Is it Okay to Attend a Theology School Outside of Your Denomination?

Today in the US, there are hundreds of accredited institutions offering degrees in divinity and theology. These programs are often necessary if one feels drawn to the profession of the clergy, whether as a Catholic priest or a protestant minister. Most denominations maintain their own educational requirements, and many theology programs are offered by schools that are run in accordance with the traditions of a particular denomination. Given that, is it possible to pursue a career in one denomination with a degree from an institution run by another?

General Requirements

While individual preferences may vary, and religious organizations generally receive a lot of leeway when assigning requirements to their clergy, it still works in their favor to have a certain general list of requirements in place for entering their employ. That way, those who might be interested in becoming ministers or pastors will know what lies in store for them. These lists of prerequisites are often very specific, including the specific courses and programs required, the number of credits needed, and additional areas of study that aren’t necessarily inherent to the core programs themselves. The exact nature of each religious organization’s requirements in this area will vary, but (as a rule of thumb) the more specific they are, the less the individual choice of academic institution will matter to the organization.

Denominational Requirements Regarding Theology School

If each religious denomination were to require that its students attend school at an institution of the same denomination, the financial burden for maintaining enough organizations to accommodate everyone’s needs would be enormous. The various denominations have solved this by implementing denominational requirements, which can usually be met in the course of following a largely consistent theology or divinity program. A given school will be able to provide more specific information about which denominations’ requirements it meets, and which ones it doesn’t. Most major, accredited programs are flexible enough, however, to allow their students to meet the requirements of any one of dozens of different religious organizations and institutions.

Appropriate Accreditation

Most Christian theology institutions within the United States, along with other institutions’ specific theological programs, will be accredited by the Association of Theological Schools. This is a broadly expansive organization with a nationwide reach, which is less concerned with denomination than it is with the specific academic content of the coursework involved. The ATS holds its member programs to high academic standards, and their accreditation carries a great deal of weight. With an ATS-accredited program in your background, the question of your institution’s denomination of choice (if any) is much less likely to be of any concern. Conversely, unaccredited programs are likely to be viewed less favorably — even if they are of the same denomination as the organization in which you are pursuing employment.

The short answer is yes: it is generally alright, but particular standpoints may be taken by (or with regard to) specific denominations. The shakiest area for this generalization is when broad gaps are spanned, such as Catholic versus Protestant instruction. Non-denominational churches, which represent one of the fastest growing group of Christians in the United States, may be broadly categorized as accepting theology degrees from a wide range of accredited Christian programs, assuming that they require a degree at all (as many do not).

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