Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: American Reformed Biographies - Robert Lewis Dabney

The other night I finished the biography on Robert Lewis (R.L.) Dabney written by Sean Michael Lucas as part of the American Reformed Biographies series. After having this book on my "wish list" for quite some time I went ahead and purchased it at Reformation Heritage Books for $10, which was a great deal considering this book is offered on other book sites for $24.99. The book is printed by P & R Publishing Company in hardcover and is 295 pages in length.

The book is divided into eight chapters that trace the life of R.L. Dabney. Some of the notable themes/subjects covered includes Dabney's missionary work in Louisa County, Virginia, his time as a pastor at Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, his time as a professor at Union Seminary, his time as a chaplain and chief of staff to Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War, his fight to preserve Old School Presbyterianism in the South, his controversial views on race and union with the North, and his time in Texas living in "exile."

The book is written in an easy to read manner that keeps the reader engaged and interested in the material presented. The author presents a fair picture of Dabney and discusses things about him that were admirable, while also not shying away from offering criticism of Dabney when warranted. This book definitely made me interested in reading more about R.L. Dabney and I wouldn't mind picking up Dabney's five volume set that is published by Sprinkle Publications.

Here are some of the endorsements found on the back of the book:

 "The nineteenth-century Southern Church boasted intellectually and morally impressive men who exercised considerable influence over political and social life. Among them, none overmatched Robert Lewis Dabney as a theologian, teacher, and social critic. Sean Lucas has provided a long-needed critical study of this great if problematic man, thereby illuminating our time as well as his"
- Eugene D. Genovese, past president, The Historical Society
"A model biography - Accurate, interesting, sympathetic, and critical. Dr. Lucas has mastered his material, and the result is a portrait of Dabney that will live on. Not only do we come to know the great Virginian better in this book, but we also are given a wonderfully nuanced treatment of the political, intellectual, and ecclesiastical climate of the nineteenth-century South."
- David B. Calhoun, Professor of Church History, Covenant Theological Seminary
"Lucas's brisk, delightfully clear writing masks the great difficulty of his achievement. He gets closer to the ideal of objectiveity than Dabney's contemporaries - let alone Lucas's own contemporaries - could probably imagine. This book is a tremendous feat of Scholarly labor and intellectual discipline."
- David l. Chappell, author of A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion an dthe Death of Jim Crow
"An important resource. Lucas draws on the many sources for knowledge of Dabney's life and thought, places him squarely in his historical setting, and appropriately blaances and relates the biographical and theological parts of his task. he also points out, and wrestles ably with, some of the knotty questions that Dabney's story and his legacy still pose for his present-day admirers and critics."
- Jack P. Maddex Jr., Professor of History, University of Oregon

If you are interested in learning about one of the great leaders of the Southern Presbyterian church I recommend checking this book out. It provides a historical account not only on the life of one of the South's greatest theologians, but it also provides great insight into the relationship of the northern and southern Presbyterian churches during the Civil War era.

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