Best Online Master’s in Theology Programs for 2021

Thinking of earning your master’s in theology online? Read on to learn more about programs from top schools, future career options, and other details you’ll want to know to feel confident moving forward.

A master’s degree in theology prepares you for more diverse roles than you might think, including many outside of religious organizations. With this graduate-level training, students can take on careers in spiritual counseling and educational roles within religious organizations as educational directors, youth pastors, and more. Alternatively, the academic and writing skills acquired in a theology master’s program positions students for research, counseling, teaching, or writing roles in non-faith-based organizations. These include nonprofits, colleges and universities, news outlets, marketing agencies, and various healthcare settings.

Online theology master’s programs are also more affordable and flexible than traditional on-campus degrees, which allows you to keep working and to take care of other responsibilities while earning your degree. Before choosing to pursue a master’s in theology online, be sure to obtain all the pertinent information regarding topics studied, financial aid options, and what to expect after graduation. This guide provides this information by walking you through the important aspects of Master in Theology online programs, so you can make an educated decision.

College Spotlights: 2021’s Best Online Theology Master’s Programs

A graduate degree is a big commitment, so be sure you’re investing your time and money into a quality online theology master’s program. The best-in-class profiles below offer a preview of the full rankings to come later in 2021. These accredited programs were picked based on their flexibility and affordability, which assures the credentials needed for career advancement as affordably as possible.

Liberty University

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Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is a private, evangelical Christian university with nearly 80,000 students. Established in 1971, the school offers a fully online Master in Theology program. Remote students choose from concentrations in biblical studies, Christian apologetics, church history, global studies, homiletics, and theology.

Remote learners in this theology master’s program complete three foundational classes in theology along with several specialized classes based on their chosen area of study. LU’s foundational courses explore church history, recent trends in biblical theology, and Christian thought in the modern era.

Online theology master’s program students need 30 credit hours for graduation. Full-time learners often complete the program in 1.5 years. Incoming students at LU must possess a bachelor’s degree from a regionally or nationally accredited institution with a 3.0 or higher GPA. Applications must also include an application fee, a completed divinity questionnaire, a pastoral recommendation, and official college transcripts.

Lincoln Christian University

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Lincoln Christian University is a private Christian university in Lincoln, Illinois. Established in 1944, the school now boasts approximately 1,100 students. Remote learners can take advantage of its online theology master’s program without setting foot on campus.

The program requires completion of 10-12 courses online, on campus, or in a hybrid format, depending on the student’s preferences. Full-time graduate students usually complete this Master of Arts in theology in as few as 16 months. Required courses include understanding the Stone-Campbell movement, Christianity through the ages, systematic theology, modern theology, and understanding contemporary mindsets. Degree-seekers also choose from a wide variety of electives in apologetics, church history, philosophy, and theology.

Prospective seminary students must submit an online application, writing sample, and two Christian character references. References may come from someone in a leadership position in a Christian church or organization who can speak to the applicant’s likelihood of success in a graduate theology program. Incoming students must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a 2.5 or higher cumulative GPA.

Saint Leo University

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A private, liberal arts institution located in Florida, Saint Leo is affiliated with the Roman Catholic church and was established in 1889. Remote students can pursue their master’s in theology entirely online with no on-campus obligations. The school teaches theology based on a Catholic tradition but welcomes applicants from diverse backgrounds and perspectives whether or not they have an undergraduate degree in religious studies.

Master’s in theology online students must complete 36 credit hours for graduation. Required courses include ecclesiology, history of Christianity, Christian scriptures, and Christian spirituality. Learners choose nine credits from available theology electives, including a history of Catholic-Jewish relations, American Catholicism, and management and human resources for ministry.

Many students choose to take advantage of the department’s professional development opportunities, including community service or internship positions. Saint Leo graduates often move on to careers as directors of religious education, high school teachers, hospital chaplains, music ministers, and social workers.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Theology

Earning a master’s in theology online comes with significant advantages. First, online learning offers scheduling flexibility and allows for the completion of school work when it is most convenient. Additionally, many students enjoy cost savings, both in daily expenses and tuition, with online learning. Additionally, a master’s degree in theology increases earning potential, diversifies job and educational opportunities, and sharpens skills.

  1. Increases Earning Potential

    An online master’s degree in theology positions graduates for higher salaries compared to bachelor’s degree holders. While the pay scale varies greatly among positions, Northeastern University reports that professionals with master’s degrees make an average of $12,948 more per year than those with only a bachelor’s.

