Why John Knox matters in 21st century Scotland

November 3, 2014

Well over 100 people gathered in Edinburgh on Saturday (1 November) for a conference marking the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Knox.

Visitors came from as far away as London to hear talks from Point Free Church’s Rev Dr Iain D Campbell, Charlotte Chapel’s Rev Paul Rees, and American Rev Dr Steven J Lawson.

The conference tackled interesting subjects, such as the relevance of the great reformer in 21st century Scotland, as well as sharing little-known historical details.

Knox 500 conference in St Columba's Free Church of Scotland, Edinburgh

Former Free Church of Scotland Moderator Rev Dr Iain D Campbell was the first speaker, who tackled the dual theme of Knox’s compassion and conviction.

After giving a comprehensive account of events leading up to the Scottish Reformation, the Point Free Church minister gave two main points – firstly, that Knox’s life was one of “unswerving fidelity to the word of God”.

Dr Campbell (pictured below) went onto highlight the implications for the life of the church itself (the word of God must be the content of the church’s preaching), what ought to be practised (the simplifying of worship and reformation of the visible face of the Scottish church) and the importance of sound theological preaching.

His second point was fidelity to the word of God as it impinges on the life of the nation.

Rev Dr Iain D Campbell

Dr Campbell lamented that there was very little evidence that the Bible features in Scotland’s national life today, and that the country is increasingly being underpinned by a secular lifestyle.  

But the Point minister said Knox was a reminder to Christians today that “the Bible is for the public domain – not simply for the private domain”.

He suggested that evangelical Christians could stand together to face the powers-that-be with the word of God.

Dr Campbell went onto examine the emphasis that the Bible puts on education, drawing on Knox’s vision of a church and a school in every parish – because people had to learn to read if they were to be able to read the Scriptures for themselves.

The Point minister said that free education was one of John Knox’s legacies to Scotland, which was “religious in its general ethos, but Christian in its epistemology”.

He concluded by highlighting John Knox’s exposition of Psalm 6 in January 1554, which demonstrated his “unparalleled compassion for the people of God” and brought “comfort to all of God’s people passing through difficult lands”.

This showed that although Knox had a compassionate heart, he also had an inflexible commitment to the word of God, and that he would always stick to Christ on the day of battle instead of being moved by the trials, temptations and afflictions.

Rev Dr Steven J Lawson

After a short interlude, Rev Dr Steven J Lawson (pictured above) explained why John Knox matters in the 21st century, with seven reasons.

Firstly, the truth of Scripture that Knox preached matters, because the truth of the Bible does not change – it is the same today, tomorrow and forever, and therefore just as relevant.

Secondly, the boldness of voice that Knox used matters. Dr Lawson said Knox did not “mumble the truth” or “share the truth”, but “heralded the truth”. The American said that if the church is lukewarm, apathetic or inoculated with the spirit of the age, “it needs a loud voice to awaken, shake and revive the church” and call it to action. He added it was not “the bland leading the bland” but that compelling and commanding preaching would see more men become convicted of the need to preach for Christ.

Thirdly, the reformation of the church that Knox sought, matters. The Scottish reformer did not just believe and declare, but also wanted the church to be aligned with the Bible – because it had become “deformed” by becoming “an echo chamber of the world”.

Fourthly, the importance of the primacy of preaching. In 1559 there was probably about 12 men preaching the truth and they would be in house meetings as they were banned from meeting in public settings. Because of Knox’s emphasis on preaching, within six or seven years there were almost 300 preachers. The American questioned whether churches today had become too feminised, and said pulpits had to be full of strong preaching.

Rev Dr Steven J Lawson

Fifthly, the form of Presbyterianism that Knox established matters. Dr Lawson said the church is always strongest when it has held to Calvinism, because a high view of God leads to high worship, high and holy living – whereas a low view of God leads to base forms of worship and common living.

Sixthly, the good of Scotland that Knox helped create, matters. The American said the influence of a tiny nation far exceeded its land mass, population, natural resources and location. Yet, the Reformation brought an elevation of life, education and morality – which led to educators, scientists, poets and inventors. Dr Lawson said the Reformation helped Scotland become a “lighthouse to the nations”.

Finally, the evangelisation of the world matters. Dr Lawson said Knox was used by God in Scotland, England, Geneva, Frankfurt and even France – adding that the reformer’s desire in passion was far more than the reformation of Scotland. He added that Knox also served as “something of a launch pad” to send missionaries to the world.

He concluded by exhorting that Knox matters – because even though the man had flaws, like everyone, God picks up sinful people and “uses them in extraordinary ways” for His glory.

Knox 500 panellists - Professor John McIntosh, Rev Dr Iain D Campbell, Rev Dr Steven J Lawson and Rev Paul Rees

Above: (L-R) Professor John McIntosh from Edinburgh Theological Seminary, Rev Dr Iain D Campbell from Point Free Church, Rev Dr Steven J Lawson from One Passion Ministries, and Rev Paul Rees from Charlotte Chapel. 

There was then an open question and answer session, with questions covering cessationism, Knox’s own failings, and what the reformer would have made of a female First Minister in Scotland.

In the afternoon session, Dr Lawson gave two further talks on the powerful preaching of John Knox, and Rev Paul Rees (pictured below) spoke on ‘God’s word does the work’.

Rev Paul Rees


There are now two further conferences as part of the Knox 500 conference series aimed at ministers, lay preachers and students – in Edinburgh Theological Seminary today (Monday 3 November), and then at The Tron Church in Glasgow on Wednesday (5 November). For more details, go to