Students in an online theology program gain rewarding knowledge of biblical studies and theology along with the practical skills necessary for a Christian vocation. In an online bachelor’s degree in theology, students learn to read, interpret, and apply the Bible. They also explore academic disciplines such as church history, ethics, and apologetics. Coursework in these and other areas prepares students to work in fast-growing and personally fulfilling professions including pastoral ministry, chaplaincy, and community development leadership. Students can earn theology degrees online at many colleges and universities. Thanks to distance education options, learners can engage with a robust community of theological scholars while supporting a family, maintaining ties to a local house of worship, and remaining deeply rooted in their own communities. The following programs reveal sample curriculum, job outlook, and financial aid options for students who choose to undertake theological study at an accredited institution.
The Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Theology 2018
Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
Each college must have at least one online program 1
Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000
Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.
1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.
A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
Most students find earning a theology bachelor’s degree online an exciting and challenging undertaking. Choosing the right program makes the experience more engaging now and more valuable in the future. A good theology program holds regional or national accreditation, shows a high five-year graduation right, charges reasonable tuition, and makes courses available online. By identifying schools that meet these criteria, prospective students narrow their choices and can select a college or university that best meets their personal and professional expectations.
How Much Can You Make in a Theology Career?
Graduates of an online bachelor’s degree in theology can enjoy a wide range of careers in church ministry, community service, or counseling. While no degree guarantees graduates a specific career or salary, theology programs include courses in preaching, counseling, and leadership that equip them for certain careers, many of which are growing at an average or above-average pace. New degree holders can expect to see more openings and less competition. While ministry-minded professionals rarely expect a lucrative salary, they must earn enough money to cover expenses and save for the future, and most theology careers pay above-average wages.
Clergy serve as senior pastors, teaching pastors, and staff ministers in local congregations. Typically, clergy members hold ordination within their church’s supporting denomination. Most clergy members preach sermons, lead ministry initiatives, counsel parishioners, and visit hospitals and jails. Some clergy members hold a specialized job such as youth minister, children’s pastor, music minister, or church administrator.
Directors of religious activities and education lead the Sunday school program, conduct youth and children’s activities, and oversee senior adult programming, usually in a local congregation. Some religious education directors, however, serve in faith-based schools, on college campuses, or in nonprofits devoted to faith and education. They select or write curriculum, train teachers, and evaluate program effectiveness.
Social and community service managers lead public agencies and nonprofits that provide support, relief, and economic development programs to their target communities. Some of these professionals serve neighborhood associations while others work in citywide, statewide, national, or international agencies. Social service managers typically lead teams of program professionals, fundraisers, and financial managers to ensure high-quality programming.
Working in outpatient centers, residential facilities, and hospitals, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and support to people affected by chemical addiction and behavioral disorders. These counselors may offer one-on-one or group therapy, conduct evaluations, create treatment plans, and teach clients and their families how to cope with their disorders. A bachelor’s degree and a background in religion can provide a great career start for addiction counselors.
Other religious workers may serve as chaplains, missionaries, religious broadcasters, or within a religious community. Chaplains provide clergy-type pastoral care and counseling within a structured environment such as a prison, military unit, or corporation. Missionaries perform evangelism, discipleship, and justice ministry in a cross-cultural context. Religious broadcasters serve in radio, TV, publishing, and movies. Monks and nuns continue to recruit members to serve the church from within their orders.
Sources: BLS 2018
Faith-related vocations remain in high demand. Churches need fresh pastors, social organizations seek new leaders, and marketplace ministries require new chaplains. Job growth data demonstrates the overall growth or decline of expected job openings in a given field, meaning it indicates if a student is pursuing a career in a growing field or a shrinking one. Credentials, employers, and location affect job opportunities and salary. Clergy salaries, for example, rank highest in large states such as California, Michigan, Texas, and New York.
What Courses Can be Taken for an Online Theology Degree?
An online bachelor’s degree in theology includes coursework in general education and electives along with core classes in theology, biblical studies, and Christian life and thought. Courses emphasize methodical Bible study, research, and writing. Students usually conclude with a practical ministry capstone project or an academic research paper. Most schools require 120 credits to complete a theology program, but specific curriculum requirements vary. The list below forms a sample of courses in an online theology degree.
Introduction to Apologetics
This introductory course covers the basic ideas of apologetics such as the biblical foundations for apologetics, the relationship between reason and faith, and the apologetic method. Students consider topics such as postmodernism, religious pluralism, and atheism.
Principles of Bible Study
This course equips students to study the Bible for themselves through basic principles of reading and interpretation. Students explore Bible study methods including inductive, comparative, and book studies.
Human Nature and Ethics
Learners consider the theological nature of humanity and its effect on how ethics are derived, perceived, and lived. Discussion topics include biotechnology, transhumanism, and stem cell research in a Christian worldview.
