Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963. 192 pp)

Born in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pastor, activist, and leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. King rose to prominence during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and orchestrated the 1963 March on Washington where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. King earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was assassinated in 1968.

A Big Deal 

Martin Luther King, Jr. is a big deal. I recall learning about his life and his influence on civil rights early and often in grade school. I heard his famous “I Have a Dream” speech long before I knew what it meant. King County—where I live—originally named after William Rufus King is now named after MLK.

Yet for all I’ve learned about King over the course of my education, I knew little about the origins of King’s thought. Aside from a passing mention of King as a Baptist minister, the facts I was taught regarding King sit mostly on the secular side.

Photo by Scott Ableman 

Thus, I found King’s theological inspiration fascinating. When I read his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” for a college course, my life changed. I found an ethic by which to live. I had no clue that King spent so much time in the public eye grounded by his theological inspiration.

A Collection 

For this reason, I found King’s Strength to Love incredibly fascinating.

A compilation of 15 separate sermons, Strength to Love follows a variety of topics. Loving neighbors and enemies represent a major theme. Contextual issues such as a Christian’s response to Communism also populate the pages.

If you have heard MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, you’ve heard his unparalleled eloquence. King’s possesses stolid and erudite prose. As such, you could underline every other sentence.

The Continual Journey 

But for me, the most fascinating sermon concludes this book. Titled “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, the chapter unveils the MLK’s theological journey.

In his words,

“In my senior year in theological seminary, I engaged in the exciting reading of various theological theories. Having been raised in a rather strict fundamentalist tradition, I was occasionally shocked when my intellectual journey carried me through new and sometimes complex doctrinal lands, but the pilgrimage was always stimulating, gave me a new appreciation for objective appraisal and critical analysis, and knocked me out of my dogmatic slumber” (146).

Having experienced theological study, such sentiments ring true with me. Reading King’s words about his time in preparatory study reminds me of the journey we all take in faith, in philosophy, and in life. Without King’s intellectual journey, we more than likely would not have seen such a powerful external representation of his beliefs.

The Foundations of Faith 

Likewise, King’s honesty about his faith inspires me.

“God has been profoundly real to me in recent years. In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm. In the midst of lonely days and dreary nights I have heard an inner voice saying, ‘Lo, I will be with you’” (153).

Photo by Nathan Gibbs

In statements such as these, I find profound awe. This man—arguably the most important figure in the 20th century—relied heavily on his faith. Underneath his intellectual journey and his public leadership in the civil rights movement was a foundation in Christian faith.

In Appreciation of the Man 

Of course, Martin Luther King’s influence reaches far beyond Christian circles. As a philosophical system, King’s views on nonviolence are revolutionary. MLK openly announces the influence of Gandhi on his positions—a position clearly outside of orthodox Christianity but nonetheless an influence on King’s beliefs.

But, reading King talk about faith in Jesus and the importance of the church in tender words all while admitting his intellectual journey gives me courage.

If you are a fan of Martin Luther King or are interested in hearing his positions from his voice, Strength to Love is a mandatory read.

Verdict: 5 out of 5

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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