Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was a Southern Presbyterian pastor, Confederate soldier, and seminary theology professor. He was also a venomous white-supremacist. Though he died over a century ago, in the 1960s his reputation was rehabilitated when Iain Murray and the Banner of Truth republished his writings and commended him to a new generation of Reformed Evangelicals in America. As a result, a number of leading evangelical figures began to read, cite, and commend Dabney to their followers. Only recently has the problematic elements of his thought, including his white-supremacy, been acknowledged. This page is an index of a number of articles and compilations of sources I’ve written on Dabney and his legacy.
Robert Lewis Dabney: Primary Sources
Start here if you’ve never encountered Dabney’s racist views, and are wondering “what’s the big deal?”
In 1851, Dabney published these letters. I transcribed them and made them available for the first time.
My thoughts on Dabney’s letters.
Dabney’s views on the Civil War shine a spotlight on the failure of White American Christianity.
Shows how Dabney distorted the book of Philemon to mean the opposite of what it says.
Review: Ecclesiastical Relation of Negroes: Speech of Robert L. Dabney, in the Synod of Virginia, Nov. 9, 1867, Against the Ecclesiastical Equality of Negro Preachers in Our Church, and Their Right to Rule Over White Christians
This one address encapsulates everything that is wrong with Dabney.
Dabney wrote two articles on Black churches and Black theology — I transcribed and made them available here for the first time.
From 1876 to 1879, Dabney wrote several articles on the topic of education and public schools. This gives the historical context for that conflict.
In 1875 and ’76, Bennet Puryear wrote several articles opposing Black education, using some of the most vile white-supremacy I’ve ever seen. Dabney endorsed these articles, and used them as a springboard for his own article “The Negro and the Common School” published in 1876.
This piece is a great example of first-generation Lost Cause propagation, the way the ideology was formed, preserved, and passed down.
Dabney’s book has been recommended as a great book on reformed theology. This review examines the historical context and material in the book.
Reception of Dabney: Contemporaries
After his death, Dabney’s sons collected several of the commemorative articles and addresses in this volume to honor their father.
Thomas Cary Johnson wrote a 600 page biography of Dabney after he died. Here’s my review, and a few other reviews of the book.
Warfield reviewed a number of Dabney’s works over the years, and this post collects those reviews in one place.
Warfield has been praised for his courageous stance on racial issues; considering his treatment of Dabney, and contrasting him with contemporary Francis Grimké complicates the picture.
Chester was one of Dabney’s students, and is the source for an interesting anecdote about Dabney as a professor. Chester himself is a fascinating study of white-supremacy and Presbyterian leadership.
R. J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction
Dabney was a major influence on R. J. Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstruction movement. This post documents that influence in their Journal.
Iain Murray and Banner of Truth
Iain Murray’s biography of Dabney white-washes his white-supremacy, and passes on the Lost Cause myth of the Civil War and slavery.
Banner of Truth claimed that Bavinck endorsed Dabney as a “leading theologian.” That turned out to be an embellished claim, due to their partnership with Mississippi segregationists.
No one has done more to supply Reformed evangelicals with Dabney’s works than Banner of Truth.
“One of the wonderful old past generation American preachers was a man named R.L. Dabney. And reading him is always refreshing.” – John MacArthur
Douglas Wilson describes Dabney as one of “the men I am most indebted to philosophically.” Others have loved Dabney for his Reformed Theology, but Wilson loves him for his views on slavery, too.
Shows how Dabney has been commended to educators interested in Christian Classical education.
John Piper and Desiring God
John Piper first cited Dabney in his dissertation, and then recommended him for decades in his books and on Desiring God’s website. This series of posts documents and wrestles with this.
Providence is No Excuse
Providence is No Excuse (on DesiringGod.org)
This was the article that started it all, demonstrating that racism was not a category separate from Dabney’s “good theology” but rather infected it.
Some people didn’t appreciate the DG article (above). This was my response to some of their objections.
One objection in particular kept coming up; this post addresses it.
Another author claimed that I had bordered on denying “justification by faith alone.” He’s since deleted the post.
In 2018, Zachary Garris reprinted four of Dabney’s “greatest essays” on “biblical hierarchy.” Several of the essays are filled with white-supremacy and pro-Confederacy. I do not recommend the book.