Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The Doctor of Philosophy equips scholars for teaching and research in colleges, theological seminaries and universities, as well as for general church leadership. Degrees are offered in systematic, historical, philosophical, and moral theology, with concentrations in Reformation studies, post-Reformation Protestant theology, and modern and contemporary theology.

Any person who possesses a theological degree from an accredited seminary, has a good academic record, and desires to take seminary graduate courses is eligible for admission to the Doctor of Philosophy program. A person holding a degree from an unaccredited seminary may be considered for admission on the basis of validation by work in residence.

Annual Program Schedule

General Description

The graduate program leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is designed to afford students advanced training in independent inquiry, academic research, critical analysis, and scholarly writing as they define their own theological positions in dialogue with other points of view. It is aimed at equipping scholars for teaching and research in colleges, theological seminaries, and universities and for general ecclesiastical leadership.

Although the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary is committed to the confessional and theological standards of the Christian Reformed Church and the Ph.D. program is designed to promote advanced scholarship from a Reformed perspective, students from other traditions are welcome to apply. The academic freedom to probe the foundations of Reformed theology and to explore the validity of other approaches is a fundamental assumption of the Ph.D. program.

The course of study is located in the Theological Division of the faculty, which consists of the departments of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, and Philosophical and Moral Theology. Degrees are presently offered in historical, systematic, philosophical, and moral theology, with concentrations in Reformation studies, post-Reformation Protestant theology, and modern and contemporary theology. The faculty has particular interests in Calvin studies and Reformed theology.

Theological Faculty

More information about faculty and their publications is available at the seminary web site ( and in the seminary catalog.

Lyle Bierma (Ph.D., Duke University)
John Bolt (Ph.D., University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto)
John Cooper (Ph.D., University of Toronto)
Ronald Feenstra (Ph.D., Yale University)
Richard Muller (Ph.D., Duke University)
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary)
David Rylaarsdam (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame)
Calvin Van Reken (Ph.D., University of Chicago)

Calvin Theological Seminary regularly hosts major scholars from other schools as guest lecturers and visiting professors.


  • International student community with over 13 countries represented in the Ph.D. program.
  • Careers in teaching, pastoral work, and other forms of church leadership.

Library Resources

The Hekman Library at Calvin has extensive holdings in theology, philosophy, and history, and houses the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, one of the finest collections or resources for studies in Calvin and the Reformed tradition. More information can be found at the following web sites:

Residency Requirements

The Ph.D. program requires at least two years of full-time study in residence, including course work, guided preparation for comprehensive examinations, and guidance in selecting a dissertation topic. The Ph.D. program is designed to take four years—two years of course work, one year to prepare and complete the comprehensive exams, one year for dissertation.

Language Proficiency and Examinations

The Ph.D. program requires successful completion of examinations in two modern foreign languages besides English (preferably Dutch, French, German, or Spanish) and, in some cases, in Latin. These examinations will be offered three times per year, once at the beginning of each school year and again during the second and third academic quarters.

Course Work Requirements

During the first year in residence, all students take a required course in research methodology. Students are required to complete twelve courses for credit: six during the first year in residence and six during the second year. Half-time students take three courses per year for four years. Courses focus on areas of current faculty interest and research. They are designed to introduce students to proper research methods and their application as well as to important theological issues and developments.

Comprehensive Examinations

After completing course work, the student sits for five written comprehensive examinations and one oral comprehensive examination. The written examinations are distributed across the four disciplines of systematic, historical, moral, and philosophical theology. The student submits to one examination in each discipline and a second examination in the student’s discipline of specialization.


Students should give thought to the choice of a dissertation topic early in their programs. The student must submit the proposal to the theological division within two years of attaining candidacy.

Admission to Ph.D. Candidacy and Timeline

Admission to degree candidacy is granted by the educational policy committee of the faculty upon recommendation of the theological division when the following requirements are met:

  1. All course work is completed with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.33.
  2. All language and comprehensive examinations have been sustained.

The requirements for completion of the Ph.D. degree ordinarily must be completed within five years after admission to candidacy for the degree.

Financial Aid

Doctoral Fellowships, Doctoral Assistantships, and Doctoral Tuition Scholarships are available to students in the Ph.D. program at Calvin Theological Seminary. Recipients of Doctoral Fellowships and Doctoral Assistantships must pay tuition charges from the proceeds of the award. In addition, Ph.D. housing subsidies and living stipends are available on the basis of financial need. The current catalog lists further details about all of these forms of financial aid.

  • Students who wish to be considered for Doctoral Fellowships, Assistantships, and/or Tuition Scholarships must complete and application every year by February 10 for the upcoming academic year. Applications are available from the office of Recruitment and Financial Aid.
  • Students who wish to be considered for housing subsidies and/or living stipends must apply to the Director of Financial Aid and complete an applicationevery year by February 10 for the upcoming academic year. Applications are available from the office of Recruitment and Financial Aid.
  • Calvin Theological Seminary offers financial support to Ph.D. students for a maximum of four years (six years in the case of students enrolled on a part-time basis).
  • Calvin Theological Seminary also participates in U.S. Government Student Loan programs (for U.S. citizens only).
  • Forms are available at the seminary web site ( U.S. citizens need to submit two forms: (1) the seminary Ph.D. financial assistance application form, sent directly to the seminary; and (2) the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid, available at, sent directly to the U.S. Department of Education. International Students (including Canadian citizens) need to submit one form: the Calvin Seminary financial aid form for International Ph.D. students, sent directly to the seminary.

Admission to the Ph.D. Program

To view admission requirements and instructions on how to apply, please visit the Ph.D application instructions page.

For more information on the Ph.D. program, please view the Ph.D. handbook (pdf).