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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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Must Reading -- Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman

Van%20Til.jpgAlthough 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!

Reader Comments (19)

Kim: Need I say that John Warwick Montgomery also does not "have an Arminian bone in his body." That book looks like it might be worth a read.
May 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercharlie
"How could Van Til be a Kuyperian and defend antithesis, and yet take a different approach to common grace?"

I really want to wrap my brain around that one.

I hope to get to Muether's book this summer. Thanks for the prompt Kim.

May 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kurschner
Van Til-admiring site; visit, please,
May 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBryan
That book has already made my summer reading list (now to take th eplunge and purchase!).

Speaking of "cultural engagement" and transformationalism, Meuther's recent comments in the NTJ about how this current book of his is performing along side Keller's "The Reason for God" had me laughing out loud. A perspective like Meuther's is priceless for various reasons.

Those are great dots to get connected; I look forward to it. Here is another dot I hope Muether connects: if VT was such a churchman, what's up with the street preaching?
May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Thanks! Now I'm intrigued!
May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Hey Zrim; you posted:
Speaking of "cultural engagement" and transformationalism, Meuther's recent comments in the NTJ about how this current book of his is performing along side Keller's "The Reason for God" had me laughing out loud. A perspective like Meuther's is priceless for various reasons.

Would you like to fill us in why that is so "pricelss and had you laughing out loud?

Yes, I'm serious; I know I am not the only in the dark.

Thanks Zrim
May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

I don't have my NTJ on me at the moment; if you can wait, I will have to bring it in tomorrow and quote it for you.
May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
If anyone is going to read this book, they absolutely must read some of the criticism surrounding Muether's handling of the history of Van Til.
This book specifically addresses some of the points mentioned here and engages with Muether's writings on the subject.
For a sampling,

I appreciate that you put "rationalism" in quotes, Dr. Riddlebarger, since Clark was not a rationalist at all. He simply opposed Van Til's irrationalism.
May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon
Yes, and I'll look forward to it...
Thanks Zrim
May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

In the most recent Nicotine Theological Journal, in a column called "Oviedo Diarist: Tim and Me," Meuther is comparing the relative performance of his VT book to Tim Keller's "The Reason for God." He briefly sketches out how he and Keller taught at WTS/P and went their separate ways as careers often do. Keller went off to be a "superstar, high profile and heavily endowed ambassador to the Big Apple," while Meuther went to "the sectarian isolation of the OPC."

Twenty years later Keller remains in Manhattan, Meuther outside Orlando. Keller's "TRFG" has hit number 7 on the NY Times Best Seller List, while Meuther's once reached 43,527 on

Here's what had me howling:

(For a time Amazon invited web customers to buy both books for $31.46. Lest readers trust Amazon's sense of the affinity between these titles, they should also know that Amazon suggested that purchases of my book might also be interested in "Weight Loss 4 Idiots" and "NCAA Footbal Ringtones.")
May 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Kim, I would love to read some of the answers to those questions, particularly "How could Van Til be a Kuyperian and defend antithesis, and yet take a different approach to common grace?"

I'm in Richard Mouw's class right now and he is a very big Kuyperian.
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Wells

Yes, it shows in his authorship of "The Evangelical Manifesto," which might suggest more of a neo-Kuyperianism.
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Hey Zrim good buddy,
You posted:
A perspective like Meuther's is priceless for various reasons.

Care to enlighten me?

Secondly, you referenced your book.
What book is that?

Thanks Zrim
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

I am not sure where I referenced "my" book; I don't have one (!). But any and all references to books in this thread were intended to refer to either VT's, Muether's or Keller's.

As far as my quip...I guess I meant his old-school Presbyterian perspective generally and his contented understanding of how good books (like his) just don't translate well in the world's eyes more specifically. You know, theology of the Cross applied and all that.
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
My bad Zrim.

How could Van Til be such an icon for some and such a beast for others who all are in the Reformed Branch of the church and all profess that the system of doctrine taught in Scripture is contained in the Westminster Standards?

In such a branch that looks for precision, how could he be so loved and so despised?

Someone must be wrong here...
May 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterIvan

He overstates his case with rhetorical flourishes to make his case, that's why I think people either love or hate him. If you love him, you tone down his statements and give him the benefit of the doubt, if you hate him, you just think his rhetorical statements are crazy.

May 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Wells

Yea I'd love to hear what Riddlebarger thinks of the Evangelical Manifesto... Are you going to post on it, Kim?

May 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Wells

Not much . . . So I won't be commenting upon it. As you well know, I'm a confessional Reformed Christian and a "two-kingdoms" guy. The "Evangelical Manifesto" is not even on the radar for me. Read article 36 of the Belgic Confession. It does not express a full-blown map for interacting with culture, but it does give me my basic categories.

Furthermore, the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord's Days 7, 23, 24) and the Belgic Confession, (articles 20-24) are a much better (and clearer) summation of the biblical teaching about the gospel than that found in the "Evangelical Manifesto."
May 31, 2008 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger

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