Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is honored every third Monday in January as one of the most important leaders, spokesmen, and influential people our nation has produced in the twentieth century. That the Lord used this man to help curb racist problems in our nation is beyond dispute, but there is still much that can be confused between King Jr. the man and the myth. As Christians, we want to think critically, honestly, and above all biblically about our history and the people God uses. How can we do that with Martin Luther King, Jr.? Here are some pertinent resources to (re-)familiarize yourself with this man, as well as some resources for thinking about his legacy.
Perhaps MLK Jr. is best known for his great speech, “I Have A Dream.”
Further, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is well known for its view into King’s mindset:
16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” … So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.
The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Here is King’s letter read dramatically to video by Corey Jones
Westminster Seminary California puts forth an audio ministry Office Hours, and R. Scott Clark interviewed Mika Edmondson about MLK Jr.’s legacy and theology.
Reformed pastor Rev. Kevin DeYoung says helpfully:
We are witnessing a remarkable advance of gospel-centeredness and reformed theology in the African American church today. I am only a novice when it comes to issues of racial reconciliation, but I know that I want to do whatever I can to celebrate, support, and learn from this surprising work of God.
Be sure to check out the Reformed African American Network. Stop by The Front Porch too. And for a powerful message on the gospel and multi-ethnic ministry you won’t find many better than the sermon Mike Campbell (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS) gave at the 2006 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.
He also points out these excellent thoughts by Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile:
Finally, MLK Jr. brings up many conflicting thoughts and emotions. How could white, Reformed Christians hold to racism? Is it true regarding some of the allegations of King’s adultery, and what does that do to his lasting legacy? John Piper at Desiring God helps us think through some of those issues pastorally in his article “Calvinist Racism and King’s Alleged Adultery—A Connection?” Here are more posts regarding MLK Jr. at Desiring God.
Finally, I pray that when we ponder Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy – or anyone else, for that matter – that we would remember these sacred words:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world… Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
I John 4:1, 7 – 12