Patricia E. Clawson
What do hospitality, fellowship, and counseling have to do with apologetics? Dr. William Dennison believes that Cornelius Van Til’s approach to evaluating men’s thoughts and ideas in light of God’s supernatural revelation helps us to see that Christ must govern every aspect of Christ’s church. It also shows us the way to avoid the secularism that invades the church when we fail to start and end with Christ. Without Christ, we have only our fallible reason to rely on.
Dennison is one of four instructors who will share their expertise at the upcoming Spring 2019 Ministerial Training Institute (MTIOPC). The OPC’s Committee on Christian Education offers these courses to OP ministers, licentiates, men under care of a presbytery, and elders so they can be better equipped to minister to their flock.
Dennison, who was one of Van Til’s last students, has become more and more convinced of the importance and application of Van Til’s biblical apologetic in the life of the church. Too often, Dennison believes, Van Til’s teaching is isolated to an academic view of defending the faith. While many agree that the starting point of conversation with non-believers is Scripture and the Christ of Scripture, Dennison doesn’t want us to stop there. He wants us to see how Van Til’s approach of critical analysis helps us research, read, teach, and preach the biblical text.
In the education that takes place in the church and home, Dennison encourages us to use Van Til’s philosophy of ministry. He wants to show that in our evangelism, fellowship, hospitality, missions, diaconal work, counseling, and even in our Form of Government and Book of Discipline we must and can guard against the secularism that invades the philosophy of ministry.
But you don’t need a philosophical background to take this course. Dennison says that knowing the Bible and our Confessions is the best prerequisite. “It is my goal to assist the student through Van Til’s philosophical language,” said Dennison.
Unlike the view of apologetics that is popularized in some books, Van Til’s doesn’t look at evidence to support the Christian faith based on a neutral view of facts and reason that demands a human verdict for or against Christianity. Instead, he begins with God and the Bible. “The God of the Bible has already put the verdict in place—he is not making a neutral appeal to humanity,” said Dennison.
Van Til’s presuppositional apologetic is more consistent with the Reformed faith because he “takes very seriously the biblical and Confessional understanding of sin and applies it consistently to apologetics,” said Dennison. “In light of the effects of sin, the believer needs the only infallible source for truth to take into the marketplace, that is, the Scriptures.”
Shaw and Dueck
In a two-pronged approach this spring, MTIOPC is offering two courses in Glenside, Pennsylvania—Defending the Faith: Presuppositional
Apologetics, taught by Dennison, and Westminster Standards, taught by Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn—and two courses in Wyoming, Michigan—Reformed Evangelism, taught by Rev. John Shaw and Dr. Eric Watkins, and Homiletics for CHMCE Church Planters, taught by Rev. Douglas Clawson and Rev. Dale Van Dyke.
Westminster Standards was one of the first courses offered by MTIOPC in 1999 because its content has been considered essential for those who serve the church.
When Van Dixhoorn stepped in as instructor, he brought a wealth of knowledge about the Westminster Assembly, gleaned from his research for his five-volume set, The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652. Van Dixhoorn was recently named professor of church history and director of the Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards at Westminster Theological Seminary. Not only will the students study the Confession and Catechisms, they will also learn how to defend those documents from Scripture.
Last summer’s debut of Reformed Evangelism gave its dozen students a lot to think about. The pastors, seminarians, and interns felt like a band of brothers when the class was over, said co-instructor Eric Watkins, especially after going out to evangelize on the Ohio State campus. David Holmlund, one of the participants, has continued to have conversations with a man he spoke with at OSU.
“We were all stretched in one way or another during the class—in good ways,” said Watkins. “Many of the students and pastors were encouraged to go back to their local churches with ideas for how they could do more local evangelism. We pray that God will continue to use it for his glory and the building up of our churches.”
These classes will begin on February 4 with online reading and writing assignments. Then the students come to one of two locations for three days of in-person intensive training, which is mandatory.
Intensive training for Defending the Faith: Presuppositional Apologetics and Westminster Standards will be held on May 14–16, 2019, in Glenside, Pennsylvania.
Intensive training for Reformed Evangelism and Homiletics for CHMCE Church Planters will be held on May 21–23, 2019, at Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan.
Students may apply for these courses at www.opc.org/cce/MTI.html.
Applications, accompanied with a $50 registration fee, must be sent by the January 28, 2019, deadline to:
Committee on Christian Education
607 N. Easton Road, Building EWillow Grove, PA 19090