Boettner: "the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man."

Dr. C. Matthew McMahon writes the following concerning  Loraine Boettner:  

“In 1925 he furthered his education while attending Princeton. In 1928 he received his Th.B, and in 1929 his Th.M. While attending Princeton he found the flavor of Calvinistic doctrine to be sweet. While on summer break in his second year he devoured Hodge’s Systematic Theology volumes two and three. After being so influenced by Hodge’s teaching, the urge to write his Master’s thesis on predestination became apparent. While attending Princeton he studied under Hodge’s grandson, Casper W. Hodge. His influence strengthened Loraine in the Reformed doctrines. Loraine also met occasionally with another mentor/friend named Samuel G. Craig, editor of The Presbyterian. Craig and Boettner would meet for dinner to discuss the latest happenings at the college between the liberals and the Reformed influence of Machen.

After graduating Princeton, Loraine began teaching at Pikesville Presbyterian College in Eastern Kentucky until 1937. While at this school he met his wife to be, Lillian Henry. They married in 1932. He also published Reformed Doctrine of Predestination in 1932; this was an exceptional year for him.

From 1935 to 1939 Loraine worked with Dr. Allis on a magazine called Christianity Today. This was not in any relation to the magazine of today. In 1937 he began working at the Library of Congress and the Bureau of Internal Revenue; he had left the teaching position at Pikesville. Though working in an environment which was not related to Biblical studies or Theology, he still continued to write producing many books at this stage of his life. Here he revised the ‘Reformed Doctrine of Predestination’ from his original thesis word count being 8,000 words, to the revised count of 30,000 words.”

Dr. Curt Daniel writes:

“Boettner was a student who graduated in the last class at Princeton Seminary before the split with Machen. It comes as a great surprize [sic] to readers of his books that he has never been a pastor or theologian (though he did teach religion briefly at a Christian college). In other words, Loraine Boettner has been a ‘lay theologian.’ And yet his Calvinistic influence has been great” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 168).

Loraine Boettner from his popular The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination:

“The true solution of this difficult question respecting the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man, is not to be found in the denial of either, but rather in such a reconciliation as gives full weight to each, yet which assigns a preeminence to the divine sovereignty corresponding to the infinite exaltation of the Creator above the sinful creature” (p. 208).

Ironically Boettner DENIES the sovereignty of God by AFFIRMING the “freedom of man.” Let’s take a look at the following passage of Scripture to see the “full weight” of mans’ supposed “freedom.” Let us take to the Scripture to see if there be any truth to this alleged “full weight of reconciliation”:

“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger! And My fury is the staff in their hand. I will send him against an ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath. I will command him to plunder, and to strip off spoil, and to trample them like the mud of the streets. Yet he does not purpose this, nor does his heart think so. For it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off not a few nations. For he says, Are not my commanders all like kings? Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is Hamath not like Arpad? Is Samaria not like Damascus? As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols (for their carved images excelled Jerusalem’s and Samaria’s); shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols as I have done to Samaria and her idols? And it will be, when the Lord has broken off all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will visit on the fruit of the proud heart of the king of Assyria, and on the glory of his lofty eyes. For he says, I have worked by the strength of my hand and by my wisdom; for I am wise. And I take away the borders of peoples, and have robbed their treasures. And like a mighty one, I put down ones living in it. And my hand has found the riches of the people. Like a nest, I also have gathered all the earth, as forsaken eggs are gathered. And there was not one moving a wing, or opening a mouth, or one chirping. Shall the axe glorify itself over him chopping with it? Or shall the saw magnify itself over him moving it? As if a rod could wave those who lift it. As if a staff could raise what is not wood!” (Isaiah 10:5-15).

