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Takeaways: What Matters Most in an Adventist Education


This paper was originally presented at the Future of Adventist Higher Education Summit, held in Chicago on August 9-12, 2018. It is reprinted here with permission.

Two Preliminaries:

1. First, the official invitation to this summit — under the section titled “Why Should You Attend?” — tells us that “The Challenge of providing a strong faith-based education for Seventh-day Adventist young people is different than it was 50 years ago. It is time to think of new approaches to providing a college/university education for young people who want an environment that strengthens their faith. This will be a groundbreaking event that will chart the course for the future of SDA higher education.”

Please note that my paper will highlight the fact that some things haven’t changed in the past 50 years and will not change if Adventist education is to be truly Adventist.

2. Second, regarding my paper’s title, “what matters most in an Adventist education,” in summary form is 1) students and 2) what they take away from their educational experience in an Adventist institution.

Now on to the paper.

“More and more thinking people in my community have stopped sending their children to Seventh-day Adventist colleges. And I don’t blame them,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “Even though we sponsored our four children to Adventist institutions, I am not sure I would do it again.”

That telephone call would be bad enough if it had come from a disinterested “crank,” but the sentiments were expressed by a professional who is deeply committed to Adventism and quite active at both the local and the national/international levels of the church; a person whose finger is on the pulse of one of the largest Adventist institutional centers in North America.

As educational costs escalate at both private and public colleges, more and more Adventist parents are asking pointed questions. Does the cost differential result in better “value”? Can Adventist schools win the “quality-of-education war” against the heavily endowed Harvards and Stanfords or the leading state institutions?

If the goal of Adventist education is to out-Harvard Harvard, it is doomed to failure. In fact, in most cases Adventist education can’t even out-Podunk local Podunk State U. when it comes to facilities and financial base.

Even if Adventist institutions could out-Harvard and out-Podunk the Harvards and Podunks of the land, we would have to ask if it is worth the effort. I think not. Mere survival in the competitive marketplace is insufficient ground for sacrifice by either the sponsoring denomination or the teachers who work at less-than-market salaries.

The survival of Adventist universities and colleges will not be worth the effort if these schools fail to produce a unique product. Their product must fill a gap that other institutions do not and cannot fill. In order to achieve this goal, planners must define both what is crucial and unique about Adventist higher education.

Does Adventist Higher Education Have a Genuine Mission?

That point is highlighted in the 2009 report of the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities Planning Committee. Number one in a rank-ordering of 24 items related to the needs of Adventist higher education if its institutions in the North American Division are to work together as more of a system is “refinement and articulation of Adventist uniqueness.”1 That uniqueness, of course, is closely related to uniqueness in its educational goals and purposes.

Shane Anderson in his perceptive book How to Kill Adventist Education (and How to Give it a Fighting Chance!) circles around the same concern. Anderson notes that “Adventist parents increasingly aren’t willing to pay the price to send their kids” to institutions that “lack a sufficiently Adventist flavor.” “After all, why pay thousands of dollars to send your child to a school that is now no longer substantially different from the average Christian school — or the local public school — down the street?2

Compounding the problem, Anderson points out, is the declining literacy among Adventist laity, clergy, and educators as to the meaning and mission of Adventism in an evangelical context. He writes that “we currently have large numbers of baptized Seventh-day Adventists — paid clergy and laity — who, while they think much of Christ and His grace, don’t have much regard for Adventist claims to having a unique mission in the world. Furthermore, Adventism has spent much of the past two decades attempting to move itself into mainstream Western culture, and in so doing Adventism’s reason for being has been, in my opinion, clouded — and thus, unavoidably, its educational system has been obscured as well.” Later in the book Anderson asks, “Does Adventism really have a unique role to play in the world?” His reply is that many are no longer sure. Finally, he notes that “when we are murky on or uninterested in the uniqueness of Adventism, we are far less inclined to send our kids to Adventist schools.”3 Here he could have added that if the denomination’s educators and administrators are murky on the uniqueness and role of Adventism in a world moving toward the eschaton there will be no significant impetus to make the churches’ colleges and universities truly unique and thus needed institutions in an ever-growing sea of alternatives.

