Dr. Oliphint on the OPC
July 23, 2010
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church will be celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in June of 2011. In anticipation of that milestone, the magazine New Horizons is running a yearlong series of historical remembrances. The first of these aricles is by Westminster Faculty member Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics.
Desert Bloom in Amarillo
by Rev. Dr. K. Scott Oliphint
I came to Reformed theology and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on separate tracks that providentially merged. I had become a Christian out of high school, and in college I was taking a philosophy course from a Christian instructor at West Texas State University. During that time, in the fall of 1977, Christianity Today did a cover article on Cornelius Van Til. At that point, I had been reading Francis Schaeffer. In the Christianity Today article, I read that Van Til had taught Schaeffer. I thought I might as well read the guy that taught the guy that I'd been reading. I went down to the local bookstore with the title Defense of the Faith. The guy said, "I've never heard of it." He looked it up and couldn't find it. Finally, he got out the big tome, Books in Print. He said, "Oh yeah, here it is. South New Jersey. It'll take a month to get here." I couldn't wait to get it.
During this time, I was on the Young Life staff, and my Young Life mentor was David Brack, now pastor of Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, Texas. Brack and I were leading Young Life clubs, and I was doing evangelism with unbelievers and getting questions that I wasn't equipped to handle. After Defense of the Faith arrived, I started poring over it. Obviously, I didn't get all of it at once. I would take it to my philosophy professor, and we'd sit over coffee and I'd say, "Read this and tell me what it means." And he'd say, ‘‘I'm not sure what that means." That put me in a quandary. I looked on the back of the book, and it gave the address of Westminster Seminary. And so I wrote to Westminster: ‘‘I'm really wondering if it is possible to ask Van Til any questions, because I'm out here in Amarillo, and no one is able to help me." They sent me a little note saying, "Van Til is just retired and he's happy to get mail and here is his address"—and I'll never forget it—"16 Rich Avenue, Flourtown, PA 19118."
I wrote him a letter: "You know, I'm really struggling with some of the things you're saying here. This is great stuff, but what do you mean by this, this, and this?" A week later, pages torn out of a spiral notebook came in a handwritten envelope. "Here's what I'm saying, please write anytime." His wife had just died, and he wrote, "I'm retired, and I have plenty of time."
I wrote about once a week for a while. I'd be reading along and I'd say, "I don't get it." He'd write back, "Here's what I mean...." He would start articulating things, but at that point he was up in years, so one thing would lead to another in his own mind. I'd have to begin to interpret his letters, like his writings