A short quiz:
- Which seminary lecturer described his course this way (and when)?
the course quickly developed into an introduction to the theology of the Bible as a whole … ‘the church’ as such was subsumed under the wider theme of God’s creative purpose for Adam, his promise to Abraham and his seed, the elect people of Israel and the promise to the nations beyond and through Israel
- Which seminary lecturer insisted that the doctrine of the church must be understood in the following terms:
God is ultimate reality and God is Trinity, three persons in one. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son and the Spirit is in both. Ultimate reality, God, is persons in relationship. Thus there is no experience more ultimate than personal relationship, nor more blissful, for this is how God’s being is, and God is ultimate blissfulness.
- Donald Robinson, former lecturer at Moore College in Sydney, describing a biblical theology course with its roots in a 1954 lecture series.
- Broughton Knox, principal of Moore College in Sydney, 1959-1985.
If you’re not familiar with Moore College, you might be surprised by these answers. In the wider world of biblical and theological studies, statements like these have become fashionable only within the last few decades. These statements sound like exemplars of more recent trends: the author of the first quote sounds like a representative of the New Perspective on Paul; the author of the second quote sounds like an advocate of social Trinitarianism. But they’re not. Donald Robinson taught a biblical theological framework which is still highly influential at Moore College, but it’s a framework which is very different from that of the New Perspective, and at a number of key points is diametrically opposed to it. Broughton Knox emphasised (constantly, repeatedly) the ontological primacy of the concept of “relationship”, but he was by no means an advocate of modern social trinitarianism.
As somebody who trained at seminary level at Moore College and is now studying theology in the UK, I’m becoming more and more grateful for the rich theological legacy of people like Knox and Robinson. They were, in certain key aspects of theological education, ahead of their time. In many ways, they still are.
The quotations come from an excellent article by Mark Thompson on the Knox / Robinson understanding of the doctrine of church. In this article, Mark looks at the history, character and theological rationale for this articulation of ecclesiology. Mark urges us to learn from the legacy of Knox/Robinson without adopting it uncritically. He also shoots down some of the shallow caricatures that have sprung up around the doctrine (e.g. that it’s simply “platonic”, or “individualist”, or “congregationalist”). I recommend Mark’s article for those outside Sydney who want to understand this influential aspect of Sydney evangelicalism’s theological heritage. I also recommend it for those who have been trained in Sydney, but who want to gain a greater self-understanding – and, of course, to practise a bit of self-criticism.