Top 10 Most Affordable Online Doctor of Theology Programs

In Christian faith, some feel called to share the word of God as pastors, preachers, and ministers, standing on the stage or in the media as public figures. Some, though, feel the call to share the Gospel differently, as teachers, writers, and researchers. For them, a Doctor of Theology or PhD in Theology provides the credentials they need to teach in seminary, college, or university settings, spreading the word and guiding students to greater understanding of the Bible and Christian faith for their own life ministries.

Doctor of Theology or PhD in Theology?

When it comes to doctoral degrees, there are two general types: academic degrees, and professional degrees. Professional degrees are those focused on educating a professional to the highest level of skill and knowledge, to be put into direct practice. Think of a Doctor of Medicine, or a Doctor of Law – they earn their degree to practice medicine and law. The religious equivalent is a Doctor of Ministry. An academic doctorate, on the other hand, is focused on research, and is intended for professionals to master all there is to know about their subject so they can pass it on as educators, researchers, and writers. The PhD is the most common academic doctorate, and it’s the usual degree of university and college professors.

Knowing that, the difference between a Doctor of Theology (ThD) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Theology may be a bit confusing, but rest assured – they are virtually the same thing. The Doctor of Theology is the terminal degree for schools of theology, and is primarily intended for students who want to work as educators. However, the ThD may also be a good choice for pastoral ministers who want to focus on an educational approach to ministry.

In most cases, whether a college or seminary offers a ThD or a PhD in Theology simply comes down to what they’re officially approved to offer, and whether they have a dedicated School of Theology. Many schools offer both; the ThD may be slightly cheaper, or have a few less required credits, because it is more narrowly focused on theology than the PhD. But on the job market, and in the minds of the education system, they’re equivalent degrees.

What’s the Benefit of an Online Th.D.?

Online degrees have taken off in the 21st century for two main reasons: convenience and affordability. Those are both very good reasons to get a ThD online, rather than a traditional residential on-campus degree program. Most people looking for a doctor of theology degree are going to be working in ministry as pastors, missionaries, counselors, chaplains, or in some other capacity. They have a job, a family, a congregation that depends on them, and can’t afford to uproot and move to earn a degree. Online ThD programs let working adults earn their degree where they are, on their own time, working around their own current schedule, so they can fulfill their current responsibilities and prepare for the future at the same time.

On the other hand, face-to-face interaction with peers and instructors has a lot of value for motivation, encouragement, and development. That’s why many doctor of theology programs are presented in a hybrid or modular format, combining online coursework with limited on-campus residencies – sometimes a few days, sometimes as much as a week or two. While these are still much more convenient than relocating for a residential program, prospective students should consider the demands of the program they’re thinking of applying to.

Online PhD Degrees has done the research on the most affordable online Doctor of Theology degree programs – both fully online, and in hybrid or module form. From our results, we’ve named the Top 10 Most Affordable Doctor of Theology Programs in the US. Programs come from regionally-accredited colleges and universities, as well as smaller seminaries. The Most Affordable Ranking is presented in order from the lowest price to the highest.

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1. Northwestern Theological Seminary

Based in Fort Richey, FL, Northwestern Theological Seminary was founded in 1980 by Christian Alliance Ministries of the Worldwide Church of Jesus Christ (which is unrelated to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). Northwestern Seminary is an evangelical, non-denominational seminary guided by the leadership of Dr. Samuel Galloza, bishop of the Worldwide Church and president of Northwestern Seminary. Accredited by the International Association for Christian Educational Accountability (IACEA), NTS provides degrees in areas including theology, ministry, and divinity that are recognized by the Florida Department of Education.

The Northwestern Theological Seminary Doctor of Theology online degree provides students with the highest credential in the study of theology. NTS’s online ThD degree program is specialized in Apologetics, the organized, systematic defense of Christian faith and theology to secular culture. Experts in apologetics use theological knowledge and reasoning to construct logical arguments in favor of Christian beliefs. As a terminal degree in Theology, NTS’s Doctor of Theology online prepares students for teaching, research, and writing in theology. A fully online program allows working adult to pursue the degree at their convenience, and Northwestern Theological Seminary has the lowest tuition of any online ThD program in the US.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

2. Colorado Theological Seminary

Colorado Theological Seminary’s mission is to provide affordable, high-quality Christian education to believers who want to serve Christ, with Biblically-based undergraduate and graduate programs. CTS began as a labor of love, with the Church of the Holy Cross Bible College, founded in 1996, and the Colorado Theological Seminary, founded in 1999. The merger of the two schools helped make CTS an emerging leader in online Christian education, recognized by the state of Colorado’s Degree Authorization Act, the Florida Council of Private Colleges, and the the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).

