Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Theology: Guide to Online Programs for 2022

Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Theology: Guide to Online Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Theology is a complex subject that demands a broad knowledge base. It is not limited to church services. It is also presented in academic papers, journals, conferences, and workshops. If you’re looking to advance your theological knowledge but have commitments that bar you from going to a campus, an online degree program is an option. With the best online bachelor’s degree in theology, you can study effectively off-campus.

A bachelor’s degree in theology is an undergraduate degree that usually has 120-course credits that can be completed in four years. Courses are designed to ingrain in students a deep understanding of religious history and theology as well as practical skills like leadership and interpersonal relations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for this degree reached 376,930 jobs while the median annual wage was pegged at $40,000 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Theology graduates can find work as chaplains, pastors, ministers, and more.

In this article, you can find out whether you should pursue a theology degree online and what differences you can expect compared to a face-to-face setting. You can also know what to expect in terms of costs and curriculum. In this way, you will be able to narrow down the many choices for the best online degrees and select one that is right for you.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Theology Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Theology
  5. How much does an online bachelor’s degree in theology cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online bachelor’s degree in theology?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Theology
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Theology

Can you get a degree completely online?

Many schools nowadays offer online bachelor’s degrees in theology. This is mainly due to the pandemic, which has affected 1,200 colleges and schools in the U.S. Data shows that 44% of institutions switched to fully online learning, 21% used a hybrid model while 27% continued with face-to-face learning (Guru99, 2021).

Source: Guru99, 2021

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

Employers have shifted their attitude towards online degrees in line with the shift to online instruction. Today, nearly 100% of new graduates entering the job market earned their degree at least partially online (World Economic Forum, 2021). Moreover, the online learning experience can better equip graduates with the new work arrangements, such as hybrid and remote work setups that will be implemented in the new normal.

graduates with degrees earned online

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

Online bachelor’s degrees in theology that a graduate obtains from an accredited and reputable institution will likely be accepted in most parts of the world. The rising popularity of distance learning around the world provides the opportunity to learn without borders. According to UNESCO, 90% of high-income countries reported using existing online platforms while 53% from low and lower-middle income countries did the same (UNESCO, 2020).

Pandemic Response of National Educational Systems Around the World

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Source: UNESCO, 2020

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Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degrees in Theology

Online bachelor’s degree programs in theology deal with the different facets of religion. Theology students closely study spiritual text and ancient languages to sharpen their theological thinking skills. The course may also delve into the history, ethics, and rituals of one religion or different ones from all around the world.

Theology programs are usually taught on-campus. But with pandemic shutting down schools, online degree programs have gained traction. If you are wondering which mode of instruction to take, below are some differences to take note of:

Schedule

Traditional degree programs usually take in students during the spring, summer, or fall. Online programs may also follow the same format or have year-round admissions. When it comes to class schedules, on-campus programs usually have set times within the week for face-to-face classes. In contrast, online programs that follow asynchronous learning do not have set class times. Instead, students study the course content on their own time, making it more advantageous to students with work or family responsibilities. For synchronous sessions, professors may set a schedule for when they will meet their students.

One method that provides a middle ground for purely online and purely face-to-face instruction is blended learning. Adams et al (2018) conducted a study titled “Transforming higher education with blended learning: experiences from a BA program in theology targeting part-time students” at the University of Graz. The findings, which were published in The Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference 2018 – Proceedings, stated that “Part-time students need more support in their learning processes, particularly during online phases, as student motivation is higher when faculty members engage in different forms of e-teaching. As the program continues, the focus should remain on student satisfaction and engagement, particularly to address the issue of retention, but also take into consideration instructors’ needs for ongoing support when it comes to (re-)designing their courses and setting up their virtual learning environment (VLEs).”

Learning Experience

In traditional programs, students learn by interacting with their professors and fellow students in a structured environment. They can then put into practice what they learned through a guided internship or by joining a peer ministry. Meanwhile, online programs break down course content into modules that students can access from a learning platform. Thus, the learning experience for students happens in the cloud. They can complete course content at their own pace but must still submit assignments and other requirements on time.

