Item description for Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (American Reformed Biographies) by John R. Muether...
Overview This work contributes to an understanding of Van Til and his apologetic insights by placing him within the context of 20th century developments in North American Reformed theology, including the formation of Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the rise of neo-evangelicalism, and American reception of Karl Barth.
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Studio: P & R Publishing
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 1" Width: 6.25" Height: 9" Weight: 1.25 lbs.
Release Date Mar 31, 2008
Publisher P & R PUBLISHING #97
Series American Reformed Biography
ISBN 0875526659 ISBN13 9780875526652
Availability 0 units.
More About John R. Muether
Muether is Associate Professor of Theological Bibliography and research at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
John R. Muether currently resides in Orlando, in the state of Florida.
Reviews - What do customers think about Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman (American Reformed Biographies)?
A Life Remembered Mar 28, 2009
Cornelius Van Til was a towering and controversial figure in 20th century Christian apologetics. He believed that a reformed defense of the faith required a consistently reformed apologetic. Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John R. Muether provides an excellent survey of Van Til's writings and life.
I have read a number of Van Til's books and articles, and find his apologetic approach compelling. This new biography is a helpful review of his theological priorities and public controversies. But I was just as fascinated with Van Til's life - devoted son, husband, and father, and loyal servant of Christ's church, both at the local level and in its ecclesiastical courts.
Muether carefully examines Van Til's personal correspondence and journals. He was frequently wounded by criticism, which strained his health. At times he recognized that some of his responses to criticism were inappropriate (see his debate with William Masselink, p. 160). He wrote in his journal: "We must always speak as those who may be called to give an account any day" (p. 173).
This biography portrays the theological convictions, biblical piety and personal struggles of one of the last century's great Christian intellectuals.
"In isolation, strength"?? Jun 16, 2008
I've been looking forward to this book for quite awhile. Having read the first two volumes in this series, on Dabney and Nevin, I knew this volume would give a solid, fairly comprehensive and sympathetic account of Dr. Van Til, all well-indexed and nicely bound by P & R.
But, similar to my experience with the Dabney volume in this series which I read a few years ago, I finished it feeling less drawn to its subject than before I started.
I am more impressed than ever by Dr. Van Til's commendable traits: his constancy, his discipline, his wide-ranging knowledge. And I remain convinced of the basic rightness of his 'presuppositional' model for Reformed theology. But in these pages I learned that this man was much harsher, divisive, judgmental, and narrow than I previously imagined. The portrait is one of a man who sees all of life as theological combat, and almost everyone, even the most conservative Reformed colleagues, as enemies. He seemed to operate much more out of fear of any diversity of opinion, more than a holy longing for engagement with brothers.
I am familiar with Muether's other historical works. While I appreciate his clear writing style, and his thorough research, I am not very surprised that he celebrates as virtuous some of Van Til's most tragic characteristics.
A few random thoughts: * Did not know the extent to which Van Til had such a wideranging audience among elites who disagreed with him, but respected and listened. This was much truer early on, as van Til's extreme rigidity and his unwillingness to treat his opponents as fairly as he could have, seems to diminished the patience of so many over time. But in 1956 he addressed the faculty of (liberal Methodist) Boston Univ. School of Theology. In 1938 he was given a visiting professorship at one of Hungary's top universities. Barth read his critique of him and commented, as did Torrance and others. No less than five times Calvin College or Seminary tried to recruit him for a professorship. In 1955 Van Til participated in a symposium with Tillich and Nels Ferre' (p. 80). In 1936 Gordon College tried to recruit him.
* Muether locates Van Til's main influences as Calvin's theocentrism, Vos's biblical insights, Kuyper's antithesis, and Machen's confessionalism (p. 18).
* Van Til (persuasively) believed one can not have a Reformed theology without a Reformed apologetic (p. 55).
* Muether convincingly shows that Van Til's value is not simply as an apologist, but as a Reformed theologian.
* Van Til shows no signs of the most minute changes in his theology after age 40.
* Muether and Van Til routinely overuse the word 'heresy' (making their enemies heretics) in regard to theological errors like Arminianism (p. 22).
* Van Til hated 'classical education' because it was as pagan as post-Enlightenment (p. 98; 151).