This paper will discuss six essential student takeaways if Adventist higher education is to reach its goals.

The First Three Takeaways

Essential Takeaway #1: Preparation for Success in this Earthly Life

The first essential takeaway is the development of young people intellectually, socially, and professionally. Ellen White, for one, was clear on those goals. As a result, she wrote in 1891 that “it is right that you should feel that you must climb to the highest round of the educational ladder. Philosophy and history are important studies.”4

And in the face of misunderstandings of her counsel on “speedy preparation,” Ellen White penned that “no movement should be made to lower the standard of education in our school at Battle Creek. The students should tax the mental powers; every faculty should reach the highest possible development.”5 And regarding Battle Creek College as an institution she urged the school to “reach a higher standard of intellectual and moral culture than any other institution of the kind in our land.”6 She had no doubt on the importance of “the highest culture of the mind” and the fact that ignorance was not a Christian virtue.7

Similar statements can be found in Ellen White’s writings on the necessity of preparing students for the world of work. And she did not merely mean work with a person’s hands as they prepared for careers in agriculture or the trades. To the contrary, she urged the upgrading of Adventist education to prepare individuals for the professions. Thus she recommended that the education to be given at the fledgling institution at Loma Linda should be of “the highest order” and that the youth studying there were to be given “a medical education that will enable them to pass the examinations required by law.”8 That meant that Adventist colleges and secondary schools must also aim at preparing students to meet the legal standards.9 And what she noted about the medical field extends to the other professions.

There is not the slightest doubt that Ellen White held that Adventist schools should prepare young people to succeed in this earthly life by developing them mentally, socially, physically, and vocationally. Those areas of education are an essential part of the identity of Seventh-day Adventist schooling.

But if we only accomplish those goals, there is really no need for Adventist schools. After all, those are the aims of the public schools and they often do an excellent job of preparing people academically, socially, physically, and vocationally. If those are the only goals we achieve or even aim at as Seventh-day Adventist educators we might as well save our money and put it to a better use. That conclusion brings us to the second essential Adventist educational takeaway.

Essential Takeaway #2: Preparation for the Life to Come

The book Education in its first chapter sets forth what is in many ways the heart of an Adventist philosophy of education. In the first paragraph we read that “our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range.” Such is true when we as Adventist educators aim only or primarily at the tasks that form the goals of secular or public education.

“There is,” we read on, “need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.”10

There are several key words in that paragraph. The first centers on “true” education. True education is that education that transcends the goals of secular education. True education is that education that has a “higher aim” than merely preparing people to be good and productive citizens of California, Texas, Maryland, British Columbia, or Michigan.

The second key word is “whole,” a word she uses with two dimensions. First, Adventist education must emphasize the “whole” or entire period of human existence. Thus it is not merely focused on helping students learn how to earn a living or on becoming cultured by the standards of the present world. Those aims may be worthy and important, but they are not sufficient. The realm of eternity and preparation for it must also come under the purview of any Adventist education worthy of church support. On the other hand, some pious but misdirected individuals might be tempted to make heaven the focus of education while neglecting the present realm and preparation for the world of work and participation in human society. Ellen White asserted that neither extreme is correct. Rather, preparation for both the earthly and the eternal worlds must be included in Adventist education and placed in proper relationship to each other. The book Fundamentals of Christian Education catches that balance when it highlights the fact that while students should aim at the “highest round of the educational ladder” intellectually, “unless the knowledge of science is a steppingstone to the attainment of the highest purpose, it is worthless. The education that does not furnish knowledge as enduring as eternity, is of no purpose.”11

The second aspect of wholeness in the book Education’s opening paragraph is the imperative to develop the entire person. Secular education leaves out the spiritual aspect. But Adventist education must aim at developing all facets of human beings, including the spiritual as well as the intellectual, the physical, the social, and the vocational. In short, the goal of Adventist education is to develop whole persons for the whole period of existence open to them in both this world and the world to come. In that sense it transcends the possibilities of secular education, as well as many forms of Christian education, and, unfortunately, even some so-called Adventist education.

