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Dabney On Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government

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Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was one of America’s greatest theologians. He was a Southern Presbyterian pastor, professor, philosopher, chaplain, church leader, author, and biographer of Stonewall Jackson. Among Dabney’s many gifts was his ability to predict the future, which resulted from his razor-sharp logic and thorough understanding of the world around him. Nowhere Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was one of America’s greatest theologians. He was a Southern Presbyterian pastor, professor, philosopher, chaplain, church leader, author, and biographer of Stonewall Jackson. Among Dabney’s many gifts was his ability to predict the future, which resulted from his razor-sharp logic and thorough understanding of the world around him. Nowhere was Dabney more prophetic than in his writings on public theology, where he sought to apply the Bible to cultural and political issues in society. In addition to an introductory chapter, Dabney On Fire contains four of Robert Lewis Dabney’s greatest essays, in which he expounds upon the significance of parents, the failure of public schools, the dangers of feminism, and the limits of civil government. Dabney’s fiery style shines through, as this first-rate thinker and conservative stalwart puts forth the Bible’s teaching on these issues and critiques his opposition. These essays will inspire parents of young children, equip Christians dealing with secular thought, and challenge all who assume modern views of equality.


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Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was one of America’s greatest theologians. He was a Southern Presbyterian pastor, professor, philosopher, chaplain, church leader, author, and biographer of Stonewall Jackson. Among Dabney’s many gifts was his ability to predict the future, which resulted from his razor-sharp logic and thorough understanding of the world around him. Nowhere Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was one of America’s greatest theologians. He was a Southern Presbyterian pastor, professor, philosopher, chaplain, church leader, author, and biographer of Stonewall Jackson. Among Dabney’s many gifts was his ability to predict the future, which resulted from his razor-sharp logic and thorough understanding of the world around him. Nowhere was Dabney more prophetic than in his writings on public theology, where he sought to apply the Bible to cultural and political issues in society. In addition to an introductory chapter, Dabney On Fire contains four of Robert Lewis Dabney’s greatest essays, in which he expounds upon the significance of parents, the failure of public schools, the dangers of feminism, and the limits of civil government. Dabney’s fiery style shines through, as this first-rate thinker and conservative stalwart puts forth the Bible’s teaching on these issues and critiques his opposition. These essays will inspire parents of young children, equip Christians dealing with secular thought, and challenge all who assume modern views of equality.

40 review for Dabney On Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government

  1. 4 out of 5

    Elijah

    Dabney's sermon on Parental Responsibilities satisfied my curiosity regarding the perseverance of families. For if God, at large, preserves christian families, then christianity truly is a war of none other than fertility as Genesis so commands. For if God preserves individuals, and God preserves the Church, how would he not also preserve families for his divine purposes? For "The Christian family is the constituent integer of the Church," and family units are composed likewise of individuals. H Dabney's sermon on Parental Responsibilities satisfied my curiosity regarding the perseverance of families. For if God, at large, preserves christian families, then christianity truly is a war of none other than fertility as Genesis so commands. For if God preserves individuals, and God preserves the Church, how would he not also preserve families for his divine purposes? For "The Christian family is the constituent integer of the Church," and family units are composed likewise of individuals. His sermon on education was built upon the foundation of the beliefs about parenting. He directly attacked the dichotomy of separation of mental education and spiritual education exposing that debate as "a great gulf fixed." In summary of his arguments, he posits "doubtless God has deposited the duty in the safest place, [parents]." The sections on Feminism and Civil government were of no lesser quality than the first two sections. He linked the roots of Feminism to the Civil War which was a new idea to me and interesting to consider. The relevancy of these writings so many years later is a proof to the insight of a man who could see past his own time and who could logically theorize correct outcomes of certain ideologies pursued to their natural end. As he puts it, "The Creator has made man, in spite of himself, a logical animal; and consequences will work themselves out whether he designs it or not, to those results which the premises dictate."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nash Hawley

    Excellent stuff. This was my first time reading anything by Dabney and I'm now a fan. His stuff on Parenting, education and feminism was very good and provoked a lot of thoughts in my mind. Especially his predictions on the education system, that was spot on to what we are seeing today. His stuff on government was a little more difficult to comprehend compared to the other topics. Overall definitely a high 4 and I intend to read much more about him and more of his works. Excellent stuff. This was my first time reading anything by Dabney and I'm now a fan. His stuff on Parenting, education and feminism was very good and provoked a lot of thoughts in my mind. Especially his predictions on the education system, that was spot on to what we are seeing today. His stuff on government was a little more difficult to comprehend compared to the other topics. Overall definitely a high 4 and I intend to read much more about him and more of his works.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Timothy

