My daughter is one of the first students to be accepted to the first class of Sattler College as an early decision applicant. She just turned eighteen years old and until very recently I never expected that I would write a sentence like that. I am a tradesman. My wife and I never went to college or university. We chose rather to marry and start our family at a young age. My wife married me at seventeen, was converted and pregnant at eighteen, and had her first of ten children at nineteen.
I recognize that in many American households the aspiration of most families is a chance at a college degree. It is part and parcel of the American Dream of moving the subsequent generation forward on the socio-economic ladder. Like any father, I want the best for my children, but I am a homeschooling father. We have strayed from the fold. We have taken our children’s intellectual, character, and especially their spiritual development into our own hands. We have decided that we don’t need the education system and have learned how to learn on our own. My daughter is a typical homeschool overachiever. She is brilliant. She speaks Koine Greek, she graduated at 16 with flying colors. She is a voracious reader of literature and is full of ambition. Yet none of these attributes inclined us towards college. I love her and dedicated my life to protect her from harmful and dangerous influences. However, I have always wanted her and all my children to experience all the depth and color of the world.
Some may wonder why we would never pursue a path in higher education for a capable and intelligent young lady. We have tended to view the education system in general as antagonistic to the faith. American public education is licentious and in our opinion that only gets worse the higher up one ascends. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is the most typical ideology of students and the prolonged adolescence of frat boys and party time in college were more than distasteful, they were utterly repugnant. From all appearances, the main goal of educational institutions in America was to lead young people astray. Just the briefest familiarity with abortion statistics, drunkenness, drug use, and sexual activity among students are more than enough to make the case indicting educational institutions. Far from the memorized dates and formulas that were the small bit of usefulness I received in my public education, we are teaching our children to learn and love learning, and we don’t need their help for that. We’ve done quite well so far on our own. I think I can speak for a large number of Christian families in this regard.
The next obvious question is what about Christian higher education? We always saw this option as the worst of both worlds. The track record of fidelity, even at conservative schools, is abysmal. The notions of higher criticism seem to have an intractable hold on the faculties of Christian institutions. Textual criticism and inerrancy issues have beleaguered most schools. Those that have held their ground seem to have a substandard rigor to their programs. The choice in Christian education seems to be a dilemma between dumbed-down, non-accredited attempts at evangelical fidelity or intellectual betrayal against the most foundational aspects of the faith once delivered—until very recently.
Enter Sattler College. We knew about Michael Sattler from our own readings of church history in the Reformation era. Once we understand his life, he is an unsurprising namesake for an innovative and game-changing institution. Sattler was an innovative game changer himself. He joined the Swiss Brethren Anabaptists in Zurich right on the heels of the martyrdom of Felix Manz, the death of Conrad Grebel, and the expulsion of George Blaurock. This was not a good time to be coming into Zurich courting disaster in the name of expanding the kingdom of God. He was undeterred. He was killed for, among other things, refusing to hate the enemies of the State. His charge read “Ninthly, he has said that if the Turks should invade the country, no resistance ought to be offered them; and if it were right to wage war, he would rather take the field against the Christians than against the Turks; and it is certainly a great matter, to set the greatest enemies of our holy faith against us.” Sattler replied in his defense, “If the Turks should come, we ought not to resist them; for it is written: Thou shalt not kill. We must not defend ourselves against the Turks and others of our persecutors but are to beseech God with earnest prayer to repel and resist them. But that I said, that if warring were right, I would rather take the field against the so-called Christians, who persecute, apprehend and kill pious Christians, than against the Turks, was for this reason: The Turk is a true Turk, knows nothing of the Christian faith; and is a Turk after the flesh; but you, who would be Christians, and who make your boast of Christ, persecute the pious witnesses of Christ, and are Turks after the spirit.” Sattler had already by this point worked on and presented the Schleitheim Confession, a creed of great value to the nascent radical reformation, or perhaps more properly the Anabaptist revolution. When disputing with the lawyers and judges Michael quipped “...if ye have not heard or read the Word of God, send for the most learned, and for the sacred books of the Bible, of whatsoever language they may be, and let them confer with us in the Word of God: and if they prove to us with the Holy Scriptures, that we err and are in the wrong, we will gladly desist and recant…” Sattler was no bumpkin. He knew his stuff. Essentially he is saying, “Bring your best, bring the texts, Latin, Greek, or Hebrew and prove me wrong.”
This is what we have been missing in our conservative churches. I have long felt that we have abandoned the field in retreat. We are, by and large, not equipped or equipping our young people with the skills and abilities to be able to answer like Sattler. I am an amateur student of church history, and when I read the post-apostolic writers they are brilliant and they are succinct. They are masters, after Paul, of logic, discourse, and rhetoric. I have wondered, where are the church’s writers, poets, and thinkers? We have secured the farms and villages. But when we stock our shelves with reading material to whom do we turn? Not our own. We turn to the pop evangelicals of today and yesteryear whose churches we would never attend. Why do they fill our shelves? Why, when we look up Biblical reference materials, must we rely on scholars from every field, Roman and Reformed, but not our own? Because we have no academy. Nowhere for our young people to learn the skills to furnish their own research and translations and resources for the coming generations. Nowhere to hone the skills of apologetics that stop the mouths of the gainsayers. The call of Sattler College is the call to return from exile. Return to the marketplace of ideas. Return where the people are and ideas are spread. Return to the Romes and Corinths of our own day.
I was asked a few weeks ago by a friend, “Why will the fate of Sattler not follow the trajectory of other Christian higher education institutions?” This is a large conversation in and of itself. We discussed the terminal mechanisms built into the funding of the college, the oversight of faithful men connected to and submitted to faithful churches, and the emphasis on discipleship and development of the whole person, spiritual and intellectual. The core curriculum and course work are impressive and I am eager to see what fruit will come of these students. All of those attributes and more are very important to me in assuaging my fears. The idea behind Sattler amounts to something greater than the sum of all the parts. I believe in the idea of equipping zealous young Christians under godly guidance to refine their skills and go into the world and change it. I haven’t just allowed my daughter to attend Sattler. I am not just supporting her in going to Sattler. I am overjoyed and a little jealous to see her as a part of the first class of world-changing young Christians. I can’t wait to see what comes from her life and the lives of her fellow students. Is Sattler impervious to change? Will it be the same institution in fifty years? I don’t know. But I don’t know if my church will be the same either. I want to be faithful in my generation. I want my daughter to be faithful in hers and on and on. Every generation is responsible for its own faithfulness. My job as a father and as a Christian is to find the tools to prepare them for their own battles and trials. I am ecstatic to have Sattler as one of those tools.