Woman hater. Fanatic. Ruthless revolutionary. Such charges have been made against John Knox. What is his legacy, both negative and positive? What can Christians today learn from his life and teachings? We put these questions to David F. Wright, former dean of the faculty of divinity at the University of Edinburgh and a longtime editorial adviser for Christian History

How do people today view John Knox?

Knox has a bad press in Scotland nowadays. He’s become a bogey figure blamed for various ills. He’s thought of as a misogynist, a woman hater. Knox is also seen as an insolent, arrogant person given to harshness and even cruelty. And whenever someone discusses the development of music or theater, Knox (and Calvinism in general) gets blamed for any tendency in Scotland to want to censor or restrict artistic freedom.

How true are these charges?

There is a bit of substance in all of them, but the modern picture is greatly exaggerated and reflects little awareness of Knox and his work.

For example, people remember his notorious The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. However, the title is often misunderstood, but regiment simply means “rule,” and monstrous means “not in accord with nature.” Knox is objecting to women as monarchs, not damning the whole lot. In other writings, you see him acting in an extremely tender and affectionate way toward women. Even in the exchanges between him and Mary Queen of Scots, he’s defiant because he believes he’s standing on principle, but he remains remarkably respectful.

One shouldn’t forget, also, that Knox produced visionary ideals for Scotland. The First Book of Discipline is a kind of manifesto for a Christian commonwealth; it is far-seeing about the need for universal ...

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