Isaiah 10:5-15 remarkably distinguishes the True and Living God from all idols. Specifically this passage draws a sharp line of distinction between the God of the Bible who actively controls man — thus no presumed “freedom of man” — and the “god” of fashionable Calvinism who passively "leaves man to his own sinful devices.” For Isaiah 10:5-15 to agree with such popular Calvinist notions as a “permission of sin” and a “passive decree,” the axe would have to be “efficaciously permitted” to swing all by itself. Boettner and his cadre of Calvinists are in league with the king of Assyria with their proud hearts and their lofty eyes who magnify themselves over the One moving them (Isaiah 10:15).

Isaiah 10:15 clearly teaches that God IS sovereign and man is NOT free. The idolaters object by saying that man is not an automaton and is greater than an axe that is swung or a piece of clay that is molded (cf. Romans 9:20-21). It’s interesting how I’ve never heard them say that God is greater than a woodsman or is greater than a potter. 

Now obviously figures of speech are LESS THAN what they represent, NOT GREATER. And therefore man is GREATER THAN an axe and God is GREATER THAN a woodsman. But the analogy or figure of speech is to be taken as a whole and in doing so we see a woodsman swinging (God) an axe (man). And thus God has GREATER control over man than a woodsman has over an axe. The reality of God’s sovereign control IS STRONGER than the figure, NOT WEAKER. Contrary to the view of most Calvinists, Isaiah 10:15 teaches that God is MORE sovereign than the woodsman, not LESS sovereign than the woodsman.

Another thing I find interesting is when some idolaters object that man is not a “mere automaton.” And I say of course he isn’t since that would mean man is a spontaneous self-mover! There is much irony in this objection since the predominant Calvinist position implies that man is functioning as a “partial” or “modified automaton” in his committal of specific sins since these sins are said to be “willingly permitted” by God rather than actively caused by God.

[1] An important distinction must be made here. Most Calvinists would agree that natural man does NOT have the free will to choose good, to choose the true God, and to choose to believe the true gospel. They will even say that God must CAUSE a person to choose good, to choose the true God, and to choose to believe the true gospel. BUT when it comes to natural man’s ability to choose what kind of evil to commit, they will say that natural man DOES have free will and that God does NOT cause a person to sin. So while said Calvinists would strongly DENY that man is “a self-moving automaton” in choosing the good, their doctrine ardently AFFIRMS that man is “a self-moving automaton” in choosing the specific evil he will commit (see:

Boettner provides us with a nice illustration of how he understands “divine sovereignty and human freedom”:

“While the act remains that of the individual, it is nevertheless due more or less to the predisposing agency and efficacy of divine power exerted in lawful ways. This may be illustrated to a certain extent in the case of a man who wishes to construct a building. He decides on his plan. Then he hires the carpenters, masons, plumbers, etc., to do the work. These men are not forced to do the work. No compulsion of any kind is used. The owner simply offers the necessary inducements by way of wages, working conditions, and so on, so that the men work freely and gladly. They do in detail just what he plans for them to do. His is the primary and theirs is the secondary will or cause for the construction of the building. We often direct the actions of our fellow men without infringing on their freedom or responsibility. In a similar way and to an infinitely greater degree God can direct our actions” (p. 209).

There you go. Hey Calvinists. What think ye of that illustration? Is it not damnably idolatrous in the extreme? Axes all by themselves are swinging. Saws apart from a sawyer are sawing. Clay pots by themselves are forming. It’s quite the understatement for me to say that Boettner’s illustration puts forth a vaunted view of the creature and a denigrating view of the Creator. Regarding the illustration Boettner had said:

“In a similar way and to an infinitely greater degree God can direct our actions” (p. 209).

So there’s Boettner’s view of “the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man” (or something). Behold! The Reformed doctrine of “the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man” in all its resplendent glory and marvelous magnificence! Witness the “glory” and “magnificence” of vaunting axes, of self-moving saws, of recalcitrant rods, of sovereign staffs! Hey. Wait a minute. Where’s the “sovereignty of God” in all of this autonomous prancing and dancing? 

Isaiah with the PERTINENT question:

“Shall the axe glorify itself over him chopping with it?” (Isaiah 10:15)

Boettner (and like-minded Calvinists) giving the POMPOUS answer: “Yes. It. Shall.”