Pacing

Both online and traditional degree programs in theology usually require at least 120 credit hours to complete the degree. This means that students can earn their degrees in four years. Both modes also offer students full-time or part-time options in completing the course. However, some online programs offer an accelerated bachelor’s to master’s option so you can earn both degrees with less time and money.

Teaching Methods

Teachers in traditional programs usually employ the lecture method for course delivery. However, they may also use other methods, such as storytelling and demonstration. Occasionally, teachers may employ student-centered methods like reporting and recitation (Bible.org, 2005). On the other hand, online programs typically have interactive online classes that aim to mimic the classroom experience. Students can participate in the video lecture, as well as interact with other classmates through podcasts, instant messaging, discussion threads, and other methods.

Is an online degree cheaper?

Students can expect that online bachelor’s degrees in theology will be less expensive than their on-campus counterparts. This is because schools have lesser overhead costs to operate such programs. Meanwhile, students do not have to spend on transportation and course materials.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

An accredited degree program from a reputable school helps ensure that the quality one gets from an online education will be on par with its campus-based offering. In addition, some online programs integrate the use of technology along with theology theory and practice. The view that college is still worth the cost even if classes are online is shared by 66% of parents according to a survey. On the other hand, 48% of students agree that college is still worth the cost even with online classes while 49% disagree (Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020).

Source: Sallie Mae & Ipsos, 2020

How much does an online bachelor’s degree in theology cost?

On average, the most affordable schools that offer an online bachelor’s degree in theology have per credit rates of $467 per credit hour. The average tuition for this degree is $26,315. Annual tuition can be as low as $7,860 or as high as $17,980.

Sources: MBI, PBA, ORU, JU, Franciscan University of Steubenville; 2021

On the other hand, affordable campus-based bachelor’s programs in Christian ministry, Biblical studies, and theology cost $28,304. However, bear in mind that this cost covers tuition only and does not take into account housing, on-campus meals, transportation, and other expenses.

Various factors come into play that affects the pricing of college fees as well as online programs for this degree. These include:

  • Financial Aid. There are a number of federal aid options for undergraduate students. First, the Pell Grant awards financial aid to students from low-income households (Federal Student Aid, n.d.). One can also apply for Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans between $5,500 to $12,500 per year (Federal Student Aid, n.d.). Another option is to apply for a Federal Work-Study program where undergraduate and graduate students can take on part-time jobs and earn money for paying tuition (Federal Student Aid, n.d.).
  • Military Discounts. Active members of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard, and most Ready Reserves can avail of the benefits of the Armed Forces Tuition Assistance (TA) Programs. Eligible service members can use the TA to pay up to 100% of their tuition expenses for semester hours that cost $250 or less (Military One Source, 2020).
  • Other Discounts. Some schools may deduct a certain amount off their tuition for students who have a parent who is employed as a pastor or missionary. The University of Northwestern St. Paul for instance gives a $1,500 Christian worker discount to students who meet this criterion.

Is an online bachelor’s degree in theology worth it?

Accredited online bachelor’s degree programs in theology can help students develop the same skills as their on-campus counterparts. Just like its on-campus counterpart, an online degree in Theology can lead to a master’s degree. Graduates may pursue related post-graduate programs like a Master’s Degree in Psychology or a Master’s Degree in History.

Aside from the course content, taking classes online can give them the technical know-how for creating a structure for a digital church. According to a survey, 71% of Boomers prefer in-person attendance for church services post-pandemic, while only 41% of Gen Z prefer this mode of worship (Carey Nieuwhof, 2021). Hence, getting an online theology degree is worth it as it prepares graduates for delivering ministry services in a post-pandemic world.

What are the requirements of an online bachelor’s degree in theology?

To apply for admission, applicants have to submit official transcripts, copies of standardized test scores, church endorsement, or pastor’s recommendation. As for technological requirements, students should have a laptop, desktop, and mobile device to access course content from a learning management system. After obtaining their degree, they will have the necessary skills to serve in their ministry or community, such as leadership skills, oral and written communication skills, reading comprehension, and listening skills.

