Cornelius Van Til was born on May 3, 1895, in Grootegast, The Netherlands. The Van Tils emigrated to the United States when "Kees," as he was known to friends, was 10. He grew up helping on the family farm in Highland, Indiana where they joined the CRC church. He was married to Rena Klooster in 1925 and they had one son, Earl, who died in 1983. Van Til is survived by a grand-daughter, Sharon Reed of Valencia, PA.
Early on, Van Til took to reading philosophy. Philosophy, though, was not his only literary bent. During his studies in Grand Rapids, the young Van Til studied the works of fellow Dutchman, Abraham Kuyper. From Kuyper Van Til took one of the fundamental principles of his own philosophy, Antithesis. Antithesis to Van Til is the dialectic schism between the regenerate mind and the unregenerate mind. This principle became the mainstay of Van Til's apologetic. "Antithesis must be esteemed and prosecuted in every area of Christian life and teaching."
Van Til, desiring to go into the ministry, studied at Calvin Theological Seminary (also in Grand Rapids). There he came into contact and learned under the teaching of such theologians as Volbeda and Berkhof. After only a year at Calvin, Van Til transferred to Princeton Seminary where he could study under his fellow Dutch emigrant, Geerhardus Vos, whom he thoroughly respected. J.Gresham Machen, B. B. Warfield and O. T. Allis also taught at Princeton.
He was graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the long-time seat of Dutch-American theology [see Vos] (A. B., 1922), Princeton Theological Seminary (Th. B., 1924; Th. M., 1925) and Princeton University (Ph. D. 1927). He served as the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Spring Lake, MI, 1927-28 and was instructor of apologetics at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1928-29. He was professor of apologetics at Westminster, 1929-72. He held an honorary professorship at the University of Debrecen, Hungary, in 1938; the Th.D. (honoris causa) from the University of Potchefstroom, South Africa; and the D.D. from Reformed Episcopal Seminary, Philadelphia.
Shortly after receiving his degree from Princeton Seminary, Van Til accepted a call to pastor a small CRC congregation. Again after only one year in the ministry, His Alma Mater invited him to teach apologetics, and he accepted. Van Til's post at Princeton, however, was short-lived. In 1929, Princeton went liberal, the mainstream liberals in the Presbyterian Church forcing out the orthodox minority at Princeton. Many of the more conservative members of the faculty resigned. Van Til returned to his pastorate. Only one year later, Westminster Theological Seminary was founded by a group of the ex-Princeton professors. Van Til was invited to join.
At Westminster, Van Til became a well-known and controversial figure. The controversies arose on account of Van Til's strongly polemical approach to apologetics. Van Til valiantly attacked the Liberalism which was encroaching in the church. He also criticized members of his own camp: Warfield, Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, even Calvin College. In Van Til's estimation, they were all guilty, at some points, of compromising their theology or inconsistently carrying out their Calvinist presuppositions.
Van Til was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from 1936 until his death. Van Til was also instrumental in the founding of Philadelphia-Montgomery Christian Academy, serving as the president of the board. Begun in September 1942, the school now has over 700 students, K-12, on campuses in three Philadelphia communities: Roxborough, Dresher and Erdenheim.
Van Til is perhaps best known for the development of a fresh approach to the task of defending the Christian faith. Although trained in traditional methods he drew on the insights of fellow Calvinistic philosophers Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd to formulate a more consistently Christian methodology. His apologetic focused on the role of presuppositions, the point of contact between believers and unbelievers, and the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian worldviews.
In an interview with Christianity Today (December 30, 1977) Van Til is stated, "?There are two ways of defending the faith. One of these begins from man as self-sufficient and works up to God, while the other begins from the triune God of the Scriptures and relates all things to him.? The traditional ideas of trying to find some neutral, common ground on which the believer and unbeliever can stand are based on the notion that man is autonomous?[yet] Paul says, all men, knowing God, hold down this knowledge in unrighteousness.? [This knowledge] is the only basis man has on which he can stand, to know himself, to find the facts of his world and learn how to relate them to one another. Without the Creator-God-Redeemer of Scripture the universe would resemble an infinite number of beads with no holes in any of them, yet which must all be strung by an infinitely long string."
Perhaps the greatest Christian mind of the twentieth century, Van Til taught and preached vehemently even to the age of 83. His life was dominated by the cross. Despite his hard liner approach to liberals and sellers-out, Van Til was a humble servant to his Lord, to the church and to his denomination. Dr. Cornelius Van Til, for 43 years professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and emeritus professor there since his retirement in 1972, died at the age of 91 on April 17, 1987. After an illness of several months, death came peacefully at his long-time residence near the campus. He was mourned by the much of the Reformed and Presbyterian world.
Taken from, among others, Archbald Masterton's "Cornelius's Spectacles"