Colorado Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Theology online program focuses on Christian Counseling, preparing pastors with a theologically-based, Biblically sound basis for counseling their congregations and other people in need. In addition to a theoretical foundation for Christian spiritual and psychological therapy, the online ThD program from CTS prepares students for the National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA) licensure exams. The full 40-credit ThD program can be completed entirely online, so dedicated pastors can complete their training in Christian counseling without having to leave their churches, and the tuition is intentionally kept affordable.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

3. Trinity College of the Bible & Theological Seminary

Trinity College of the Bible & Theological Seminary was designed as a different kind of Christian educator – even back in 1969, when it began, Trinity was focused on distance education, helping busy pastors and lay leaders earn their degrees in a mail correspondence format. That mission, to give church leaders the education they need while still leading their church, remains central to Trinity, but today, it’s all done online. Trinity is dedicated to flexibility and convenience, providing generous credit transfers and experience credits, as well as keeping tuition costs low and admissions open, so students can enroll and start any time and learn at their own pace.

Trinity College’s School of Biblical Thought and Theological Studies offers two PhD in theology online degree programs: the PhD in Biblical Studies, and the PhD in Biblical Theology. Both programs are designed as primarily academic programs, intended to strengthen the student’s formal skills in writing and research on theology and the Bible. The School of Integrated Apologetics offers two Theology PhD programs as well: Christian Apologetics and Philosophy, and Christian Apologetics and Theology. These focus on the history and practice of defending and arguing for the Christian faith. Students will complete 49 credits, including a dissertation, for all Trinity College PhD programs, and all coursework can be completed fully online. Graduates are prepared for careers in teaching, church leadership, and writing, and a low tuition rate makes for an affordable education.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

4. Liberty University

Few evangelical Christian universities have the international name recognition of Liberty University, but then again, there is no other Liberty University. Founded in 1971 by evangelist Jerry Falwell, Liberty University spent most of its early years as a small Bible college, but Falwell’s ambition for changing the world with the Gospel made sure Liberty would not stay small. Liberty’s major growth came with the establishment of Liberty Online in 2009, helping turn Liberty into a global institution with well over 100,000 online students. Liberty is not only regionally accredited; it’s widely recognized as one of America’s top online educators.

Liberty’s online PhD in Theology and Apologetics program is designed for students called to ministry through writing and teaching. The Liberty Theology PhD uses online coursework and an on-campus intensive to immerse students in the Bible, theology, church history, and apologetics, preparing experts who can promote and defend Christian faith. As the highest academic achievement, the PhD in Theology qualifies graduates for teaching at the college level, but also for pastoral ministry, administration in Christian education settings, and careers in writing and research. As the most advanced online Christian educator, Liberty sets standards in quality and affordability.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

5. Faulkner University

Faulkner University was founded in 1942 as the Montgomery Bible College in Montgomery, AL, by the Churches of Christ; it was renamed in honor of Dr. James Faulkner, philanthropist and longtime supporter of the school. Faulkner is dedicated to holistic education, not only intellectual, but the development of character in Christian service, and Faulkner’s curriculum and programs combine academic rigor with a commitment to Christian ideals and morals. Recognized as one of Alabama’s finest regional colleges, Faulkner is regionally accredited, and a candidate for accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools.

Faulkner University’s online Biblical Studies PhD program is intended to train scholars to understand the Bible through the lens of Christian morality and ethics. By bringing together theology, church history, archeology, Biblical languages, and more in an interdisciplinary degree, Faulkner’s Biblical Studies PhD offers a wider focus than a conventional Theology PhD. This fully online program is designed to be completed in 4-5 years, including a dissertation. With a wide range of career options, from teaching to ministry, and affordable tuition, Faulkner’s online PhD is a trusted choice for Alabama and elsewhere.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

6. Lancaster Bible College

Lancaster Bible College is a nondenominational, evangelical Christian school dedicated to training and educating servant leaders for Christ. Founded in 1933, Lancaster has made the most of its eight decades, spreading to five locations throughout the East – not only two campuses in Pennsylvania, but locations in Florida, Tennessee, and Maryland. Lancaster has earned regional accreditation as well as Association for Biblical Higher Learning (ABHL) accreditation, demonstrating its quality in both secular and religious circles. A Christ-centered, Bible-based college, Lancaster Bible College has earned its reputation.