One other key word in Education’s opening paragraph is service (“the joy of service in this world and…the higher joy of wider service in the world to come”). It should be noted that the centrality of service is not only featured in the book’s first page, but also on the last, which points out: “In our life here, earthly, sin-restricted though it is, the greatest joy and the highest education are in service. And in the future state, untrammeled by the limitations of sinful humanity, it is in service that our greatest joy and our highest education will be found.”12

That emphasis on service should come as no surprise to any reader of the Bible. Jesus more than once told His disciples that the very essence of Christian character was love for and service to others. Such characteristics, of course, are not natural human traits. “Normal” people are more concerned with their own needs and being served than they are in a life of service to others. The Christian alternative outlook and set of values does not come about naturally. Rather, the Bible speaks of it as a transformation of the mind and heart (Romans 12:2). And Paul appeals to us to let Christ’s mind be our mind, pointing out that even though Christ was God, He came as a servant (Philippians 2:5-7).

If the first page in the book Education makes room for Adventist education in the pedagogical world by adding in “the spiritual” and preparing for the “whole” period of human existence, it is the book’s second page that begins to move beyond generalities and to focus on what she meant by those ideas.

Specifically, Ellen White points out that if educators really want to understand the primary purpose of education they need to understand four things. As she puts it, “In order to understand what is comprehended in the work of education, we need to consider both [1] the nature of man and [2] the purpose of God in creating him. We need to consider also [3] the change in man’s condition through the coming in of a knowledge of evil, and [4] God’s plan for still fulfilling His glorious purpose in the education of the human race.”13

She fleshes out the core of her philosophy of education by refining those four points in the next few paragraphs. First, in reflecting upon human nature, she emphasizes that Adam was created in the image of God — physically, mentally, and spiritually. Second, she highlights the purpose of God in creating human beings as one of their constant growth so that they would ever “more fully reflect the glory of the Creator.” To that end, God endowed human beings with capacities that were capable of almost infinite development.

“But,” thirdly, she notes in discussing the entrance of sin, “by disobedience this was forfeited. Through sin the divine likeness was marred, and well-nigh obliterated. Man’s physical powers were weakened, his mental capacity was lessened, his spiritual vision dimmed.”

While those three points are foundational to Ellen White’s philosophy of education, it is her fourth and last point that is absolutely crucial and that fully expresses the primary purpose of education. She writes that, in spite of its rebellion and Fall, “the race was not left without hope. By infinite love and mercy the plan of salvation had been devised, and a life of probation was granted. To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized — this was to be the work of redemption. This is the object of education, the great object of life.”14

The fourth chapter of Education returns to that theme where it describes each person’s life as the scene of a microcosmic great controversy between good and evil, and every human being as having not only “a desire for goodness” but also a “bent to evil.” Building upon the earlier insight that God’s image is not totally obliterated in fallen humanity, Ellen White notes that every human being “receives some ray of divine light. Not only intellectual but spiritual power, a perception of right, a desire for goodness, exists in every heart. But against these principles there is struggling an antagonistic power.” As the heritage of the Edenic Fall there is within each person’s nature an evil force which “unaided, he cannot resist. To withstand this force, to attain that ideal which in his inmost soul he accepts as alone worthy, he can find help in but one power. That power is Christ. Co-operation with that power is man’s greatest need. In all educational effort should not this co-operation be the highest aim?”15

On the next page, she develops this point a bit more, writing that “in the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one, for in education, as in redemption, ‘other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus.’…To aid the student in comprehending these principles, and in entering into that relation with Christ which will make them a controlling power in the life, should be the teacher’s first effort and his constant aim. The teacher who accepts this aim is in truth a co-worker with Christ, a laborer together with God.”16 Although she had no formal training as a philosopher, Ellen White hit the pivot point of a philosophy of education when she placed the human problem of sin at the very center of the educational enterprise.