* Van Til wisely located the big problems of human thought not with the Enlightenment but with the Fall.
* Muether and Van Til seem to celebrate the exodus of 13 of 28 Westminister Board members in 1936. This was exasperation on the board's part over the growing militancy of Machen and Westminister. But Van Til saw this as a welcomed cleansing. Same for the exodus in 1937 of several faculty such as Oswald Allis, Allan MacRae, etc. in two separate schisms. Amazes me.
* Muether positions Van Til as a halfway point between the extremes of upholding common grace and emphasizing 'antithesis' between unregenerate and regenerate. Its as if he were halfway between Herman Hoeksema and Kuyper. But this study shows very little appreciation for common grace in Van Til, and lots and lots of antithesis. He is much closer to Hoeksema than Kuyper!
* Muether and V.T. assume that most of the early premil. people in their Reformed circles (Buswell, MacRae) are 'dispensational' -- a HIGHLY debatable fact (p. 82).
* In debating the value of evidences with Buswell, Van Til does acknowledge value in apologetics such as Machen's which he viewed as doing "partial" work, even if it were incomplete (p. 85-86)
* Repeatedly Muether and Van Til seem unable to conceive of anything that could promote the growth of the OPC or Westminster that would not consequently water down its Reformed witness.
* Van Til convincingly argues that Reformed theology is far easier to defend than a less accurate theology.
* Repeatedly uses terms about Westminster or the CRC or OPC being attacked by 'non-Reformed' when he is referring to VERY Reformed people (like Gordon Clark or Buswell or EJ Carnell or Rev. Robert Strong or Francis Schaeffer or Harold O. J. Brown or Dooyeweerd) who simply disagree on a debatable point with him. Clearly, Van Til thinks he is right, and also thinks that he has Reformed precedent on his side many times, but its alarming that he thinks his opponents are all less than Reformed. Small disagreements with the WCF seem to mark one as "UnReformed" (see p. 105). Likewise Muether is very critical of John Frame's basically friendly engagement with Van Til's thought (p. 106).
* Muether amazingly seems to see teh Gordon Clark trial (whereby a very Reformed man, one who later was asked to speak at Westminster, who used Van Til works in the courses he taught etc.) as a genuine high point in Van Til's career and in the OPC's history! (see pp. 107-9 "finest moment").
* For Van Til his distinctives as absolute core essentials. (see p. 111).
* Amazingly I learn that the term 'presuppositionalism' is coined by Allan MacRae (!!!)... p. 113.
* Van Til seemed to think that all attempts at cultural or ecumenical engagement in the OPC were plots to steer it in a "less than Reformed direction" (p. 117, and p. 137).
* Van Til saw Barthianism as not a corrective or supplement or varient on Reformed theology, but a radical break from calvinism (p. 122). He sees it as a "thin sheet of dogmatic asphalt" over the problems of modernity (p.136).
* When Van Til's father dies on the same day as FDR, Van Til remarks that one went to heaven and the other did not (!) p. 130.
* Van Til seems to stand in constant, even when sometimes quiet, judgment fo all his orthodox, Reformed, presuppositional colleagues. Clowney he mistrusts as a sell-out. Ditto for Ned STonehouse's efforts to get the OPC in the ICCC. EJ Yong is not sufficiently Reformed to write a short popular apologetic. Etc. Muether hints that all the later Westminister developments that claim Van Til (Adam's nouethic counseling, Harvie Conn's missiology, Frames apologetic refinements, etc.) are suspect (p. 223). Only John Murray seems blameless. And (surprisingly) Norm Shepherd, perhaps the only person accused of heresy in Westminster or the OPC that Van Til DEFENDED.
* Van Til's "bellicose" manner is even treated as virtuous (p. 224).
* Van Til is repeatedly depicted as humble, and certainly that seems to be a part of his personality. He refuses honors such as being moderator of the OPC. (Though we can wonder if this is more due to shyness or busyness than humility!). BUt he also comes off as very proud in ways that Muether will not acknowledge -- He impossibly brags in 1967 that he has 'never unlearned the ability to speak the simple person's language" p. 142 (Van Til was a famously unreadable writer!)....In his last days Van Til laments that a generation has grown up at Westminster who "knew not Van Til!" His constant criticism of colleagues and others who are mostly on his side.... all signs of tremendous pride...
