Monsters have played a large role in my life the past few nights. Or, rather, in my granddaughter, Amelia’s – which amounts to the same thing. So, I am going back to something I wrote several year ago and just picking it up mid-stream. It is an excerpt from our first July 4th celebration in the U.S.
Cornelius Van Til was a famous professor of systematic theology and apologetics in Westminster Seminary over thirty years ago. John Frame, a current theologian in Presbyterian circles, was one of his students. (As was Francis Schaeffer)
“Strings of balloons – red, white and blue- stretch high into the sky. Finally, one too many is attached and the whole string floats away. Fun to see how long I can keep an eye on them.
Boats and yachts are beginning to fill the Tennessee River adjacent to the park. Eventually, our section of the bridge – the whole thing for that matter – becomes crowded. I try not to think of the structural issues that prevent it from carrying vehicular traffic. (How much do all these people weigh, relative to cars and trucks?)
We turn our lawn chairs around to avoid the sun as it gets lower in the sky and starts to shine in our eyes. A man comes by and asks whether he can set up his lawn chairs right behind us.
My name is A— A—and I am an adjunct professor at Covenant College. We chat and quickly realize we know many of the same people. He studied under Professor Van Til at Westminster Seminary and begins to tell us stories about him.
One: Students, I have just two requirements for essays that you write for me. First, they must be good. Second, they must be long….But, Sir, what is long?….I once gave a student an ‘A’ for just a ten-page paper. And if you think you can do as well as Johnny Frame….
Two: A— A—, as a student, decided he would play a trick on Professor Van Til….He knows he never really reads those long papers. In the middle of his essay, he puts the following sentence: If you read this, I will buy you a chocolate ice-cream cone – then goes on with the text of his essay. He hands it in, and Van Til decides to mark it on the spot. He shuffles through the pages at a superhuman rate, then writes something, hands it back, and goes off to his next class. As does the student. When he eventually has a chance to look, Professor Van Til has written, I prefer strawberry.
Three: Professor Van Til has retired. A— A—, now working at a local bookstore to fund seminary, is surprised when he comes in to buy children’s books. Van Til and his wife have no children, no grandchildren. Yet he is buying Mother Goose, fairy tales, children’s stories of all types. Eventually he decides to ask, Why? …When my wife and I were young, there weren’t such stories for us. During my teaching years I did not have time to read them. Now my wife and I sit together at night and we take turns reading them out loud.
Four: Professor Van Til is old. He no longer has the mental ability he did while younger. People still want to meet him but they are told not to tax him too much. Yet on this evening, someone does. He is asked a difficult theological problem. He replies, If you look at my book—–on page—–you will find the answer to that question. I can no longer give it. He is not embarrassed or defensive. At the end of the evening, he wants to pray. And he prays for each of the young men he has just met by name and by country.”
Final comment: That is living well.