GAVE MY FIRSTBORN TO AN ADVENTIST UNIVERSITY TODAY. WE SAID goodbye in the dormitory parking lot beneath a leaden sky, unsure of whether the clouds or we would drizzle first.
He smiled wanly as my wife and I swallowed hard and drove away, his dark eyes showing that peculiar mix of independence and apprehension seen in freshmen everywhere. I watched in the rearview mirror as he lingered at the dormitory entrance, pausing on the threshold of a newly solo life to gather himself for what lies ahead.
The miles and hours between his school and our home allowed me time to ponder what I have done. Like thousands of Adventist parents around the globe, I have entrusted what is dearest to me to a school and a system of higher education about which I am anything but neutral. I make no apologies for my interest, for there is much more at stake here than the sheepskin four years from now that may land my son a good job offer. Yes, I have expectations—great ones, in fact—that have been shaped by my long exposure to Adventist college and university campuses as a student, teacher, alumni president, board member, and campus pastor. In fairness, I should make those expectations known:
1. I expect that my son will emerge from an Adventist university a different person than the eager adolescent he now is. I am not afraid that he will change: in fact, I am committed to his growth and change in ways his most ardent professors can only approximate. I want for him the transformational experience of confronting new and great ideas, the exhilaration of discovering new frames for the pictures on his walls. “College should unsettle the mind,” Alfred North Whitehead is supposed to have once said. An Adventist university ought to be committed to an ethic of personal and intellectual transformation like no other institution on earth.
2. I expect that an Adventist university will respect and honor our family’s faith commitment, and will partner with my wife and me to help produce a young adult who can articulate his personal commitment to Jesus Christ with clarity, vigor, and winsomeness. It takes no special skill to inculcate doubt and distrust, or to model a withering scorn for all things simple, straight, and true. I am counting on his university to do the harder thing—to build a reasoned and reasoning faith in God, in the Bible as the Word of God, and in the people of God who gather in His remnant church—all while teaching him the mysteries of cell division and the beauty of a sonnet. If I wanted anything less, I would send him to some lesser place.
3. I expect that my son will encounter in the classroom and in the chapel teachers and mentors who can pray with him as naturally as they deliver lectures, grade exams, or lead discussions. And yes, I expect them to be worshippers as well, for I remain forever wary of the scholar who forgets that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In the variety of their personal encounters with God, I expect he will find much to admire, much to challenge, much to imitate—even though it may seem quite different from the spiritual culture he learned in our home.
In sum, I want for my son what I found for myself in Adventist higher education, and I don’t believe I need to settle as a parent for less than I received as a student. My Adventist college education prepared me for a life of faith, encouraged me to continue growing, and gave me the intellectual tools to make sense of God’s amazing world. Who can fault me for hoping that my son will also find the joy I learned in learning?
My checkbook and my heart will both be open many times in the months ahead. I will be praying for my son’s university even as I hold it accountable to deliver the finest Adventist Christian education on the planet.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review.