Although this is a busy time of year for me, I was finally able to get to the one book I've been dying to read--John Muether's biography of Cornelius Van Til (John R. Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman, P & R, 2008).
I won't bore you with another book review. There are several outstanding reviews already. But I will, however, exhort you to get this book and read it! Thanks to John Muether, I was at long last able to connect a bunch of dots that I had never been able to connect before. Not only that, this is a well-written and appreciative look at very complicated and important man.
There's a reason why this book was so helpful to me. Back in the day when I was making the difficult transition from dispensational evangelicalism to Reformed theology, I'll never forget finding these ugly gray syllabi by some "Dutch guy." The clerk at the venerable "Christian Discount Book Center" in Norwalk, CA. (which introduced countless Southern Californians to Reformed theology), told me this stuff was must reading. I bought and read Van Til's Defense of the Faith, and came way with far more questions than answers. Van Til's Survey of Christian Epistemology was next. Now, that was a tough read for a newbie.
To make a long story short, I ended up studying under John Warwick Montgomery (at the now defunct Simon Greenleaf School of Law) before attending the brand new Westminster campus in California in 1981 (at Montgomery's urging, by the way). At Westminster Seminary California, I learned Van Til at the feet of John Frame. Given my personal interest in Old Princeton (generally) and B. B. Warfield in particular, I found myself in an apologetic "no-man's land" of sorts. I knew Warfield, Machen, and Van Til did not have an Arminian bone in their bodies. Hence, Van Til's critique of Warfield struck me as odd. I also knew that Montgomery's apologetic was more like Warfield's and Machen's than Van Til's. I had read enough of Van Til to know that Frame had modified Van Til significantly. Then, there was Francis Schaeffer. Frame and Montgomery loved him (each with some methodological concerns). But Van Til had grave reservations. Confused? I was.
I ended up teaching apologetics for a number of years at Simon Greenleaf with Montgomery, Walter Martin (a big fan of J. O. Buswell), Harold Lindsell, and of course, my dear friend Rod Rosenbladt. Listening to these men talk about their personal affection for both Buswell and Gordon Clark (while dismayed about their "rationalism") was interesting. Van Til was universally praised for his response to Barth, but his apologetic "under-appreciated" Christian evidences.
So with that bit of history and with my "unconnected dots" in mind, I ran into Muether's fine book. Among the connections Muether made for me:
- Why Machen hired Van Til for the new Westminster Seminary, if he opposed VT's apologetic methodology.
- Van Til is an intellectual child of Geerhardus Vos, not A. A. Bowman, the idealist philosopher at Princeton.
- Why Van Til ended up in the OPC and not the CRC.
- Why Van Til was nervous about Gordon Clark's greater allegiance to a broader evangelicalism than to a confessional Reformed church.
- Why Van Til saw Barth's neo-orthodoxy as the greatest menace to Reformed confessionalism. Much of what Van Til argued about Barth was vindicated, yet Van Til himself realized his short-comings in dealing with Barth.
- Why was Van Til so put off by cultural engagement?
- How could Van Til be a Kuyperian and defend antithesis, and yet take a different approach to common grace?
- When I first heard it, Van Til's concern about confessional Reformed churches becoming enamored with a broader Reformed-evangelicalism struck me as hyper-critical. Now, I think VT was absolutely correct!
- Van Til's rejection of theonomy and postmillennialism, in light of professed theonomic support for Van Til's system.
- Van Til's role (or lack thereof) in the Shepherd controversy.
- Van Til's worries about Schaeffer's alliance with evangelicals in the culture war.
- Finally, while Van Til was a churchman, why did he (and those who are confessional) seem so out of place?
As I say, there is much here to think about. That is why I urge you to read this book.
And thanks to John Muether for connecting so many dots!