How to: Doctor of Theology Program

January 10, 2022

by Greg Henson, CEO, Kairos University and President, Sioux Falls Seminary, and Anthony Blair, President of Evangelical Seminary

In our last few posts, we have been looking at various degree programs that are available across Kairos (Doctor of Ministry, Bachelor of Arts, and Master of Arts). Today, we have our sights set on the Doctor of Theology (ThD).

The ThD is offered through one of Kairos University’s Legacy Partners, Evangelical Seminary. The degree is recognized by the Association of Theological schools as an “innovative educational program.” Let’s explore why that is the case, why people enroll in the ThD, and what they can expect while enrolled (and afterward).


Why Do People Enroll in the Doctor of Theology?

In our experience, people tend to enroll in the Doctor of Theology program because they have an ache to see the Church do better. The program is designed for rich theological reflection on ministry practice, to improve or create practices that are coherent theologically, that reflect the heart of God for our world, and that are ultimately useful for the Church at large—and not just for today but also for generations into the future. It is this eye toward the future that tends to set someone apart as a ThD student. Those who engage in this journey are usually problem-solvers, partner-makers, and hope-bringers to the people of God.

Very few institutions in North America offer the Doctor of Theology. Although it is a credible and accredited research doctorate that qualifies graduates to teach theology at the highest levels, students often choose to enroll less because of a need to earn a degree and more because they have a deep, passionate desire to learn more deeply and grow more fully. As with all of the other Kairos programs, the ThD experience pursues full integration of content, character, and craft, inviting students to not merely do or think better, but also to become better—to be more faithful followers of Jesus.

The ThD is situated in the academy between the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Ministry (DMin). Students can specialize in an almost infinite array of options, including ministry leadership, trauma care, biblical or historical studies, semiotics, hermeneutics, anthropology, contextual theology, and a variety of other areas. It also invites students to theological hospitality, as it draws from a wide variety of theological traditions and perspectives within the Body of Christ. The ThD provides an opportunity to explore the deeper riches of the Christian faith while graciously walking with others who are doing the same.

The Aspects of the Journey

Students will engage in three different kinds of learning experiences throughout their Doctor of Theology journey:

Large-Group Scheduled Learning Experiences
These are opportunities to engage with a diverse group of students on core topics and themes over an academic term, each of which includes an on-campus three-day residency. (For students outside of North America, these residencies are available via synchronous online learning.) The remainder of each scheduled learning experience is engaged online from one’s own ministry context.

Small-Group Scheduled Learning Experiences
Students may choose to interact with other students and faculty mentors for group learning in a specialization related to theology (or, alternately, may choose to pursue their specialization in an individualized process). These small-group learning experiences usually occur simultaneously with the large-group learning experiences. A variety of specializations have been historically offered by the faculty and, as the program grows and expands, new opportunities are always emerging.

Individualized Learning Experiences
The final step in the journey through the Doctor of Theology program is one that requires students to describe their next steps! We are never “done” following Jesus which means we are never done learning more about God or the work we are invited to do or the people we have the privilege to serve. A master’s degree is not the “end” of the journey but rather a chapter in a student’s story.

As students near the end of their program, they work with their mentor team to share how they will continue to grow in their faith, whom they will invite to walk with them in that journey, and what resources they will use along the way. Often, this work is done while engaging in two outcome-level courses, Mentored Life and Continuing Well.

Each student also integrates and applies their specialty in the form of an integrated project or dissertation, with the guidance and direction of a mentor team.

These various types of learning experiences are distributed throughout three stages of the program, which are:

Addressing the Ache (Program Entry)
As students begin the program, they work with a Kairos Advisor through “Starting Well,” an orientation experience that helps them prepare for the journey they are about to take through the ThD. This is an ideal time to identify the passions and callings that each brings to this journey and to identify how the program will help to fulfill them.

Understanding the Ache (Core and Specialization)
Once students have successfully completed the program entry stage, they engage in rich theological reflection through large and small-group learning experiences. It is in these that they build a coherent theological foundation from which to generate something new to offer the Church.

Resolving the Ache (Integrated Project/Dissertation)
Finally, students complete the program through an integrated project or dissertation that is generative in nature and that helps resolve the ache that brought them to the program in the first place. They also propose a way to disseminate this new learning in a way that serves the Church broadly.

The journey through the program can perhaps best be described as interacting with and responding to the wisdom of God as mediated through peers, mentors, and other wise voices of the past and present. Students in the ThD program are joining a 2000-year-old conversation with open minds, open hearts, and open hands, offering a gift to the Church in the process.


How Has the Program Served Students?

Odell’s Story
I enrolled because it was important for me to choose a program that would help me accomplish my goal of obtaining a doctorate degree in a cognate field of African American Studies. I am studying Contextual Theology, which was developed by an Asian theologian. Contextual Theology allows me to expand upon the research of my master’s program while focusing on the spiritual aspects of that research. The structure of the ThD, coupled with the underlying philosophy of the program, allowed me to approach deep theological studies in a manner that aligned with my desire to interact with voices and literature outside of the traditional European lens that seems to be imposed by many. This unique structure and philosophy have positioned this program as one of the most innovative and avant-garde in North America.

While it has been challenging for me to balance school, work, and ministry, the generosity and gracious nature of the faculty has enabled me to grow by allowing ample time to reflect upon what I have read and written. I feel more knowledgeable about Christian history and the different theological traditions within the faith. You are a part of an avant-garde theological program at Evangelical Seminary!

Shelley’s Story
Evangelical Theological Seminary’s ThD encompasses person, pedagogy, and practice. The order of this list is the hallmark of the seminary and the reason I chose the Doctor of Theology program. The emphasis on spiritual formation in tandem with rigorous academic study that provides freedom for the student to focus in particular areas positions students to mature in faith, successfully navigate the course of study, and apply the material to Kingdom service. The new perspectives offered through my global cohort community have challenged my established viewpoints. I am excited by the ways God is already using this program to enrich my life as well as those with whom I minister.  For anyone seeking an education that integrates content, character, and craft while feeling cared for as a student, I highly recommend this program and school!

Vivian’s Story
I work long hours for my corporate finance job. The flexibility of this program coupled with the opportunity to choose my area of focus, allowed me to study in a way that fits my work schedule. I knew I absolutely made the right choice when I received the first reply back from the school. The email was welcoming and full of warmth and love for God. Not surprisingly, the faculty members I got to know during our first residency shared those same qualities – welcoming, warm, and demonstrating God’s love through their words and behavior. I am very appreciative of my professors who have been supportive while also setting high expectations for the students. My new friends from the ThD program have been supportive, collaborative, and gone out of their way to care for each other, which is much different from my previous experiences. The collaboration, partnership, and support from my professors and classmates make a whole world of difference for me.

I have learned more from the people – the faculty members, professors, and classmates – than from all the books we had to read. That is to say that these God-loving people really demonstrate how an exemplary Christian should behave. As easy as it sounds, this is very refreshing for me as someone who has worked in the professional and competitive corporate world for the past three decades. While this program will absolutely not be a “walk in the park” or a “piece of cake,” I assure you it will be very rewarding. I know I am one step closer to being equipped to do the missionary work that is desperately needed in Asia.

all stories