Miroslav Kiš, a Seventh-day Adventist giant in biblical ethics who believed that no type of falsehood was ever acceptable, died after suffering a heart attack on Feb. 23. He was 73.
Kiš, who retired last June after 31 years at Andrews University, most recently as professor of Christian ethics and chair of the department of theology and Christian philosophy at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, died on Tuesday afternoon at his home near the university campus in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
“Please remember the entire Kiš family in your thoughts and prayers as they deal with this difficult, unexpected loss,” the university said Wednesday in a statement.
His wife, Brenda Bond Kiš, who worked many years at the seminary and later at Adventist Frontier Missions, also retired last June.
People who knew Miroslav Kiš described him as an engaging teacher and friend who never compromised on biblical principles and lived a life that reflected his beliefs, even clearing a snow-covered driveway for a professor and mentoring a former student during a difficult dilemma.
“He was a giant of biblical-theological-ethical interpretation,” said Jiří Moskala, dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, who knew Kiš for more than 20 years. “He never compromised on biblical principles however uncomfortable it might be. No white lies existed for him.”
Moskala said Kiš was able to explain old truths in new and innovative ways that kept his students captivated.
“He was not driven by popularity but by biblical and theological truth,” he said. “Many students benefited not only from his teaching but especially from his clear attitude toward the Bible, because the Word of God was for him the highest authority and orientation point in all discussions and his life.”
One of those students was Stephen Bauer, a professor of theology and ethics at Southern Adventist University, who decided to pursue a career in studying ethics after taking a class from Kiš in the early 1990s. Bauer said he would long remember Kiš telling how he had grown up as the man of the house after the death of his father when he was 2 in Yugoslavia. The 10th of 11 children, Kiš was born Nov. 6, 1942, to Adventist parents of Ukrainian origin in Miklusevci, Croatia. His father, Andrija Kiš, was an agriculturalist, and his mother, Natalija Pap Kiš, was a homemaker.
The early responsibilities at home, Kiš told the students, left him with a fiercely independent spirit that manifested itself in the need to depend on no one.
This attitude presented a dilemma when Kiš got married in 1971 and moved with his wife, Brenda, to Le Campus Adventiste du Salève in Collonges, France, to complete his undergraduate studies in theology. Money was tight, and Brenda’s father began calling from California to gauge the young couple’s needs.
“Miroslav managed to provide truthful but nuanced answers to avoid confronting the issue of needing a father’s help, seeking to demonstrate he had the situation under control without outside assistance,” Bauer said.
One day the couple received a substantial check, followed by a phone call a few days later. Brenda’s father asked Kiš if he had received the check. Kiš replied that he had and, suspecting that his father-in-law felt he was not adequately supporting his wife financially, defensively asked why the check had been sent.
“Because you call me Dad,” came the reply.
Suddenly unable to talk, Kiš handed the phone to his wife.
In relating the story to the students, Kiš said he had made himself an intentional orphan, unwilling to admit the need of a father and thus making himself too proud to admit that some help would be a blessing. He said many people also choose to be intentional orphans with their heavenly Father, acting as if they do not need Him or His help, even though God wishes to give people good things simply “because you call me Dad.”
“Dr. Kiš’ concept of the intentional orphan has been a most poignant and powerful influence in my own spiritual journey, highlighting the nature of God’s love and grace toward me and you,” Bauer said.
Kiš graduated from the Adventist seminary in France in 1973 and received his Master’s in Divinity from Andrews University three years later. He served as a pastor in the U.S. state of California and the Canadian province of Quebec in the 1970s and early 1980s before completing a doctorate in philosophical ethics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in 1983 and joining the Andrews seminary that same year. He stayed at the seminary until his retirement.
At the seminary, he won praise for establishing an ethics degree program with a biblical and theological foundation as opposed to the philosophical-ethics foundation used by many universities.
“This is critical for the church as it wrestles with contemporary issues,” said Larry Lichtenwalter, dean of the philosophy and theology faculty at Middle East University in Lebanon, and a longtime friend. “It reveals how biblically informed theological ethics can constructively dialogue and provide sound, reasoned input for being and doing in our contemporary world.”