    From what I understood he was on point, from what I didn't understand, well I didn't understand it. From what I understood he was on point, from what I didn't understand, well I didn't understand it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kleven

    Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was a 19th century white-supremacist, slaveowner, Confederate soldier, and Southern Presbyterian seminary professor. A generation of reformed evangelicals (including John MacArthur and John Piper) endorsed Dabney for decades for his Calvinist theology, but didn’t say much about his hierarchical views of the family, the church, and society, a view that included endorsing slavery, resisting Black equality, and opposing the right of women to vote. Enter Zachary Garris Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was a 19th century white-supremacist, slaveowner, Confederate soldier, and Southern Presbyterian seminary professor. A generation of reformed evangelicals (including John MacArthur and John Piper) endorsed Dabney for decades for his Calvinist theology, but didn’t say much about his hierarchical views of the family, the church, and society, a view that included endorsing slavery, resisting Black equality, and opposing the right of women to vote. Enter Zachary Garris. Garris considers Dabney to be one of the “five greatest Christian men in history” and thinks that more people need to read him. Garris is not ignorant of Dabney’s views of social hierarchy—in fact, Garris thinks that it is precisely here that our generation needs Dabney the most. In an article titled “Remembering R. L. Dabney,” Garris said this: “Today’s conservatives should take heed of Dabney’s words. If they want to fend off the attacks of leftist progressivism, they must embrace genuine conservative principles. This starts with rejecting egalitarianism in all its forms and embracing the bedrock principle of hierarchy. We will find few defenses of hierarchy better than those contained in the writings of Robert Lewis Dabney.” To that end, Garris has edited this this book, Dabney on Fire, collecting “four of Dabney’s greatest essays,” plus an introduction and a “recommended reading” list. The four Dabney essays are these: “Parental Responsibilities” (1870), “Secularized Education” (1879), “Women’s Rights Women,” (1871), and “Civic Ethics,” (1892, 1897). Garris’s preface explains that he published the book in “an effort to make Dabney’s essays accessible to a wider audience” (vii). Garris thinks these four essays in particular “have significant application for the modern reader”; “the subjects covered are timeless”; they will “challenge all who assume modern views of equality” (vii). Garris lauds Dabney to his readers: “the man was an intellectual giant and a fiery writer. He should not be ignored” (viii); “Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898 A.D.) was one of Americas greatest theologians” (1); “his cultural and political writings read like prophecy. Ultimately, Dabney was that rare figure that the church so desperately needs in our own day—a Christian statesman” (2). Garris lets us know from the first to the last page that this is a book with Southern sympathies. The book is dedicated “To the Southern Presbyterian Church.” His his short book recommendation list includes segregationist Morton H. Smith’s Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology. Garris acknowledges in his introduction that Dabney was a Confederate, but he finds no issue with this: “Yet he has largely been forgotten, dismissed even by Christians because of his association with the Confederacy. However, we ignore Dabney to our own peril. He was both a first- rate thinker and a conservative stalwart” (2). In fact, one reads hints that Garris himself shares some of these sympathies. Garris refers to the American Civil War as “The War Between the States,” an idiosyncratic term used mainly by Confederate heritage groups (3). Confederate general Stonewall Jackson is “one of the greatest men produced by the Old South” (6). Dabney’s 1867 book A Defense of Virginia and through her of the South is “a response to abolitionism and vindication of Southern slavery in light of Scripture” (7). The hint of Confederate sympathy in the introduction is given full throated defense in the essays Garris has collected. “Women’s Rights Women” was published in 1871 just a few years after the way, and Dabney argues fundamentally from a pro-Confederacy position against women’s suffrage. He rages against the “Yankees” who have “destroyed one Federal and eleven other State constitutions, have committed a half million of murders, and (dearest of all) have spent some seven thous­ and millions of dollars” (72). Again: “That mighty tide of progress which has already swept away the Constitution, and slavery, and States’ rights, and the force of contracts public and private, with all such rubbish, will soon dissolve your grievance also” (72). Dabney compares women’s right to vote with another issue he detests: the abolition of slavery, and Black people voting: “It has been decided that all negro men have a right to vote : is not a Yankee white woman with her ‘smartness' and education as good as a