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Best Graduate Online Theology Certificate Programs for 2024

Whether you want to step into a ministry role, strengthen your existing beliefs, or develop a deeper understanding of religion’s impact on the world, an online graduate certificate in theology can help you achieve your goals.

Author: Shannon Daigle

Editor: Staff Editor

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You may feel as though earning a graduate certificate in theology will be challenging — even impossible — with the demands of everyday life. However, it can allow you to take the next step in your career and expand your qualifications with an additional specialization, such as systematic or historical theology. And with several colleges and universities offering online programs, earning your graduate certificate in theology is more flexible and affordable than on-campus study.

Before choosing an online graduate program, however, it’s essential to consider factors like overall cost, areas of study, and your motivations behind pursuing your theology certificate online. For example, while many programs aim to prepare individuals for lay ministry or deepening personal faith, others take a non-sectarian approach to global religions.

This guide was created to help you better understand your options for pursuing an online graduate certificate in theology. Below, you’ll find detailed information on different program requirements, areas of study, and other important considerations to help you choose the best program for your goals.

College Spotlights: Best Graduate Online Theology Certificate Programs

While there are many options available for pursuing an online graduate certificate in theology, our experts have outlined three outstanding schools for you to consider. These accredited programs were selected based on their affordability and flexibility, so you can confidently choose a high-caliber certificate that meets your personal and professional aspirations. This selection is a glimpse into a more complete ranking of the best online theology certificate programs, so be sure to check back later for a more comprehensive list.

Harvard University

Logo of Harvard University, featuring a crimson shield with the Latin motto "ve ri tas" on three books, divided into four sections, flanked by the words Harvard University in capitalized green font. The design symbolizes excellence in education, including Graduate Online Theology Certificate programs.

Harvard Extension School — a division of Harvard University — offers an online Religion and Society Graduate Certificate for students looking to gain a greater understanding of the world’s major religions and their impact on modern society, culture, and politics. This program was designed to be completed in under three years, and only four courses are required; at $775 per credit, the program is also quite affordable. The curriculum is focused on the history and impact of global religions from a non-sectarian perspective. Each course takes place in a dynamic, live online classroom environment, where students can interact with instructors and engage in discussion with peers in real-time.

The best part of this flexible, online program is that you can earn a graduate certificate from a fully accredited Harvard school — regardless of location. Classes are led by prestigious faculty from Harvard University and other local, national, and international universities. After earning a certificate, you will be equipped to apply critical theory methodology to the study of religions in academic and professional environments.

Liberty University

The logo of Liberty University, featuring bold, serif capital letters in a deep blue color, represents its Graduate Online Theology Certificate.

Liberty University (LU) is a private, Baptist-based Christian university based in Lynchburg, Virginia. As part of its robust distance learning program, LU offers an online Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies that only requires 12 hours of study. The program is comprised of four courses and can be completed in as little as one semester, with each course taking just eight weeks to complete. For part-time students, the program costs $395 per credit and includes free access to electronic textbooks for each course. The curriculum includes instruction on the authority of biblical scripture, the historical background of the Christian church, and the theological foundations of Christian belief.

Upon completion, certificate earners are prepared to apply their knowledge to careers as Christian educators, pursue roles in church leadership, or transfer into an online Master of Divinity degree program to continue their studies. Liberty’s graduate theology courses are accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools.

Wheaton College

Logo of Wheaton College featuring a stylized white and blue tower with an orange flag on top, accompanied by the text "Wheaton College Graduate Online Theology Certificate" in blue capitals.

Wheaton College is a private, Evangelical Christian liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois with a flexible online learning program. The school’s Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies prepares students for various ministry roles by teaching advanced knowledge of biblical and theological issues. To earn this certificate, students must complete 16 credit hours of study over four graduate-level courses.

This program is incredibly flexible, with Wheaton allowing students up to five years to complete their studies. Learners can also choose when they listen to lectures and work on assignments thanks to the online, self-paced classes. This program is priced at $780 per credit hour, and Wheaton College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. After earning a certificate, graduates are prepared to enter various ministry roles or proceed to an advanced degree in theology.