Admission Requirements

  • Official transcripts. Schools often require a minimum grade point average to be reflected in one’s diploma. They may also accept a Graduate Equivalency Degree or General Educational Diploma instead of a high school diploma. If the applicant has attended other colleges, they will also be required to submit undergraduate school transcripts.
  • Standardized test scores. Schools may request your scores in the American College Test (ACT), Classic Learning Test (CLT), or Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). There are schools that require a score cut-off for admission, while others have made standardized test scores optional due to the pandemic.
  • Church endorsement. Schools may ask the applicant to have their church leader fill up a church endorsement form. This form would state that the church recognizes the applicant’s potential for church service. It also attests that the applicant is equipped spiritually, morally, and intellectually to engage in vocational ministry work.
  • Pastor’s recommendation. Applicants may need to attach a pastor’s recommendation along with their application, which states that the pastor recommends that the applicant be accepted into the school. It usually details what the applicant has done within their ministry that makes him prepared to pursue a degree in theology.

General Requirements

  • Leadership. One possible career path for this degree is pastoral ministry or leadership in nonprofit organizations. As such, it inculcates in students leadership skills that enable them to effectively navigate the interrelationships in a congregation, its surroundings, and the community. With this skill, they will be able to develop congregations in line with biblical teachings and that are relevant to modern society. It will also help them achieve the mission, vision, and values of their congregation or religious organization.
  • Reading Comprehension. Online bachelor’s degrees in theology require an in-depth study of scriptures, including reading the source material in their original language. Reading religious writings with an awareness of their context enables students to have a deep understanding of the text. In turn, this enables them to interpret passages, uncover their wisdom, and relate its teachings to everyday life.
  • Oral Communication Skills. The ability to effectively preach Bible teachings is central to Christian education and mission work. Thus, graduates of this degree will have the necessary skills for preparing and presenting biblical lessons and sermons. Excellent communication skills also allow them to resolve conflicts within their community. They should be able to articulate their thoughts well and express their ideas with confidence (WayUp, n.d.). Graduates who have stellar communication skills have a leg up during hiring. In a survey, 36% of employers in the U.S. said that communication skills are one of the top soft skills they have trouble finding among candidates (SHRM, 2021).
  • Written Communication Skills. As a corollary to reading comprehension skills, theology graduates also develop written communication skills as they organize their notes on religious texts. This can be particularly useful if graduates pursue a career in the seminary or in the academe. They will be able to apply the rubrics that make up effective theological academic writing, from using the problem-warrant-solution model to making clear arguments and using quotations and citations.
  • Listening Skills. Graduates who plan to become pastors or ministers will learn the exercise of active listening skills, which helps them empathize with church members. They will recognize barriers to effective listening so they understand how people feel and the impact those feelings have on their life. It also involves being aware of the different nuances surrounding communication, such as cultural, gender, religious, and other differences between the speaker and listener. With this, they are able to run their ministries with care and compassion (Ministry Magazine, 2009).

on demand soft skills

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

Online degree programs in theology usually require students to access a learning management system (LMS) for course content, activities, and requirements. Thus, they would need a laptop or desktop that is compatible with the LMS chosen by the school. Such systems also usually have a mobile component so they would need a mobile phone or tablet to access it. It is advisable for applicants to check the degree program’s page or inquire with an admissions officer about the specific technical specifications for gadgets as required by the program.

Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Theology

Different schools offering online theology degrees will have different curricula. However, students can expect the following core online degree courses in theology to be taught:

