By Kristen Padilla
When Yannick Christos-Wahab was 10 years old, his father changed his family’s surname.
Previously, Yannick’s last name was Wahab, a common Muslim surname that means “servant of the Giver.” But years after his father’s conversion from Islam to Christianity, he added the Greek word for Christ, “Anointed One,” to Wahab, making his son Yannick one of five people in the world with that surname.
Christos-Wahab smiled as he retold the story. His dad did not know Greek but “he knew I was going to end up studying theology.”
But for Christos-Wahab, studying theology was a bit of an anomaly given his African Pentecostal context. He grew up in a Nigerian home in a Nigerian community in a borough of London. While worship services were vibrant and its people zealous for the Lord, the prosperity gospel (the belief that the ultimate sign of God’s blessing is health and wealth) had taken root in some forms of African Pentecostalism.
According to Christos-Wahab, the ministers he knew had no theological training and feared that being academic meant a loss of faith. When Christos-Wahab went to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland to study theology for his undergraduate work, he was the first person he has known to do so.
While at St. Andrews, he took a New Testament and Greek class from Scott Hafemann, a professor whom Christos-Wahab credits as having changed how he now reads and interprets Scripture. For the first time, he began seeing that the Bible is not a collection of isolated stories and thoughts, but rather is one large narrative of Jesus Christ redeeming the world.
“All of a sudden, I was realizing, ‘Wow! This fits,’ and what he’s saying is actually biblical,” Christos-Wahab said about Hafemann’s class. “It helped me to recover my Bible because I’ve always read my Bible, but now I was reading my Bible in a different way.”
It was also Hafemann who first encouraged him to go to seminary and mentioned Beeson Divinity School.
Christos-Wahab was impressed by Beeson Divinity School’s stress on biblical languages, studying theology historically and not just systematically, studying in an interdenominational setting, and personal education.
“I wanted to learn theology in a setting where people were being trained for ministry,” he said. “I just prayed about it, and in the end, Beeson was the only place I applied to. I was really certain that’s where God wanted me.”
Now beginning his third year at Beeson Divinity School, Christos-Wahab continues doing what he wanted to do as a boy — studying theology. But now he is tapping into his other passion — teaching theology to those who need it.
Through the newly formed School Ministries of Birmingham, Christos-Wahab teaches a Biblical Worldviews class to 16- and 17-year-old Spain Park High School students weekday afternoons except Thursdays. School Ministries of Birmingham is a released time education program that offers a Bible class to public school students off campus during a class period. On Saturdays, Christos-Wahab teaches Hebrew at a Jewish Messianic Center to people in their 40s and older.
Christos-Wahab says it’s a great privilege to be able to teach what he is learning during his classes at divinity school.
“The professors have been great examples, not just in their knowledge, but in how they teach,” he said. “It’s refreshing to be in a setting with believers, to be in an interdenominational setting where I get to have conversations with Anglicans and Lutherans, to be in a setting where I can have great relationships with my professors and to learn from their teaching.”
Christos-Wahab is so “passionate about theological education” that he feels called to teach theology to people who have not been taught, people who, once like himself, grew up with the prosperity gospel and who do not know anything different. One day, he hopes to go to Nigeria to teach theology to his people.
“I’m very passionate about theological education among people who don’t have it,” Christos-Wahab said. “I cannot imagine not teaching.”