  2. Diversifies Job and Educational Opportunities

    A master’s of arts in theology shows employers you are dedicated to a field of study and have demonstrated valuable skills, including writing, research, and analytical skills. It also makes you a more competitive candidate in the academic market, especially when applying to doctoral programs in religious studies. While a master’s in theology is not necessarily a requirement for doctoral programs, it does give you an advantage.

  3. Sharpens Skills

    A master’s in theology online allows for furthering specialized knowledge and critical thinking skills in a specific area of the field. Although you may not be considered an expert without a doctoral degree, you will be better prepared for roles in religious organizations where specialized knowledge is useful.

What You’ll Learn in Online Master’s in Theology Programs

Master’s in theology online students take both foundational or required classes along with electives. Theology faculty members teach students to engage with seminal theological texts, understand relevant church histories, and develop graduate-level research and writing skills. Students also learn to engage with important theological texts on their terms and develop analytical skills unencumbered by religious history or upbringing. As students advance through their online theology master’s program, they conduct advanced research focusing on their main areas of interest or specialization. Some online theology master’s programs require completion of a traditional master’s thesis for graduation.

Common Courses

  • Hebrew Bible Survey

    Sometimes referred to as the Old Testament, a Hebrew Bible survey course explores the history of interpretation of the document and how important scholars write and think about it today. Students learn the foundational series in Hebrew Bible development as a text as well as how it has historically influenced Christian imagination and communities.

  • Prophecy and Biblical Stories

    In this course, students explore the works of classical prophets, including Israelite prophets, and the ways they have influenced religious thought. Upon completion, students can compare the preaching and rhetoric of seminal and lesser-known prophets, analyze the significance of biblical stories from the New Testament, and understand the scope of religious concerns and theological outlook for many Christians today.

  • Reading Scripture

    This course focuses on various interpretations of biblical texts. Faculty help learners understand the essential debates existing in theological interpretations and teach them to be self-reflective interpreters of this work. The class also develops critical thinking and analysis skills using specific case studies from the Bible.

  • Thomas Aquinas and Medieval Theology

    This class explores the controversial medieval theologian and investigates his major theological writing, life story, and significance in 13th-century theology. As an important figure in the field still today, students understand how Aquinas serves as a philosophical and theological resource for modern students.

  • Master’s Thesis

    Most programs have credits set aside for researching and writing a master’s thesis. While not a requirement in all online theology master’s programs, it can impact how long a program takes. The thesis is also an important document to brand you as a professional in terms of the topic, scope, and research.

Specialization and Concentration Options

A theology master’s online program helps develop specialized skills in a specific area. Concentration or specialization offerings vary among schools, and it is important to research them to find the most suitable program. Remember that a department’s course and concentration offerings depend upon faculty strengths and research backgrounds.

  • Biblical Studies

    One common concentration for online theology master’s programs in biblical studies. It allows students to specialize in the study of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity. In some cases, students must complete language courses, often in Hebrew or Greek, as part of this track.

  • Sexuality and Gender

    This concentration often focuses on social justice issues related to equity, sexual orientation, reproduction, and gender identity. Students specializing in this area often research issues, both past and present, in religious, spiritual, professional, and political contexts.

  • History and Traditions

    This specialization is for students interested in understanding the historical developments in various religious traditions. Learners in this concentration do not necessarily focus on the history of Christianity. Rather, schools offering this specialization often help master’s students explore other religious traditions relating to the interests or research areas of the department’s faculty.

  • Ethics

    Students in this concentration study ethics from philosophical and religious perspectives. They develop high-level critical analysis skills and evaluate theories of racial and social justice. Graduate students focusing on this area often examine power structures, political arrangements, ethical judgments, and other instances where religious meaning and thought might play an important role.

  • Congregational and Counseling Practices

    Specifically designed for those master’s students who see themselves as pastors, religious educators, or ministers, this concentration helps develop the management, organizational skills, and specialized theological knowledge needed to effectively work with faith groups and their local communities.

Accreditation Standards for Online Theology Master’s Programs

Colleges and universities offering worthwhile degrees possess either regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation, considered the gold standard, is possessed by schools offering a variety of degrees in traditional academic subjects. National accreditation, on the other hand, is typically held by institutions focusing on specific vocations and offering limited major options.

Some individual programs also seek programmatic accreditation to ensure degree offerings meet the high standards of a specialized accrediting body and to stand out from other institutions. Programmatic accreditation for theology schools typically comes from the Commission on Accreditation of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). While lack of programmatic accreditation is not necessarily a deal-breaker, any online theology master’s program must possess at least regional accreditation.

