Monday, April 23, 2007


4. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

King was a gifted African-American preacher and civil rights leader whose sermonic appeals for justice and personal activism helped change the course of American life. His prophetic words and actions resulted in his recognition as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He was tragically assassinated in 1968.

Though his theological training was provided in a context of theological liberalism, as King's ministry progressed -- as pastor of Montgomery's Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, then Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church -- his preaching grew increasingly more evangelical and biblical. His sermons became more Christ-centered, with a growing emphasis on the cross.

Steeped in the rhetorical traditions of the African-American church, King displayed gifts in the pulpit and the political arena that made him one of the most compelling speakers of the century. It is important to remember that the leader of the most profound American social movement of this century described himself as "fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher."


"Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of great passion, devotion, and humor. His humorous side is not frequently discussed, and though often portrayed by the media to be a rather serious, no nonsense individual, in reality he was the epitome of humor. However, while he could greatly amuse a select group of friends in private, it was his passion and devotion that caught the international spotlight.

>From his family he inherited a sense of mission that encompassed him as a

preacher and a Civil Rights leader. A major source of King's theology was the African-American church. Perhaps the greatest gift willed to King from the African-American church was that of an indomitable faith in God which reverberated through his sermons and speeches.

Of the many career opportunities King could have pursued, he chose to take a full time pastorate. Above everything else, Martin King considered himself a preacher of the gospel. Apparently King was often disappointed that he was not primarily seen as a preacher.

King was a poet and an artist in the pulpit. He saw no incompatibility between biblical preaching and preaching on relevant social issues. That is only part of his legacy to modern preachers. King has helped ministers to recover the relevance of preaching for our day, to motivate Christians to blend their theology with their ethics, and to translate their faith in God in the social, economic and political struggle, while not being afraid to use philosophy and formal reasoning.

Ultimately King breathed life back into many preachers simply through his profound approach of addressing the audience cardiologically and colonially. Just as his passion, devotion, and humor sprang from his head as well as his mind, so he directed them and his message to the head and minds of others. (Robert Smith, Professor of Preaching, Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, AL)


1 comment:

Michael D. said...

One thing that bothers me about the Martin Luther King legacy is there is very little attention given to the fact that he did not only help to free the black community from the ravages of racism, he helped free many others from the receiving end of hatred. I remember many stories from my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncle of when they where asked to leave places of business because they where Catholic. It is because of Martin Luther King that I, and my children, don’t have to experience that. Martin Luther King is not just an African American hero, he is a true American hero.