Cornelius Van Til

Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til, 91, professor emeritus of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, died April 17 following a lengthy illness.

Van Til, who was born in the Netherlands, emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 10. Although he held degrees from Calvin College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Princeton University, Van Til said studying “was not easy.… Having grown up on the farm [near Highland, Ind.], I was used to weeding onions and carrots and cabbages. It was hard to adjust to classroom work.…”

He pastored a Christian Reformed Church in Spring Lake, Michigan, in 1927 and 1928, and taught apologetics at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1928 and 1929. He served as professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1929 until he retired in 1972. His published writings include The New Modernism; The Defense of the Faith; and Christianity and Barthianism (all published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co.).

Van Til is perhaps best known for his development of a new approach to the task of defending the Christian faith. He focused his apologetic on the role of presuppositions; the point of contact between believers and unbelievers; and the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian world views. Two of his best-known students are Carl F. H. Henry, former editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, and the late Francis A. Schaeffer, whose books popularized some of Van Til’s ideas.


Record Prison Population

The number of inmates in federal and state prisons reached a record high last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Since 1980, the prison population has increased by 66 percent, to a total of 546,659. The increase for last year was 8.6 percent, the highest annual increase since 1982.

The number of women inmates has grown at a faster rate than the number of men, with a current female prison population of 26,610. Seventeen states reported they are holding prisoners in local jails because of prison overcrowding. State correctional institutions are estimated to be operating at between 106 percent and 124 percent of their capacities, with federal prisons operating at 127 percent to 159 percent of their capacities.


Declining Divorce Rate

The nation’s divorce rate fell to 4.8 per 1,000 people last year, dropping to the lowest level since 1975.

Jeanne E. Moorman, of the U.S. Census Bureau, cited two trends as possible causes of the recent leveling of the divorce rate: couples are older when they first marry; and social attitudes toward maintaining marriages are changing. “There seems to have been a period when divorce was the easiest answer,” Moorman said. “Now there is more of a feeling that people should try harder, should work more at it. Marriage is important, and we should not be giving up so easily.”

In addition, she said, “marriages that occur later seem to be more stable marriages, and the consequence is the stabilizing of divorce rates.”

In a study published earlier this year, Moorman and fellow statistician Arthur J. Norton found that divorce was most likely for women who first marry while still in their teens and for those who give birth within seven months of marriage.


Eastern College President

Roberta Hestenes, director of Christian formation and discipleship at Fuller Theological Seminary, has been named president-elect of Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.

An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Hestenes is the first non-Baptist to be nominated as president of the college, which is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. When she assumes the post in August, she will also become the first woman to head an evangelical liberal arts college in the United States.

In a related development, Robert Campbell, general secretary of the 1.5 million-member American Baptist Churches, was named president-elect of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Previously both the seminary and the college were headed by Robert Seiple, who is leaving to become president of World Vision U.S.


Briefly Noted

Appointed: Ronald J. Sider, as executive director of two related organizations: Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA,) a nonprofit educational group, and JustLife, a political action committee. He replaces Bill Kallio at ESA and Jack Smalligan at JustLife, both of whom will resign in September. Sider said he sees his new posts as an opportunity to “pull together a critical mass of Christian leadership in a sane, balanced, biblically consistent prolife attempt to influence public policy.” He will continue as professor of theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Died: J. Edwin Orr, 73, president of the Los Angeles-based Oxford Association for Research in Revival, professor emeritus of the history of awakenings at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a recognized authority on revival and spiritual awakenings; of a heart attack, April 22, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Ordered: Effective July 1, all foster-care agencies that do business with New York City must begin providing contraception and abortion services in group foster homes. The order, upheld last month by a federal district court judge, includes foster homes run by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. John Cardinal O’Connor has said repeatedly that he will withdraw 2,500 beds from the foster-care system if the archdiocese is forced to provide family-planning services.

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