What You Can Do with an Online Master’s in Theology

An online master’s program in theology can provide excellent training for careers both inside and outside of religious organizations. In addition to working for churches, religious groups, or religion-affiliated nonprofits, those with a master’s degree in theology also find fulfilling work in hospitals and healthcare facilities, colleges and universities, and educational companies and tutoring services. Additionally, earning a master’s in theology online sets you apart from other candidates in the competitive job market because of your specialized knowledge and advanced writing, research, and analytical skills.

Hospice or Hospital Chaplain

Chaplains work directly with patients and their families in hospice or medical facilities. An online theology master’s program can help those specifically trained for roles in healthcare or in-home care settings develop the hands-on skills and pastoral guidance techniques needed to help people with end-of-life care, difficult decisions, and the loss of a loved one. They often tailor their training and preparation to work with a specific patient population or age group.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$26,810

$50,400

$86,970

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Postsecondary Teachers

Many graduates with an online master’s in theology work in education as college professors and adjunct instructors. These positions are typically not available to those with only a bachelor’s degree. These teachers work directly with undergraduate and graduate students, teach a variety of classes, give lectures, grade papers, and provide guidance with coursework.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$40,480

$79,540

$174,960

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Youth Pastor

A role as a youth pastor is a fit for those interested in providing younger church members with spiritual leadership outside of traditional church settings or services. An online theology master’s helps you acquire both the leadership and organizational skills needed for counseling younger church-goers about their religion and belief systems, helping them understand their relationships and life goals, and providing them with opportunities to be involved in their church and community. Compensation for this role varies greatly depending on the religious organization.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$19,400

$29,820

$58,320

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Writer or Author

A theology master’s program online develops excellent research and writing skills. Whether or not you wish to pursue a career writing about religion or related topics, you will be able to handle long-form copywriting and article writing in areas like history, social studies, global studies, cultural studies, and pop culture. Essential skills in the writing field often come with graduate-level training.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$33,660

$63,200

$122,450

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Director of Religious Activity and Education

Professionals in this role help plan, organize, and carry out religion-focused activities for a denominational group. They may also work in advisory roles helping members of their denomination through guidance and counseling on marital, financial, religious, or health issues. A master’s degree gives the depth of knowledge required to assist a religious congregation in spiritual matters and religious education.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$20,190

$38,980

$82,570

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Theology

Earning an online master’s degree, including an online theology master’s program, is a significant financial feat. It is important to have an understanding of the total financial commitment of earning a graduate degree.

Many online master’s programs offer substantial financial aid to support learners for at least part of their enrollment. When researching financial aid options, consider graduate fellowship positions, private and school scholarships, and, if currently working, employer tuition assistance programs. Check with prospective departments and graduate schools for any potential funding opportunities.

For more information on financial aid opportunities, check out our comprehensive financial aid guide.

How Affordable Your Online Master’s in Theology Could Be

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

Liberty University

30

$565

$16,950

Saint Leo University

36

$510

$18,360

Campbellsville University

30

$299

$8,970

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Theology Master’s Programs

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in theology?

The admissions requirements for online master’s programs in theology vary among programs. Because of the covid-19 pandemic, many graduate programs are waiving GRE requirements for 2021. However, you still must have a course history in theology-related areas, and some programs also expect relevant work or volunteer experience. Applications also often require the following:

  • Official transcripts
  • Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution
  • Competitive GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of faith
  • Application fee
  • Updated resume or CV

How long will it take to finish my master’s in theology online?

Most online theology master’s programs require 30 credits for graduation. In most cases, full-time students can complete their theology master’s program online in under two years. Part-time students can expect to spend three or more years depending on their workload and availability each semester.

Online programs sometimes help students finish their programs more quickly than traditional on-campus programs. Asynchronous and self-paced learning formats can allow students to progress more quickly through material than with synchronous online or in-person classes.

As mentioned above, a traditional master’s thesis might also be required. Depending on your research and availability, you may need to spend a year or more working on your thesis. Everyone’s thesis writing experience is different, however, so it may not add much time to your tenure in school.

Can I earn a master’s in master’s in theology 100% online or are there on-campus requirements?

Remote students can earn an online master’s in theology without any on-campus obligations. Colleges and universities now often provide excellent remote educational opportunities with fully online curricula, asynchronous or synchronous coursework, discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual office hours. Even with a master’s thesis, most schools now allow virtual completion without any campus visits.