People who want to become more knowledgeable about the Bible, Christian history, systematic theology and/or who want to work as pastors or teachers in the church are increasingly considering whether or not they should pursue an online degree in theology. The increase in distance learning, Internet-based options for schooling has made graduate and undergraduate degrees available for those who might not otherwise be able to get them because of their work schedule, distance from a school, family responsibilities and so forth. Online degrees are now offered in every subject, including theology, but it does not necessarily follow that an online degree in theology is the best option for everyone who is interested in pursuing advanced theological studies. Is one of these online theological degrees right for you? Here are some things you should consider.
If your goal is simply to increase your own knowledge of the Christian faith, then you will probably be served well by a seminary or university that offers a theological degree in the format of an online masters. Theology can be studied relatively easy on one's own because much of what it takes to learn theology just requires the reading of theological books. Theological students can benefit from classroom discussion as well, and the best online seminary degrees will incorporate discussion and interaction through video chats, online discussion forums, and so forth. In any case, you can easily increase your own knowledge if you do well with self-directed study, which is the chief advantage of online learning.
Should your intent be to finally get a degree that will equip you to work as a pastor or counselor in the church,however, an online degree in theology may not be the best choice for you. In the first place, because there is so much practical application that must be learned in the classroom, church, and clinical setting to be adequately prepared for ministry. This is much harder to do in an an online program. Furthermore, there are not too many seminaries that will allow you take the entire degree from a distance anyway. Even those schools that do offer an online Christian counseling degree or online masters degree in religion, for example, will often require some sort of residency on campus, even if it is only for a few weeks or so at a time. The same would be true of online seminary degrees that qualify a person to be ordained as a full-time minister. If you are able to meet these requirements, then these kind of distance-learning theology degrees may in fact be just right for you. But if you must attend a school whose online degree in theology can be earned entirely over the Internet, just be aware that the training you get may not be the best practical training possible for your chosen vocation unless you have solid mentoring from a seasoned pastor or counselor. Such mentoring will be important to your overall education, however, whether or not you attend a traditional or online school.
Closely related to the consideration of your goals is the relative importance of accreditation. Should you want to qualify yourself for full-time Christian and church employment, you must understand that many denominations will not accept a seminary degree for ordination unless it comes from a fully-accredited seminary. Even a fully-accredited seminary may only offer through its distance learning arm a master of arts degree that is accredited, which will be insufficient for ordination in most denominations. For ordination, you will want an accredited masters of divinity to be offered as one of its online seminary degrees, but as noted above, masters of divinity degrees that can be earned entirely via distance education can be very rare. In any case, if your employment goal will require an accredited degree, make sure that you take courses from a school that is full accredited, whether you are enrolled in a traditional or online degree in theology.
In regards to accreditation, it must be noted that accreditation does not guarantee that the student will receive a great education, and the lack of accreditation does not mean that the school is a degree mill or not suitable for preparing people for ministry or teaching. The process of accreditation simply tells the student whether or not a school has met certain standards that the accrediting agency has established. Depending on your goals, you should not necessarily rule out an online school just because it is not accredited by a regional or national body.
Finally, accreditation by a recognized agency is not as important if the degree is not going to be used for employment or if the denomination in which you want to work recognizes the unaccredited seminary and its degrees. If this applies to you, feel free to consider an online Christian counseling degree or other online theological degree from a non-accredited school.
Should cost be a significant factor in your decision as to whether you will pursue an online degree in theology, then an Internet-based school should definitely be on your radar. The flexibility of such programs means that you can continue to work and earn an income while going to school, and you will not have any of the associated moving and living expenses in addition to your current family responsibilities because you will not have to move on campus. Tuition and book fees are usually the same, but overall you should end up saving money via an online program. This overall lower cost is one of the most significant advantages of an online school over a traditional college, seminary, or university.
These are just some of the factors that you should consider when you are trying to discern whether an online degree in theology is right for you. Seek the wisdom of friends, family, and clergy as well while you make your decision, and you should definitely be able to determine whether you should start your theological studies online or in person. Whatever path you choose, may you find success and serve others well with your knowledge.