What Theological Degree Should You Get?

theological degreeHave you considered formal theological education? What type of degree should you seek? I remember the confusion of wanting to study but not knowing what to take or what type of school to study at.

I would like to share a little of what I have learned about theological education with you. Hopefully you will find it useful.

Before looking at specific degrees, I should say that studying theology and studying religious studies are two different things. Many universities have a religious studies program. This is not for training pastors, nor is it for promoting Christianity.

Religious studies can be about any religious tradition and they seek to teach from a “non-confessional” perspective. This means that it does not promote any tradition as truth and even if a particular professor was religious, they would need to keep those views to themselves. That is not to say that religious studies is a bad thing. I took a number of religious studies courses at McMaster University and enjoyed the experience.

The degrees that I am going to talk about are those you might find at a Bible college, Christian university or seminary.

Bachelor of Theology – A BTh is a degree that is often used to prepare an individual for pastoral ministry. It does not require any previous degree. It is important to realize that some denominations accept a BTh for ordination, while others require a Master of Divinity or equivalent. It is always important to check with your denomination about their expectations. Some use the BTh (or similar Bachelor of Religious Education) as a step toward graduate studies.

Master of Theological Studies – A MTS is usually a two year degree that is designed to provide theological education for laypeople who are not intending to go into pastoral ministry. That is not to say that no pastors have MTS, just that is not what it is designed for. Some people also use this degree to move on to doctoral studies, but that is not its original purpose.

Master of Divinity – A MDiv is the standard educational expectation for pastoral ministry and usually takes three years. It provides a balance of theological/biblical background with pastoral studies. While not intended to produce scholars, it is a valuable degree that opens many doors. If you are considering military chaplaincy, you should seek an MDiv.

Master of Arts/Master of Theology – There are some subtle differences between a MA or a MTh depending on where you study but they will be treated the same for this post. An MA/MTh is considered an advanced graduate degree. They are often used for the study of theology or biblical studies, but there are majors in pastoral subjects as well. This is sometimes taken by pastors who want studies beyond a MDiv. This is the degree that you would seek on the way to PhD studies.

Doctor of Ministry – A DMin is more common for continued studies beyond the DMin than that of a MA/MTh. A DMin is designed to make better pastors, not to train scholars. If you want to teach in a seminary or university, you will want a PhD instead of a DMin. Having said that, there are seminary professors with DMins, often teaching in areas of pastoral ministry.

Doctor of Philosophy/Doctor of Theology – I take the same position on PhD/ThD as I do with the MA/MTh. A PhD is a degree that is designed to prepare scholars to teach and research at an advanced level. Although there are adjunct opportunities for people without a PhD, if you want a tenure track position at a university or seminary, you better have or almost have your PhD.

One of my most popular posts is What is the Difference Between a PhD and a DMin?

In case you are wondering, I currently have MDiv, MTh and MA degrees and am working on my DMin.

I hope this information has been helpful in setting your goals for theological education.

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  1. Thank you for this blog. I found some useful information here but still need much more. I am 30 years old, working in the petrochemical industry with an AAS in a technical field. Worship ministry (prophetic and intercessory), teaching, serving full time in ministry, that is where I belong. I have a desire to know the biblical languages, to have a deeper understanding of God and His word and to be able to communicate these things to others. Where do I even begin?

    1. There are plenty of opportunities depending on your goals. There are many distance education programs that are affordable but going to a campus is good as well. It depends on where you live and what your resources are.

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