David Broughton Knox: What we Owe to Him

David Broughton Knox

by Bishop Donald Robinson

Many Christians in Sydney and around the world are grateful to the Lord Jesus for the gospel-centred teaching and example they received from Broughton Knox. Dr. Knox fell asleep in Christ in January 1994.

Donald Robinson, former Archbishop of Sydney, wrote this tribute for ACL News.

Broughton Knox served on the faculty of Moore College for some 38 years including 26 as its Principal.

His contribution to the Church in Sydney (and not Sydney only) was chiefly through this service, both as a teacher of Christian theology and also by his management and development of the College.

This work lives on, as Pericles said of the Athenians who fell in the Peloponnesian War, “woven into the stuff of other men’s lives”; and that is the best of memorials.

There have been many tributes to Broughton from those who felt his influence in the College. His personal impact was remarkable, and was due partly to the strength of his own convictions and example, and partly to his challenging form of discourse.

Though his colleague for many years, I never heard him in the classroom; but he was a lifelong friend, and I had long experience of his conversation, discussion, and table-talk. I also sat under his preaching in chapel.

A Son of Sydney

Before saying something about what the Church in Sydney owes to DBK in ways beyond his College ministry, let me say a word about what he owed to the Church in Sydney. For DBK was truly a son of Sydney Diocese (though born in an Adelaide rectory).

He was nurtured in the parish life of St. Paul’s Chatswood and Christ Church Gladesville under his father’s ministry. His mind was always independent, but his roots were deep in the piety and teaching of a remarkable Christian family. Prayer and instruction in the Word of God remained constant in his life, and these he had from his parents and from the ethos of a notable extended family.

DBK’s background – if we look for a colour in the spectrum – was the evangelical Anglicanism of his father, D.J. Knox, and his godfather, R.B. Robinson, and of the group of evangelicals produced by the Moore College of Canon Nathaniel Jones. Bill Lawton describes DBK as one of Jones’ ‘spiritual heirs’ (God Who is Rich in Mercy, p.361). I would not go so far.

The heritage was there all right, and the basic piety, and also the zeal to maintain an evangelical tradition in the diocese, but DBK did not espouse any of the distinctive views of Nathaniel Jones as far as I was aware. In any case, Broughton’s own mind was subject to an altogether broader theological discipline.

He was not a product of Moore College, though he had a high regard for T.C. Hammond who was Principal at the relevant period and under whom he served on the staff. The fact is that all DBK’s formal theological training took place overseas, in London, Cambridge, and Oxford, and he was away from Sydney from 1939 to 1947 and again from 1951 to 1953.

His exposure to the English schools tempered, though it did not dominate, his theological thinking. He had a good grounding in Greek and in New Testament studies. I recall his return to Sydney in 1947, still in naval uniform. At lunch on his aircraft carrier he enthused, for example, about the work of C.H. Dodd, the leading N.T. scholar of the time, whom he had encountered at Cambridge.

Wider Activities

Broughton Knox in 1956DBK in his early years played a greater part in Anglican and ecumenical affairs than his later disciples may be aware of. Much of this was at the instigation of Archbishop Mowll (1934–1958) who had a keen appreciation of DBK’s ability and saw to it that he was suitably deployed to make his voice heard.

Thus Broughton represented the Australian Church on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (and was at Lund, 1952), at the WCC Assembly at Evanston in 1954, and on the Australian Council for the WCC, and for some years was President of the NSW Council of Churches.

Archbishop Mowll’s regard for DBK can be seen in the appointment of him as Principal of Moore in 1958 – one of the last appointments in which the Archbishop had a decisive hand.

The Australian Church

DBK’s role within the Anglican Church of Australia was also significant. He was a long time member of the General Synod and served a number of its commissions.

Apart from the Australian College of Theology where he had an obvious role, he was a member of the Committee which produced the Constitution, of the Prayer Book Commission, which initiated the process of liturgical revision, of the Doctrine Commission, and of the Canon Law Commission.

No evangelical was so strategically placed. He was a decided voice for evangelical Anglicanism in the main councils of the Church.

A Stand for Truth

There was no mystery about what Broughton stood for.

He fully identified with the Anglican Church League, of which he was President, and with its principles of Anglican churchmanship.

His exposition of the classical Anglican position as ‘Catholic, Apostolic, Protestant and Reformed’ found expression in his editorial opinions and articles in the Australian Church Record over many years, and in his own support for the annual Reformation Rally which was promoted jointly by the ACL and the ACR.

DBK took many initiatives where truth could be propagated. We need only mention his part in the establishment of the university halls of residence and of the New University Colleges Council.

Nor was he narrow minded. He welcomed discourse with those from whom he differed, as is seen in his encouragement of reciprocal visits between Moore College and both (the Jesuit) Canisius College and St Patrick’s College Manly, and in his active participation in the Fellowship for Biblical Studies with scholars of many denominations including Jewish scholars.

It is no doubt too soon to estimate Broughton’s full contribution to the Australian Church. We can note something of its character, its thrust, and its scope, and we can voice our gratitude where we have personally been its beneficiaries.

Broughton was a theological person, whose mind and heart was focussed on the living God as He has made himself known.

That theology shaped his personal life, and he brought it to bear on the life of God’s people through every avenue which God’s providence opened to him.

Bishop Donald RobinsonBishop Donald Robinson served as Vice-Principal of Moore Theological College 1959-72 and Archbishop of Sydney 1982-93.