Top Reasons to Earn a Graduate Certificate in Theology Online

  1. Learn anytime, anywhere

    Online learning allows students to earn a certificate on a schedule that meets their needs, regardless of location. This is a huge benefit for students who have already dedicated portions of their lives to their undergraduate degrees, as it allows them to work, take care of their families, or simply maintain work-life balance more easily than on-campus programs.

  2. Prepare for a rewarding career

    Students who earn their theology certificate online will be better prepared for the ministry, either as a professional or a lay person. What’s more, some denominations and organizations have educational requirements for leadership roles, and a certificate can aid individuals in obtaining these qualifications.

  3. Explore an advanced degree

    Online theology programs enable students to study with leading theologians and religious professors and earn qualifications from a prestigious and well-qualified academic institution. Students can pursue a passion for religion and theology while exploring a more advanced degree in the field. Students gain a deeper understanding of faith and broaden their knowledge of religion and its impact on modern society. If they prefer, students may continue their advanced education with a master’s degree.

What You’ll Learn in Graduate Theology Certificate Programs Online

Students earning their graduate certificate in theology online receive an overview of the foundational beliefs, practices, and historical milestones of religion. With instructor guidance, students learn a critical approach where they place readings within a historical context and identify the resulting doctrines. Additionally, students explore the history of religious movements, identifying eras and individuals who have shaped current beliefs. They also investigate the development of religious beliefs, their impact on the world, and modern challenges.

Popular Courses

Religion, the Arts, and Social Change

Through historical and contemporary case studies, this course examines the connection between religion and politics through the lens of the arts (e.g., literature, poetry, visual arts, music, theater, and dance). Students learn what particular artistic expressions can reveal about religious influences and worldviews, specifically within social and historical contexts. This course also explores how artistic expression is often influenced by political assumptions about religion and culture.

Apologetics

In this class, students are instructed on the relationship between faith and reason. They explore different methods of defending faith, learning to engage in constructive conversation surrounding popular arguments. Discussions center around the prevailing apologetics issues of the day, religion as a worldview, and responding to challenges of religious faith.

Old Testament

To understand the content and themes of Old Testament writings, students examine the texts alongside ancient Near Eastern and Israelite history. They explore the journey of the Old Testament from oral tradition to canonization, including how it informed modern religious beliefs. Upon completion, students can interpret scripture in light of historical context.

New Testament

In this class, students gain an overview of the life and teachings of Jesus, early Christian church development, Pauline letters, and the book of Revelation. Students can expect to learn the historical context for these writings, the resulting theological conclusions, and their impact on doctrinal practices.

What are Some Specializations in Theology Certificates That I Can Earn?

With a theology certificate online, students can choose to focus their education in one area in order to gain specific skills. For example, a student looking to become a minister may choose to specialize in leadership and ministry. Additionally, a student may choose to narrow their focus to one aspect of church history or doctrine based on their faith.

Specialization options vary by school, and only some schools offer individual concentrations of study. If you have a specific focus in mind, it’s important to research and verify if a school has a program that fits your needs. Below is a list of some common specializations for online graduate certificates in theology.

Catholic Theology

This concentration focuses on doctrines of the Catholic faith and is helpful for personal enrichment or to serve as a staff member in a local parish. These certificate programs typically offer courses in the Old and New Testaments, theology, Christian spirituality, moral theology, and Christian sacrament. They can also serve as the first step toward a Master of Arts in Theology.

Theology and History

This specialization concentrates on the history of Christianity and the development of core beliefs. Students explore historical church timelines and theological movements in depth. Additionally, they may investigate and identify biblical lessons and effective ministry approaches throughout history.

Biblical Studies

Students in this concentration focus on methods of interpreting and applying biblical scripture to beliefs and actions. A typical biblical studies program will include the background and content of each book of the Bible and finding relationships between scripture and doctrine.

What Can You Do with a Graduate Certificate in Theology?

