Review: Muether’s biography of Van Til

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Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman, by John R. Muether

In his biography of Cornelius Van Til, John Muether notes that Van Til suffers the misfortune of either being rejected or misunderstood. Muether has provided a great resource for the church to help us to better understand who Van Til was, what motivated him, and the context in which he served the Lord. Having a better understanding of Van Til the man will hopefully lead many to a greater appreciation of his work.

The subtitle draws attention to the fact that Van Til was not just a theological academic, but most importantly, a dedicated churchman. Throughout the book Van Til’s love for the church is displayed as one of the central motivations of his life. His passion for the local church is clearly shown in the account of Van Til’s first pastorate and his reluctance to accept Machen’s call to join him at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Van Til’s concern for the doctrinal purity of the church saw him at the forefront of several major theological controversies. Muether explains the theological issues at stake and gives insight into the heart of Van Til and the personal toll that these controversies took on him. Though some times reluctant to be involved in controversy, Van Til stood boldly for the sake of the truth.

One of the more interesting aspects of the biography is the focus on Van Til’s Dutch heritage. Van Til was very deeply influenced by Dutch culture, having emigrated from the Netherlands at age 10 and being raised in a Dutch community in Indiana. Van Til’s upbringing in the Christian Reformed Church and his time at Calvin Theological Seminary also steeped him in the Dutch reformed tradition, being heavily influenced by the likes of Kuyper, Bavinck and Vos. Muether presents Van Til’s struggle to integrate into the American context, as he joined WTS and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It is here where I believe that God’s sovereign hand is beautifully at work in the life of Van Til for the benefit of the church, by bringing together the strengths of the great reformed traditions of Presbyterianism and the Dutch reformed in the area of apologetics.

I highly recommend this biography to anyone with in interested in Van Til. Not only is it eminently readable, it is also a spiritually rich biography of a godly man who provides a model for Christian living. In his life and work Van Til strived to live up to his personal goal to be suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. Gentle in persuasion, powerful in substance.

The introduction can be downloaded as a sample from Westminster Bookstore

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3 thoughts on “Review: Muether’s biography of Van Til

  1. SLIMJIM August 2, 2016 / 5:34 am

    I totally love this book! I wrote a review of this many years ago on a facebook app called “Social read” or something like that before facebook deactivated and I’ve lost a lot of reviews back then. But what memories of this I remember is that it was very very insightful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • keesthequokka August 2, 2016 / 7:53 am

      I’ve read it a couple of times now. I think Muether has done a really good job. It sure has helped me to understand the dynamics of the debates Van Til was involved in. Particularly helpful is the explanation of the criticism from the Dutch. The answers to criticism in the Defense of the Faith make a lot more sense now.

      Liked by 1 person

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