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Remember the Antithesis!
In 2005, P&R Publishing initiated a series of American Reformed Biographies. The series got off to an excellent start with Sean Michael Lucas' Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life, followed by D.G. Hart's John Williamson Nevin: High Church Calvinist. The high expectations set by the first two installments are more than met by this splendid study of the life of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), who taught apologetics for a little over four decades at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Full disclosure, for what it is worth: as a college student, I wrote letters to Cornelius Van Til on several occasions, and he always responded. This book even mentions my name in passing as one of the people with whom he had maintained a correspondence. Van Til not only answered my letters, he also sent me free of charge many of his books, syllabi, and pamphlets. And I read them all.
Reading the things that Van Til sent me was my introduction to Reformed theology, especially of the Dutch Calvinist variety. That's how I first learned the names of theologians—Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, Klaas Schilder, Benjamin Warfield, Herman Dooyeweerd, E.J. Carnell and others—who, along with Van Til himself, came to influence my theological development in signficant ways. While I did not remain a consistent "Van Tilian," he set the agenda for many of my key theological and philosophical interests, and I still detect his influence on my way of viewing things. So I was immensely pleased when this new biography of Van Til appeared.
John Muether has done a particularly good job of making a scholar's life interesting—typically a daunting challenge for the would-be biographer—and he has done it by portraying Van Til's career in a larger-than-the-academy context. For one thing, the polemics for which Van Til is well known were not simply arguments that are "contained" within the academy. Michael Hakkenberg made this point nicely in an essay he once published ...