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Knox, David Broughton (1916–1994)

by Marcia Cameron

This article was published online in 2018

David Broughton Knox (1916–1994), clergyman and theological college principal, was born on 26 December 1916 in Adelaide, eldest of ten children of David James Knox, an evangelical Anglican clergyman, and his wife Doris Emily Broughton, née Young. His father’s family had emigrated from rural County Fermanagh in (Northern) Ireland; his mother came from a well-to-do English family with a strong record of Christian work and missionary service. The Knoxes moved from Adelaide to New South Wales in 1922, living successively at Wollongong, Chatswood, and Gladesville, where Knox senior was rector. Broughton was educated first by a tutor at home, then at Chatswood Public School, and finally at Knox Grammar School, Wahroonga. His extracurricular interests were intellectual: the chess club, the debating club, and the editorial committee for the school magazine.

For a year Knox worked as a jackeroo for his formidable uncle, Herbert (Bill) Young, at his property near Orange. His decision to become a clergyman preceded his entry to the University of Sydney (1935–37). After graduating (BA, 1938), he spent a year as his father’s catechist at Gladesville. He had come under the influence of (Sir) Marcus Loane, his father’s curate, who had married his sister Patricia, and who would later become archbishop of Sydney.

Travelling to England in March 1939, Knox studied theology at the London College of Divinity (Associate, 1941), obtaining a bachelor of divinity (1941) from the University of London. He was made deacon by the bishop of Ely in 1941, and ordained priest in 1942; he served as a curate at St Andrew the Less, a branch church of Christ Church, Cambridge. At Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, he studied for the theological tripos—which he did not complete—under such luminaries as C. H. Dodd and Wilfred Knox. He was appointed a temporary chaplain, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, on 12 December 1943 and was present off the Normandy coast just after D-Day, 6 June 1944. In April 1947 he was demobilised. His experiences in England had widened his theological perspective and his experience in World War II had deepened his pastoral skills.

In February 1947 Knox had begun work as a lecturer at Moore Theological College, Sydney. The same year he appeared as the expert witness for the attorney-general and the relators in the ‘Red Book’ case, a suit brought in the Supreme Court of New South Wales against the bishop of Bathurst for his use of an alternative prayer book. Knox acquitted himself well but as a result was a marked man: in the eyes of Anglo-Catholics and non-evangelicals he was seen to be dangerously litigious. Evangelicals had a history of resorting to litigation in the secular courts in order to protect their Reformation heritage against rising Anglo-Catholic ritualism. Knox’s success in giving his evidence meant that he was a man to be feared by non-evangelicals as this might well signal more successful litigation in future. T. C. Hammond, the principal of Moore College at the time, was thrilled at the quality of his evidence.

In 1950 Knox gained a master of theology from the University of London. He married Ailsa Musgrave Lane, a physiotherapist, on 2 September 1950 at St Swithun’s Church of England, Pymble. Later that year the couple travelled to Oxford, England, where he taught at Wycliffe Hall and read for a DPhil (1954) at St Catherine’s College; the topic of his thesis was ‘The Doctrine of Justification in the English Reformers.’ He returned to Sydney in 1954 as vice-principal of Moore College, and became principal in 1959.

Knox turned the college into a bastion of evangelical instruction. He raised academic standards by introducing the external bachelor of divinity of the University of London, created a fourth year of study, inaugurated an annual college mission, expanded the library, and encouraged members of the college faculty to go overseas to read for their doctorates. His goal was for the college to award its own degrees, which it would eventually do. By the time he retired in 1985, enrolments had doubled, the college property holdings had quadrupled, and the library held ninety thousand books. He continued to lecture in theology until 1988.

Within the diocese of Sydney, Knox was influential not only through training its clergy, but also in the establishment of student hostels. In 1960 he succeeded his father as a canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral. He was president (1969–75) of the Anglican Church League and a member of many Anglican bodies, including the Sydney synod and its standing committee, and the general synod and its doctrine and canon law commissions. In a minority report in 1977 he dissented from the doctrine commission’s conclusion that there were no theological barriers to the ordination of women. He was a major contributor to the evangelical newspaper the Australian Church Record, spoke weekly on radio 2CH, and wrote a number of theological books.

While he was quintessentially an evangelical who, with profound respect for Scripture, taught that it is the final authority in matters of faith and doctrine, and while, during his tenure, ordinands with Anglo-Catholic leanings would no longer train at Moore College, Knox was no hard-line, exclusive Low Churchman. His time in England had ensured this, and his many friends and guests included both Anglo-Catholics, such as Gabriel Hebert, and theological Liberals like Bishop J. A. T. Robinson, author of Honest to God.

After leaving Moore College, in 1988 Knox founded George Whitefield College, South Africa, to train men and women for ministry in the Church of England in South Africa; he remained there until 1992. In 1988 he had received an honorary doctorate of theology from the Australian College of Theology. Returning to Australia, he died on 15 January 1994 at Camperdown, survived by his wife, four daughters, and two sons; after a funeral at St Andrew’s Cathedral, he was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

‘Never afraid of controversy,’ Knox was tenacious and ‘sometimes provocative’ (Loane 1994, 10–11), but also ‘shy and diffident,’ and ‘at home and among his friends … the soul of graciousness and wit’ (Robinson 1986, xvii). His influence lies in the number of men and women he taught and his particular emphasis on ’preaching the word of God’ (Birkett 2003, 240). In 2005 the archbishop of Sydney and all his assistant bishops had been trained by Knox, as had at least six other bishops in the Anglican Church of Australia, his two successors at Moore College and numerous college faculty members, and other college principals in the evangelical world. He was the single most important influence on Sydney Anglicanism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Birkett, Kirsten, ed. D. Broughton Knox: Selected Works. Vol. 2, Church and Ministry. Kingsford, NSW: Matthias Media, 2003
  • Cameron, Marcia. An Enigmatic Life: David Broughton Knox, Father of Contemporary Sydney Anglicanism. Brunswick East, Vic.: Acorn Press, 2006
  • Chadwick, Owen. The Victorian Church Part II 1860–1901. London: A. and C. Black, 1970
  • Knox, David Broughton. Diaries. Knox Papers. Private collection
  • Loane, Marcus. ‘David Broughton Knox.’ In Broughton Knox: Principal of Moore College, 1959–1985, by Marcus L. Loane and Peter F. Jensen, 1–12. Newtown, NSW: Moore Theological College, 1994
  • Robinson, D. W. B. ‘David Broughton Knox: An Appreciation.’ In God Who Is Rich in Mercy: Essays Presented to Dr. D. B. Knox, edited by Peter T. O’Brien and David G. Peterson, xi–xvii. Homebush West, NSW: Anzea Publishers, 1986

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Citation details

Marcia Cameron, 'Knox, David Broughton (1916–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/knox-david-broughton-20170/text31243, published online 2018, accessed online 15 December 2019.

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