The death of Bruce Smith of leukaemia in 2001, at the age of 68, deprived Sydney of one of its most erudite and inspiring theologians, public speakers and teachers. A prominent Anglican spokesman on ethics and religion during the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Smith was active in the public media, particularly in televised debates about Christianity. As late as 2000, he was involved in the Ten Network series Why dig that up?, built around his experiences as an archaeologist in Italy and the eastern Mediterranean.
Smith grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. He attended Sydney Grammar School, where he was best known for his sporting exploits, winning a State championship in swimming in 1949. He began to train for Christian ministry at Moore Theological College in 1952 and graduated in theology and later as a bachelor of divinity from London University. Ordained in 1956, he ministered in parishes in both Australia and Britain.
Smith lectured at Moore Theological College, Oxford and Macquarie universities, among other institutions. He taught widely but specialised in philosophy and theology. He was at his best in introducing students to the great thinkers, Christian and non-Christian. He had a way of feeling out the person behind the historic figure, whether Socrates, Schleiermacher or Barth, and enabling his audience to understand their concerns.
A man of very wide interests, he also ran reading groups studying Milton, Homer and modern literature. He published two volumes of poetry, I’ll not pretend (1984) and More than one world (1994). Smith’s remarkable work continued at Sydney Grammar School where he taught classics from 1975 to 1993.
Bruce Smith left a legacy of engagement with society in its political, ethical and cultural dimensions. He believed in the broad significance of the Christian message of reconciliation with God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Smith Lecture programme intends to develop further this work of engagement.