Old Testament Theology
This course examines the history, theology, and narrative of the Old Testament in a historical context so that students may draw theological conclusions from the text. Topics include the image of God, redemption, grace, and ethics in the Old Testament.
Archaeology of the Bible
Students learn about archaeological procedures and discuss important archaeological finds that relate to the Bible. Course discussion centers on the role and argument of the skeptic in biblical archaeology.
How to Choose the Best Online Theology Program
Students must consider several factors when choosing the right online theology degree. A school’s reputation, accreditation, and curriculum rightly garner much attention. Cost makes up another important factor, and students should be careful not to overlook fees when comparing the price of two or more schools. Finally, applicants must take into account practical considerations such as time requirements and theological alignment before choosing their top educational options.
What concentrations are available in a theology degree?
Students in most online theology degrees can choose from a range of concentrations, including purely academic disciplines and practical ministry fields. Christian theology, ethics, biblical theology, and religious studies serve as examples of academic concentrations. Practical concentrations include intercultural studies, pastoral ministry, or Bible teaching. Some schools maintain a curriculum-wide concentration in areas such as social justice, evangelism, community development, or technology and theology.
Will employers consider an online theology degree credible?
Most Christian organizations, churches, community organizations, and seminaries consider an online bachelor’s degree in theology the equivalent of an on-campus degree from the same school. While no one knows for sure what a specific hiring manager thinks, in general, online theology degrees hold stellar reputations. Seminaries look at an applicant’s overall academic package, but do not consider if a student earned their degree online or on campus.
How can I complete internships for a bachelor’s in theology if I am studying from home?
Some online theology degrees require an internship. Usually, students who learn in a traditional, on-campus program serve their internships during the summer. They may assist a pastor, youth minister, missionary, or community ministry director for several weeks. Online students can complete internships during the year at an approved location near their homes.
Does a bachelor’s in theology qualify me for ordination as a pastor?
This depends. Schools do not issue ordination papers. Denominations issue these papers to demonstrate that their organization stands behind the Christian ministry of the ordained person. In many mainline denominations and historic faiths, ordination requires a master of divinity. Other denominations may accept a bachelor’s degree in theology in lieu of a master’s degree. In almost all denominations, however, ordination takes many years to achieve and requires education, interviews, and practical ministry experience.
What kind of accreditation must an online theology program have?
Regional accreditation remains the gold standard for any college or university. The regional associations provide institution-wide accreditation. Some Bible colleges hold regional accreditation, and many more maintain accreditation with the Association of Biblical Higher Education. A few Christian schools hold accreditation with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. A university may hold accreditation with one or more of these associations.
Scholarships and Financial Aid for Theology Programs
Earning a bachelor’s in theology is a rewarding, though costly experience. Fortunately, federal, state, private, and denominational donors can help fund a student who plans to pursue Christian ministry. Grants and scholarships are the best financial aid options because they do not have to be paid back. Individual colleges and universities typically make scholarships available, as do national foundations. Students seeking ordination in a particular denomination should contact their denominational headquarters to inquire about financial aid options.
The Champions for Christ Foundation helps support the education of students planning to go into full-time Christian service. Applicants must submit their official transcripts along with an online application. The application window opens and closes the semester prior to the one in which applicants seek funding. Champions for Christ has existed for 27 years and maintains its headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina. The organization welcomes applications from students across the country.
The General Board of Higher Education and ministry of the United Methodist Church (UMC) provide this $5,000 scholarship to students who have been members of a local UMC for at least two years, are pursuing a degree relevant to Christian ministry, and are a racial/ethnic minority age 30 or under, among other criteria. The program includes a mentoring component with a seasoned UMC minister. Students must maintain a 2.85 GPA or higher.
The Mary E. Bivins Foundation offers a $2,500-per-semester scholarship to undergraduate students pursuing an education at an accredited school leading to vocational preaching ministry in a Christian church. Applicants must be permanent residents of the northernmost 26 counties of the Texas Panhandle. Recipients must maintain a GPA of 2.75 or above and complete 24 or more academic credits per year. Students may use the scholarship money for tuition, books, fees, or other expenses.
The South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) offers the Church Related Vocational Scholarship to qualified applicants who are pursuing undergraduate degrees to prepare for full-time Christian service. Students must complete the online application and attach a church recommendation form, which must show the church’s name, address, and pastor’s name. The scholarship deadline is usually mid-March. The SCBC also offers the Richard Furman Scholarship for graduate and seminary students planning to seek careers in church-related ministry.
The WMU Foundation supports Baptist students, especially the children of Baptist missionaries and those planning careers in Baptist ministry. Prospective students must submit an application by the February 1 deadline, including two references, one of which must be from a local WMU leader and the other from an academic source such as a teacher or professor. The WMU oversees numerous scholarships and endowments, but applicants do not have to name the scholarship they are applying to receive. The committee directs applications to the appropriate scholarship fund.