The Protestant Reformer Under a Parking Lot

Sean Michael Lucas | February 3, 2016

Academic historians do their work well when they illuminate the past, recover controversial figures, and connect the dots to the present. Jane Dawson, professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Edinburgh, accomplishes all three of these in her magisterial biography, John Knox.

While there have been solid academic treatments of John Knox—most notably Jasper Ridley (1968), W. Stanford Reid (1974), Richard Greaves (1980), and Rosalind Marshall (1998)—never before has there been such a thoroughly and sympathetically critical treatment of the 16th-century Scottish reformer’s thought and times. Dawson acknowledges a “darker side to Knox with his ‘holy hatred,’ increasing intransigence, bouts of depression, and gloomy predictions about the future of Protestantism” (3). But she’s also determined not to allow Knox’s darker side to overwhelm her treatment. The result is a joy to read and a book to value.

Young Knox

Dawson describes well Knox’s early years, showing how his sense of identity as a man from the banks of the River Tyne set his trajectory. Bound by ties of kinship, shaped by the perspectives of the Scots yeomen among whom he was raised, and lacking the humanist training Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin all shared, the young Knox would influence the older Knox.

And yet…

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