Review: Van Til & the Use of Evidence

img_0290Van Til and the Use of Evidences – Thom Notaro

Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions about the thought of Cornelius Van Til. While his detractors have at times resorted to misrepresentations, it seems these misconceptions are also prevalent among those sympathetic to Van Til.

Thom Notaro addresses a common misconception of Van Til in his concise book (127 pages), ‘Van Til and the Use of Evidences.’ Notaro clearly organises Van Til’s view of the role of evidence within a presuppositional apologetic approach. While many perceive Van Til to be against all use of evidence and theistic proofs, Notaro argues that “the uniqueness of Van Til’s system is highlighted by his claim that all facts are revelational.” It is because all facts are revelational that “everything is evidence – every fact, every object, every event properly understood is evidence for Christianity.” The central problem that we face in apologetic discussions is not how clear the facts are, but the nature of the interpreter of those facts. Notaro notes that, “The presence of sin has made the task of interpreting the facts much more complex… The contribution that the nonbeliever makes to the knowing process is not one that is amenable to what the facts say.”

Evidences, therefore, need to placed within a biblical framework. Van Til noted that this must be done by recognising the “basic difference between a theistic proof that presupposes God and one that presupposes man as ultimate.” The Christian is to “present his philosophy of fact with his facts.” In this way “any fact can be the topical starting-point for an apologetic confrontation.”

Notaro also outlines some key aspects of Van Til’s thought, including: the relationship of apologetics to theology, the knowledge that the non-Christian both possesses and suppresses, and the non existence of epistemological neutrality. While this book will not function as a practical guide for using evidences in apologetic discussions, it does provide the reader with a firm foundation on which to build. The clarity and brevity of the book makes it a solid starting point to Van Til’s thought, and will guard the reader against falling into a common misconception of presuppositional apologetics.

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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

Cornelius Van Til – 121st Birthday

Today (3 May) marks 121 years since the birth of Cornelius Van Til. Here are a few somewhat random quotes about a great man.

Evangelist

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“When I determined, as a result of reading Van Til, to attend Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to stay with him for a time. One of the advantages of staying with him was the occasion to walk with him on his ‘daily constitutional.’ After almost thirty years, two things still stand out to me about those walks. (1) Even as an octogenarian, Van Til could maintain a rigorous pace. More importantly, (2) I remember that every one of Van Til’s neighbors, to whom I was introduced by him, said virtually the same thing to me: ‘I suppose he’s talking to you, too, about this Jesus.'”

– K. Scott Oliphint, Van Til the Evangelist

Farmer

“For all his studies, Van Til clung closely to the soil, and few pastimes gave him greater pleasure than harvesting tomatoes. Because the academic life was generally perceived as the vocation of the weak, his neighbors wondered why he was forgoing a successful career in which he was manifestly gifted. ‘Such a good farmer as Kees should not be wasting his time on books!’ many townspeople advised the family. For much of his adult life, Van Til spent portions of the summer months working on the family’s farm, often putting his nephews to shame with his harvesting productivity in the hot August sun.”

–  John R. Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman p.35

Churchman
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“[Orthodox Presbyterians] remember Van Til as a familiar, friendly face at church gatherings – the fellow who washed dishes at congregational meetings so that his wife could vote, the grandfatherly minister who loved kids and told jokes about chickens and such, the flaky professor who threw chalk at wayward students, the kindly man who visited hospital rooms and prayed with strangers as well as friends.”

– John Frame, Selected Shorter Writings Vol.2 p.198

Godly man

“The first six weeks I was in seminary I lived in the home of the Van Tils after which time my wife came with our new baby and we moved to an apartment. What I saw there was only a continuation of what I had seen when Oome Kees was in our home. You were in the presence of a very godly man who felt a deep need for the forgiveness of sins and who in every aspect of his life wanted, out of thanksgiving, serve God with his heart and soul and mind.

His day began with God. His mealtime was not only a time of fellowship but also a time when the Bible or some devotional meditation was read. It was a time when a hymn was recited or sung. That was something Kees and Rena always did together. In letters he refers to singing Psalms in the hospital with Aunt Rena and how when she came out of the anaesthesia of an operation she was singing a Psalm.”

– Robert Den Dulk, The Van Til Family: Humble Beginnings

Husband 


1429211418vantilsanniversary19542“You have been, and are, probably the most remarkable husband I have seen. No one else could have given Rena the care, support, and admiration which you have given her over the years. Time has not dulled your patience and steadfastness. You have thought of her and her welfare over the years and under all possible conditions and have done everything you could to make life possible for her. It has been a remarkable demonstration of Christian love and tenderness and is a pattern that I am sure no one will equal for uncounted time.”

– Paul Woolley in a note to Van Til following the death of his wife Rena.
John R. Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman p.213