Because of his inspiring leadership during the United States civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and because he was assassinated while serving in that capacity, Martin Luther King, Jr., has become an iconic figure in popular culture. And I fear that King the "legend" has become so big that people may be paying insufficient attention to King the writer. If you want to experience King's insight and power as a writer, read "Strength to Love." This collection of sermons is an excellent summation of the philosophy he developed as a Christian clergyman, social critic, and advocate for the African-American community.
Most of the sermons in the book begin with a Bible verse which ties in to the theme of each sermon. One of the main themes of the collection as a whole is King's passionate denunciation of racial prejudice and of the tangible injustice that springs from that phenomenon.
King is also very critical of those sectors of the Christian world that have historically used the Bible and Christian theology as tools for promoting slavery, American racial segregation, and South African apartheid. Indeed, in the sermon entitled "A knock at midnight" he refers to the Christian churches' historic support of racism as one of "the shameful tragedies of history." And he is also critical of those Black churches that have reduced Christianity to either a frenzied form of "entertainment" or a snobbish social club. These are hard words that contemporary Christians need to hear and heed.
King's own vision of Christianity is bold and revolutionary. And this vision is firmly grounded in the person of Jesus, whom he describes as "the world's most dedicated nonconformist." While strongly Christian, King is nonetheless respectful of the truths found in other religious traditions.
One fascinating sermon includes King's balanced critique of Communism. In another sermon, he praises Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, who greatly influenced King's philosophy of nonviolence. Ultimately, King's vision and compassion is vast: in "The man who was a fool," he writes, "All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."
King's radicalism, his willingness to critique the failings of the Christian world, and his rejection of a rigidly fundamentalist style of Christianity have made him a target of ugly criticism from some more conservative Christians. (Consider, for example, author Paul McGlasson; in his 1994 book "Another Gospel" he condemns King as a "false prophet.") And I fear that others have tried to "sanitize" King's strong message. And that is why "Strength to Love" is such an important book. It is an important historical document of a critical era. And it is also a bold proposal of a Christian path that is compassionate, committed, and open to new truth.
on December 15, 1999
This is a wonderful collection of Dr. King's sermons. The sermons function well independently; however, together they present a comprehensive view of Dr. King's nonviolent philosophy and his understanding of the Gospel's imperative for peaceful resistance. This book is a must read for anyone trying to understand Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement, nonviolent philosophy, or true love!
In the popular eye, Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his work in the Civil Rights struggle during the 1950s and 1960s; his public speeches and public acts are part of the general pattern of American history. However, his ability at public speaking came largely from his experience as a preacher in Black church - the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. had a 'day job' as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and as part of this task, he regularly delivered sermons to his congregation. This is a collection of 15 sermons, illustrating major points of King's theology and sense of social justice.
This book has a foreword by King's daughter, Coretta Scott King, who speaks of this book as one that is most influential to others - the primary feature of King's theology and practice, nonviolence, is contained here. King's sense of justice, the love of the divine, the interconnectedness of all peoples in the human community, and King's ultimate sense of optimism come through the powerful words of these sermons.
King's words often take conventional phrases and ideas and bring out new meanings. King's ideas of the practical meaning of being a nonconformist, or of loving one's enemies, put new interpretations on these ideas. King talks of the difficulty of being a nonconformist, and the echoes of the Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau are present, as are theologians such as Niebuhr. King does not speak of the kind of simple nonconformity that typifies teen-age rebellion and angst (which is, in itself a very conformist kind of nonconformity), but rather a working against the prevailing norms of society toward a transformation in love and furtherance of the gospel message.
King states that of all Jesus' commands, the command to love one's enemies is the most difficult to follow in practice. King looks not only at the question of how, but also why should we love our enemies, concluding with the observation that 'love is the most durable power in the world.' Love, being a creative and transformative force, is the greatest hope for lasting and meaningful peace. Quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, who built a great empire, he observes that all empires and authorities that rest on force are destined to fail, but Jesus' empire built on love continues generation after generation.
