Cornelius Van Til - Reformed Apologist and Churchman
John R Muether
(Published by P&R American Reformed Biographies Series)
I doubt that there are many that have not heard of Cornelius Van Til - although,
I suspect in many quarters that the basic system of his apologetic argument is misunderstood.
Van Til (1895-1987) taught apologetics at Westminster Seminary in the United States.
Westminister Seminary was an offshoot from Princeton Theological Seminary. Princeton
is rightly famous in reformed theological circles for its Professors like J.A. Alexander,
Charles Hodge and Samuel Miller. After the First World War, Princeton still boasted
a world class theologian in the form of Benjamin B. Warfield, yet after his death
in the early 1920s, a number of its faculty felt that the historic stance that had
made the institution famous had been swept away by a tide of liberalism.J. Gresham
Machen was one of the founding fathers (perhaps, the founding father) of Westminster
Seminary. Machen took a clear stand in the 1920s and 30s against the growing tide
of liberalism within the American Presbyterian Church. In his attack on liberalism
he wrote the book 'Christianity and Liberalism' where he demonstrated that liberalism
was another gospel. The early faculty over which he presided contained Ned Stonehouse,
O.T. Allis, P. Woolley, C. Van Til, J. Murray and A. MacRae.The volume begins by
charting the routs of Cornelius Van Til in the Netherlands. It gives a brief tour
of Dutch Church history down to the rise of Kuyper (1837-1920) and the Doleantie.
This is useful as it links some of the seemingly novel features of Van Til's thought
to traditional Dutch Reformed dogmatics and theologians like Herman Bavinck. This
passage on Dutch history then shows the migration to America and the vast influx
on areas like Chicago and Indiana, just after the civil war. It is interesting to
note the reflections of the author on the standards of the Christian Reformed Church
and what areas of practical life were viewed as vices (theatre, dancing, cards etc..
)and what passed as being just fine (smoking and drinking).The book charts the rise
of Westminster and the close friendships between Van Til and Machen, Prof. Murray
(Westminster) and Prof. Berkhof (Calvin). It has interesting insights into the controversy
with Gordon Clark. His ongoing controversy and clashes with Barth. His attitudes
towards moves within the OPC towards greater Evangelical union. His brother being
drawn into the views of Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Church - and
the debates that it provoked on the Free Offer/Common Grace. Towards the end of his
life, Van Til was becoming more estranged from Westminster - he did not warm to the
ecumenism of Pres. E. Clowney. The book presents a Reformed Apologist and a Churchman
who defended a traditional Reformed Calvinistic position in so many areas of life
- his apologetic approach is part of this witness that is often sadly misunderstood.
I hope that this book goes some way to reviving interest in him