* William Masselink argues that Van Til fails to distinguish between 'total depravity' and 'absolute depravity' (p. 162). There's Van Til antithesis again.
* It is possible that Muether has shaded Van Til slightly more militant than other biographers might.
* When the story ends with van Til in his early 90s imagining a great estrangement with Westminster, this seems inevitable.
I recommend this book. Full of great data and insight on a truly great man. But its tragic how Van Til's militancy muted what could well have been a much more powerful voice for Reformed theology.
A Definitive Biography of VanTil Apr 11, 2008
My greatest teacher and influence has been a man I never met. When he died in 1987 at the age of 91, I was a mere 14 years old. But though he was dead, he continued (and continues) to speak through his many writings. In my third year of university I encountered his The Defense of the Faith and it rocked my world. Cornelius VanTil deeply impressed me with his passion for the Reformed faith and his eagerness to apply that faith in the area of apologetics (the defence of the faith).
For many years, the only dedicated biography available on VanTil was one written by William White and published in 1979, VanTil: Defender of the Faith. It was authorized by VanTil himself and while interesting and warmly written, it was not exactly an arms-length picture of the man. Moreover, there were both linguistic and factual mistakes that compromised the integrity of the work.
With the publication of Muether's book, we finally have a sympathetic-critical biography of VanTil. While Muether clearly appreciates VanTil and his insights, he also acknowledges his flaws and humanity. He portrays a man whose aim was to be suaviter in modo, fortiter in re (gentle in manner, strong in substance), but one who didn't always succeed. We see VanTil as a redeemed sinner who combined his theological prowess with a simple and child-like faith in Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Muether draws out some interesting and hitherto-unknown (at least to me) details of VanTil's life. For instance, he discusses whether or not C.S. Lewis read VanTil (see page 138). He discusses VanTil's regard for Klaas Schilder (page 177). An elderly VanTil was interviewed about his perspective on the direction the Christian Reformed Church (the church of his youth and early adulthood) had taken up until the late 1970s (page 177) -- his remarks display a lifetime of learned wisdom. Throughout we also get a taste of VanTil's sense of humour.
Above all, Muether carefully exposits the central theme of VanTil's life and thought: the push for consistency: "Consistency lay at the heart of what it meant for VanTil to be Reformed." (p.234). He works out that theme in both VanTil's work as a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and as one of the founding fathers of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Muether succeeds in driving home why VanTil still matters for Reformed believers some 20 years after his death.
Overall good read, perhaps needing a few qualifications Apr 10, 2008
Knowing Mr Muether personally, and considering Van Til a hero of mine, I eagerly awaited this biography for several years. Muether's thesis is quite simple and well-developed: Van Til, despite his apologetical greatness and influence, cannot be rightly understand apart from Van Til's role as a high-churchman. Muether successfully, as far as the evidence goes, defends this thesis.
Despite the wide influence of Van Til: the entire OPC, Greg Bahnsen and John Frame's ministries, and anticipating, as scholars now note, elements of a postmodern, non-foundationalism--Van Til has lacked biographers, objective ones anyway.
HIS LIFE Muether does a good job in describing the early Van Til (hereafter CVT). He places CVT in his Dutch context, an element indispensable for understanding the later contexts. I was particularly impressed with his handling of CVT's early farm life. He really did capture the essence of life on the farm.
HIS CONTROVERSIES Muether covers the Clark controversy (defending CVT's defense of the incomprehensibility of God), the Barth controversy (Barth was really a revived liberalism), and the Evangelical controversy (see the nonsense that is any evangelical church today).
A FEW QUALIFICATIONS Muether rightly noticed the connection between CVT and the theonomists. CVT was NOT a theonomists, but--as Muether grudgingly hints--theonomists have been the most vocal and militant and consistent Van Tillians.
While CVT was a Vosian amillennialist, if Vos was really an amillennialist, he did endorse Greg Bahnsen's explicitly postmillennial tape series on Revelation.
CONCLUSION This book was good and well-written. The scholarship was competent and the writing style was fluid.