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KNOX, David Broughton (1916-1994)

Brian Dickey

KNOX, DONALD BROUGHTON (b. Adelaide, SA, 26 Dec 1916; d. Sydney, NSW, 14 Jan 1994). Anglican theologian.

The son of D J Knox (q.v.), Broughton Knox was educated at Knox Grammar School and the University of Sydney (BA 1938). As an undergraduate he studied Greek in the company of Gough Whitlam, later an Australian prime minister but did not join the newly formed Evangelical Union, preferring to start his own Christian apologetics group.

DB Knox then spent a year as a full-time catechist in his father's parish of Gladesville, which included regular visitation in the nearby mental hospital. In 1939 he travelled to England with his parents, studying theology at St John's College, Highbury, graduating as an Associate with first class honours. He was ordained deacon by the bp of Ely in 1941, and priest 1942, serving two years as a curate at St Andrew the Less, Cambridge. Enlistment as an RNVR chaplain in 1943 ended his further theological studies in Cambridge, which were replaced by shipboard service during the Normandy invasion.

Knox returned to scholarship on discharge in 1947, completing a London MTh in biblical and historical theology. Knox was by now an active participant in the IVF Biblical Research Committee and the Tyndale fellowship, along with FF Bruce, Stuart Barton Babbage and Douglas Johnson. Their efforts included the New Bible Handbook (1947) and later the New Bible Dictionary.

Returning to Australia that year, he was appointed to the staff of Moore Theological College, Sydney, from which he retired as principal in 1985. He took leave 1951-53 to complete an Oxford DPhil, published as The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII (Edinburgh, 1961). Appointed vice-principal in 1954, he succeeded ML Loane as principal of the college at the end of 1958.

In the college he led evangelistic student missions, and moved to strengthen the quality of theological teaching. His was a 'benign paternalism' preceded by open debate. He took a long view as he sought to promote the cause of truth, and in more practical matters such as the acquisition by the College Council of property surrounding the college in Newtown, and the development of a foundation which would permit the physical and intellectual expansion of the college. 'Preaching in College he spoke to the text, and he spoke to the student. He always revealed careful reflection on the text, and he never shrank from applying it.'(Robinson, xvi)

Outside the college Knox was called as an expert witness in the Bathurst Ritual Case before the NSW Supreme Court in 1947. It was his opinion as to the legal status of the Church of England in NSW that the Chief Judge in Equity explicitly endorsed in his judgement. On Archbishop Mowll's (q.v.) nomination he became a member of the Australian Council of the World Council of Churches, involving service on the Faith and Order Commission Lund 1952, and the WCC at Evanston, 1954. Many of the more liberal Australian churchmen in the WCC found his contributions too strong for he was never afraid of controversy and often stood unabashed at the centre of a storm.

Knox also served in diocesan synod and standing committee (1954-84), and thence to the constitutional committee working towards the creation of an autonomous Anglican Church of Australia, and also General Synod's Commissions on Doctrine and Canon Law. With Professor LL Lyons and others he worked for the establishment of university halls of residence where a positive Christian influence could be exercised, out of which grew colleges at the University of NSW, Macquarie University and Wollongong University. He was virtual editor of the Anglican Church Record in the 1950s and 1960s, using it to express with force and clarity his conservative evangelical views.

College duties dominated his life, despite the necessity for General Synod reports (Prayer Book revision, the Ordination of Women, 1977) and the Australian College of Theology. His further scholarly output was therefore limited.

Married to Alison Loane, he was a family man who preferred close friendship to the agonies of public debate and conversation, yet always a man willing to engage in private speculations and counsel with others as required. On his formal retirement he lectured at Moore College for four more years, and then in 1989 accepted a call to establish a theological college for the somewhat isolated and conservative Church of England in South Africa. He left George Whitefield College in 1992 as a going concern, training a multi-racial student body. His remaining months were spent in Sydney before yet another heart attack.

Robert Banks has detected in Knox's writings a 'succession of focal interests, viz, the nature of divine revelation, the response of faith, the dynamic character of the church, and the centrality of relationships in theology and life as a whole.' (378) He was particularly influential in demystifying denominations and focussing attention on the local congregation as the gathering of the faithful. Consequently he expressed reservations about world-wide or even diocesan structures as exercising the authority of and representing themselves as 'the church'. Such agencies were to Knox purely human arrangements, however prudent and useful they might be. To Knox, this high view of the local church rested upon the biblical belief that the Spirit of Christ is comprehensively present in every congregation. It has been a view of great influence, especially among Anglicans in the diocese of Sydney.

Banks also draws attention to such key weaknesses in Knox's theology as the methodology he uses, the biblical basis of some of his judgements, the theological range of his work and the philosophical outlook which informs it. In all of these areas it is possible to develop a defence for Knox, the mark of the strength of his contribution to the Anglican Church of Australia as a theologian. But he remained a theologian who preached to change lives and who set an example of prayer to the 'everlasting God' which took him well beyond the dust and inwardness of the study.

D W B Robinson, 'David Broughton Knox: an appreciation,' in P T O'Brien, and D G Peterson, (eds), God Who is rich in mercy: Essays presented to Dr. D.B. Knox (Sydney, 1986), xi-xvii; R Banks, 'The theology of D.B. Knox—a preliminary estimate,' in O'Brien and Peterson

SELECT WORKS: The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII (Edinburgh, 1961); Justification by Faith (London, 1959); The Everlasting God (Hertford Heath, 1982).

BRIAN DICKEY

 

Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004

Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004