Suaviter in Modo, Fortiter in Re

I’ve been reading John Muether’s excellently engaging biography of Kees Van Til for the American Reformed Biographies series. There has been so much that challenges, convicts, and encourages. Though introduced early on, one idea that Muether brings out was Van Til’s ability to be suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. Broadly rendered as “gentle in manner, forceful in deed,” Van Til’s personal interactions and writing were a demonstration of this truth. One student, Grady Spires, is recorded as noting, “I recall his [Van Til] debating liberal and neo-orthodox champions at Boston University. He graciously, respectfully, but incisively told them that they were going to hell.”[*]

A real mark of this quality is when the compliment is paid by opponents, and not just comrades. It is one thing to be self-congratulatory, and quite another when even your adversaries note your ability to be strong in substance while delicate in communication. Evidently, this was true of Van Til. Though he was no presuppositionalist, Lewis Smedes praised in him, “it is possible to be profoundly critical of all compromises with the truth, and yet always cum suaviter modo” (209). Continue reading