  • World Religions. The course introduces students to major faith traditions from all around the globe. These include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They will examine attributes of each religion such as its beliefs, values, history, ways of worship, and relationship to Christianity.
  • Biblical Theology. Students will be tasked to systematically study major areas of Christian doctrine. They will learn how to read, interpret, and apply biblical texts. The course is designed for students to prepare students to participate in a church-work program.
  • Church History. In this course, students will study the beginnings of Christianity, explore how it evolved through time and its role and impact on the modern-day world. Students will be able to see how Christian doctrine developed as well as identify erroneous beliefs in the history of the church. The course also includes discussions about church organization and movements.
  • Pastoral Ministry. In this course, students can learn about the day-to-day activities ministers must do to serve the needs of their church. Students will also explore the theoretical, philosophical, biblical, and theological foundations of their ministry. This will equip them to spread the gospel and guide churchgoers towards their spiritual formation.
  • Christian Apologetics. Stemming from the Greek word apologia, which means defense, the study of apologetics teaches students how to defend the Christian faith (Colorado Christian University, 2020). To do so, students taking this course will study philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence of the Christian faith. Doing so will equip them to respond to atheism and other challenges to the faith. This is especially significant today as 20% of Americans said that they do not have a religious preference and 3% have an undesignated religious preference (Gallup, 2020).

Source: Gallup, 2020

Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Theology

Many types of institutions offer online bachelor’s programs in theology, from Christian schools, bible colleges, and church-sponsored schools. In looking for the right school, one can consider the following factors:

Accreditation

Schools offering theology-related degrees can have national or regional accreditation. National accreditation is usually awarded to specialized, vocational, or trade schools. Examples of nationally accredited bodies are the Association for Biblical Higher Education and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

The Commission of Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools also accredits schools with theological disciplines not only in the U.S. but also in Canada (ATS, n.d.). In 2020, there were a total of 224 ATS-accredited schools in the U.S. and 34 in Canada for a total of 258 accredited schools (ATS, 2021).

On the other hand, regional accreditation indicates a high degree of professional and academic standards. Enrolling in institutions that are regionally accredited also means that it is easier to transfer credits to other colleges and universities. Examples of regional accrediting bodies include the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Recognition of Earned Credits

With earned credits, students do not have to take up the full number of required credits under the program. This lessens their academic workload and results in lower tuition fees. There are institutions that recognize early college credit earned by qualified high school students. Others may also give credit for life experience up to a maximum number of credit hours. Other schools may also limit the number of credit hours they recognize and require that a certain percentage of credits be earned at their institution.

Support Services

A good online program should give students the same resources as on-campus students enjoy. They should have access to an online library, advising and financial aid, and help desk services. Aside from these, the school should also provide chapel services as well as coaching on academics and careers.

accredited schools

Keeping the Faith in a Challenging World

The widespread use of online platforms for education has made degrees accessible to students as long as they have an internet connection. This applies to various degrees, even bachelor’s degrees in theology. Aside from the convenience, learning remotely generally translates to lower costs. By enrolling in an accredited program from a reputable institution, one can be assured that it is on par with on-campus offerings and will be acceptable to employers.

Today, as the world grapples with the uncertainties of the pandemic, people might have lost touch with their spirituality. In fact, church membership in the U.S. is now at an all-time low. In the 1940s, 73% of adults in the U.S. said that they are a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque. In 2020, that percentage has declined to 47% (Gallup, 2021). With a theology degree, graduates can bring religious teachings, interpret them in a way that is relevant to modern times, and bring the light of hope in a dark world.

 

References:

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  2. Augustine, D. (2020, April 29). Apologetics vs. Evangelism: Is there a difference?. Colorado Christian University Online. https://www.ccu.edu/blogs/cags/2020/04/apologetics-vs-evangelism/
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (August 13, 2021). U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Field of degree: Theology. U.S. BLS. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/field-of-degree/theology/theology-field-of-degree.htm#emp
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  12. Nieuwhof, C. (n.d.). 3 Shocking Statistics That Show How Quickly, Radically (And Permanently?) Church Is Changing In 2020. Carey Nieuwhof. https://careynieuwhof.com/3-statistics-that-show-how-quickly-radically-and-permanently-church-is-changing-in-2020/
  13. Rockwood, K. (2021, May 28). The Hard Facts About Soft Skills. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/summer2021/pages/why-soft-skills-are-important.aspx
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  16. The Association of Theological Schools. (2021). 2020 – 2021 Annual Data Tables. ATS. https://www.ats.edu/uploads/resources/institutional-data/annual-data-tables/2020-2021%20Annual%20Data%20Tables.pdf
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