What Happened to Morton H. Smith, Mr. Lucas?

I really should be preparing my paper for Prolegomea and Theology right now (since it’s due Thursday), rather than blogging, but in the process of doing some research on Robert Lewis Dabney‘s view of the source of theology, I ran across an article titled “Southern Fried Kuyper?: Robert Lewis Dabney, Abraham Kuyper, and the Limitations of Public Theology.” Not very helpful, frankly, given the topic of my paper, but there was one comment in the footnotes that got my blood pressure up just a wee bit.

While speaking of the celebrations that surrounded the centennial of Kuyper’s death, and the lack of attention received upon the centennial of Dabney’s death, Lucas points out that part of the reason for Dabney being ignored is the official academic position on Dabney:

“The official academic position on Dabney remains that he was ‘a racist, a strident reactionary, and an embittered man . . . not the most attractive of historical figures,’ still it is strange that such a pivotal figure in American Presbyterian history, a revered theologian in a tradition that exalts theology, is remembered mainly by those who advocate keeping the stars and bars above southern state houses or those who believe in contemporary forms of patriarchy.” – Sean Michael Lucas, “Southern Fried Kuyper” in Westminster Theological Journal 66, no. 1 (Spr 2004), 180.

While there’s nothing in particular in that quote that is bound to get me upset (other than the fact that Kuyper’s patriarchy and racism are overlooked), it was the footnote to this statement that really ticked me off:

“The exception to this scholarly consensus is historian Eugene D. Genovese, who single-handedly has rescued the southern Presbyterian theologians from oblivion and restored some measure of intellectual respect to their work.” – Ibid., n2 (emphasis mine).

Eugene Genovese is perhaps best known for his book, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World Slaves Made, published in 1976. He has written widely on Southern Presbyterian theologians as well, as have his students, such as Erskine Clarke’s Our Southern Zion. But to say that Genovese, “single-handedly…rescued the southern Presbyterian theologians from oblivion” is to ignore the work of perhaps the last of the great Southern Presbyterians, Dr. Morton H. Smith, first Stated Clerk of the PCA, and founder of Reformed Theological Seminary and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He wrote his doctoral dissertation, titled Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology, in 1962 – Genovese’s major historiographical works on slavery and the South wouldn’t appear for another 8 years.

Frankly, the fact that anyone still knows names like Thornwell, Dabney, Girardeau, Plumer, Davies, Palmer, Jones, and more besides, is because of Morton Smith.

Give the man the credit he is due.


"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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