The Influence Of Idealism On the Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til -- By: Timothy I. Mcconnel
JETS 48:3 (September 2005) p. 557
The Influence Of Idealism On
the Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til
Timothy McConnel resides at 338 4th Avenue NE, Sioux Center, IA 51250.
Cornelius Van Til completed his doctoral work at Princeton University in 1927 with a dissertation entitled "God and the Absolute," in which he argued that the God of Christian theism could not be identified with the Absolute of philosophical idealism.1 A couple of years earlier he had completed his Th.M. at Princeton Theological Seminary, with a thesis entitled "Reformed Epistemology."2 In spite of the close proximity and historical relationship of these two institutions, they were clearly distinct, with the seminary then being a much more conservative institution. The philosophy department of Princeton University at that time was under the direction of the British idealist Archibald Allen Bowman. Van Til's own interest in philosophy, and in particular idealism, had begun during his undergraduate days at Calvin College. There the philosophy department had consisted of only one instructor, W. Harry Jellema, who was himself only a couple of years older than Van Til, and was at the very beginning of his teaching career.3 Jellema began teaching at Calvin in 1920, while working on his dissertation on Josiah Royce at the University of Michigan, which he completed in 1922. One of the textbooks which he used for the undergraduate courses in philosophy at Calvin was F. H. Bradley's Appearance and Reality, to which Van Til would continue to refer in his later writings on idealist philosophy.
With this background and interest it would be expected that philosophy would play a major role for Van Til in the development of his apologetics. That it does, but in this case it was not an uncritical appropriation. Rather, it will be shown that a major part of his apologetical endeavor can be seen
JETS 48:3 (September 2005) p. 558
as directed against philosophical idealism. On the other hand, his interest in philosophy and background in idealism helped him frame some of the basic questions his apologetical approach attempted to answer.
The thesis of this article is that idealism provided Van Til a framework for problems to be dealt with, and thus provides a reference for understanding his apologetical approach. However, this usage of idealism also provides a potential limitation on the continuing applicability of certain aspects of Van Til's apologetics.
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