Students often pursue online theology certificate programs to better understand religious belief systems and how they impact our modern world. After graduation, students are equipped to apply their knowledge in non-profit and church-related settings.

Obtaining a theology certificate online can qualify you to take on new leadership roles in your church and community as a lay minister, associate pastor, or in hospital pastoral care. Additionally, earning a theology certificate online can strengthen your qualifications as a Christian school teacher, author, or historian. Forbes reports that graduate certificate earners can expect 13-25% higher salaries.

Graduate certificates in theology online provide a preview of graduate-level studies in the field, and students often transfer certificate credits to a master’s degree program to continue their education.

Accreditation for Graduate Theology Certificate Programs Online

When selecting a college or university, it is important to identify its accreditation status. Typically, these institutions are accredited by either a regional or national accrediting organization. Regional accreditation is the more prestigious of the two and is more widely recognized. National accreditation is more typical in vocational and technical schools.

Additionally, specific programs within a school may obtain programmatic accreditation, which ensures degrees meet specialized standards in a given area of study. The Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) is the most common programmatic accreditation for theology programs. An theology certificate online should be accredited by either a faith-related or regional accrediting organization. You can search for a school’s accreditation status on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website.

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Graduate Certificate – Theology

Before committing to an online theology certificate program, it’s essential to understand the financial commitment. Planning how you’ll pay for your education is an integral part of the preparation process.

Generally, certificate programs are not eligible for federal financial aid, meaning students must either pay costs out of pocket or secure other financial assistance. However, certificates are an affordable way to obtain a higher education, especially compared to the price of a master’s degree. If you need help paying for your education, you may be able to receive scholarships or grants from your church, employer, or private organizations.

What Your Theology Graduate Certificate Online Program Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/
Credit
Total Tuition Cost
Regent University 12 $515/credit $6,180
Westminster Theological Seminary 9 $650/credit $5,850
University of Redlands 12 $773/credit $9,276

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate Online Theology Certificates

While master’s degrees offer a broad, professional level of expertise in a given field, a graduate certificate in theology online has a more limited and specific scope of study. Typically, a master’s program will require more credit hours and involve more individual research and academic writing than a certificate program.

While a graduate certificate does not provide the same level of in-depth academic experience as a master’s degree, it is accomplished in a shorter amount of time and at less expense to the student. It can provide a student with a strong start in graduate-level studies. In fact, most people who earn a graduate certificate in theology online can easily transfer the credits they’ve earned to a full master’s degree program.

What Are the Admissions Requirements for Online Theology Graduate Certificate Programs?

Admissions requirements for online theology certificate programs vary among individual institutions. Since coursework is often part of graduate-level programs, a bachelor’s degree is a common requirement. Some schools prefer to review a student’s transcripts before admission, but most do not require graduate record examination (GRE) test results.

If you choose to complete a certificate through a religious-based institution, you may be required to agree with and adhere to sectarian or denominational religious beliefs.

Admissions requirements often include the following:

  • Online application
  • Application fee
  • Transcripts
  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Proof of relevant work experience
  • Doctrinal agreement

How Long Will It Take to Finish My Theology Graduate Certificate Online?

Most online theology certificates require between 12 and 20 credit hours to complete. In many cases, students can complete a certificate in as little as one to two semesters. If you choose part-time study, you can expect to spend about two years completing coursework before you obtain a certificate.

Many online programs are also asynchronous, meaning you can complete them at your own pace. Unlike traditional, on-campus programs, you can progress through course material more quickly and earn a certificate sooner. Several schools have adapted their online courses into accelerated course formats, with each class lasting as little as eight weeks.

Can I Earn My Graduate Certificate in Theology 100% Online, or Do I Need to Take Classes on Campus?

Yes, you can earn a graduate certificate in theology entirely online. Though some students prefer to take classes in person, it’s possible to study without ever visiting a campus. Many colleges, universities, and seminaries have made online education approachable and affordable for remote students. Online theology certificate programs feature similar coursework to on-campus programs, made available in either asynchronous or synchronous online format. You’ll interact with instructors and other students via discussion boards, chat rooms, and virtual office hours.