That the late Archbishop Donald Robinson’s thought and ministry have already had a significant influence in Australian Anglican circles is clear. Here Chase Kuhn puts his finger on the conviction at the heart of Robinson’s enduring influence. Chase R. Kuhn lectures in Christian thought and ministry at Moore Theological College.
Archbishop Donald W. B. Robinson’s most enduring influence has been, and will no doubt continue to be, his high esteem for the Word of God as the governing authority of all of the Christian life. This esteem for Scripture was a hallmark of his biblical theological studies, agreeable with what he believed to be the best of Anglicanism, and therefore definitive of his ministry.
The most impressive and well-known of Robinson’s academic contributions (he lectured as a faculty member at Moore College 1952-1973), is the biblical theology that he developed. It must not be taken for granted that ‘biblical-theology’ automatically equates with a high regard for the Bible as the Word of God. But for Robinson, his approach to the Bible as a unified whole, was demonstrable of his deep conviction that the Bible is God’s Word. So, his theology of the Word drove him to a reading of the Word that sought unity across diverse texts spanning millennia. The format of Robinson’s biblical theology has been developed, published and popularized most notably in the works of Graeme Goldsworthy, who on a number of occasions has identified his dependence upon Robinson for his method of reading the Bible.
Another wide-reaching point of influence is Robinson’s beliefs about the church, oft en called the ‘Knox-Robinson Ecclesiology’ for his work with his Moore College colleague D. B. Knox. As part of his development of his biblical theology, Robinson identified the church as a key component of God’s plans for redemption. Through careful exegetical analysis, Robinson discerned that the church had a very specific purpose and function in the life of God’s people. Rather than being the identity of the people of God, the church is the activity of the people of God. That is, the church is the gathering of God’s people, assembled around the Word of God. Robinson wrote, ‘The church is created and constituted by the Word of God. Men are drawn together by this Word, and together express their faith in confession, prayer and praise’ (Selected Works, Vol. 1, 300). So, Robinson agreed with the longstanding Reformation belief that the church is the creature of the Word.
In close connection with his belief about the nature of the church, Robinson believed that the Word of God must be central to ministry. In fact, because the church is created by the Word, the Word holds the primary place of authority over the church. Of this conviction Robinson wrote, ‘The fountain and source of all this authority [in the church] is not the congregation, nor the minister, but the Word of the living God proclaimed through faith in Christ and alive with the energy of the Holy Spirit’ (Selected Works, Vol. 1, 310). As a churchman, he believed that this conviction about the Word best represented historic Anglican convictions. Take for example this excerpt from Th e Homilies: ‘Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination, for our justification and salvation. For in holy Scripture is fully contained what to believe, what to love and what to look for at God’s hands at length’ (‘A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture’). In agreement with this historic Anglicanism, we can observe throughout Robinson’s ministry a diligent attention to the text of Scripture, and a ministry that was disciplined by that authority.
No one person can trace the enduring legacy of Archbishop Robinson, as his influence has been on people, who in turn are influencing other people around the globe. But, characteristic of his life and his ministry amongst people, we can take notice of his deep commitment to the Bible as the Word of God. This impacted the way he read the Bible, what he believed about the church, and how he conducted himself as a minister. In everything, the Bible has the highest authority over the Christian’s life.