This last week began classes at Northern Seminary, and the class for my MANT cohort this fall quarter is over the first half of Christianity’s history. Dr. Nassif, our teacher, will place a strong emphasis on theological developments and controversies. I try to keep my excitement in place when a new class begins because I don’t want my own expectations to let me down in a class as the teacher focuses on things they deem most important about the subject. In this case though, Dr. Nassif generated a lot of excitement for me as he talked through plans and philosophy of the class.
The two things that stood out about how Dr. Nassif presented our history class was that began by explaining the importance of historical study and then gave the characteristics of good historical work. I don’t want to go over each of his points, but I want to point out the one that made me think the most about historical work.
Historical work allows a person to understand the ways they have been shaped by communities and individuals before them. The reality of identity formation through the study of history gives strength to the person’s convictions about claims and gives them the ability to assess new challenges.
Dr. Nassif pointed out pointed out something that is often more obvious to those who study history, that many of the challenges in a current society are parallel reconstructions or ideas from the past. While there may be nuanced differences from the past, understanding the history of a similar situation in a different culture, place, and time offers an edge when addressing the contemporary situation.
Having begun the readings for this course already, I am taken aback at the relevancy of the early church fathers’ teachings. If Christians believe that there is a central identity which those who claim to follow King Jesus are meant to express, the early centuries battles over what it means to be a Christian is vital to how we perceive Christian identity even now, millennia later.