31 Days, 31 Books
The first time I saw a listing for the book The Reformed Doctrine of Presdestination by Loraine Boettner, I thought, “It’s a good thing that woman reformed that awful doctrine.” At the same time, it certainly did not sound like a book I would be even remotely interested in. After all, how could anyone, as in any Christian believe in predestination?
Several months later, I inexplainably began reading Loraine Boettner’s book Studies in Theology. It was, from my perspective of time, Boettner’s chapters on the person and work of Jesus Christ and on the Trinity that sent me down the road to Reformed theology. It was the listing of Scripture after Scripture on the nature of God that brought me humbly before the authority of Scripture. If a person reaches a point where the autonomous claims of human reason and fierce pride are subdued, the teachings of Scripture on God’s Sovereignty begin to fall in place.
After reading Studies in Theology, I picked up The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination with a willingness to compare the book with Scripture and let the truth fall were it would. One of my early reactions was to accept the teachings, but to be disappointed that it was so. Coming to understand the theology of the Reformation was a major turning point in my life. My own conversion was a series of dawnings. I was never in serious doubt about Christianity, just woefully ignorant and indifferent. The dawning of Reformed theology suddenly put a much greater centrality to the claims of the Faith.
Many years later, in 1995, my family (which was Stephanie, Nick, and me at the time) was traveling home from an ACCS conference in Moscow, Idaho. We were coming down through northern Missouri when I saw a sign for the town of Rock Port. What a flood of thoughts and emotions went through my mind. Loraine Boettner had lived much of his life in Rock Port, Missouri. For many years, he lived on a farm there, and from there, he shipped copies of his books at give-away prices to interested inquirers all over the country. I ordered directly from him on several occasions, and each time, he would type out an encouraging letter and enclose it with the shipment.
Below are a couple of excerpts from an article I wrote some years back called “A Dutchman and a German,” which was about Dr. Boettner and Dr. Cornelius Van Til.
Boettner began publishing his books in the 1930s. Van Til slowly began putting his lectures into print in the 1940s. It is doubtful that either man or their publisher ever saw any financial gain on their writings. Any chance of a profit was offset by the tendency both had to give away or sell at discounted prices their works.
Their benchmarks of success would not come until around the 1980s. That was thirty to forty years after their books hit the shelves. Many best sellers came and went during those decades. Many authors enjoyed lots of fame and influence. Yet, I doubt that any two authors were ultimately more important than these two.
In short, Boettner taught his readers how to believe and Van Til taught his students how to think. Boettner wrote in a plain simple style with numerous Scripture references, abundant quotations from theologians, and unadorned, unapologetic Calvinistic doctrine. He synthesized the Princeton tradition, adding little in the way of original exegesis or insight, and taught a Calvinistic soteriology and a Postmillennial eschatology.
His major book was The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The book began with a defense of Scripture and the Sovereignty of God. From there he tackled the Five Points of Calvinism, point by point, verse by verse, precept upon precept, leaving no Calvinistic stone unturned. The next section of the book answered the common objections to Calvinism. Then for good measure, he devoted one of the last sections to the history of Calvinism.
Anyone who became familiar with Calvinism through this book also became much more familiar with the Bible. Boettner both printed and referenced numerous texts to buttress each point he made. The reader also became familiar with the “who’s who” of Reformed theology. Of course, Calvin himself was quoted, as was the Westminster Confession of Faith. But other theologians, such as Benjamin B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, and Louis Berkhof were among the key thinkers that Boettner referenced.
For many of us, books like Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine came into our lives after we had been saved. Few of us were self-consciously Arminians. Many of us first reacted to Boettner’s gentle persuasion with much hostility. In time, the trickle of Bible verses became a tidal wave, and the arguments we hastily erected against Calvinism came crashing down. The dawning in our hearts of a knowledge of the sovereignty of God was a grand experience.
Likewise, Boettner’s treatment of history opened the door for more study. Boettner’s coverage of Calvinistic influences in history is poorly documented at points, occasionally totally incorrect, and sometimes a bit inflated. He was blazing a trail, not smoothing a road. Others have built upon and improved his labors.
Very simply summarized, here is what Boettner accomplished:
First, Boettner caused readers to re-examine and carefully study the Scriptures. For me personally, I learned how to study the Bible from his book Studies in Theology. Reading Boettner never pulled the reader away from the Bible, but rather grounded him in it.
Second, Boettner compared his writing to a bouquet of flowers collected from the garden. By this, he meant that he had simply gathered the insights of great theologians. He did what good teachers always do: teach great insights with clarity and continually point the students to sources for yet more insights. So personal libraries that began with a Boettner book soon grew to include books by the key names in Reformed theological history.
Third, through this method, Boettner caused Christian men to love reading good books of theology. No doubt there really are dry, dusty theological tomes, but superceding those works are the great Calvinistic works that still surge with a love of God and truth and conviction of Scripture and Reformed teachings.
Fourth, Boettner impressed upon his readers the importance of studying church history. Perhaps more than any other theological tradition, Calvinism honors the past. A Calvinist who does not love history, if such exists, is an oxymoron. And due to Boettner’s brief survey of Calvinism in history, many of his readers have fleshed out the details and built upon his summary.
Finally, Boettner awakened many to the splendor of the sovereignty of God in salvation. When I first saw the title The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, my thought was that predestination surely seemed like an idea that needed reforming and I hoped this lady named Loraine succeeded at changing it. The book not only corrected my understanding of who the author was, but it changed virtually every point of my previously misdirected theological compass.