Online Master's in Theology

Theology is the study of religious belief and the nature of God. Though they are related fields, theology differs from biblical and religious studies in some important ways. Religious studies cover a larger scope of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions having to do with religiosity around the world. By contrast, theology in the U.S. is centered on the nature of God from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

Earning a master of theology online provides students with a solid foundation in religion and the cultures in which it operates. While studies are focused on God, theology students also take classes in writing, abstract reasoning, critical thinking, and logical analysis. Graduates often work in secular and nonsecular fields, finding careers as ministers, religious school teachers, missionaries, and counselors.

On average, religious workers like members of the clergy earn $49,000 annually, where those in counseling services make $57,390 per year

Theology graduates have a broad background in education, preparing them for careers in many fields, meaning professionals with this degree are always in demand. On average, religious workers like members of the clergy earn $49,000 annually, where those in counseling services make $57,390 per year. While many jobs are accessible with a bachelor's in theology, earning a graduate degree may lead to further career opportunities in more specialized roles. For example, a Ph.D. in theology may be necessary to become a college professor in theology. Those looking for careers in journalism and ministry can also benefit from classes in reading comprehension, analysis, ethics, and critical reasoning.

Earning Your Master's in Theology Degree Online

Earning a master's of theology online provides all the value of a graduate degree with the numerous benefits of distance education. Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar classes, online coursework is often provided asynchronously; students are able to access all course materials and complete assignments at any time. Asynchronous coursework can prove invaluable to working professionals and students with families. Distance education can be completed from anywhere, making it more affordable by eliminating long commutes. Often, online programs are offered at a lower cost than on-campus courses; many schools provide online education to out-of-state students at an in-state cost.

As distance learning becomes more common, online programs typically follow the same curriculum and are taught by the same teachers as their on-campus counterparts. Online master's in theology programs may also offer spiritual counseling and support through live streams of worship services. Many online programs have student-led discussion boards to allow distance learners to connect with classmates and discuss course topics. Online theology degrees may still require internship credits; distance students often find approved locations in his or her state on the school's website.

How Long Does It Take to Earn Your Theology Master's Degree Online?

On average, a full-time student can earn their master's in theology online in just two years, though part-time learners can take up to three. Transferring from another accredited program may increase or reduce the amount of time it takes to earn this degree. Typical online master's in theology programs consist of 30 to 50 credits.

Courses in an Online Master's in Theology Program

Example Courses

History of Christianity This class concerns the Christian religion, the church and its many denominations, and Christendom as a whole. Coursework covers the history of Christianity from the first century to the present.
Pastoral Theology This is a practical theology course focused on the study of religion in the context of a church ministry. Students study subjects such as homiletics, sacrament, ethics and moral reasoning, and pastoral care.
Bible Exposition This course focuses on the synthesis and analysis of biblical scripture. Coursework covers the application and exposition of the Bible by analyzing scripture and applying its morals to the modern day.
Advanced Ministry Training Ministry training prepares students to work as ministers. Studies focus on the application of biblical teachings, case studies, religious resources, and provides students with visual tools and references.
Old and New Testament Analysis This class analyzes the Old and New Testaments in understanding the messages in each while decoding the similarities and differences between the two.

Theology Specializations

Many students seeking their master's in theology online opt to specialize in a particular area of study. Choosing to concentrate your degree often determines the career path you follow. Not all theology degrees online offer the same roster of concentrations, so it is important to note which specializations are provided at a school prior to enrolling. See the below list for common specializations for theology students.

Earning a Ph.D. in Theology

For many who have earned a master's in theology online, the next step is earning a doctoral degree in theology. Doctorates are useful for individuals looking to specialize their career in an academic field, though obtaining a Ph.D. can open doors to more job opportunities and increased earning potential. Many careers, like university professors and some levels of ministry, require candidates to have earned a minimum of a doctorate in theology. Earning a Ph.D. in theology online increases earning potential in competitive industries and provides graduates with greater academic understanding of theology and faith. Like specialized master's degrees, Ph.D. programs are concentrated in specific areas of theology to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Earning a Ph.D. in theology may also help tailor your potential career path and expand the opportunities available to you in that industry.

