Apologetics is about rationally defending a position or view whose truth is challenged. Usually, apologetics refers to the defense of the Christian faith, laying out a case for the accuracy of its historical claims (such as the resurrection of Jesus) and for the soundness and coherence of its theology (such as the doctrine of the Trinity).
Even so, most religious as well as secular worldviews have their own apologetics. For instance, Richard Dawkins’s book The Blind Watchmaker is an apologetics for Darwinian materialism.
Apologetics has been popular since the rise of Christianity and it has proliferated at different points in church history. Nonetheless, modern academia has largely sidelined it. That may, however, be changing. Graduate students can now find an array of master’s as well as doctoral apologetics programs.
TheBestSchools.org has researched the top apologetics graduate degrees in the United States and ranked them according to the quality of faculty, level of accreditation, diversity of degrees offered, cost, and overall accessibility.
The faculty criterion refers to whether a school cultivates a high academic standard through the professionalism and apologetic expertise of its faculty, who, preferably, are accomplished apologists themselves.
The accreditation criterion identifies the level of accreditation, namely, whether the school’s credentialing will be recognized on a résumé.
The “degrees offered” criterion refers to the variety and weightiness of degrees offered. A “certificate of apologetics” is not readily marketable, even within church circles, and represents little accomplishment. But a ministry-intensive school such as a theological seminary might be expected to have a DMin, or MDiv, and a Certificate, as those would serve its ministerial purposes.
Cost figures refer to the “per-credit-hour” rate and do not include additional fees, scholarships, cost of living, travel expenses, etc. Prospective students should recheck any of those numbers, as cost is the most flexible of the statistics here. Tuition and fees routinely fluctuate every year.
“Accessibility” refers both to the convenience of the campus, and access to classes, be it through online classes, streaming, extension campuses, distance learning, hybrid, night-classes, intensive courses, etc.
Also noted in the descriptions are key distinctions that may stand out, such as location, school emphases, apologetics opportunities on campus, etc.
(1) Best Academic Apologetics: Biola University
The most academically prestigious school on the list is Biola University and its graduate extension Talbot Theological Seminary. Their faculty includes such notables as William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Philip Johnson, Craig Hazen, John Mark Reynolds, Doug Geivett, Scott Rae, Greg Koukl, Paul Nelson, and others.
Graduates of Biola are generally top-notch philosophers and academic apologists. Biola prioritizes transforming collegiate education in America by placing its graduates in prestigious PhD programs around the country. Also, the campus culture is apologetics-intensive, with numerous free and low-cost lectures and conferences, some which take place elsewhere around the country and can be used towards fulfilling the residency requirement for out-of-state students.
Set in Los Angeles, the cost of living is high and the traffic can be a real problem, hindering accessibility. Another downside is the lack of online learning options. The 36–credit hour M.A. in Apologetics can be achieved through a distance-learning track, but even it has an on-campus requirement (via two week-long, intensive modules). On the other hand, the 9- to 10-hour distance-learning “certificate in apologetics” can be transferred into the M.A. in Apologetics program for up to 6 units of credit.
The cost for Biola is higher than most at $485 per credit hour, but there are no accreditation issues to worry about.
(2) Best General Apologetics: Southern Evangelical Seminary
SES is a true apologetics school with all its degrees having an apologetic emphasis, including the BA, MA, MDiv, ThM, and DMin. Even its PhD is apologetics-intensive, though technically it is in philosophy of religion.
Founded by Norman Geisler, SES explicitly emphasizes apologetics and evangelism, distinguishing it, in practice, from Biola’s more academic initiative. However, SES comes second only to Biola in credentialed apologetics faculty, including Richard and Thomas Howe, and visiting faculty Gary Habermas, Ravi Zacharias, and Ron Rhodes.
Campus life is rich with apologetics teaching, preaching, and ministry opportunities, such as Ratio Christi (a university-aimed apologetics club) or the international missions troupe TEAM (Tactical Evangelism and Apologetics Mission). The night classes and distance-learning options make SES highly accessible to non-traditional students, although there are no online classes yet. Online classes are likely to appear within the year. SES also hosts the largest annual apologetics conference in the country.
The biggest drawbacks are that its famous founder, Norman Geisler, no longer teaches there and that the school has only TRACS accreditation, lacking accreditation from the more-recognized SACS or ATS.
Students of SES will get a broadly evangelical education with the distinctive flavor of Thomistic philosophy (i.e., classical, systematic, and synthetic/non-analytic), plus a strong emphasis on evangelism.
Cost is a reasonable $333 per credit hour.
(3) Most Accessible Apologetics: Liberty University
A Baptist favorite, Liberty University (LU) offers several advantages in its apologetics program.
First, PhD candidates at LU may pursue a rare, dual-emphasis degree in “Theology and Apologetics.”
Second, and more importantly, Liberty stands out for its extensive use of online programs. LU is the most online-accessible school on the list. Online classes and distance classes do, generally, lack a bit compared to traditional resident classes. But for non-traditional students online classes are invaluable.
Also of note, LU has resurrection-expert Gary Habermas.
LU is a pricier entry, ranging from $436 to $476 per credit hour, depending on full-time or part-time status, and distance or resident classes.
LU is fully accredited. Students can expect a conservative Baptist apologetic, though not necessarily as Calvinist as, say, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Two entries from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS; pictured left) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS; pictured lower left). Both have apologetics tracks in their MDiv programs. Southeastern has the benefit of several extension centers including one in Charlotte, North Carolina, close to Southern Evangelical Seminary (non-baptist) mentioned above. That proximity has created some shared resourcing and mutual support in apologetics training.