The redemptive role of education has many implications for the Adventist school. Not only must the school introduce its students to Jesus, but also it must endeavor to get them to follow Him in their daily lives as they interact with others in their community.

The redemptive role of Adventist education also transforms the role of the teacher from one who transmits information and skills to one who is essentially a caring minister or pastor to his or her students.17

The spiritual and redemptive aspect of Adventist educational identity will also make a major impact on the school’s curriculum; especially in terms of the centrality of the Bible and its perspectives as teachers seek to integrate their various fields of expertise into the scriptural worldview.18

We could go on and on about the implications of the redemptive or spiritual aspect for Adventist educational identity, but, to put it briefly, the implications of the spiritual must shape and reshape every part of the school program, including our practice of the so-called extra-curricular and social parts of the school program.

But, for the sake of argument, let us say that a particular Adventist school did provide the highest intellectual and vocational education, that it did introduce young people to Jesus as Lord and Savior, that it did place the Bible at the center of education, that it did integrate every academic field and every school activity into the biblical world view. Still, I would argue, it has fallen short if that is all it has accomplished. After all, those are functions that every evangelical Christian school should be accomplishing. And if we only manage to accomplish what other Christian schools are already doing then there is no pressing justification for duplicating their activities in yet one more Christian school.

That conclusion brings me to the third essential Adventist educational takeaway.

Essential Takeaway #3: A Grasp of the Adventist Distinctives

The third essential Adventist educational takeaway relates to the denomination’s unique theological package, including its apocalyptic understanding and the implications of that theological package for worldwide mission and the Second Advent. Here we need to remember that Seventh-day Adventism has never seen itself as merely another denomination. Rather, from its very inception it has viewed itself as a movement of prophecy with a mission to all the world.

That apocalyptic/missiological understanding is based on certain passages in the heart of the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. Especially important in that understanding is the passage extending from Revelation 12:17 to 14:15.

Revelation 14 with its command to preach its message to the entire world early became central to Adventist self-understanding and the root of its educational system. Early Seventh-day Adventists began to think of themselves as the people preaching the three angels’ messages. That understanding led generations of Adventist young people to give their lives not only for service in North America but also in obscure mission fields. Beyond that, the denomination’s missiological vision prompted older church members to sacrifice not only the nearness of their children but also their financial means to fulfill the prophetic imperative at the heart of John’s Apocalypse. And in that imperative we find the roots of Adventist higher education.

I have demonstrated elsewhere that Adventism at its best and healthiest has linked its apocalyptic mission with education.19 It is no accident that the establishment of its first college and the sending of its first official foreign missionary both took place in 1874 or that the worldwide expansion of its educational system correlated with the explosion of international mission in the 1890s.

Thus the rise and the health of Adventist education have been historically tied to a self-conscious realization of apocalyptic mission and the coming eschaton. It is the apocalyptic vision and the theological understanding tied to it that has made Adventism a dynamic, worldwide movement. When that vision is lost Adventism will become merely another toothless denomination. The losing of the denomination’s unique theological understanding, including the apocalyptic vision and Adventism’s place in prophetic history, is the greatest threat that Adventism and its educational system face in the twenty-first century.20

When Adventism’s theological understanding, including its apocalyptic mission, has been lost sight of, it is not surprising to find increasing numbers of parents sending their children to other Christian schools or even to public institutions.21 Adventist higher education that has lost its theological/prophetic orientation is no longer truly Adventist. AND ADVENTIST EDUCATION IS IMPORTANT ONLY IF IT IS TRULY ADVENTIST. If it’s not, it might be seen as an alternative to other systems of education, but not necessarily an important one, and certainly not one worthy of much financial sacrifice.

The Most Essential Takeaways

Thus far we have examined three essential takeaways. Those three are in one way or another related to cognitive issues. But the most essential takeaways are related to the people in the institution who interact with students on a daily basis. That brings me to the three most essential takeaways.

