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Dr. Loraine Boettner:  the Layman’s Theologian

Shirley W. Madany

            Dr. Loraine Boettner, born at the turn of the 19th century, was called to be a layman’s theologian.  Born on a farm in Northwest Missouri and graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, he went on to Princeton for his theological training.  He studied under the famous Dr. C. W. Hodge.  He knew personally Gerhardus Vos, Machen, Warfield, and Murray.  After teaching Bible at Pikeville College, Kentucky, and residing in Washington, D.C. he returned to Rock Port, MO.  There he lived in a little white house, in a town with a long list of Boettners in its telephone directory.

            My husband and I visited Dr. Boettner in the summer of 1981 when we made a detour south, en route from Illinois to Utah.  Dr. Boettner had been our friend for 25 years.  In fact this kindly gentleman had played an important role in our lives as the first link in a chain of events which launched Bassam as a pioneer Arabic radio broadcaster.

            In 1955, we reluctantly returned to Canada from Syria when a leftist take-over of the government made mission work virtually impossible.  Our hearts remained fixed on the Arabic-speaking world, but we had no idea just what our life work was going to be.  In Winnipeg, Manitoba, Rev. Madany found temporary work with the Canadian Bible Society.  He was already an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

            One day we received a letter from Dr. Boettner.  He had read an article by Bassam describing the great need for Christian books in Arabic.  He was asking if we would be interested in starting some translation work beginning with his Studies in Theology.  He said that he would gladly help to finance the project.  We were delighted, as Dr. Boettner’s writings were ideal for translation.  But we warned him it would be some time before we could get started as we were saving up to buy an Arabic typewriter—at that time something very expensive, as it had to be custom-built (the carriage would move from right to left!)  His immediate response was—“Order that Arabic typewriter right away and I will pay the full cost!”

            We have worn out several typewriters since that time and that original one has been donated to the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois, as we considered it to be a treasured historical artifact.  Our typewriters have advanced beyond plain electric models and eventually we switched to an Arabic computer donated by another visionary Christian. 

            We have never ceased to marvel at the way God uses His faithful people to carry out plans of which they are unaware.  Unknowingly, by providing the typewriter, Dr. Boettner was responsible for Rev. Madany ultimately being a radio missionary in the Arabic language.  The example of one person, spending most of his life in a very small mid-western town, becoming the catalyst in a new missionary venture, should be a source of inspiration to other Christians.

            After the first Arabic translation of Boettner’s writings was published in Winnipeg, a copy of it was given by a friend (another story) to Mr. Playfair, the head of the Sudan Interior Mission at that time.  He was hunting for someone who could prepare broadcasts in Arabic for the new missionary radio station ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) in Monrovia, Liberia.  Another link in the chain!  The Christian life can be exciting.

            I always imagined that Dr. Boettner’s house would have a room full of books and a typewriter in a prominent place.  It did!  During our visit, Dr. Boettner showed us many translations of his books.  We handled Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Arabic translations.  Besides his Studies in Theology, he is well-known for his thorough study of The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, and his very popular study of Roman Catholicism.  Other books he has written are The Millenium and Immortality.

            That first book, produced in Winnipeg became one of our standard books entitled The Inspiration of the Holy Bible.  Later we published two other books, The Person of Christ and The Atonement, again based on Dr. Boettner’s Studies in Theology.

It was typical of this saintly gentleman, that a note should appear at the beginning of most of his books which read:  “Anyone is at liberty to use material from this book with or without credit.  In preparing this book, the writer has received help from many sources, some acknowledged and many unacknowledged.  He believes the material herein set forth to be a true statement of Scripture teaching, and his desire is to further, not to restrict, its use.”

            We thank God for this wonderful Christian author and fellow worker!

Just for background to this story we would explain that we were enroute to Logan, Utah to spend some weeks in a university apartment, sharing in person to person contact with Mideasterners.  This was possible because so many students from the Middle East were studying at Utah State University.  We had two sons studying there as well and one of them provided us with important contacts.  They frequented his “book table” where he provided Scripture and material in three languages:  Arabic, Turkish and Persian.  1981 was not a year that we could travel safely to the Middle East.  The civil war in Lebanon had been wreaking havoc for six years.   Thus our sojourn at Utah State University allowed us to mix  with a microcosm of the Arab world amongst its students, with the added advantage of  freedom.

            When we returned home to the radio work, the preparation of messages, and the reading of mail, one of the first letters we received was from a group of young people in Algeria.  They lived in a remote Algerian village and had formed a “school of the Messiah.”  They wanted more materials to help them “to proclaim God’s saving Word.”  These 42 people had been organized for two years, in a location where there was no possibility of any mission work.  The broadcast was reaching them daily, even when we were in Utah.

            Literature and radio went hand in hand in those days when the mail to Arab countries was still reliable.  Thousands of copies were successfully mailed to all parts of the Arabic-speaking world.

(This article was first printed in The Missionary Monthly of November 1981 under the title “Links in God’s Chain.”)