After researching the life of van Til, I came to the conclusion that van Til was an interesting personality who definitely belonged to the group of prominent Dutch Americans. Based on just a cursory overview of his background and publications, I initially wondered about the significance of his contributions. But he had been honored with two honorary degrees. There was also a plethora of information on the web regarding the significance of van Til’s contributions to theology, the philosophy of religion, and especially to the field of apologetics. Also, van Til had a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Princeton University, and one year after earning his doctorate, he was offered a professorship in Apologetics at Princeton. So here follows his life story.
Van Til was born in Grootegast, the Netherlands on May 4, 1895. The Netherlands was in a deep economic depression at that time, and economic depressions lead to thoughts of emigration to greener pastures in foreign lands. Not surprisingly therefore, the van Til family, including Ite and Klazina van Til, Cornelius van Til’s parents, decided to emigrate to the United States, and ended up in Highland, Indiana, where van Til’s father eventually became a dairy farmer. Cornelius Van Til himself probably worked actively on the farm during the early years, because he did not enter college until he was in his early twenties. In 1917 or 1918, he entered Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and graduated with an A. B. degree in 1922, when he was 27 years old.
During his college years, van Til had become interested in the more conservative Dutch Reformed theologians, and as a result, following his graduation from Calvin College, he enrolled in Calvin Theological Seminary, affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church [CRC], to prepare for the ministry. During that time there was a religious controversy going on in the CRC, and van Til decided, probably wisely, to get out of the way, and he enrolled in Princeton’s University’s Theological Seminary. From Princeton he earned his Th. B. degree in 1924, his Th. M. degree in 1925, and his Ph. D. degree in Philosophy in 1927. So instead of becoming a teacher or lecturer, he became a minister in a small CRC congregation in Spring Lake, Michigan. It is difficult to question his decision; it might have been a real calling or perhaps, the security of being a minister, was more attractive than the insecurity of being a University lecturer, or perhaps his parents had wanted him to become a minister.
After serving for one year as a minister, in 1928, van Til was offered a position to teach Apologetics at Princeton University. He was able to get a one year leave of absence from his church, and went back to academia, an environment, I believe, he had missed during his small town ministry. After one year of teaching, in 1929, he had planned to return to his Spring Lake congregation. But there was another surprise. Princeton offered him a professorship in Apologetics, an offer that one would think was difficult to turn down. He, did, however, turn down the offer, but not because he felt a need to return to his congregation. Princeton’s School of Theology was going through a religious modernization phase, and the religious orientation was drastically shifting to the modernistic side from the historically more conservative side. After a brief stay with his Spring Lake congregation, van Til joined three other former Princeton faculty members to found the Westminster Theological Seminary, a religiously conservative seminary, in suburban Philadelphia. And that is where he would teach for the next 51 years, from 1929 to 1979. He retired in 1972, but kept teaching until 1979, when he had reached the age of 84.
Van Til would make his name as a specialist in Apologetics. He would become the developer of what is known as Presuppositional Apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for Christian faith. It defends the faith against objections, and exposes the perceived flaws of other world views, and it is primarily based on the preeminence of the Bible, as the criterion for truth. Other types of apologetics are Thomistic Apologetics, based on logical proofs of the existence of God, and Evidential Apologetics, based on archaeological, historical and scientific evidence to support the probable existence of God.
Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics is clearly the religiously more conservative of the three types of apologetics described above. And he would defend his view of Apologetics, for the remainder of his academic career by way of numerous publications described below. Van Til had adopted a methodology from one of his professors at Princeton, Professor A.A. Bowman. The strength of the methodology was its consistency, and van Til would use that methodology throughout his numerous publications to make his theological arguments against many of his critics.
Van Til’s publications are too numerous to list here. Some of the more important ones are: “A Survey of Christian Epistemology”, “Introduction to Systematic Theology”, “Common Grace and the Gospel”, “A Christian Theory of Knowledge”, “The Defense of the Faith”, “The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought”, “Christian Theistic Evidences”, “The Doctrine of Scripture”, “The Sovereignty of Grace: An Appraisal of G. C. Berkouwer’s View of Dordt”, “The New Synthesis Theology of the Netherlands”, “The Case for Calvinism”, “Essays on Christian Education”, “Psychology of Religion”, “The New Hermeneutics”, “The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel”, “Why I Believe in God”, “Paul at Athens”, and “Karl Barth and Evangelicalism”.
In addition to his publications there have been a number of books about van Til. They are: “Van Til: Defender of the Faith: An Authorized Biography”, by William White, Jr., “Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius van Til”, edited by E.R. Geehan, “Cornelius van Til, An Analysis of his Thought”, by John Frame, “Van Til’s Apologetics: Readings and Analysis”, by Greg Bahnsen, “For a Time Such as This: An Introduction to the Reformed Apologetics of Cornelius van Til”, by J. S. Halsey, and “By What Standard?: An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius van Til”, by R. J. Rushdoony. Most of the publications in the above two paragraphs were published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and some by Eerdman’s Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Van Til received two honorary degrees. The University of Potchefstroom in South Africa awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in Theology, and the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in Divinity. During his 51 year tenure at Westminster Theological Seminary, van Til also served as an ordained minister in an Orthodox Presbyterian church in the Philadelphia area.
Cornelius van Til was married to Rena Klooster in September 1925. The couple had one son and they named him Earl. Earl passed away before his father died, in 1982. Earl left his father a granddaughter, named Sharon Reed. Van Til’s wife, Rena, passed away in 1978. Van Til outlived her by nine years, passing away on April 17, 1987, at the advanced age of 91 years, about two weeks short of his 92nd birthday. He had lived a rich life, and had made many contributions to the religiously conservative Presbyterian and Reformed faith.
Cornelius van Til, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Van_Til
Van Til the Controversialist, by John R. Muether, l
“Van Til, Cornelius”, by John Frame, http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2003VanTil.htm
“Van Til, Cornelius” by John Frame,
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DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015