The most important thing for students to take away from Adventist higher education is that they had teachers who truly cared about them, teachers who exhibited a service mentality before them, and teachers who were professionally competent. Although I will be framing my remarks in terms of teachers, this cluster of takeaways needs also to be exhibited by administrators, support staff, and work supervisors.

Elton Trueblood, an influential Quaker philosopher, has written that “if there is any one conclusion on which there is conspicuous agreement in our current philosophy of education it concerns the supreme importance of the good teacher. It is easy to envisage a good college with poor buildings, but it is not possible to envisage a good college with poor teachers.”22 James Coleman’s massive study of American education some years back empirically supported that observation. That study, along with several others, found that the school factors with the greatest influence on achievement (independent of family background) are the teacher’s characteristics.23

Most of us can pinpoint educators who made a major difference in our lives. I am here today because of a public school administrator who didn’t even know my name but saw hope in what appeared to be a seriously flawed student and to a Pacific Union College professor who repeatedly demonstrated his care for me when I needed it most.

I should note that I am presenting quality educators as the most essential takeaway because every other takeaway is dependent upon their quality and effectiveness. And I firmly believe that the future health of any Adventist higher education worth supporting depends upon its teachers and other personnel. Thus the importance of the hiring of qualified and dedicated teachers. It is all too easy to hire, but almost impossible to rid the school of a poor teacher.

Takeaway #4: A Remembrance of Teachers Who Truly Cared

The fourth essential takeaway is a remembrance of teachers who genuinely cared about them. Here we have the absolutely rock bottom essential of Adventist higher education. Nearly forty years ago I wrote an article titled “Teaching: The Art of Loving God’s Children.”24 The conviction undergirding that article has grown ever stronger as I have participated in Adventist higher education and observed both effective and less-than-effective teachers across the decades. A quotation from Ellen White puts the centrality of the primacy of the caring teacher in perspective. “If we wish to do good to souls, our success…will be in proportion to their belief in our belief in, and appreciation of them.”25

At the very center of Christianity, and by extension Adventist higher Christian education, is Jesus’ claim in John 13:35 that all people will know that we are truly Christians if we have love for one another. Coupled with that caringness, and integrally related to it, is a teacher’s religious sincerity. Andrews University’s Roger Dudley in his pathbreaking study found that “no other factor was as strongly related to teen-age rejection of religion as was the religious sincerity of their academy teachers.”26 The same holds true for those working in Adventist colleges and universities.

I would suggest that the most important takeaway from Adventist higher education is the fact that students met sincere Christian professionals who genuinely cared for them as individuals. It is that kind of relational experience that will not only help them desire to follow their example but to want their own children to have a similar experience in an Adventist school.

At this point I am tempted to enter a host of illustrations on how the caring relationship between students and faculty in Adventist schools has not only transformed their lives for Christ but energized them in both their studies and later professional and family life. But time is short. So here I will only mention a few remarks gleaned from recent editions of the Pacific Union College and Andrews University alumni magazines. Last summer Adam Fenner (currently working with the NAD in the area of professional education) wrote that after a rebellious decade spent doing the non-Christian thing he returned to Adventism because, in his words, “throughout my Adventist educational experience, I had teachers and professors who took the time to listen, invested their resources in my spiritual and academic growth, and genuinely cared about my overall personal development. This more than anything else, laid the foundation of values and beliefs that made me hold onto my faith when nothing else did.” Fenner points to the example of such professors as Øystein La Bianca, “who rather than condemn my youthful intellectual combativeness, usually simply asked me a question, ‘have you ever thought about this…?’” and at times pointed to some helpful reading.27         

And then there is the testimony of Christon Arthur, provost at Andrews, who noted that “I believe it is important for us to have individuals in our lives who believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. We all have moments when we feel down or uninspired and it is especially at these moments that the people who believe in us step forward and rekindle us with inspiration, remind us of our purpose, and help us reveal our best qualities. While at Andrews University, I was surrounded by such persons.”28