Kiš specialized in personal, professional, marriage, and sexual ethics.
In recent years, both Lichtenwalter and Bauer served with Kiš on the ethics committee of the Adventist world church’s Biblical Research Institute. Kiš is credited with playing a key role in establishing the committee after working hard to convince General Conference leaders about the need for a standing ethics committee to address complex moral issues facing the denomination.
“That the Biblical Research Institute has an ethics committee today says volumes,” Lichtenwalter said. “More than once he has whispered in my ear, ‘Larry, can you imagine this 20 years ago? Even today many still have no idea how to wend their way through some of the ethical issues we are discussing.’ … I could always read a sense of satisfaction at what God had done through him.”
Lichtenwalter, who served as Kiš’ pastor at the Village Church in Berrien Springs from 1985 to 2012, said one of the best decisions that he had ever made was to change his doctoral studies to ethics at Kiš’ urging.
“He promised that a strong biblical-theological-ethics training would provide the frame of reference for effective service on numerous levels,” Lichtenwalter said. “I have found that so true: in pastoral work, teaching, writing, research, engaging ethical issues, preaching, and even now in Islamic studies and Muslim work. Ethics has opened the Scriptures to me in incredible ways.”
Originally trained as a watchmaker, Kiš loved to use illustrations from his watchmaking days in class. He kept tools from that trade and had looked forward to pursuing that craft more in his retirement.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
Kiš is survived by his wife, Brenda Bond Kiš; two adult sons, Andrej and Adam; two daughters-in-law, Daisy Froese Kiš and Kristin Doss Kiš; and three grandchildren, Cedric, Zachary, and Julie. Andrej Kiš works at Andrews’ office of academic records, and Adam Kiš is an assistant professor of anthropology at Burman University, formerly Canadian University College, in Alberta, Canada.
Kiš deeply loved his family and spoke often about them in classes.
“His love and passion for his wife and family came out frequently in class, leaving a legacy reminding us all to keep our marriages and families highest priority as we pursue our professional endeavors in serving the Lord,” said Bauer. “He exemplified what he taught, which made it all the more effective.”
Colleagues at Andrews also spoke warmly of Kiš.
“Miroslav was always very welcoming and willing to share ethical conversations and ideas with me,” said Ann Gibson, who teaches ethics at the Andrews school of business and sits on the Biblical Research Institute’s ethics committee. “We had many great conversations over the years, and I will miss those very much.”
Seminary professor Jacques R. Doukhan said his friendship with Kiš went back nearly 50 years, to when Kiš took classes from him in France, but he will never forget two experiences that occurred at Andrews.
“When we had just arrived at Andrews, we knew no one and nothing about this new place,” Doukhan said. “He welcomed us, filled our refrigerator with food, lent us his car for the first weeks, and was ready to help us and guide us in everything.”
The other memorable incident happened a few years later as Doukhan lay ill in bed during a winter storm.
“He came early in the morning and silently and efficiently cleaned my driveway,” Doukhan said.
It was that personal touch that endeared Kiš to students, many of whom are pastors and leading Adventist ethicists today.
“He constantly reminded us that everything he taught could be summarized by one verse in the Bible: Micah 6:8,” said Sam Millen, a pastor of two churches in Virginia who began studying at the seminary in 2004.
Micah 6:8 reads, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
“But,” Millen said, “it wasn’t until several years later when I faced a huge ethical dilemma in the real world, far from the comfort and security of a seminary classroom, I really got to know Dr. Kiš.”
Millen approached Kiš with the dilemma. Kiš calmly and kindly explained that none of his options were good, and even warned that other people might judge harshly having never walked in his shoes.
“Dr. Kiš did everything he could to provide me with the best thinking available — including consulting with another ethicist — while demonstrating compassion and empathy,” Millen said. “My story was not just another case for him to solve. He cared deeply about me as a person. Dr. Kiš was there for me when it mattered most, and I will always be grateful to him for that.”