Montreat, N.C. – Knox. Knox. Who’s there? Tutor, priest, bodyguard, rebel, Protestant minister, galley slave, exile, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, and founder of Presbyterianism: John Knox’s influence on the political and religious groundswells of 16th century England and Scotland reverberate in Protestant theology, music, and social conscience these 500 years later.
This year, in honor of the 500th anniversary of his birth, the Presbyterian Heritage Center, King University, the Buechner Institute and Montreat Conference Center are hosting The North American Symposium on John Knox — The Heritage & Future of American Presbyterianism, March 7-8, 2014, in Montreat, North Carolina.
Keynote speakers include Jane Dawson, University of Edinburgh, School of Divinity and author of a new biography of Knox published by Yale University. Iain Torrance, former president of Princeton Theological Seminary and currently Pro-Chancellor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, will lead a discussion of Knox’s understanding of the sacraments. Erskine Clarke, who taught American religious history at Columbia Theological Seminary, and William Storrar, director of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton Theological Seminary will speak on political traditions and the influence of our Scottish legacy.
“While one of the four great Geneva Protestant Reformers, John Knox and his life is little known among Presbyterians,” says Ron Vinson, executive director of the Presbyterian Heritage Center. “His life reads like a Hollywood swashbuckling epic …Traditionally, he is characterized as austere, one-dimensional. But there is so much more to learn about him.”
No pictures were even taken or drawn of Knox during his lifetime, though as his influence and the results of his contributions as a Reformer grew, many artists and sculptors have imagined what he looked like, but only as an old man. A portrait of Knox in his prime is being commissioned and will be unveiled at the Symposium.
Presbyterians may have sketchy knowledge of John Knox and the role he played in overthrowing Roman Catholicism in Scotland and assuring that Presbyterianism, rather than Anglicism, took its place. They may be somewhat familiar with the fact that he wrote the Confession of Faith, the First Book of Discipline, and the Book of Common Order, all of which laid out the foundation for the Scottish Reformation and for the new denomination’s guidelines for children’s education, relief for the poor, and proposed a model for the governing of the Reformed Church that would eventually be used to model political governments as well.
But there’s much more to the story. The Scottish Reformation under Knox was the only Protestant Reformation that did not martyr anyone. Under Knox, no one was executed, and, Ron Vinson points out, that is in itself a remarkable fact that is often overlooked.
Nevertheless, John Knox was an immovable force in his mission. He met with Mary Queen of Scots “with intent to bring her heart to Jesus,” as she struggled to convert Knox back to Roman Catholicism.
In response to Knox’s “imprecatory prayers,” Mary Queen of Scots is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”
John Knox died on November 24, 1572. Ironically, today one of the most important leaders of the Protestant Reformation lies buried under what is now parking space #23 next to St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.
The North American Symposium on John Knox at Montreat will include breakout workshops for Christian educators, pastors, historians, music directors and choir members, Scottish heritage enthusiasts, and people of faith from all denominations.
To register or for further information, call toll free 800-572-2257, ext.339 or visit montreat.org. Cost for the full conference is $85 plus housing.
INA JONES HUGHS is a member of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Black Mountain, N.C.