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Dabney’s Systematic Theology – A Review by Paul Wells

Author
Category Book Reviews
Date November 30, 2007

R. L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology1 was first published in 1871. The first Banner of Truth edition appeared in 1985, and has been reprinted a number of times by the Trust.

Robert Dabney is generally considered, with his senior contemporary, J. H. Thornwell, the second great theologian of the Southern Presbyterian Church2 in the USA in the latter half of the last century. Pastor, sometime chaplain to Stonewall Jackson, whose biography he wrote at the request of his widow, Dabney was later professor at Union Seminary and a founder of Austin Theological Seminary.

A man of monumental culture, taking part in the major debates of his day, he could cut and thrust theologically with the best. His Systematic Theology went through six editions until 1927. The Banner of Truth reprints of the second edition of 1878 have made a treasure available once more.

The work reflects Dabney’s unique classroom style, which involved entering dialogue with the great thinkers of the reformed tradition and polemics with those outside it. Dabney focuses on the major expositors for each topic discussed. Turretin, Hodge and Edwards receive ample attention and when Dabney takes issue with those opposed to his Calvinistic convictions, as often is the case, he does so with acumen, respect and fairness. He strives to give the complete picture, and no difficulty is shirked. However Dabney was no servile follower of the reformed line. In these discussions, his first concern is always with what Scripture says, and how the reformed tradition may have obscured it. When he thinks Scripture requires it, Dabney makes no bones about taking Hodge or Turretin to task. Then his originality can be most stimulating. For instance, in the debate over supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism (concerning the place of the fall of man within the divine decrees), Dabney bluntly states that ‘this is a question which ought never to have been raised. Both schemes are illogical and contradictory to the true state of the facts, although the infralapsarian position is more honorable to God’. Would that Barth had read Dabney!

If this point seems esoteric, it indicates Dabney’s attention to detail and for this reason he can be read with profit on almost any subject.

By no means light reading, Dabney leaves us with the impression that for all our seeming sophistication, much theological teaching and discussion of the present must count as impoverished by these standards.

Notes


    • price £18.00

      Description

      R. L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology1 was first published in 1871. The first Banner of Truth edition appeared in 1985, and has been reprinted a number of times by the Trust. Robert Dabney is generally considered, with his senior contemporary, J. H. Thornwell, the second great theologian of the Southern Presbyterian Church2 in the USA in […]


    • price £13.50

      Description

      R. L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology1 was first published in 1871. The first Banner of Truth edition appeared in 1985, and has been reprinted a number of times by the Trust. Robert Dabney is generally considered, with his senior contemporary, J. H. Thornwell, the second great theologian of the Southern Presbyterian Church2 in the USA in […]

Another work by Dabney published by the Trust is Evangelical Eloquence

Dr. Paul Wells teaches Systematic Theology and Apologetics at the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence, France.

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