Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898) was a Presbyterian theological and educator who served on the faculties of Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, the University of Texas, and Austin Theological Seminary. Those who knew him–both friends and foes–viewed him as larger than life, “closer to a biblical prophet than a theological professor,” writes Sean Lucas.
As this biography explains, “Dabney was far more complex than either historians or admirers concede.” He was “in many ways a representative man, one who embodied the passions and contradictions of nineteenth-century Southerners.” As such he “provides a window into the postbellum Southern Presbyterian mind” and a reminder of how important nineteenth-century theology is for contemporary issues and debates. Because the past is parent of the present, recognizing Dabney’s flaws can help us implement the biblical motto on his tombstone: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Before the Civil War, Dabney was a sectional moderate, but he soon became a Confederate sectionalist, serving as chaplain in the Confederate Army and then as an officer under General Stonewall Jackson. Dabney’s systematic theology text was used at Union for more than forty years after his death. In the 1980s, publishers began to reprint this and other works.
Dabney has been described as an “apostle of the Old South,” a perception that may explain why this biography is the first of this key nineteenth-century leader in more than one hundred years. It is also the inaugural volume in the American Reformed Biography series.