AN ENIGMATIC LIFE
A review of An Enigmatic Life: David Broughton Knox—Father of Contemporary Sydney Anglicanism by Marcia Cameron, (343 pages, published by Acorn Press, 2006) by Brian Edgar, Director of Public Theology, The Australian Evangelical Alliance.
The importance of this book is revealed in the subtitle, for Broughton Knox was indeed ‘the Father of Contemporary Sydney Anglicanism’. Consequently, his influence extends even further than that, for Sydney Anglicanism is now influencing Anglicanism and evangelicalism around Australia and the world. The diocese is one of the largest, and is the wealthiest Anglican diocese in the world and its theology and its ministry are spreading.
Knox was a scholar in the classical reformed tradition of theology, reading the Scriptures through the eyes of Augustine, the Reformers and other evangelical Anglican scholars. While his writings were not extensive, his influence on the formation of a generation of Anglican clergy through his teaching and then his leadership as Principal of Moore College for 29 years has been profound.
While others became bishops and archbishops and moved off into the Sydney diocese and beyond, Broughton Knox remained at Moore College and his influence is the result of a long period an effective work in one place. With Donald Robinson as vice principal for some years (before becoming Archbishop) ‘Knox and Robinson’ remain as the most authoritative of theological sources—even among recent college students.
Marcia Cameron’s excellent description of Knox’s life, relationships and ministry in a well produced volume from Acorn Press is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to understand contemporary Anglicanism. Her depiction of Knox demonstrates his strengths and his weaknesses, both as a leader and as an individual. His love of God was never in question, but his relationships with others were varied.
In 1954 Knox was appointed vice principal of Moore College, with Marcus Loane as principal, and he remained there until 1985 after becoming Principal in 1959. From very early on he established his intention to focus upon teaching the Bible, albeit at the expense of other subjects relating to practical ministry, pastoral training and the whole world situation. His response to one request from students ‘that the course of study in the College include the relation of the Bible and the Church to the whole world situation’ was simply, ‘Absurd. The idealism of the uninformed. Ignore it.’
This was, according to Camerob, a ‘a hallmark of his approach to theological education.’ In his view, post ordination training was the place for practical, professional development. He saw his task as training people theologically to the highest possible level with pastoral training left until they were in parishes. But it is arguable that such training was not available and did not occur.
His was, essentially, an academic approach to teaching theology. Yet there was little focus on teaching about modern theology. He instituted a shift of emphasis at the college from following Cranmer to reading Calvin. Cameron notes that “Knox argued that under the terms of the will of its benefactor, Thomas Moore, the College should be Protestant, rather than Anglican.’
To a non-Anglican, such as myself, his theology of the church, sacraments, priesthood and liturgy is more reminiscent of a Brethren theology of the church than an Anglican one. The church is the local gathering of Christ’s people. These are manifestations of the one church in Christ. Knox warned against reversing the order and thinking of Christ’s universal Church as being made up of the total membership of local churches. The church is, first of all, the local gathering.
For Knox, the essential Christian ministry is preaching and the revelation of God is found entirely in words, in propositions which can be expressed in preaching and teaching. With these convictions he formed the lives of future priests and key leaders in the diocese of Sydney. The book is a biography and, as such, includes helpful, critical evaluations of the man, but much more remains to be said in order to fully evaluate the movement that he fathered, and about the thinking, the theological approach which emerged more broadly. There are questions about the idea that a minister has fulfilled their ministerial duty in their preaching of a sermon; about the apparent diminution of the significance of Christian vocation in other areas than ordained ministry; about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer; and with regard to the nature of the church’s engagement with society and social issues.
Evangelical Anglicanism in Sydney has benefited greatly from the life and ministry of Broughton Knox. He was a profoundly important figure and many of the strengths of the present church, including its evangelical approach, the focus on the authority of the Bible, the growth of the church and a confident purpose can clearly be related to him. Yet that very clarity of purpose raises questions for other Anglicans (is it sufficiently Anglican in form?) and for other evangelicals (is the definition of evangelicalism simply too narrow?). Perhaps Marcus Loane’s comment on the influential Knox applies to the movement as much as to the man, ‘he had a tendency to crystallise his thinking in short dogmatic statements which over-simplified the situation.’
Knox and Sydney evangelical Anglicanism are, historically speaking, tied together. The latter cannot be understood fully without the former. Thanks to Marcia Cameron we have a better view of both.
Director of Public Theology
The Australian Evangelical Alliance