The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, by Douglas Bond (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2011). Pp. 152. Reviewed by John A. Battle.
Many Christian people in America, and even in Scotland, have not heard of John Knox. Or if they have, they know him only as a “fiery Scottish reformer” who preached damnation sermons and bullied the lovely Mary, Queen of Scots. Little admired or even noticed in his native Scotland—his tomb lies under a paved parking lot—John Knox is fading from the national memory. And largely ignored by the Presbyterian churches of the world, even though he is considered the father of Presbyterianism, John Knox, when he is remembered, is pictured as an embarrassing “odd uncle,” a frightfully bigoted and unpleasant fellow who doesn’t at all fit in with our enlightened and ecumenical environment.
Is it fair that we are relegating Knox to a dusty bookshelf of history, or are we missing something very important? Douglas Bond has done us all a favor by bringing this sixteenth century reformer into the light for us to see. Unlike the common misconception, Knox was not a fire-breathing, insensitive bully. Rather, he was small, naturally timid, and totally lacking in self-confidence. Yet, he managed to lead the Reformation of the church in Scotland and to establish the Presbyterian system there, from where it spread to many countries around the world.
Knox himself led a most varied and exciting life, full of danger, suffering, conflict, and fame. As in many other books on Knox, Bond outlines the major events in Knox’s life. From his early conversion to the Protestant cause Knox aligned himself with Reformed leaders, starting with George Wishart, carrying a claymore to defend him while he preached. After Wishart was burned at the stake, Knox joined a group of Protestants holed up in a castle in St. Andrews and became their preacher. French warships attacked and captured the garrison, making Knox a galley slave. Knox rowed, chained to the oar, for nineteen months before being released. After serving in various places in England, Knox had to flee to Geneva during the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor; he stayed there six years. In Geneva Knox became the pastor of the English-speaking Reformed congregation there and grew in his knowledge and maturity under the leadership of John Calvin.
When Mary Tudor died it was safe for Knox and other Protestants to return. He traveled throughout Scotland, preaching and promoting reformed theology and a presbyterian type of church government free from control by the monarch. In spite of threats he continued to preach and became the leader of the Protestants in Scotland. A short time later the Scottish parliament voted to adopt the Reformed faith and to establish the system of church government Knox taught. During the following twelve years Knox continued his fearless preaching and refused to compromise with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. By the time of his death in 1572, Scotland was firmly Presbyterian, and has remained so, at least in name, until this day.
Interesting and engaging as Knox’s life is, what makes Bond’s account unique is his detailed analysis of the personality of Knox. Unlike the more public and confrontational Luther, Knox did not seek out this open controversy, nor did he believe himself equal to the forces arrayed against him. As Bond demonstrates most forcefully, Knox recognized his own weakness. He sought his strength from God and relied heavily on God’s power and providence—hence the title of the book,The Mighty Weakness of John Knox. As God said to Paul “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), so God used Knox powerfully because Knox knew his own weakness.
Bond organizes his analysis of the power of Knox’s personal weaknesses and his consequent reliance on God’s power in four chapters: his submission to Christ, his life of prayer, his preaching, and his writing. In three chapters he reflects on the sources of Knox’s strength in God—the power of the doctrine of predestination, the divine pattern of empowering the weak, and the legacy of strength left to us who follow. These seven chapters are the heart of the book, and they provide a mighty “sermon” to us, a tremendous encouragement to follow all that is best in Knox’s example.
The book concludes with a helpful time line of important Reformation events and events in Knox’s life and with a full printing of the Scots Confession of Faith, written by Knox and others. Endnotes, a bibliography, and an index complete the volume.
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox is a small volume, but very rich in inspiration as well as in historical acumen. I recommend it for anyone interested in Reformation history, especially for Presbyterians. As a high school teacher, Douglas Bond communicates well with young people, and this book is especially useful for young people seeking to make their lives count for the Lord.