SEBTS and SBTS both offer a distinct Baptist flavor to their education. Both have extension and hybrid classes as well as distance learning options which, together with Baptist networking, make these schools cost-effective and highly accessible especially for Southern Baptist Students.
Cost for either is a steal, again for members of the SBC. For non-SBC students, the cost is average, considering the denominational weight and status of the education they offer. SEBTS is $190–$257 per credit hour, depending on full- or part-time status ($514, if non-SBC). SBTS is a similar bargain at $219 per credit hour ($438, if non-SBC).
(6) Best Newcomer: Veritas Evangelical Seminary
Veritas Seminary in Murrieta, California, is another project of Norman Geisler, who currently teaches there along with several published apologists, including Ron Rhodes, Joseph Holden, and William Nix.
This young school shows many of the distinctives of its east-coast elder, Southern Evangelical Seminary. Several faculty hale from SES. The layout of the curriculum and degree programs are similar to SES. Veritas looks much like SES did in its first few years.
However, Veritas remains unaccredited, though it will most likely have TRACS accreditation by the time a new student completes a two-year degree. Nevertheless, the accreditation is the lowest score, since the school shows no signs yet of progress towards ATS or SACS accreditation. As such, this seminary is not in the top tier of schools.
It does offer MA and MDiv degrees and a certificate, all in apologetics. Standard classes are available, as well as streaming and correspondence courses.
The cost is very affordable at $215 per credit hour.
(7) Denver Seminary
Beginning in the Fall of 2012, the well-accredited Denver Seminary (DS) will be offering an M.A. in Apologetics and Ethics.
This will be in addition to their (unaccredited & non-degree) 10-hr “Certificate of Completion” in apologetics. That former track fits only the casual apologetics student. The M.A. should strengthen their apologetics status overall.
As a new program, this track is untested and there is not yet a major/concentration in MDiv, ThM, DMin, or PhD tracks. But the program looks promising, with such faculty veterans as Douglas Groothuis, Gordon Lewis, and Craig Blomberg. And the school has no accreditation issues to worry about.
The cost is a little steep, but not terrible, at $450 per creidt hour.
Another promising entry is Luther Rice Seminary (LR) in Lithonia, Georgia. This seminary has an adjoining university, with apologetics tracks at both (MA and MDiv).
LR offers many of its courses online and even online-degree tracks with no residency requirement. The ease of access brings the prestige down a notch, as does its accreditation status with only TRACS.
But for the non-traditional student, or for those already having a master’s degree, this school is highly accessible and affordable at the low cost of $215 per credit hour.
Were the school better accredited, it could overtake Denver for the higher spot. A potential advantage is that LR is a university too, offering the on-campus benefits and resources of a full university.
Proudly representing the Reformed Theological tradition is Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).
This historic school has campuses in Philadelphia and London.
WTS is the priciest candidate on the list, at $2,650 per class (about $885 per credit hour), and so its cost score is the lowest on the list.
WTS offers a Master of Theology (ThM) in apologetics, and has a respectable department of apologetics. It has no MDiv or MA in apologetics, however. But its lack of an apologetics certificate is excusable, since the school is aimed at training professional parish ministers more than at doing direct world evangelism or popular discipleship.
Non-Baptists seeking a less expensive or more versatile degree track in the Reformed tradition may want to look at Birmingham Theological Seminary.
Our final entry is Columbia Evangelical Seminary (CES), based in Buckley, Washington.
The alma mater of James R. White, CES offers a self-directed mentoring curriculum similar to European programs. As such, it has no teaching campus and demands only a modest $95 per credit hour. Also—and unfortunately—this model might leave the school forever beyond accreditation by U.S. standards.
CES’s non-traditional program makes the school very accessible and its strong emphasis on philosophy adds some credibility. Its faculty is surprisingly sturdy, with numerous published authors and a century’s worth of teaching experience.
Founded in 1991, CES is fairly young. If it can somehow achieve accreditation, expect it to leap into the top tier of apologetics schools.
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(11) Best Overseas Apologetics Program: Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
As Oxford is not an American university, the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics cannot technically be included on this Top-10 list. However, Oxford University is a historic institution—one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world—and the Centre’s apologetics faculty is world-renowned.
The Centre’s faculty includes the most widely known and traveled Christian apologist in the world today, Ravi Zacharias. Mathematician and philosopher of science John Lennox is renowned for his books on apologetics, as well as for his debates with top atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. And the Centre’s chair, Alister McGrath, is legendary.
The Centre recently added an accredited two-year master’s degree in apologetics to its less recognized one-year, as well as six-week, non-professional degrees. Needless to say, the prestige of Oxford University makes the Centre’s accreditation a non-issue.
The cost is pricey, ranging from £5,000 for the six-week program to about £30,000 for the tw-oyear degree for non–European Union students. The cost for the two-year master’s degree is not reported online, but it is estimated to cost twice as much as the one-year degree, and further additional costs will likely apply.
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Several schools have the size, influence, and resources to merit an apologetics program. Yet there is no apologetics track to speak of at these schools or seminaries. Students may be able to patch together an apologetics education at these schools, but not through any formally established educational track.
The following have one or more apologetics classes, but no graduate degree in apologetics:
- Moody Bible Institute (has only a BA in Apologetics and Philosophical Theology)
- Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
- Dallas Theological Seminary
- Wheaton College Graduate School
- Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Princeton Theological Seminary
- Fuller Theological Seminary
- Azusa Pacific University
- Reformed Theological Seminary
- Union University