We recently had the pleasure of meeting author John Muether when he stopped by our store. John is a Westminster Theological Seminary alum and at one time served as the seminary’s librarian. He is presently Librarian and Associate Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. In addition, he is the denominational historian for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
We were delighted that John agreed to answer a few questions about his new biography, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman.
WTSBOOKS: Why is it important for anyone interested in Van Til’s teaching to know about his life as well? Is your book trying to bring out an important connection between the two?
John Muether: Van Til’s apologetic methodology often strikes readers as philosophically abstract and detached from everyday life. But a study of his life reveals how his methodology developed out of concrete ecclesiastical and theological settings in which he was called to minister. The establishment of Westminster, the identity of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Barth’s influence upon American Protestantism, and the evangelical renaissance after World War II – all of these gave shape and direction to Van Til’s teaching.
WTSBOOKS: What was the most surprising thing about Van Til you discovered in your research?
JM: I was struck by how close a tie Van Til maintained with the Christian Reformed Church throughout his years as an Orthodox Presbyterian. He was courted several times to teach at Calvin College and Seminary. These were agonizing decisions for him, and readers will discover that he determined to remain at Westminster for some surprising and unexpected reasons.
WTSBOOKS: If Van Til were with us today, where do you think he would see the most crucial battle lines being drawn? What issues might he be addressing that were perhaps not front-and-center in his own day?
JM: Van Til would see many contemporary issues as different fronts in the same battles that he was facing in his day. If he were not such a humble man, Van Til might exclaim, “I told you so!” in surveying recent theological trends. For example, at the conclusion of his study of the Confession of 1967, his predictions regarding the future of the mainline ecumenical movement are frighteningly accurate. (His imaginary “Confession of 1987” between Protestants and Catholics is a mere seven years off from the 1994 document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”)
WTSBOOKS: What do you hope the average reader of Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman will take away from your book? What effect do you hope it might have on the church?
JM: My hope is that readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of why Van Til believed that as long as we are church militant, Machen’s heirs still must serve as warriors for the Reformed faith.
WTSBOOKS: If Van Til were alive today, what would he find most impressive about Westminster Seminary in 2008?
JM: For many years Van Til’s followers struggled to obtain his unpublished syllabi, and he exerted tremendous amounts of time, effort, and personal expense to see that inquirers would get his materials in a timely and inexpensive way. If Van Til visited WTS today, he would be awestruck at the speed and efficiency of wtsbooks.com. I can imagine his lament: “Where were you in the 1960s when I needed you?”
Leave a comment