But such environments generally don’t come about by accident. They need to be engineered. I was delighted by Robert Cushman, Pacific Union College’s new president, when he asked “Why does PUC exist?” and went on to note that an important part of its mission is “to transform student lives through the mentoring and teaching relationships of faithful role models.”29 On a more concrete level, Andrews University has recently developed a new faculty honor, labeled the Heart@Andrews Award. In a recent convocation during which Dr. Tom Shepherd received recognition for going the extra mile in caring service to students, the provost noted that “service is at the heart of what we do” at Andrews. “We don’t care what you know, unless that knowledge becomes part of your practice.”30 We have long rewarded academic and publishing achievements. The recognition of caring teachers is a needed and important addition.

That thought brings me to the frontiers of another crucial takeaway: student remembrance of teachers as servants.

Essential Takeaway #5: A Remembrance as Teachers as Servants

The caringness of educators is closely related to the teacher as a servant of students. Servanthood is at the very core of Christianity and, of necessity, at the heart of Adventist higher education. But the implications are not always easy to carry out in professional life. I still remember a graduate course in the sociology of social movements in which the professor noted up front that every hour he devoted to us as students was an hour lost to his career as an academic. And he was correct. The bald fact is that the time devoted to students takes away from time to read, write, speak to professional groups, and so on. Such conflicts are genuine and are not easy to handle, especially when it is the academic achievements that lead to promotion and tenure.

Here we have one more tension in lives that have enough already. And here we have choices to make. And those choices are related to who we are as Christians and the very purpose of the schools in which we work.

The first thing we need to remember is that Adventist colleges and universities do not exist to provide employment to teachers, administrators, and staff. Rather, they exist because of the needs of students. All the rest of us have been employed to meet those needs.

Somewhere inside of my head is a little note inscribed to the effect that I am a servant of every student and that their needs must be primary in my daily professional priorities. And what does that imply in my daily life? I will supply three illustrations from my own experience:

1. That I as a teacher supply students with the ongoing invitation to make appointments to talk about their concerns, including concerns unrelated to the course of study. Their heart concerns are generally more important than the strictly academic. And those appointments should be as close in time to the student’s request as possible.

2. That I as a teacher report back the results of exams at the earliest possible date. It was my personal practice to endeavor to have the exams read and graded for the next class period. That was not always easy with large classes that had an essay. But it gave students the feedback they needed to guide them into the next sector of the course. Most of us have suffered under seemingly uncaring professors who delayed feedback for one week to a month while they spent their time on “more important” projects. Where is the service in that? Or, better yet, whose needs were they serving — their own or the needs of their students?

3. That I as a teacher critique and return major papers and thesis and dissertation chapters as soon as possible. My own goal, in spite of an extremely pressing schedule of research, writing, and travel, was a one-week turnaround. Meanwhile, I have repeatedly seen professors stall for weeks, months, and even a year on doctoral dissertations while students anxiously waited. Such an approach is malpractice in the world at large and just plain sin in a Christian context.

The takeaway of the Adventist student must be not only that their teachers care about them but they truly serve them with their best interests at heart. As Adventist professionals we must never forget that we are not only employed by our students, but that we are their servants. If we are training them for service we need to do our best to model it, even if we need to adjust some of our other professional goals. In Adventist higher education there is nothing more important than serving and caring for our students. Neglect those obligations and the system deserves to crash.

Takeaway # 6: A Remembrance of Teachers as Professionally Competent in Both their Academic Specialty and its Place in the Christian Worldview

Takeaway number six is a remembrance of teachers as professionally competent in both their academic specialty and its place in the Christian worldview. Here I will not comment since this is the area teachers spend the most time focusing on. But it is an area that is crucial for the success of Adventist higher education.

So far in our journey we have reflected upon six positive things that students should ideally take away from Adventist higher education: a preparation for success in this earthly life, a preparation for the life to come, a grasp of the Adventist distinctives, and a remembrance of their teachers as caring people, service oriented, and professionally competent.  

