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PhD in Historical Theology

PhD in Historical Theology

Foundational for the doctoral program at PRTS is the emphasis on both the academic and spiritual formation of the student. There is a growing demand for a comprehensive doctoral program that captures academic rigor and combines this with biblical piety (de pietate cum scientia conjungenda). It is furthermore necessary that a doctoral program serve the ministry of both the academy and church (teaching and preaching). Doctoral programs offered by public and private universities have historically focused on academics; indeed, many schools of the Reformed or evangelical persuasion have transitioned in recent decades from scholarship that demonstrates a vested interest in serving the church, to a program that is merely academically satisfactory. Furthermore, a perceived and sometimes forced dichotomy of the scientia (academics) and pietate (biblical piety) resulted in doctoral programs emphasizing the one over the other, often at the expense of pietate. The growing demand to reunite academic excellence and biblical piety is not only identified in North America, but also throughout the world by those who appreciate the biblical and Reformed doctrines, and desire experiential preaching and teaching.

PRTS seeks to adhere to the Reformed and Puritan tradition of blending learning with piety as exemplified by John Calvin, William Perkins, William Ames, Gisbertus Voetius, Archibald Alexander, and many others. We aim to do so by offering a doctoral program that is distinctive in its academics and biblical piety; this will be evident in the admissions requirements, as well as the program’s academic rigor and spiritual formation components.


The Historical Theology doctoral program offers focused areas of research, including but not limited to:


  1. Calvin and other Reformers such as Bullinger, Musculus, and Viret
  2. English Reformation
  3. Luther and other Lutheran Reformers such as Melanchthon


  1. Biblical exegesis
  2. Confessions & Catechisms: Thirty-nine Articles, Belgic Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, Westminster, and London Baptist Confession
  3. English and New England Puritans
  4. Confessional Anglicanism
  5. Confessional Baptists
  6. History of Homiletics
  7. Lutheran orthodoxy and Pietism
  8. Protestant scholasticism
  9. Reformed orthodoxy and piety
  10. Scottish Presbyterianism


In preparing students to serve Christ and His church through biblical, experiential, and practical ministry, the doctoral program of PRTS prepares students to serve in the academy and church through:

  • Piety, Preaching, and Publications: Throughout the program students are challenged to grow in their spirituality, and seek a healthy balance between academics and spiritual life; students called to a preaching ministry participate in a homiletics practicum to foster biblical and experiential preaching; and students are encouraged to engage in writing ministry during and upon completion of their studies. This writing ministry unfolds in three ways: publications in scholarly peer-reviewed journals, publications for the edification of the church, and publications designed to instruct the unsaved in a skeptical world. Moreover, the writing of a doctoral thesis keeps in mind a potential monograph for publication.
  • Research and Reformed: Students demonstrate an advanced competency in theology—in particular Reformed theology—and mastery of relevant primary and secondary sources in one of the following disciplines: Historical Theology, Biblical Studies, or Homiletics. Students must demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of Reformed intellectual trajectories and traditions.
  • Technology and Teaching: Students demonstrate an advanced level use of digital sources, deployment of writing tools, and a God-honoring use of technology, internet, and social media for the dissemination of biblical, experiential, and practical thoughts. Students called to a teaching ministry participate in a teaching practicum.
  • Scholarship (academics) and Scholarships (financial): Students are able to engage in international scholarly discourse that demonstrates independent inquiry, primary source research, critical reflection, analysis, and articulation of academic research. Students are also supported as much as possible through available financial scholarships.

Admission Requirements

A second graduate degree in theology, such as an accredited ThM, MTh, or STM, is preferred for admission to the program. Exceptionally gifted students may be accepted into the program having an accredited MDiv, or first graduate degree in theology, such as an MA or MTS. Comparable degrees from institutions within or outside North America may be accepted provided schools can demonstrate that they meet the standards of the ATS Board-approved degrees for admission. Students with a first graduate degree in theology may also apply for the ThM (Master of Theology) program, and then apply for the PhD program after successful completion of three (3) ThM-level courses with a minimum GPA of 3.50.

To be eligible for admission to the doctoral program, the applicant must:

  • be called to the ministry of teaching and/or preaching.
  • demonstrate high potential for local and regional influence through future ministry of teaching and preaching after completion of studies.
  • preferably posses a second master’s degree in theology from an accredited institute of higher learning, or in exceptional cases, a first master’s degree in theology from an accredited institute of higher learning.
  • have teaching and / or preaching experience.
  • adhere to the Three Forms of Unity and/or Westminster Standards (apart from a position on paedo- or credobaptism).
  • demonstrate biblical piety and character.