Job and Salary Outlook for Online Master's in Theology Graduates

Earning a master's in theology online opens doors to many career paths. Graduates in this field often pursue careers in academic, counseling, medical, and faith-based institutions. Careers in academia and medical fields are most often filled by candidates with advanced theological backgrounds; these industries often require professionals to attend lectures and continue their education throughout their careers. Graduates with their master's in theology often enter the workforce as ministers, preachers, and religious counselors. These individuals are inspired to help community members through the spreading of Christian messages.

Occupations and Salary for Online Master’s in Theology Graduates
Occupation Minimum Degree Required Employment Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Pastor Master's 23,570 $23.67 $49,220
Home Healthcare Worker Bachelor's 6,040 $25.02 $52,040
College/University Professor Master's 22,920 N/A $78,790
Journalist Bachelor's 50,400 $19.67 $40,910
Source: BLS, May 2017

Licensing and Certification for Theology Graduates

Being licensed is to be legally granted permission to work in a field or a certain job. Before becoming a pastor or a minister, an individual must obtain licensure and/or certification. Licensed ministers conduct worship ceremonies for Christian institutions and congregations. Ministers are acknowledged by the state as qualified to carry out baptisms, funerals, marriages, and other religious ceremonies while providing pastoral care to the community.

Being licensed is to be legally granted permission to work in a field or a certain job. Before becoming a pastor or a minister, an individual must obtain licensure and/or certification

To become licensed, an individual must complete a minimum of a master's degree in theology and undergo an ordination process. Ordination varies by denomination and requirements for licensure may vary slightly as well. It is recommended that anyone looking to become a licensed religious professional obtain their doctorate in theological studies prior to undergoing the ordination process. Due to the high level of education required, ordination may take years; at least seven of them are devoted to earning your bachelor's and master's in theology. It may take up to two more years to complete the ordination candidacy process at some churches, in addition to obtaining licensure.

Accreditation for a Theology Degree Online Program

Educational accreditation is a process to ensure a given school and/or academic program meets or exceeds a minimum standard of education quality. Prior to applying to any school or program, it is important to verify accreditation. Accreditation ensures the institution is verified to provide you with the education you need to succeed professionally. Transfer credits and job applications are often not accepted from students with a degree from an unaccredited school.

There are two accepted forms of academic accreditation: regional and national. Regionally accredited institutions are typically academically inclined, state-owned nonprofit schools. Regional accreditation is considered more prestigious than national. National accreditation is typically awarded to more career-oriented schools/programs and vocational training. Specialized accreditation applies to schools, departments, and programs that belong to larger educational institutions.

Online schools are subject to the same standards of accreditation as on-campus degrees. It is important to make sure an online master's in theology program is offered by an accredited school prior to enrollment. The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is an organization consisting of more than 270 graduate schools offering higher education degrees in theology. The ATS Commission on Accrediting is responsible for the accreditation of these schools and their programs.

Professional Organizations for Christian Counselors

Professional organizations are helpful to anyone seeking their master of theology online. More so than students attending classes on campus, distance learners often have trouble meeting relevant professional contacts in their field. Professional organizations can be joined at any time following graduation and provide networking opportunities, career connections, and continued education to members. Obtaining a theology degree online often leads to a lack of communication with fellow theology professionals; joining an organization like those listed below is helpful for making meaningful connections and staying up to date in the field.

American Association of Christian Counselors

The AACC is devoted to helping Christian counselors, licensed professionals, church members, and pastors with little to no formal training. This organization equips lay people and educated professionals with biblical truths and insights.

National Christian Counselors Association

Established in 1981, the NCCA is a nonprofit organization founded to conduct research and perform therapeutic procedures based on scripture.

National Association of Christian Counselors

A Christian foundation created to assist local churches and meet the needs of communities around the U.S., the NACC is devoted to providing thorough and ongoing training for pastors and ministers looking to provide professional counseling.

