conservative and reformed Baptist reputation, associated with its president Al Mohler.
SEBTS and SBTS both offer a distinct Baptist flavor to their education. Both have extension and hybrid classes as well as distance learning options which, together with Baptist networking, make these schools cost-effective and highly accessible especially for Southern Baptist Students.
Cost for either is a steal, again for members of the SBC. For non-SBC students, the cost is average, considering the denominational weight and status of the education they offer. SEBTS is $190--$257 per credit hour, depending on full- or part-time status ($514, if non-SBC). SBTS is a similar bargain at $219 per credit hour ($438, if non-SBC).
6. Veritas Evangelical Seminary
Santa Ana, California
Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Santa Ana, California, is another project of Norman Geisler, who currently teaches there along with several published apologists, including Ron Rhodes, Joseph Holden, and William Nix.
This young school shows many of the distinctives of its east-coast elder, Southern Evangelical Seminary. Several faculty hale from SES. The layout of the curriculum and degree programs are similar to SES. Veritas looks much like SES did in its first few years.
Veritas has been accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) since 2014. TRACS is recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE), the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE).
Veritas offers MA and MDiv degrees, as well as a certificate, all in apologetics. Standard classes are available, in addition to streaming and correspondence courses.
The cost is very affordable at $215 per credit hour.
7. Denver Seminary
In the Fall of 2012, the well-accredited Denver Seminary (DS) began offering an M.A. in Apologetics and Ethics, as well as an MDiv in Apologetics.
This will be in addition to their (unaccredited & non-degree) 10-hr "Certificate of Completion" in apologetics. That former track fits only the casual apologetics student. The M.A. should strengthen their apologetics status overall.
As a new program, this track is untested and there is not yet a major/concentration in MDiv, ThM, DMin, or PhD tracks. But the program looks promising, with such faculty veterans as Douglas Groothuis, Gordon Lewis, and Craig Blomberg. And the school has no accreditation issues to worry about.
The cost is a little steep, but not terrible, at $450 per credit hour.
8. Luther Rice College & Seminary
Another promising entry is Luther Rice College & Seminary (LRCS) in Lithonia, Georgia. This combined university and seminary has both MA and MDiv apologetics tracks.
LRCS offers many of its courses online and even online-degree tracks with no residency requirement. The ease of access brings the prestige down a notch, as does its accreditation status with only TRACS.
But for the non-traditional student, or for those already having a master's degree, this school is highly accessible and affordable at the low cost of $215 per credit hour.
Were the school better accredited, it could overtake Denver for the higher spot. A potential advantage is that LRCS is a university, too, offering the on-campus benefits and resources of a full university.
9. Westminster Theological Seminary
Proudly representing the Reformed Theological tradition is Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).
This historic school has campuses in Philadelphia and London.
WTS is the priciest candidate on the list, at $2,650 per class (about $885 per credit hour), and so its cost score is the lowest on the list.
WTS offers a Master of Theology (ThM) in apologetics, and has a respectable department of apologetics. It has no MDiv or MA in apologetics, however. But its lack of an apologetics certificate is excusable, since the school is aimed at training professional parish ministers more than at doing direct world evangelism or popular discipleship.
Non-Baptists seeking a less expensive or more versatile degree track in the Reformed tradition may want to look at Birmingham Theological Seminary.
10. Columbia Evangelical Seminary
Our final entry is Columbia Evangelical Seminary (CES), based in Enumclaw, Washington.
The alma mater of James R. White, CES offers a self-directed mentoring curriculum similar to European programs. As such, it has no teaching campus and demands only a modest $95 per credit hour. Also---and unfortunately---this model might leave the school forever beyond accreditation by U.S. standards.
CES's non-traditional program makes the school very accessible and its strong emphasis on philosophy adds some credibility. Its faculty is surprisingly sturdy, with numerous published authors and a century's worth of teaching experience.
Founded in 1991, CES is fairly young. If it can somehow achieve accreditation, expect it to leap into the top tier of apologetics schools.
11. Best Overseas Apologetics Program:
Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) is an autonomous study center that provides a number of courses for students enrolled at the prestigious Oxford University. To enter this program students have to be accepted into the certificate or masters program in theological studies in Wycliffe Hall (a “college” within Oxford University). Of course, Oxford is in London England so it's not an American university and cannot technically be included on this Top-10 list. However, Oxford University is a historic institution---one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world---and the Centre's apologetics faculty is world-renowned. Students in the OCCA are also Wycliffe hall members, so they enjoy the full privileges of Oxford university.
The Centre's faculty includes, perhaps, the most widely known and well-traveled Christian apologist in the world today, Ravi Zacharias. Also included are mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox. He's renowned for his books on apologetics, as well as for his debates with top atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. And the Centre's former chairman, Alister McGrath, is legendary.
The Centre has three different study tracks. The one-year “OCCA program” is for those on a certificate program (not a "degree"--i.e., bachelors, associate, masters, etc.). It is designed for undergraduates, pre-master's students, or student's not seeking a degree. The two-year “OCCA program for Masters students” is for graduate level students, it's a bit more adaptable than the 1-year program, as it function as part of Master of Theology degree also through Wycliffe Hall. The third option is the “Business Program,” a 4-week (unaccredited) course of study ideal for business people and professionals. The Business track is aimed at working professionals, rather than full-time students at the university (graduate or undergraduate). It matches theology and apologetics training with preparation for workplace evangelism.
Needless to say, the prestige of Oxford University lends name recognition and credibility though, technically, the Centre has only the loosest affiliations with the University. They have no formal partnership nor shared accreditation.
The cost can be pricey, once all the non-tuition costs are added up. The Business program (5-weeks) has a tuition rate of £5,500, not including room, board, and any campus fees. The one-year OCCA program is also £5,500 but this is in addition to the tuition and fees from the Wycliffe theology certificate. The two-year OCCA Master's Program is £3,675 but, again, this is in addition to another degree—the Master of Theology degree—and all the costs incurred there with Wycliffe Hall.
Also bear in mind that students accepted into either the 1-year or 2-year program will need to fill out two applications, one for Wycliffe Hall and the other for the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics.
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Several schools have the size, influence, and resources to merit an apologetics program. Yet there is no apologetics track to speak of at these schools or seminaries. Students may be able to patch together an apologetics education at these schools, but not through any formally established educational track.
The following have one or more apologetics classes, but no graduate degree in apologetics:
- Moody Bible Institute (has only a BA in Apologetics and Philosophical Theology)
- Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
- Dallas Theological Seminary
- Wheaton College Graduate School
- Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Princeton Theological Seminary
- Fuller Theological Seminary
- Azusa Pacific University--University College
- Reformed Theological Seminary
- Union University