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Systematic Theology Hardcover – Unabridged, July 1, 1985
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However, has anybody else noticed that this seems to be an incomplete copy of the work? Mine stops at chapter 32, and I would really like to have some of the info from chapter 35 on the covenant of redemption.
Dabney is clearly qualified to represent American theology. He mastered Turretin. Indeed, he could write out an outline of Turretin's 3 volume Institutes from the original Latin. I will now list some pros and cons of this volume:
Pros: Dabney is nothing if not clear. Every chapter, while at times difficult to read, is succint and pointed. He can state a lot of truth and meaning into the smallest sentence. This allows for skillful polemics if at times difficult reading.
His chapters on the atonement and justification were probably the best. His arguments against the Socinians are more relevant now than ever before. His chapter on Union with Christ (612-617) is better than most modern treatises. He doesn't bore you down with irrelevant detail, but powerfully presents the doctrine in six pages.
Unlike most modern theologies, Dabney gives keen attention to the Law of God as a normative ethic for the Christian life. Sadly, this is lacking from most modern-day Reformed treatments. Dabney's exposition of the Ten Commandments is an excellent field-map to sanctification. His treatment on the covenant of grace, while perhaps dated because of modern controversies, is nonetheless helpful.
The book, it is true, is dry at times. I think Dabney knew this. But to be fair, the only really dry part was the Prolegomena (e.g., the opening sections on knowledge and method). Dabney himself warned against extreme focus on such matters.
We must also realize that Dabney was a child of his times, like we are a child of ours. Before we criticize Dabney on slavery (we will come back to that in a moment), we must take the our own plank of abortion out of our eye. Who are we to call him racist when millions of babies die every year? And to his credit, he did criticise the South for *unbiblical* forms of slavery.
As to doctrinal disagreements, I do not think Dabney fully dealt with Calvin's view on the Lord's Supper, although I am more sympathetic to Dabney now than I was before I read it. Still, the spectre of Nevin hangs over the chapter.
I found the book slow at first, but steadily picked up steam so that some chapters ended in a crescendo. It is valuable in that Dabney understood what a Systematic Theology could and could not do. No systematics text can function as a "timeless theology," for the theologian is called to precisely the opposite task: to apply God's truth to his own situation. This Dabney did to the fullest.
But I find his Systematic Theology to be a little too condensed. It's written in a very academic style that's suitable for a seminary classroom - after all, the book is based on his lectures at Union Theological Seminary.
So even though it's filled to the brim with useful arguments, proofs and refutations, I doubt that it would be enjoyed by the common believer, or even a thinking believer. If you're an avid collector of theological books, or an armchair theologian, there's no question that Dabney's Systematic would be useful to have in your library. However, if you could only buy one systematic theology, I wouldn't recommend this one.