King risked unpopularity among the dominant white culture of America; this is well known. However, he also risked unpopularity among his own community (and risked giving the powers that be further ammunition against him) by delivering sermons such as 'How should Christians view Communism?' and not giving a unilateral condemnation of the same. This was a perilous stand to take in Cold-War America. Admitting the problems with Communism, King was equally honest about the shortcomings of Capitalism, and wrote, 'We who cannot accept the creed of the Communists recognize their zeal and commitment to a cause which they believe will create a better world.' King takes both Communism and Capitalism to task for failing to appreciate the social aspect of humanity, concentrating more on the Enlightenment-generated individual.
This is no simple Baptist preaching - King's erudition shows through without being oppressive or condescending; he weaves in references from Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare, English and Continental philosophers, the Declaration of Independence, and American writers with grace and ease, all the while maintaining a close attention to the primary biblical message. King doesn't engage in prooftexting, but does provide a new hermeneutic (for the time) that provides foundation for more recent liberation theologies of diverse strands.
Perhaps pride of place goes to the final sermon in this collection ('and the last shall be first'), which is King's 'Pilgrimage to Nonviolence'. King gives a brief spiritual and intellectual autobiography, talking of his quest for understanding from fundamentalism to liberalism to neo-orthodoxy and beyond; he gives credit to examples such as Gandhi and the people of bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama as proof that nonviolent action can have dramatic, lasting and beneficial power for the whole community. The sermon ends with hope for the future, a future we are called to continue to build.
This is a text to be read again and again, as the words remain fresh and powerful even as nearly half a century has passed since their first utterance. There is inspiration for our time as well as a glimpse of times past in King's sermons. It is worthy of a place in history, and deserves a place in the future.
on December 18, 1998
Until you read this book you will not understand the spitirual dynamics of the civil rights movement. I guarantee that the chapter on tough minds/tender hearts will change anyone who reads it. This text MUST become required reading for everyone. Dr. King teaches that it truly takes strength to love. He also explains that God does not leave it all up to us to do but he will give us the strength to love if we submit to his will. He explains as it does in the Holy Bible that anyone can love and do good to those who do good to them but it truly takes strength to love your enemy. In the non-violent revolution Dr. King demonstrates how love(Truth) will always defeat hate(UnTruth). Truth crushed to the earth will always RISE.
on October 3, 1998
This book of sermons reveals how King used the pulpit as a podium of moral philosophy, reconstructing the traditional commitments of faith by means of patient reasoning. Thus, the first passage of this book pleads for a "tough mind." Although we are prepared to appreciate King's faith, this book is also a lasting testament to his intellect.--Greg Moses
on April 4, 2000
This book really taps into alot moral,social, racial issues of today. Furthermore this book challenges Christians to really look deep into our faith and reason, and depend upon God. This book truly eliminated any myths I had about MLK.
on August 25, 2004
i first picked this up in college, and got it again this year because it couldn't possibly have been as great as i remembered it to be, but lo! it actually is.
i'm a committed secular humanist who has done a great deal of bible study, and who likes narrative jesus 'the guy who turned over tables and said what he meant', without buying into the 'resurrected son of man' part. king in these speeches talks more clearly, honestly, truthfully, and eloquently about the jesus I like than anyone i have ever read or heard. it's about jesus the temperate, jesus the considerate, jesus the revolutionary, jesus the useful and applicable to all people, not just christians. it's an amazing thing, what king does here.
this is not to say that he's not talking about the other jesus, too -- he is. but in most of these sermons, the qualities that king highlights are the ones that are pragmatic and applicable to his particular struggles, things like pacifism, steadfastness, and courage to speak truth to power. these are all christian values, too, i suppose, but they're really just human values, i think.
so, no offense jesus people, but i think that this is a book of sermons from a guy who knew that jesus was bigger than just being the annointed. as he exists in the gospel narratives, king draws jesus as a model *human*, independent of his messianic qualities. this is an *amazing* book.
on April 26, 2005
"Strength to Love" woke me up.
It made Dr. King so much more real. It contains some of the most powerful teachings on how to love in situations where it is difficult to. Not love -in the romantic sense - but rather, in a much deeper way - as in love of humankind. Of Christ-love. Just read his sermon on "Loving your enemies": he starts with the difficulty of reconciling this commandment, and finishes with a flury of passion exhorting us to make this commandment real when he starts with the words "To our most bitter opponents, we say...". It's not just the banter and broad strokes which he uses so magnificently to generate his passion. He also gathers support from folks such as Emerson, Napolean, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche and the Bible of course. All of this to convey a sense of urgency to show how low we all have come, and at the same time to inspire us to a place where we can go.