Lancaster Bible College’s online PhD in Biblical Studies brings students to the highest level of Biblical scholarship, focusing on Bible languages, hermeneutics, and theological history. For the convenience of working ministers, the LBC program is designed along a hybrid format, with 3 short on-campus intensives throughout the year, and fully online coursework. Students work through the program in a cohort format, providing support and encouragement to one another through 40 credits of coursework and 20 dissertation credits. The full program can be completed in just 3 and a half years to provide a theology PhD focused on using Bible knowledge to spread the Gospel.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

7. Clarks Summit University

Clarks Summit University makes its home in the picturesque foothills of the Endless Mountains of Northern Pennsylvania, in the borough of Clarks Summit. However, its beginnings in 1932 happened at the First Baptist Church of Johnson City, NY, and Clarks Summit’s commitment to Baptist faith and heritage has never wavered in all of its growth and changes. Today, from a small church-based seminary, Clarks Summit has grown into a comprehensive, regionally-accredited university, and is also accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) Commission on Accreditation. Clarks Summit is a trusted name in the Northeast, and its online programs extend that reach even farther.

The Baptist Bible Seminary comes from Clark Summit’s original seminary, and through the BBS Clark Summit’s online PhD in Theology provides students with a flexible, convenient way to earn the highest degree in the field. The Theology PhD is designed for students who want to teach theology at the college level, or work as writers and researchers, and consists of 60 credit hours culminating in a dissertation. Students who already hold an MTh degree can complete the program with just 38 credit hours. All coursework is online, but students must come to campus for one week each in October, February, and June.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

8. Regent University

Regent University, as its motto says, is dedicated to Christian Leadership to Change the World, and that has been its mission since its founding in 1977. With the leadership of Rev. Pat Robertson, the Christian Broadcasting Network University (as Regent was originally called) focused on harnessing communication and liberal arts education to train a new generation of evangelistic leadership. Today, as one of the fastest-growing regionally-accredited universities in the nation, Regent is committed to making its educational opportunities available to as many students as possible, including its online degree programs.

Regent University’s PhD in Theology is offered in an online modular format, combining a 2-week on-campus residency each semester with fully online coursework, providing students with the flexibility of online learning and the accountability and support of on-campus learning. With a concentration in Renewal Theology, Regent’s Theology PhD focuses on pentecostal renewal, combining the study of theology and church history with a commitment to revival and evangelism. Regent’s reputation is on the rise, just like its student body, and an online theology PhD from Regent University can have a major impact on the lives of pastors, missionaries, and Christian educators from all denominations.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

9. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The oldest and most prestigious seminary in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary dates back to 1859, when it was founded in Greenville, SC. Moving to Louisville, KY, in 1877, Southern Seminary established a reputation as a pioneer in religious education. Southern was the very first seminary to offer a PhD program, and today stands as one of the largest seminaries in the world, with more than 5000 students. Southern Seminary is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), and regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the highest levels of theological and secular accreditation.

Southern Seminary’s theology PhD program is designed on a modular format, combining online coursework with on-campus seminars to provide both face-to-face guidance and convenient, self-scheduled online work. For the PhD, Southern requires a major and a minor (which provides a Master of Theology in addition to the PhD); numerous concentrations are available, including Pastoral Theology, Christian Apologetics, and Christian Missions. Students must complete a dissertation at the end of their coursework, and the entire program can be completed in just 4 years. With a focus on Christian scholarship, used in the service of ministry, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s online PhD in Theology keeps Southern’s heritage firmly in the present.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

10. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is one of the most influential institutions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and a major player in the nationwide conservative movement. Founded in 1901 as the theology department of Waco, TX, institution Baylor University, the seminary became independent in 1908. In the 21st century, led by president Paige Patterson, Southwestern has become one of the largest seminaries in the world, leading Baptist thought and politics under its motto, “Preach the Word, Reach the World.” Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), Southwestern has expanded into online education around the world.

Southwestern Seminary’s Flex Access PhD program allows the most possible flexibility and convenience for students who want to earn an online Theology PhD from Southwestern. Students can choose residential, online, or hybrid options, with live, online attendance available for all PhD classes and seminars. Multi-media courses give opportunities for learners of all kinds, all over the world. Students have no need to attend at Southwestern’s Fort Worth, TX, campus, except for two 3-day orientations, and the Flex Access program allows students to learn from the same material as on-campus students, on their own time. It’s a convenient option that Southwestern argues works better than conventional fully online or modular programs for working church leaders and ministers.

Cost Per Credit: $$$$$

What Does Accreditation Mean for a Doctor of Theology Program?

The highest standard for secular higher education is regional accreditation, administrated by seven regulating bodies that report to the US Department of Education. However, regional accreditation requires certain oversight and regulation from the Department of Education that many seminaries argue prevents them from maintaining their Christian faith. For such seminaries, there are a number of faith-based accrediting agencies that are recognized as exempt, religious nonprofits. These allow Christian seminaries to maintain their own accountability to their peers, rather than the government. These organizations include the International Association for Christian Educational Accountability (IACEA), the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), which is often considered the highest standard for religious higher education.


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