This is a ranking of the Top 10 Evangelical Seminaries in the U.S.
In the modern and digital age everyone wants to attach a number to everything. We rank states, video games, movies, and just about anything else one can think of. And yet, despite all the ranking services which exist, there are almost no seminary/divinity school rankings. Why?
One obvious answer is that the criteria which one would use to rank a theology program is difficult to quantify. People who pursue these degrees are not necessarily concerned with how many publications their professors have, or how the endowment of their institution measures up against its competition. Instead, people who pursue theological instruction often care more about how their experience will better enable them to pursue a higher calling. It matters little if a degree was free, or came from a world renowned institution, if a person looses their sense of calling in acquiring the credential. Or stated otherwise, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?
Nevertheless, prestige and the history of an institution does play a role in seminary selection. Most would rather study God at a well-funded and respected school under world-class scholars, and study in a community that is receptive to the student’s particular faith. Thus, we have decided to divide these schools into three broad categories, in three related articles.
First we have the Top 10 Evangelical Seminaries in the U.S. These institutions are far more conservative by nature. They typically hold to biblical inerrancy, or at least a very high view of inspiration, and will often take a very traditional stand on social issues such as gender roles, abortion, and homosexuality. These schools are often younger than their mainline kin, and as a group have only become academically prominent in the last few decades. Nevertheless, Evangelical schools have flourished. Some of these schools are now the largest places of theological instruction in the world, and have growing international influence. Their academic interests tend more towards apologetics than the more socially minded mainline schools.
Next are the Top 10 Mainline Protestant Seminaries. These include both schools affiliated with theologically left (liberal) denominations, and institutions which have little to no remaining connection with the denominations which started them. They are often schools that are primarily driven by some combination of academic prestige and social justice. A degree from one of these programs is often very similar to a degree from a well-respected religious studies program.
And finally, we include apostolic traditions, in particular, the Top 10 Catholic Seminaries. Those who study at these schools are likely entering a more formal priest craft with extremely detailed and ancient liturgies. These schools produce a large number of scholars in a variety of fields, and have the strongest ties to their respective denominations.
As a general rule, most prospective students will feel comfortable studying within their category. A Methodist will probably still feel at home at the Presbyterian Princeton Seminary. Likewise, an Orthodox priest may love writing a thesis at Notre Dame. And most Calvinists would find substantial common ground at a school like Southern Baptists Theological Seminary. However, in the same light, those wishing to study outside of their category should expect their courses to be taught from an alternative, and possibly even opposing, worldview. We leave it to the student to decide whether this is preferable or not. Either way, each of the schools mentioned are exemplary and represent the best that their respective category of Christian theology has to offer.
1. Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Texas)
Perhaps no school has had a greater impact on recent theology than Dallas Theological Seminary. This might sound like excessive praise, but remember Dallas was founded with a very specific purpose in mind. Dallas wanted to teach and systematize dispensationalist theology. Before Dallas, the school of thought that divided the Bible into seven distinct historical periods or dispensations (and argued for a sharp distinction between Israel and the church), was largely unheard of. But after the considerable work of Scoffield’s Study Bible and Lewis Berry Shaceffer’s eight volume systematic theology, dispensational theology began to establish itself as a credible school of thought within the Christian tradition. Now the majority of Evangelicals hold to some variation of this system. The school also set a very high bar for academic preparation by combining the curriculum for the MDiv and ThM degrees. Thus, all their students graduate with an additional year’s worth of classes. Dallas’ substantial contribution to Evangelical Theology is why it was selected to hold the original Chicago Statements.
2. Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California)
Fuller Theological Seminary might not have the largest endowment (although its resources are impressive), nor is it the largest seminary (although it is one of the biggest seminaries in the world), but it does have one powerful advantage with which no other school can compete. Fuller appeals to a larger range of theological traditions than any other Seminary in the world. Some schools are distinctly liberal, others high church and traditional, and still others are decidedly evangelical. But Fuller manages to retain respect from the full theological spectrum with 110 denominations and 90 countries represented in its diverse student body. The school has done this by pursuing an eclectic approach to missions. Fuller graduates are willing to change their presentation styles and practices as long as doing so does not undermine gospel truth. This wide range in liturgy and denominations has also given the school a less explicit stand on biblical inerrancy. Thus, students who have a high regard for the Bible but are uncomfortable requiring everyone around them to do the same often see Fuller as a good middle ground between the conservatism of a typical Evangelical seminary, and the liberalism of typical mainline denominational seminaries.
3. Biola University/Talbot School of Theology (La Mirada, California)
Biola University began in 1908 as the Los Angeles Bible Institute. As the years progressed it rapidly transformed into a two year college, and under the leadership of Dr. Louis T. Talbot it become a 4 year college. Now it stands as one of America’s premiere Christian universities that also runs Talbot Theological Seminary. To this day, all students who graduate from Biola are required to study a core curriculum of Bible related courses designed to give each student an overarching background in the scriptures.
Biola and Talbot have made extraordinary strides in a number of theological sub disciplines: especially the area of philosophy and apologetics. Few realize that the largest master’s program in philosophy in America is run out of Biola/Talbot. They have well over 100 students studying in their Philosophy of Religion and Ethics program, which routinely places students in top PhD programs. The school is also home to some of the Evangelical Community’s most deeply respected apologists, such as William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland.
4. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky)
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, often called Southern Seminary, is the largest seminary in the United States, one of the largest in the world, and the flagship institution in training ministers for the Southern Baptist Convention. The school is located in the heart of the south in Louisville, Kentucky, and home to roughly six thousand students. Those familiar with Southern Baptist history know that the denomination went through a turbulent period starting in the 1970’s, as debates over inerrancy and women’s ordination became heated. The apex of this turmoil revolved around Southern Seminary with the appointment of the conservative movement’s young spearhead Al Mohler. After his appointment 96% of the staff voluntarily left instead of continuing under Mohler’s strict confessionalism. Since then, Mohler has established Southern as a bastion of conservative theology. Professors and students alike that come out of Southern hold to extremely high views of the inerrant authority of scripture, traditional views of gender, creationist understandings of Genesis, and a high regard for church history (especially the Reformed Baptist tradition). Whether one loves or hates the drastic contrast which Southern underwent, no one can deny that the seminary is now one of the most influential in the world, and a leading voice among conservative Evangelical theology.
5. Westminster Theological Seminary (Glenside, Pennsylvania)
Westminster Seminary was born out of the modernist/fundamentalist divide that ravaged Christian denominations in the early 20th century. During this period a Princeton Seminary professor named Machen grew frustrated with the direction in which his denomination and seminary were moving. He consequently left Princeton and the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, to found Westminster and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The seminary has since carved out several areas of academic excellence. The most noteworthy in the larger academic arena is the schools contributions to biblical studies. Under Dr. Groves, various Westminster professors and graduate students codified the Leningrad Codex, producing the Westminster Leningrad Codex, which now underlies all Bible software. Furthermore, the school produced a unique approach to counseling under professor Adams, which eventually evolved into the sister organization called the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). And finally, Westminster is known for advancing a particular brand of apologetics called Pre-suppositionalism. Several prominent figures of this apologetic school, including John Frame, Greg Bahnsen, and most notably, Cornelius Van Til, all came through Westminster.
6. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Hamilton, Massachusetts)
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary began near the end of the 19th century when two Baptists ministers (for which the school is now named) decided to pool their resources and begin providing theological instruction. The school has since strategically positioned itself to be at the forefront of Evangelical inter-faith dialogue with various other religious perspectives. It is a member of the Boston Theological Institute, which includes other respected schools such as Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, Hebrew College Rabbinical School, and Harvard Divinity School. It is common for professors at these schools to correspond with each other, and for students to study at each other’s institutions. Thus, anyone looking for a mature example of Evangelical Christianity’s appraisals and interactions with high church, liberal, and Jewish communities should pay close attention to the work coming out of Gordon-Conwell. The school also runs a joint doctoral program with Boston University, giving doctoral students access to one of nations major research centers, while advancing their own theology.
7. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois)
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, (often called TEDS), did not officially exist before 1963. The school traces its roots back to 1897 when the Swedish Evangelical Free Church decided to start a ten-week Bible course in a Chicago church basement. Now the school is a leading seminary based out of Deerfield, Illinois. It is integrated into the Trinity International University family of schools, which includes Trinity College and Trinity Law School. TEDS is a large seminary with over 1,200 students and a particularly vast graduate program with over 150 PhD students. The school is affiliated with many distinguished personalities such as apologists John Warwick Montgomery and Ravi Zacharias, the founder and editor of Sojourner magazine, Jim Wallis, and the leading New Testament scholar D.A. Carson. TEDS also patterns with the Northside Chicago Theological Institute (NCTI), and the Association of Chicago Theological Schools (ACTS). This allows full-time Master’s students to register for courses at any member school for Trinity’s tuition charge.
Liberty University is a substantial residential university with over 14,000 students. It is also one of the largest online schools in the world, with more than 100,000 distance learning students. The seminary is one of the oldest and most well established branches of the university, and unlike many large universities with a theological school, Liberty’s theology informs its entire curriculum. Everyone affiliated with the school is required to sign its strict doctrinal statement. When first founded, many thought that a school with such conservative values would struggle the way so many with similar perspectives have. Liberty endorses a literal hermeneutic, dispensational views of Bible prophecy, and young earth creationism. Despite these controversial stands and the fierce opposition that they garner, Liberty has become one of the most influential places of theological instruction in the world. In addition to its standard, formal theology degree programs the school also runs the Liberty Home Bible Institute. This online certificate program brings seminary level training to a wider audience for extremely reasonable prices, and at the same time expands the circle of Liberty’s influence. This school is well positioned to expand its theological system in the coming years.
9. Moody Theological Seminary and Graduate School (Chicago, Illinois)
Dwight L. Moody was arguably the most effective evangelist of the 19th century. He is well known for having reached an estimated 100 million people in either preaching or through his various publishing exploits. He routinely preached to crowds measuring in the thousands on multiple continents, and worked hard to bring Christian literature into publication. But few realize that Moody had a special passion for bringing Christian education to the urban poor, which is why he started multiple schools dedicated towards that end. This same fire and zeal, as well as Moody’s conservative, Biblically centered theology, lives on in the Moody Theological Seminary and Graduate School. This institution is self-consciously dispensationalist in its heritage and among the most theologically conservative and hermeneutically literal. Although traditionally based near Chicago, in 2009 Michigan Theological Seminary merged with Moody to form another campus located in Plymouth, Michigan. The school has also opened a third campus at Spokane, Washington, which offers exclusively undergraduate curriculum. The school also runs Moody Publishers, which has become a respected name amidst the Evangelical world for both its explicitly Christian books, and its more general works.
10. Southern Evangelical Theological Seminary (Matthews, North Carolina)
Although barely a quarter century old, Southern Evangelical Theological Seminary has quickly risen to academic prominence. The school bears the theological emphasis of its founder, Norman Geisler. Geisler is famous for his massive four volume systemic theology and extensive research on building an intellectually justifiable faith. As such, his seminary was self-consciously built from the ground-up on evidentialist and classical apologetics. The school runs two institutes, the Institute for Islamic Studies and the Institute for Scientific Apologetics. The school also utilizes its distance learning resources in order to run a dual enrollment program. This allows high school students to earn college credit while completing their secondary education. Although some colleges, especially county colleges, utilize similar programs, this is very unique in the seminary world.
*The Top 10 Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Seminaries article is in the process of being written and will be forthcoming soon.
Top 10 Evangelical Seminaries in the U.S.
This article was written by Stephen DeRose. Stephen writes articles about education for different venues and has worked for multiple test prep and admissions companies, such as Kaplan and the Huntington Learning Center.