For my post today on Martin Luther King, Jr., I will use as my starting-point something that David Marshall says on pages 113-114 of True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture:
“American magazines like Time and Atlantic Monthly have followed the lead of these [skeptical] scholars with cover articles on the ‘historical Jesus.’ If you’d lived by the Sea of Galilee in the First Century, the articles within implied, life would have proven tamer than the Gospels say. Storms would have risen and fallen with the prevailing winds. The blind stayed blind, and the dead, dead. As for the charismatic young teacher, Jesus…It seems he was a sagacious young radical who stirred up some scientifically-preliterate peasants. As the years passed, his disciples garbled and exaggerated his deeds. One gathering of scholars called the Jesus Seminar voted on Jesus’ ethical teachings: the few which were his, and the greater portion, which they say got thrown into the mix by later enthusiasts.”
I have not been a fan of evangelical apologetics, with all of the arrogant chest thumping that accompanies them. But, when I read this passage from Marshall, my immediate thought was “How sad!” In my opinion, it would have been sad had Jesus not performed those miracles—-miracles that healed the brokenness of this world and gave people happiness and hope.
What’s this have to do with Martin Luther King, Jr.? King himself held some pretty liberal views theologically—-and I would not be surprised if some of them overlapped with the sorts of approaches that Marshall critiques. But King still believed in the power of God to help him to heal a broken world. He believed that the words that the Gospels attribute to Jesus could somehow challenge people and be a means to make the world a better place. King had a dream. Has that dream been fulfilled, or disappointed? A little of both, I think. But, in the end, I hope that his dream does not fall flat.
I remember hearing Pastor Tim Keller say that the Gospel gives the hope to people working for social justice that they are on the winning side—-that their dream for justice would one day be realized. Martin Luther King was motivated by this hope. I think that whatever justice we achieve in this society will be imperfect and incomplete, for we are flawed human beings. But I also believe that there are areas in which society progresses, and that justice, whenever and wherever it exists, is right, important, and beneficial, and is thus worth the effort to promote, effect, and protect.