While you may not agree with what he says, you must admire and respect what he says. Dr. King's messages aren't easy to digest- but he says the right thing - which is not always, the easy thing. Even though these teachings were written over 40 years ago now, his messages in "Strength" are no less relevant and more important than ever.
on December 15, 2013
It is the last book in my <a href="http://christianleadershipconcepts.org/clc/">CLC curriculum</a> and I just never found the time to read it then, but I'm glad that I did here.
Like the last book I reviewed, <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/753726307">The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism</a> by [author:Naoki Higashida|6566404], it matters who you are. Without the context of who Dr. King was and what Dr. King did, I would have quit reading fifty pages in.
If written by another author, I couldn't excuse ignoring racial nuances or making race the lense that frames every issue. If written by another author, I couldn't pardon characterizing the God of the Old Testament as tribal (pg. 23). If written by another author, I wouldn't look past editorializing the Samaritan and the rich fool. But it wasn't written by another author. It was written by Martin Luther King, Jr, the man that was beaten, led bus boycotts, and made non-violent protest Christian. The man that was flawed, but pushed through sin to do something extraordinarily great, anyway.
I found this book hard to finish, but if you've got the time (or if you're actively oppressed by something bigger than you are) this book is worth the read. It will show you where the strength comes from--the well from which you may draw it--to love those that hate you. Dr. King gives these great suggestions:
+ "First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. ... It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship." (pgs. 44-45)
+ "Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. ... This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. ... We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God's image is ineffably etched in his being." (pg. 45-46)
+ "Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding." (pg. 46)
I also enjoyed Dr. King's description of this being "midnight" and the darkest hour. I thought it was extremely interesting to read of their own midnight in the Montgomery bus boycotts in 1956. This story and others in this book would certainly give hope to those walking through their own darkest hours.
Still, I read this book because of who wrote it, to thank him and to better know him. I expect we all do that from time to time, and I had moments where I felt thanked back--where I took something great from it--but there were others where I just needed strength to continue and found it hard to love (the book), even though I wanted desperately to.
Here's some more STUFF I UNDERLINED:
"Not ordinarily do men achieve this balance of opposites. The idealists are not usually realistic, and the realists are not usually idealistic. The militant are not generally known to be passive, nor the passive to be militant. Seldom are the humble self-assertive, or the self assertive humble. ...truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis that reconciles the two." (pg. 1)
"To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish. To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless. We must combine strongly marked antitheses." (pg. 6)
"My friends, we cannot win the respect of the white people of the South or elsewhere if we are willing to trade the future of our children for our personal safety or comfort. Moreover, we must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil. ... 'Put up thy sword.'" (pg. 7)
"The greatness of our God lies in the fact that [He] is both tough minded and tender hearted. ... [God] expresses [His] tough mindedness in [His] justice and wrath and [His] tenderheartedness in [His] love and grace. ... On the one hand, God is a God of justice who punished Israel for her wayward deeds, and on the other hand, [He] is a forgiving father whose heart was filled with unutterable joy when the prodigal son returned home." (pg. 8)
"He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us in our tragic prodigality." (pg. 9)
On the parable of the Good Samaritan: "I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?'" (pg. 26)
And I'll end it WITH A PRAYER:
Lord, Thank You. What would this world be without this man, this great man that changed lives and softened the hardest of hearts? He did it not with words pecked out in a quiet nook, but with words spoken to the face of hatred. Who else but You, God, could have skilled one so perfectly and placed him at exactly the right time to free millions from wrong thinking and bad acting? I pray that all those that read it (and this) will know You better and be drawn to be strong and courageous to love ferociously.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
on October 29, 2011
Strength to Love is a great book, even giving me goose bumps at times. I am not a Christian, not even close. That being said I am not a hater, I just do not agree with all institutionalized religion in general. However, this book is a great inspirational read for anyone! The underlying message of love and the power it has is brilliantly illustrated by Martin Luther King. Not being from that generation it is easy to understand why so many people are enamored with him and how much he helped the civil rights movement and all of mankind. 100% of the human populace could benefit from reading these sermons.