Van Til, Cornelius 
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Time Period
5/3/1895  - 4/17/1987
Description
Originally affiliated with Princeton Seminary, Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) left to join J. Gresham Machen’s Westminster Theological Seminary as the first professor of apologetics where he remained until his retirement in 1972. During this time, he left his Reformed church to join the newly formed Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), a denomination whose constituency was largely connected to Westminster.

Known as a pioneer in Christian apologetics, Van Til published numerous influential works, including The Defense of the Faith (1955), where hallmarks of his thought can be found. His well-known transcendental argument for the existence of God argues that in order to make sense of things, the God of the Bible has to be presupposed. Even arguments against the existence of God require the presupposition that God exists in order for them to be coherent. This position is part of a broader framework known as presuppositionalism, which Van Til pioneered.
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Narrative
Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), Dutch-American Reformed theologian and apologist, was born in Grootegast, The Netherlands, on May 3, 1895. At the age of ten, he and his siblings moved with their father Ite, a dairy farmer, and mother Klazina to Highland, Indiana. Van Til attended Calvin Preparatory School (1914) and graduated with a bachelor's degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1922), a school of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). He studied for one year at Calvin Theological Seminary before transferring to Princeton Theological Seminary, where he obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in theology. While in seminary he married Rena Klooster. In 1927, he earned a PhD from Princeton University for a dissertation on idealism called "God and the Absolute."

After his doctorate, Van Til pastored the CRC church in Spring Lake, Michigan, from 1927 to 1928. He returned to New Jersey in 1928 as an instructor in apologetics at Princeton Seminary. In 1929, upon the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), Van Til joined the new faculty as its first professor of apologetics where he remained until his retirement in 1972. Though Van Til spent much of his life in the CRC, he transferred his membership to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), a denomination founded in 1935 whose constituency was largely served by Westminster. Van Til became a leader in the OPC, and engaged in an infamous controversy with philosopher Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985) over the doctrine of God.

As a Reformed apologist Van Til was influenced by the thought of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) and Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) of the Free University of Amsterdam, as well as B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) and Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) of Princeton Seminary. Though he would later turn critical of it, the Reformational Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) and Dirk H. Th. Vollenhoven (1892-1978), with whom he coedited the journal Philosophia Reformata, also shaped his thought.

Significant Contributions to Christianity in the United States

Van Til is considered to be a pioneer of a brand of apologetics called presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism emphasized what has been called the transcendental argument for the existence of God. Building on the work of philosophers from Aristotle to Kant, Van Til’s transcendental argument argued that in order to make sense of things, the God of the Bible has to be presupposed. Even arguments against the existence of God require the presupposition that God exists in order for them to be coherent. Therefore, he maintained that the only "proof" of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of "proving" anything at all.

Van Til’s work is at times difficult to read. It has been the task of disciples like John M. Frame and the late Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) to give clarity to his thought. Many of Van Til’s books were published course syllabi. The Defense of the Faith (1955), where hallmarks of his thought can be found, is his most important writing. Van Til was an early American critic of Karl Barth (1886-1968) and wrote against the Swiss theologian in The New Modernism (1946) and Christianity and Barthianism (1962). In 1971 a number of friends and critics produced a Festschrift for Van Til entitled Jerusalem and Athens (1971) that began with his essay "My Credo," which is often credited as a gateway into his thought.
Religious Groups
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Photographs

Cornelius Van Til portrait- Wikimedia Commons- photo by Rcuswalk

Cornelius Van Til reading- Wikimedia Commons- from The Works of Cornelius Van Til, 1895-1987, CD-ROM
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Ian Hugh Clary

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