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Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Posted: Thursday, June 3, 2010 3:58 pm

The Messenger, June 3, 2010
 Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Robert Lewis Dabney: Politics Influencing Religion

Special to The Messenger
The deep emotions evoked by the American Civil War remain even today as part of the fabric of our nation. For Southerners of that era, these emotions were intensified by the horrible destruction of lives and property brought about by the war. Even devout Christians were subject to feelings of anger, despair and bitterness. This truth is nowhere more publicly evident than in the life of Robert Lewis Dabney.
Dabney was born in central Virginia in 1820 of French Huguenot descent. When Dabney was 13, his father died.  Although a precocious pupil, he found his education frequently interrupted by the need to maintain the family farm. He attended Hampton-Sydney College between stints as a farmer and came to know Christ at the age of 16.
After receiving his master’s degree, Dabney entered Union Theological Seminary and was licensed to preach at 26 years of age. He pastored in and around his home county until called to teach at U.T.S. Although offered the pastorate of the Fifth Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and a teaching post at Princeton Theological Seminary, Dabney remained at U.T.S. until the outbreak of the war.
Observing the clouds of the gathering conflict, he wrote articles and preached sermons designed to allay war fever and supporting the preservation of the Union. However, when Virginia seceded in 1861, Dabney felt he must remain loyal to his home state. He served the Confederacy as a chaplain, except for a brief period as Stonewall Jackson’s chief-of-staff during the Valley Campaign. He finally returned home to face the devastation caused by the war and the depredation and social upheaval brought about by Reconstruction.
A prolific writer, Dabney penned Jackson’s biography during the war, and published his work on systematic theology in 1871. His essay on the Five Points of Calvinism ( remains one of the most concise treatments of this subject.
In 1883, he accepted a teaching post at the University of Texas. His health was deteriorating by then, and within 10 years he was virtually blind. In spite of this, he founded the Austin School of Theology, where he taught until his death in 1898.
The bitterness engendered by the Civil War afflicted R.L. Dabney for the rest of his life, and his views on secession and slavery often overshadow his contributions as a teacher, preacher and theologian in the Reformed tradition.
We Christians tend to lionize our heroes of the faith. Men like Luther, Calvin, Edwards and others in this series provide examples and inspiration to us as we struggle in our faith. However, we must remember that they were creatures with feet of clay and subject to all the failings common to man, failings to which we all are subject unless we closely guard our hearts.
We would do well to note our own well-meaning but misguided tendency to adhere to a social gospel, one which has played itself out over the last 50 years in freedom marches, war protests and the Religious Right, and which has even been satirized in popular music: “When the radical priest come to get me released, we was all on the cover of Newsweek” (”Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” — Paul Simon).
In Romans 13, Paul instructs us in the requirements of Christian citizenship. Our religious convictions must inform our political views — not the other way around. We must be careful that our politics not shape our religion or, worse yet, become our religion.
Editor’s note: R.B. Tolar, saved by the sovereign grace of God, is firmly convinced that the reformation of our nation must begin with a reformation in the hearts of Christians throughout our great land.

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