I grew up listening to Dr. King's speeches and sermons. By the time I was in high school, I could quote many of his more famous sermons verbatim. Without a doubt, Dr. King's oratory skills had a profound effect upon me and my subsequent development as a preacher. People may not always agree with Dr. King's theology and may question some of his politics, but there is no questioning the fact that he was a first rate orator. And yet, not only was he a great orator, but he was a fine writer and a most erudite man. Anyone who would take the time to read The Letter from Birmingham Jail and realize that the letter was written on paper that was smuggled in to him and that he had no literary resources available to him, one would have to admit that Dr. King's mind and heart were full of knowledge and passion. The Letter from Birmingham Jail is a undeniable classic piece of American literature. Yet, for me, my favorite writings of Dr. King are in the book Strength to Love. This a collection of some of his more powerful and insightful sermons concerning America and the Civil Rights Movement.
I first came in contact with Strength to Love during my freshman year of college. And it has been a staple in my library ever since. I have read it and reread it countless time. I have referenced it directly and indirectly in my writings and preaching. I not only learned about the mind of Dr. King, but Dr. King through these sermons introduced me to other intellectual and spiritual giants, whom he quotes.
Admittedly, Dr. King's theology leaves a bit to be desired. His misrepresentation of Calvinism, Reformed theology, and particularly the doctrine of total depravity in his sermon "The Answer to a Perplexing Question," is not to be expected of a man with such learning. His assessment was indeed a caricature of the truth of Calvinism and probably the result of interactions with liberal professors and his own political expedience. Nevertheless, I won't dismiss Dr. King because he lacked theological acuteness. I don't read King for that. I read King so as to be inspired by his pathos and his ability to articulate that passion in words. King reminds me that true theological/biblical preaching must not be dry and ordinary. If he could use colorful, inspiring words for the cause of Civil Rights, how much more should I strive to use them for the cause of Christ. Here is an example and one of my favorite passages from his sermon Loving Your Enemies:
To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."
My edition of Strength to Love is an old hardback edition published shortly after Dr. King's death. I have worn it out pretty good. Some of the pages have been taped together and the binding is not as strong as it once was. Nevertheless, the words are still intact and never cease to make an impact on me no matter how many times I read them. If you are looking for some way to remember Dr. King and his message this year, do yourself and all those around you a favor and read Strength to Love. It may strengthen your resolve to love as Christ did and to preach with more passion for HIM.