Monday, June 15, 2015

"God's Watchman" by Richard Kyle: A Review

Knox first came storming onto the stage of history brandishing a two-edged sword. In his last days on earth, however, he tells us how he first cast anchor in John 17. His soul seems serene as his wife read to him his favorite passages from scripture.s These two instances illustrate the Knoxian paradox: the warrior for God and a man secure int he evangel of Jesus Christ. Which was the real John Knox? Both. Yet it is the combative Knox as a prophet calling down the judgment of God on the supporters of idolatry - that is, Catholicism. But this was not the only John Knox. He also emerges as a pastor of souls, a man with a close relationship with Jesus Christ. And in looking back at John Knox, this comprehensive and balanced perspective should not be forgotten. (266)

One of my favorite Christians of the past to read about is without a doubt John Knox - the great Scottish reformer. One of my favorite authors to read regarding Knox is without a doubt Richard G. Kyle. A few years ago I read his introductory work on Knox entitled John Knox: An Introduction to His Life and Works co-authored with Dale Johnson (read my review here). Kyle, unlike most other authors I have read on Knox, offers a thorough survey of Knox's theology and thought. No doubt Knox is controversial, but Kyle's treatment of the reformer is always fair and concerned with who Knox really was regardless of what popular culture might thing or what theological preference one might have.

Recently I read Kyle's book God's Watchman: John Knox's Faith and Vocation (Pickwick, 2014) which surveys Knox's theology, ministry, and political thought. Again, Kyle knocks it out of the park.

The book explores who Knox really is. Was he a preacher, a prophet, or a pastor? Others would add political revolution and chauvinist to that list. Kyle explores these aspects of Knox's ministry and life. Who was the real John Knox? Kyle suggests that he was a man who wore many hats. The introductory paragraph of chapter 1 reads:
Revolutionary or servant of God? Thundering prophet or consummate politician? nasty old man or spiritual pastor? ardently loved or passionately despised? will the real John Knox please stand up? John Knox indeed was a complex and contradictory figure. To be sure, he displayed several faces and wore many hates.

The Scottish reformer, therefore, has been the subject of many interpretations - some wildly different. Knox was a controversial figure in his day. And he continues to be so down to the present. He has been both loved and hated by his contemporaries and historians through the centuries. No sixteenth-century reformer has aroused such a range of emotions and opinions. Few people have taken a neutral stance in regard to John Knox. (3)
Kyle, then, explores these aspects of Knox's life and ministry. Knox was, perhaps above all, a preacher - or at least that's the way he saw himself. Yet in his preaching ministry Knox was a prophet who spoke against all forms of idolatry, a political revolutionary that believed a monarch should be overthrown if he/she (usually a she in his day) failed to affirm and promote the true faith, and a pastor who could tenderly comfort the suffering and encourage those struggling with their faith.

As such we must explore Knox's thinking theologically, pastorally, and politically. Kyle does an excellent job in this regard. Of all of the books I have read on Knox thus far, this volume provides some of the best insight into Knox's theology. One aspect I enjoy most about Knox's theology regards his emphasis on immutability. Though he goes farther than I would on the subject, Knox was at least right in placing significant emphasis on it.

In regards to his political theory, Kyle offers sober words for Knox. To the modern ear, Knox is a radical that no one should support. One can hardly read his most (in)famous work The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women without cringing. It is unfortunate that most only know Knox as the double-edge sword yielding preacher who hated women in power.

Yet Kyle warns us against such a view of Knox. The reformer had little interests in politics but understood the world-changing nature of his doctrine. Knox was a preacher and as such he was called to faithfully proclaim the gospel regardless of his audience. Knox did not care if he made a local farmer or the queen of Scotland cry if he was fulfilling his ministry.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book. Kyle wades through the murkiness of Knoxian studies and presents the man as he was - warts and all. It is not a critical book for "englightened" academics which serves to massage their own chronological snobbery nor is it hagiography for Reformed theologians. It is an exploration. Will the real John Knox please stand up? By the end, he does.

This book was graciously provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Books on Knox:
"John Knox: An Introduction to His Life and Works" - A Review
"John Knox" by Rosalind Marshall: A Review
"The Mighty Weakness of John Knox" by Douglas Bond: A Review
"John Knox & the Reformation" by M. Lloyd-Jones & Iain Murray: A Review
"John Knox For Armchair Theologians" by Suzanne McDonald: A Review

For more on Knox:
"Scottish Theology" by T. F. Torrance: A Review
A Nestorian Heresy?: John Knox & His Rejection of Particular Redemption
Douglas Bond on the Legacy of John Knox
"The School of Faith" by Thomas F. Torrance: A Review
John Knox on the Threefold Office of Christ
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
John Knox on the Importance of the Ascension 
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