In an era of “fake news” and misinformation, pursuing truth by studying events from the past is more important than ever. Beginning this fall, Seminary students can enrol in Tyndale’s concentration in Christian History. Dr. Ashoor Yousif and Dr. James Robertson, who are both pastors and Assistant Professors of Christian History, spoke with staff writer, Melissa Wallace, of how studying history in a structured setting can bring immense value to the Church and about their shared goal to create thinkers who look to the past to shape the future.
Q. What prompted the decision to offer a concentration in Christian History at Tyndale?
Ashoor: It’s a fundamental discipline in theological studies that students were requesting. At Tyndale, all students take introductory courses in history, but there were some who wanted to delve deeper into church history and progress to a master’s or doctorate degree in Christian History. This is a first step where students can take any four courses in history, in addition to the required introductory courses in history for their particular degree and/or major. This will allow them to earn a concentration, build a strong foundation and open pathway options.
Q. Who would benefit from learning Christian history?
James: Everyone. The world would be a better place if everybody studied history. It shapes our conversations and helps us better understand the present and the future. As for ministry, a history concentration can be incredibly beneficial when leading a church as a pastor, and many academics and counsellors find immense value as well. You can attach the concentration to various majors, and it will enrich the Church.
Q. Why should someone study history?
Ashoor: History impacts any field you are doing. If you’re studying engineering, and you don’t know how people did engineering in the past and where they failed or succeeded, it becomes a problem. In studying history, we learn from the past how previous Christians and the Church worshipped God, shared the gospel, engaged in missions, thought theologically, structured its leadership, dealt with its context, enriched and serviced society, and so on. We can also learn about how the Church managed its internal conflicts; faced external challenges, such as religio-political persecution; and dealt with various crises, including pandemics to natural disasters. We see the value of history in speaking from the voices, wisdom and failures of the past and making it relevant to the modern Church.
Q. What does the university experience add, as opposed to researching history on your own by watching documentaries or reading articles online?
James: One of the biggest struggles today is that many people believe history is written by the winners. There’s this concept that history is just a construct… you can say whatever you want because “we can’t go back there anyway.” Everyone’s interpretation becomes their own, which is evidence of deeper problems we have with truth claims in the 21st century. But anybody who engages in studying history knows there are scientific rules. You can’t just make anything up. Historians have internal dialogues about the interpretation around sources and create meaning and understanding. In the age of “fake news,” being able to do proper research and defend the scientific element of truth is a useful skillset to have.
Ashoor: There is immense value in studying Christian history through a structured university or seminary program. We live in an age where there is an abundance of information, but how you sift through that information, analyze it and challenge it is important. We offer focused training and tools to help you connect the past with the present, create applications, and develop principles. So, first, you get the tools. Then, you get the focus. And, third, you get the mentor; the person who can be there to respond to the things going on in your mind and in your heart by asking questions and dealing with emotional reactions. The class grows together and becomes less biased and able to pinpoint things in history that should be praised and things that should be criticized.
James: There’s a huge audience for documentaries; I personally love watching them, too. But at the end of the day, the film director’s goal is to have as many people watch it as possible. So, they will stretch things out, build tension, and add emotional components, and they do all this to make money. It’s different in a class. We have the ability to be interactive and have meaningful discussions about events from the past. For me, the class is always superior to the documentary because the class’s end goal is to create thinkers; the documentary’s end goal is to create viewers.