The Five Points of Calvinism – Robert L. Dabney
Acts 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
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Robert Lewis Dabney was one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 19th century. His work, especially his Systematic Theology, has been highly regarded by scholars from Benjamin Warfield to Karl Barth.
Robert Lewis Dabney (March 5, 1820 – January 3, 1898) was an American Christian theologian, Southern Presbyterian pastor, Confederate States Army chaplain, and architect. He was also chief of staff and biographer to Stonewall Jackson. His biography of Jackson remains in print today.
Dabney and James Henley Thornwell were two of Southern Presbyterianism’s most influential scholars. They were both Calvinist, Old School Presbyterians, and social conservatives. Some conservative Presbyterians, particularly within the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, still value their theological writings.
Robert Lewis Dabney was born on March 5, 1820. He was the sixth child (third son) of Charles Dabney and Elizabeth Randolph Price Dabney. He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1837, and received a master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1842. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1846.
He served as a missionary in Louisa County, Virginia, from 1846 to 1847 and pastor at Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church from 1847 to 1853, being also head master of a classical school for a portion of this time. He is considered a distinguished son of Providence Presbyterian Church. It was at Tinkling Springs that he met Margaret Lavinia Morrison. They were married on March 28, 1848. They had six sons together, three of whom died in childhood from diphtheria (two in 1855, the other in 1862). From 1853 to 1859, he was professor of ecclesiastical history and polity and from 1859 to 1869 adjunct professor of systematic theology in Union Theological Seminary, where he later became full professor of systematics. In 1883, he was appointed professor of mental and moral philosophy in the University of Texas.
By 1894, failing health compelled him to retire from active life, although he still lectured occasionally. He was co-pastor, with his brother-in-law B. M. Smith, of the Hampden-Sydney College Church 1858 to 1874, also serving Hampden-Sydney College in a professorial capacity on occasions of vacancies in its faculty. Dabney, whose wife was a third cousin to Stonewall Jackson’s wife, participated in the Civil War: during the summer of 1861 he was chaplain of the 18th Virginia Infantry in the Confederate army, and in the following year was chief of staff to Jackson during the Valley Campaign and the Seven Days Battles.
Dabney’s designs for the Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church and for two other churches in Virginia are credited with influencing church architecture in Virginia. Three works associated with Dabney are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places: Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church; Briery Church, in Briery, Virginia; and New Providence Presbyterian Church, near Brownsburg, Virginia.
He died on January 3, 1898 due to complications from an acute illness.