The Works of Cornelius Van Til
By James Anderson
According to one leading Reformed theologian, Cornelius Van Til is “the most important Christian thinker of the twentieth century.” If that’s an overstatement, it’s a forgivable one. Van Til’s thought was profound, innovative, and provocative. He wrote voluminously, and his most prominent publications have been variously engaged, praised, and condemned by Christian scholars from practically every point on the theological spectrum. His ‘presuppositionalist’ Christian philosophy with its sharp distinction between analogical thought (”man thinking God’s thoughts after Him”) and autonomous thought (”man is the measure of all things”) has wide-ranging implications for many other disciplines: apologetics, education, systematic theology, biblical hermeneutics, scientific inquiry, counselling — indeed, for any area of human study and endeavour one cares to mention.
In 1997 Logos published The Works of Cornelius Van Til on CD-ROM in their Logos Library System format. For those of us with a more than passing interest in Van Til’s thought, this was a gift from the heavenlies. A labour of love by Eric Sigward (who must have spent hundreds of hours assembling, editing, and formatting its content) the CD-ROM contained 29 of Van Til’s books (including both editions of The Defense of the Faith) and over 200 other articles, pamphlets, reviews, and unpublished manuscripts. It also boasted over 50 hours of audio recordings. In addition to this wealth of content, the Logos Library System provided a fully indexed search facility that enabled complex searches for words and phrases (e.g., display every paragraph in which Van Til used the phrase ‘natural theology’ near the word ‘Arminian’).
At this point, I have to make a shameful confession. The Works of Cornelius Van Til has been utterly indispensable in helping me to sustain a wholly undeserved reputation. By serving as the moderator for the Van Til email discussion list for 8 years, and the maintainer of www.vantil.info for 6 years, it seems I’ve inadvertently given people the impression that I’m an ‘expert’ on all things Van Tilian. (Sadly, this is far from true, but I’ve been reluctant to come clean on the matter until now.) As a consequence, with some regularity I get emails asking me what Van Til thought or wrote on such-and-such a matter. Without the Van Til CD-ROM, my ignorance would be manifest; but with its help, I’m invariably only minutes away from an answer that makes me look like the world’s greatest living authority on the Dutch Calvinist philosopher.
“Can you tell me what Van Til had to say about the New Testament canon?”
“What’s Van Til’s take on the Sermon on the Mount?”
“Did Van Til ever interact with Dietrich Bonhoeffer?”
No problem! (Click, click, tappety-tap, click.) You want citations with that?
Imagine then my delight on learning that Logos have issued an ‘enhanced edition’ of The Works of Cornelius Van Til. All the original content has been preserved, but also updated to take full advantage of the Libronix Digital Library System (the successor to the Logos Library System). The material has been arranged into 40 volumes to facilitate navigation and searching. Furthermore, the new edition includes thousands of indexed hyperlinks to other Libronix resources, such as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Barth’s Church Dogmatics. By means of the same technology, it is now possible to find out — in a matter of minutes — in which of his writings Van Til interacts with, for example, Calvin’s discussion of the sensus divinitatis or Barth’s treatment of the doctrine of Scripture. Provided that no one reads this review, I’m confident that my ill-deserved reputation as a Van Til scholar will be secure for many years to come.
Whatever one thinks of Van Til’s work, there’s no denying that The Works of Cornelius Van Til is a fantastic resource. At the time of writing, Logos are offering it on sale at a substantial discount, but I’ve been told that if readers of this review use the magic coupon code ‘VANTIL’ they’ll receive a further 25% discount when they order the product before 31st July 2008. And those who own the original Logos version of the CD-ROM are entitled to a free upgrade. What more could one ask for? (Did someone say, “The Collected Works of John M. Frame”? Volume 1 is already available; 2 and 3 are the pipeline.)