stupid, ignorant, Southern black ?” (70); “Its prospect of triumph is greatly increased by this, that its Northern opponents (the only ones who have any power to oppose) have disabled themselves from meeting it by their furious Abolitionism” (74). All of these issues: the Confederacy, abolition, and Black franchise are connected to women’s suffrage for Dabney: “No words are needed to show hence that should either the voice of God or of sound experience require woman to be placed for the good of the whole society in a subordinate sphere, there can be no natural injustice in doing so. But these old truths, with their sound and beneficent applications, have been scornfully, repudiated by Abolitionism and Radicalism. The North cannot, will not, avow and appeal to them, because that would be to confess that the injured South was all the time right in its opposition to Abolition; and the conquerors will rather let all perish than thus humble their pride to the poor conquered victims” (75–76). Even though the essay is, ostensibly, on women’s rights, why waste a good opportunity to disparage Black people? “Nor will there be, under any future circumstances, either leader or party that will risk the odium of a movement to take away suffrage from the incompetent hands of the blacks, however clearly it may appear that they are using it for the ruin pf themselves and the country” (78). These passages are reprinted without comment or caveat from Garris in this remarkable essay. Women’s suffrage will, according to Dabney, “destroy Christianity and civilisation in America” (79). “Civic Ethics” is a bit more philosophical (it was reprinted as a chapter in Dabney’s Practical Philosophy in 1897), but it still contains the same hierarchical views, and the same pro-Confederacy ideology a full three decades after the war. Dabney is sure to get in a plug for “the exercise of their [the states’] constitution right of secession” (99). He again protests against “female suffrage and ‘women’s rights’” (106), and the “American Jacobins” who have bestowed “universal suffrage on negroes” (107). Dabney does not mute his white-supremacy here in comparing Black voters to women: “By what plea can the right of suffrage be withheld from the millions of white American women, intelligent, educated, virtuous and patriotic, after it has been granted as an inalienable natural right to all these illiterate semi-savage aliens?” (107). What does Garris think of Dabney’s racism? Even though Dabney explicitly gives voice to his white-supremacy on multiple occasions in these essays, Garris makes no comment on them either way, neither in the introduction, nor in any of the dozens of explanatory footnotes. However, in response to his article “R. L. Dabney Remembered,” a reader wrote in pointing out Dabney’s racism, and Garris responded there: “There are two issues raised in Mr. Whealton’s response. The first is whether biblical hierarchy extends to racial hierarchy. The Bible does not specifically address this. Though the Bible affirms that all humans are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that Jesus redeems people from every nation (Revelation 5:9), there is nothing in Scripture that teaches that all men are created equal. Dabney’s opinions about blacks reflect the thought of his time, but they are not rooted in Scripture as something like male headship in marriage is. The second issue raised in Mr. Whealton’s response is whether we should judge dead men by current political standards…” (“Dabney's Blind Spot”). Garris also includes Dabney’s essay on “Secularized Education” (1879). For context, this essay was part of the final volley in a years long assault on the Virginia state school system. To get Dabney’s full views on education, you really must also read “The Negro and the Common School” (1876), and then “The State Free School System” (1876). The arguments expressed in “Secularized Education” are mostly just a reprint of his “Fourth Letter” to William Henry Ruffner in 1876. Dabney bitterly resented the fact that tax dollars were being spent to help educate Black children through the public schools, and he gives full vent to his white-supremacy in those earlier articles. You can read “Secularized Education” alone, but you should know that it rests within a larger framework for Dabney. The fourth essay (first in the book) is “Parental Responsibilities” and is the least objectionable of the group. It’s available for free online if you really want to read it (as are all four of the essays). According to Garris, these are four of Dabney’s “greatest essays,” and are what we most need for our time. I couldn’t disagree more. By all means, read these essays by Dabney (look them up on Google Books) in order to begin to understand the roots of Southern Presbyterianism, neo-Confederacy, and the Christian Reconstruction movement. Read them to understand the worldview of Christian hierarchalists who fight against racial justice and women’s equality as if “Christianity and civilization” depended on it—they believe it does. But I can’t recommend this collection of essays as having any “application for the modern reader” other than as a cautionary tale.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cody Justice

