Rooted in the cross: Why we need MLK’s ‘Strength to Love’

As our nation celebrates the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I would like to offer three reasons why you should read his collection of sermons entitled Strength to Love.

Unexpected Impact

Rarely does a collection of sermons make for a good read. Dr. King acknowledged his hesitancy to publish this book in the preface, writing “I have been rather reluctant to have a volume of sermons printed. My misgivings have grown out of the fact that a sermon is not as essay to be read but a discourse to be heard…even as this volume goes to press, I have not altogether overcome my misgivings.”

After his death, Coretta Scott King wrote a foreword for newer editions of the book and testified, “If there is one book Martin Luther King Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” What a testimony to the providence of God. The very book that Dr. King was hesitant to publish, had an unexpected impact on many.

Undeniable Intellect

These sermons demonstrate the possibility of preaching to the heart and mind. The first sermon in the collection is entitled A Tough Mind and A Tender Heart. In it, Dr. King says, “rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

In the first sermon alone he quotes French philosophy, Mein Kampf, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Aristotle, and more. Not a single sermon in this volume is dumbed-down. You will not agree with everything Dr. King preached. If fact, he preached with eyes wide-open to the critiques of his message. Therefore, he is regularly making a case for his convictions.

The reverend Billy Graham demonstrated how a simple and clear gospel presentation can reach the masses. Dr. King’s sermons demonstrate how thoughtful and prophetic messages can also do the same. The apostle Paul intentionally avoided words of “lofty speech or wisdom” with the Corinthians. The author of the letter to the Hebrews did not.

Unresolved Issues

If the current climate of political polarization, economic disparity, and societal upheaval is causing you to despair, read this book.

In his sermon, Transformed Nonconformist, Dr. King encourages his audience, saying, “honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job, or having a six-year-old daughter ask, ‘Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much?’ But we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.”

You might not agree with Dr. King’s case for nonviolence, but hopefully you can agree that it’s worth considering. He was not alone in his critiques of racial segregation, economic exploitation, or American foreign policy. He was unique, however, in his defense of nonviolent resistance to these injustices. And here his sermons point regularly to the cross of Jesus.

Where else can you make the case to not be overcome by evil, not minimize it, nor given into it, but rather seek to overcome it with good, except in the cross of Christ?

Many celebrations of his legacy will focus on parts of his message, but these sermons reveal an integrated wholeness and consistency rooted in the cross. Read The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore, followed by Shattered Dreams, and you will be lifted from despair to hope.

Topics: Culture, Ethics, Social Change

About the Author

Petar Nenadov serves as the regional development representative for the Great Lakes region. He is a graduate of The University of Akron (B.S. Political Science/Criminal Justice) and Ashland Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and serves as lead pastor of Lakeside Christian Church in Akron, Ohio. Petar helped launch the Cleveland network of Made to Flourish and is a contributing author for The Gospel Coalition.