Something that Should Not Be Taken Away

But there is at least one thing that students should not be taking away. Namely, an ever-increasing burden of debt. Interestingly enough, in a paper focusing on those things that don’t change, this negative takeaway is one that has continued to change in the past 50 years, but in the wrong direction.

There are many reasons for this phenomenon, including a culture of debt in the larger society and a lack of imagination and initiative among Adventist leaders in providing useful remunerative businesses that might employ students at more than the minimum wage. Those are serious issues, but I would like to reflect on a third development as Adventist higher education has drifted across time and often seemingly acts as if this earth is its permanent location.          

At this juncture I want to pause to reflect on a couple of issues. First, I myself am a twenty-first-century person and have mixed thoughts on some of the issues that I will discuss. But, more importantly, I do not intend to reflect negatively on any individual church or educational administrator. All of us are in the flow of time and all of us are dealing with ongoing trajectories that stand at the center of dynamic institutional development. In short, administrators inherit developmental traditions when they assume the responsibility connected with a leadership role.

Here I will raise only one issue in the journey of Adventist education and question its appropriateness in light of the purpose of Adventism and its possible impact on the issue of student debt. I do not undertake this task in a critical spirit, but rather in one which, hopefully, will help us stand back and reflect in open discussion.

My few remarks will be made in the context of what matters most in Adventist higher education in the framework of Adventism’s essential belief in the coming eschaton and the all-important fact that this earth is not its home.

That thought brings me to the experience of Joshua V. Himes, the publishing genius at the heart of Millerism’s spectacular spread in three short years. By 1894 (50 years after the Great Disappointment) Himes was an Episcopal priest in South Dakota, but still an Advent believer at heart. Dying of cancer, he visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium. He noted that he appreciated the work of the seventh-day people. But he was deeply concerned with their interest in building up institutions. “The way you ‘plant and build,’” he penned to Ellen White, “looks like [you expect] a long delay [in the coming of Christ], if present plans are carried out.” He repeatedly pointed to what he believed to be duplicity in a people who claimed they were expecting the advent but were “heaping up riches.”31

The impressive institutional building by Adventists has certainly not lessened in the past 125 years. The history of Adventist higher education provides an interesting dynamic. Some early Adventist administrators held that college buildings should be built of wood because Jesus was coming soon. But due to fire regulations and safety issues the denomination’s colleges shifted to brick as the building material of choice. But with advancing time and increasing prosperity some have begun constructing in what we might call marble.

But as we witness the shift to evermore complex “marble” facilities in our day necessary questions arise. Does that development imply that the church and its institutions have experienced a philosophic shift? And, given the purposes of the denomination’s universities and colleges, might there be a better way to invest its money?

I do not have all the answers, but such impertinent questions need to be asked in terms of what matters most in Adventist higher education and in the light of increasing student debt.

The issue becomes even more interesting when we reflect upon the fact that institutions continue to expand their “brick-and-mortar” holdings even though student populations are relatively static. Even more to the point is the probability that in the future more and more students will be off campus learners.

What really matters in Adventist higher education? Is that a serious question in regard to our campuses? I must admit that I myself am proud of such things as world-class “opera houses” and fitness centers, but I am confused on how they relate to the most serious needs of students in terms of the affordability of Adventist colleges and universities and how that affordability might eventually affect their viability.

The 2009 report of the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities Planning Committee noted the possibilities of eventually establishing “‘no frills’ two-year feeder colleges.”32

There is a pregnant thought. What if some of our current campuses sought to become no frills institutions that directed their fund raising toward student endowments and/or significant incoming-producing businesses instead of brick and mortar? Then they could advertise themselves as the Adventist institution that had minimized the unwanted takeaway of student debt. Is that pie-in-the-sky thinking or something worth discussing among those responsible for the ongoing shape of Adventist higher education in an ever-changing world that has some values and goals that never change?

In the end we are stuck with the question of what matters most in relation to student needs in the context of a Seventh-day Adventist philosophy of education.


