Servant of the Church of God:
Donald William Bradley Robinson, 1922–2018
A series of highlights from the full tribute by Rory Shiner which you can read online at au.thegospelcoalition.org
Early on Friday 7 September one of Australia’s most brilliant biblical scholars and influential church leaders went to be with the Lord whom he loved and so faithfully served. If you are an Australian evangelical, you owe him a great debt, even if you’ve never heard of him. His name was Donald William Bradley Robinson. He was 95 years old.
Robinson described 1947 as “the summer of his life”. He travelled by boat to San Francisco, then overland to Chicago and then up to Toronto. His final destination was Boston, where he was a student representative of the International Leaders Conference of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students at Harvard University—the conference that launched the modern form of the IFES. The meetings in Boston were chaired by the prominent Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who apparently complained at the lack of a “decent cup of tea, which always makes a situation more civilised.” (Feel free to take a moment to enjoy the thought of a Brit complaining about tea in Boston). It was at this meeting that the influential IFES doctrinal basis was hammered out.
Robinson was very deliberate in going to Cambridge in order to access the vibrant biblical scholarship being produced there. This is an interesting point of contrast with British evangelicalism. At the time, many British evangelicals went to Cambridge in spite of the Divinity faculty; Robinson went because of it. For Robinson, scholars such as C. H. Dodd and C. F. D. Moule were people with whom conservative evangelicals could have a fruitful and productive engagement.
Donald and Marie married back in Australia on 30 July 1949. He returned with her to Cambridge where Robinson completed his studies. They came back to Australia in 1950. They had four children, Martin, Anne, Mark and Peter. Martin was born in the UK, the rest in Australia.
After ordination and two curacies, Robinson began what was to be the largest segment of his career—teaching on the faculty of Moore College. It was there, where Robinson served as lecturer and then vice-principal, that Robinson exercised his most lasting influence. Robinson introduced the College to the discipline of understanding the Bible on its own terms, seeking to uncover how the Old Testament and New Testament relate themselves to each other. By this teaching he ignited, for example, the imagination of Graeme Goldsworthy to what we now call ‘biblical theology”.
Along with D. B. Knox, Robinson also made a significant contribution to the topic of ecclesiology. This project, conducted in conversation with wider developments in scholarship, theology and church life, led to an emphasis on the centrality and spiritual prestige of the local gathered church. It is profound work, which has influenced and been developed by scholars such as Robert Banks, Peter O’Brien and William Dumbrell, as well as a younger generation including Lionel Windsor and Chase Kuhn.
On 1 April 1982, Bishop Donald Robinson was elected Archbishop of Sydney. The pace of life was very demanding. Extensive travel, an ambitious programme for new churches in Sydney’s west, and the regular run of an archbishop’s duties were supplemented by several significant controversies. He opposed the move toward the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Australia, arguing that it would represent a fundamental breach with apostolic instruction. And he opposed the loosening of traditional Anglican forms of worship and patterns of leadership within the Diocese of Sydney.
Robinson retired in 1992 and he resumed teaching at Moore College, a role he continued in until 2002. Countless scholarly works, from Peter Bolt, John Painter, Robert Banks and many others continue to grapple with and extend his biblical thought. Early in the morning of Friday, 7 September 2018, he went to be with the Lord. We owe him more than we can tell.