International Association of Christian Counseling Professionals

The IACCP is a professional organization of Christian nurses, counselors, social workers, behavioral health specialists, and pastoral counselors devoted to providing community members with Christian-based health and wellness services.

Association of Biblical Counselors

The ABC was founded to equip and enrich Christians to provide gospel-based counseling to their communities. This organization offers ongoing seminars, networking, and research opportunities to continue the education of its members.

Board of Christian Professional and Pastoral Counselors

The BCPPC serves professional caregivers worldwide to build and grow a comprehensive Christian care network for individuals seeking Christian resources.

Online Master's in Theology Scholarships

Pursuing a master's of theology online is often expensive. Many financial aid opportunities can be found in Christian studies at the national and state levels. The below list of scholarships are some examples of grants awarded to students pursuing a theology degree online or in person.

Online Master's in Theology Scholarships

David Pohl Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: The David Pohl Scholarship was created by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations when Reverend Pohl retired as the Director of Ministry in 1993. This grant supports the spiritual, intellectual, and professional development of theology students looking to gain Unitarian Universalist ministry. View Scholarship

FTE Fellowships for Latino/a, Asian, and First Nations Doctoral Students Varies

Who Can Apply: These fellowships offer financial support for doctoral students who are in process of completing their Ph.D. or Th.D. in religious, theological, or biblical studies. Applicants must be of Asian, Latino/a, or first nations descent. View Scholarship

Interfaith Spirituality Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is for individuals who have shown an interest in and are prepared to pursue a career in religious work. Applicants must be members of the United Methodist Church. View Scholarship

Marguerite Young Endowment Fund Varies

Who Can Apply: Established to provide financial aid to students pursuing an education and future career in theology. Applicants must be enrolled in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral-level theology program. View Scholarship

Mary E. Bivins Foundation Scholarships $3,500

Who Can Apply: This scholarship program was created to educate future ministers to preach Christianity. Grants are awarded to upper-level undergraduate or graduate students who intend to pursue careers as pastors or ministers. View Scholarship

Native American Education Grant $3,000

Who Can Apply: The NAEG is for Native Americans and Alaskan natives enrolled full time at a postsecondary institution and seeking a degree in theology. Applicants must have a 2.5 GPA or better and demonstrate financial need. View Scholarship

Presbyterian Student Opportunity Scholarship $2,000-$3,000

Who Can Apply: The Student Opportunity Scholarship program offers need-based aid to college sophomores, juniors, and seniors seeking their first degree at accredited institutions within the U.S. View Scholarship

Reverend Robert E. and Gladys G. Ernst Scholarship $1,500

Who Can Apply: Financial assistance is provided to aspiring future American Baptist professional ministers. This scholarship is awarded to ordained pastors of American Baptist churches pursuing a postgraduate degree in ministry. View Scholarship

TEDS Ph.D. Merit Scholarship $10,000

Who Can Apply: These scholarships are awarded to students pursuing a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in theology or religion from an accredited institution. Awards can be renewed for a second year based on academic performance and status as a full-time student. View Scholarship

TEDS Ph.D. Program Scholarship $23,000

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is awarded to one recipient per Ph.D. program (in theological, educational, or intercultural studies). Funds are based on full-time enrolment and academic performance. View Scholarship

Resources for Theology Students

  • Theology Blogs to Follow Our list of the best blogs to read for theology-related news, events, and support.
  • Bible Gateway A search engine providing online access to multiple versions of scriptures (including but not limited to NIV, NASB, and NRSV).
  • Blue Letter Bible Offers tools for in-depth study of God's word through a free, online reference library. Original translations and scripts are offered in English, Hebrew, and Greek.
  • Dead Sea Scrolls A free, digitized, online library of the Dead Sea Scrolls. All information is presented by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
  • Enter the Bible Online guides to each book of the Bible, including themes, outlines, and background information in addition to descriptions of each time period.
  • BIBLIndex An index of biblical references as found in Western and European Christian literature. Analysis covers references from the first through fourth centuries.

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