Notes & References:

1. “Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities Planning Committee (AACU) Report Based on Meeting of April 27 and 28, 2009, Denver Colorado,” p. 8.

2. Shane Anderson, How to Kill Adventist Education (and How to Give it a Fighting Chance!) (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2009), pp. 22, 56, italics in original.

3. Ibid., 19, 30, 32-33, italics in original.

4. Ellen G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn., 1923), p. 192.

5. Ibid., p. 373.

6. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), vol. 4, p. 425.

7. White, Fundamentals, pp. 47, 316; see also, “The Myth of the Ignorant Christian,” in George R. Knight, Myths in Adventism: An Interpretive Study of Ellen White, Education, and Related Issues (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1985, 2009), pp. 113-123.

8. E. G. White, “A Statement Regarding the Training of Physicians,” Pacific Union Recorder, Feb. 3, 1910, p. 3.

9. Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1943), pp. 479, 480.

10. Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1952), p. 13.

11. White, Fundamentals, p. 192.

12. White, Education, p. 309.

13. Ibid., p. 14.

14. Ibid., p. 15, 16.

15. Ibid., p. 29.

16. Ibid., p. 30.

17. George R. Knight, Philosophy of Education: An Introduction in Christian Perspectives, 4th ed (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2006), pp. 210-220.

18. Ibid., pp. 221-244; White, Education, pp. 125, 190.

19. For a fuller development of this topic, see George R. Knight, “The Dynamics of Educational Expansion: A Lesson from Adventist History,” Journal of Adventist Education, 52 (April-May 1990): 13-19, 44-45.

20. For treatments of this topic see George R. Knight, “Seventh-day Adventist Education and the Apocalyptic Vision,” Journal of Adventist Education, 69 (April/May 2007): 4-10; 69 (Summer 2007): pp. 4-9; George R. Knight, The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism, rev. ed. (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2009).

21. Anderson, How to Kill Adventist Education, passim.

22. Elton Trueblood, The Idea of a College (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959), p. 33.

23. James S. Coleman et al, Equality of Educational Opportunity (Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1966).

24. George R. Knight, “Teaching: The Art of Loving God’s Children,” Journal of Adventist Education, Dec. 1980-Jan. 1981, pp. 34-35, 43.

25. White, Fundamentals, p. 281.

26. Roger L. Dudley, Why Teenagers Reject Religion and What to Do About It (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1978), p. 80.

27. Adam Fenner, “My Testimony,” Focus, Summer 2017, p. 34.

28. “2017 Honored Alumni,” Focus. Fall 2017, p. 31.

29. Robert A. Cushman Jr., “President’s Message,” ViewPoint, vol. 39.2, p. 2.

30. “14th Annual Seminary Scholarship Symposium,” Focus, Winter 2018, p. 9.

31. J. V. Himes to E. G. White, Sept. 12, 1894; Nov. 7, 1894; March 13, 1895.

32. “Association of Adventist Colleges . . . Report,” p. 8.


George R. Knight has served the church as a university professor, pastor, school administrator, and an elementary and secondary teacher. His last assignment was Andrews University where he taught for 30 years. Knight is an avid student of both the Bible and Adventist history. He has written over 45 books and edited another 40. In addition to Bible commentaries, including the one for the Sabbath School lessons on Galatians and Romans, he has written on the historical development of Adventist organizational structure and the need for reform within the denomination. His most recent books include Adventist Authority Wars, Ordination, and the Roman Catholic Temptation (August 2017) and End-Time Events and The Last Generation: The Explosive 1950s (April 2018).

His major works in education are Philosophy and Education: An Introduction In Christian Perspective, 4th ed (2006), Issues and Alternatives In Educational Philosophy, 4th ed.(2008), Educating For Eternity: A Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy Of Education (2016), Myths In Adventism: An Interpretive Study Of Ellen White, Education, And Related Issues (1985, 2009), and Early Adventist Educators (edited 1983). His basic philosophy textbooks have been widely used in evangelical and secular universities and together have been translated into most of the major European and Asian languages.

Photo by sean Kong on Unsplash


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