It is recommended that applications for admission to the doctoral program be submitted no later than April 30 (for a fall-semester start) or October 30 (for a spring-semester start). The applicant will be informed about the decision of the Admissions Committee by the Director of Admissions shortly after a decision has been made. The Admissions Committee meets on a rolling basis approximately every two months. Applications are considered at the next available meeting only when all application components have been received.

The applicant must:

  • have had an interview with the President, Program Director, or Director of Admissions.
  • submit official and certified transcripts of all post-secondary education (demonstrating the possession of an undergraduate degree and at least a first master’s degree in theology).
  • have an academic record with a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.50 or higher (or its equivalent).
  • submit a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score of 158 or higher in the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and 5.0 or higher in the Analytical Writing component.
  • submit a recent CV (curriculum vitae).
  • submit a copy of a completed master’s degree thesis or major research paper.
  • submit a three-page preliminary dissertation proposal.
  • submit two academic references and one ecclesiastical references.

Residency Requirement

Students are required to be in residence for one-half of the coursework; other required coursework, research, and dissertation writing may be completed off campus. Thus, given that the PhD concentrations each require twelve (12) courses, at least six (6) courses must be taken on campus.

This does not mean, however, that the accepted PhD student must relocate to Grand Rapids for these six (6) classes; rather, the majority of the PhD courses will be offered in modular or intensive (i.e., week-long) format, thus allowing the accepted student to travel back and forth to Grand Rapids, and still fulfill the residency requirement.

Because PRTS endeavors to create a community of learners within the doctoral program, each doctoral student is required to be on campus during the month of August at least once per year for the first three years of the student’s program, or until the student has completed the comprehensive examination. Apart from the modular courses that will occur during the month of August, special PhD seminars and dinners may be arranged. Furthermore, the PhD student is encouraged to attend the annual PRTS conference; this conference is always held near the end of August.

Required Coursework and Credits

PhD students in the Historical Theology (Reformation, Post-Reformation) program must take the following courses:

  • CH900 Research Methodology – 3 credits
  • CH901 Introduction to Reformation and Post-Reformation Studies – 3 credits
  • BS/CH/HOM902 Introduction to Reformed Spirituality and Piety – 3 credits
  • BS/CH/HOM991 Dissertation Proposal – 3 credits
  • BS/CH/HOM992 Teaching/Preaching Practicum – 3 credits


Students must take an additional seven courses for credit of which at least four courses must be from the area of concentration (designated by the prefix CH), one course from another doctoral concentration (either Biblical Studies or Homiletics), and two courses related to the student’s concentration must be taken from an external higher-education institution (an approved course partner of PRTS). Please consult the course schedule for doctoral courses related to the Historical Theology emphasis. Aside from these listed courses, students may upon approval enroll in CH999 – Directed Research, the course content and syllabus to be arranged between the student and the advisor.

Dissertation Requirements

The following guidelines pertain to the PhD dissertation:

  • Students must have an approved dissertation proposal.
  • Students must offer in the dissertation an original research contribution that serves the academy and the church.
  • Students will be assigned a supervisor and co-advisor; the student may recommend an external co-advisor to the supervisor and doctoral program committee. The recommendation may or may not be followed by the supervisor and doctoral program committee.
  • It is strongly recommended that the dissertation be edited by a professional editor.
  • A completed dissertation shall be submitted in electronic format (both Word and PDF), as well as two bound print copies. The electronic and hard copies must be submitted to the registrar for distribution to the supervisor, co-advisor, and examiners.
  • Upon acceptance of the dissertation by a three-fourths majority of the supervisor, co-advisor, and examiners, a public defense will be scheduled.


A final edited copy of the dissertation that incorporates suggestions of the supervisor, co-advisor, members of faculty, and examiners will be submitted no later than two months after acceptance of the doctoral work to the library of PRTS in electronic and paper format.

Dissertation Publication

Students are expected to:

  • publish the dissertation with an internationally recognized academic publisher within one year after the public defense. The student will choose a publisher in consultation with the supervisor or,
  • publish three articles as a result of the doctoral work in internationally recognized and peer-reviewed journals. The student will choose journals in consultation with the supervisor.
  • publish the dissertation in such a form as to be of service to the church at large.

Do you have more questions about our PhD program?