    Solid on the whole. Some of the prose is stilted. I think his exegesis of Malachi and Luke concerning fathers and children is incorrect—Iain Murray has an excellent sermon on this somewhere—but the doctrine Dabney gives here is nevertheless biblical. His essay on women and feminism is by far the best and clearest of all, packed with some of the most incisive and well articulated thought I've encountered on the subject. Highly recommended. I appreciate his critique of Jacobinism and the Radical e Solid on the whole. Some of the prose is stilted. I think his exegesis of Malachi and Luke concerning fathers and children is incorrect—Iain Murray has an excellent sermon on this somewhere—but the doctrine Dabney gives here is nevertheless biblical. His essay on women and feminism is by far the best and clearest of all, packed with some of the most incisive and well articulated thought I've encountered on the subject. Highly recommended. I appreciate his critique of Jacobinism and the Radical element, as well as his emphasis upon the goodness of natural hierarchical relations and the idiocy and iniquity of denying them. Good stuff. The essay on the State is a mixed bag. He gives fair critiques of Erastianism proper, and of Chalmers and the problems of state-involved payment of the clergy. At the same time, he argues far too much via pragmatism and probabalism, and makes at least one or two contradictions in his thought. Likewise, he doesn't adequately deal with the fact that the state is inevitably a religious institution, regardless of whether one wants to call it secular or not; and so, both his statement that the establishment of religion tends toward Erastianism and his insinuation that this is bad, cannot hold up to basic biblical axioms: i.e. it is not whether there will be establishment of religion (or state-supported, state-enforced religion) but which.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Seth Goodale

    Though written 150 years ago, the words God gave this Confederate Chaplain still rings true to us today. How is it that someone like Dabney could call for the inevitable removal of Christianity in public schools, when he grew up in a culture that was way more Christian than ours now? Because he knew his Bible. Say what you want about the Southern cause, but if what Dabney says about the results of Reconstruction is true (so far he’s got a great track record), then we’re on (literally) one Hell o Though written 150 years ago, the words God gave this Confederate Chaplain still rings true to us today. How is it that someone like Dabney could call for the inevitable removal of Christianity in public schools, when he grew up in a culture that was way more Christian than ours now? Because he knew his Bible. Say what you want about the Southern cause, but if what Dabney says about the results of Reconstruction is true (so far he’s got a great track record), then we’re on (literally) one Hell of a ride to judgement. All it takes for a culture to decline in giving God the glory in every area of life is to betray the basic principles of His word, no matter how good the cause may sound.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luke Reynolds

    Disturbing and unbiblical The foundation of most of the arguments presented in this book is that there is a class of people morally and intellectually superior than everyone else. The author is, of course, a member of that superior class of people. Therefore every decision from voting rights to education should be placed in their hands because that is how God has ordained it. Dabney takes for granted his status in this perceived superior class and makes no convincing justification (Biblically or Disturbing and unbiblical The foundation of most of the arguments presented in this book is that there is a class of people morally and intellectually superior than everyone else. The author is, of course, a member of that superior class of people. Therefore every decision from voting rights to education should be placed in their hands because that is how God has ordained it. Dabney takes for granted his status in this perceived superior class and makes no convincing justification (Biblically or morally) for its existence. To me, his hubris has more in common with satanic pride than the love and wisdom of Jesus.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nate Clark

  9. 5 out of 5

    Russell

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nate

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jen Rombach

  13. 5 out of 5

    David J McPherson

  14. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  15. 5 out of 5

    Chad Burrow

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jon Harris

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katie G.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Jenkins

  19. 4 out of 5

    Davis Moore

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dan Collins

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Gregory

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nate

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cody Justice

  26. 4 out of 5

    April Rogers

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brawner Little

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Furdui

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  30. 4 out of 5

    Miles Foltermann

  31. 5 out of 5

    Anna V.

  32. 4 out of 5

    Ken

  33. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  34. 4 out of 5

    Seth

  35. 4 out of 5

    Samuel

  36. 4 out of 5

    Randall Sterk

  37. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Husom

  38. 4 out of 5

    Jen Buckley

  39. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  40. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Carpenter

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