Martin Luther King Jr.: A Humanitarian but No Christian

On this day when people everywhere remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and the footprint he left, I thought I’d post a quote or two of his. It’s no secret that he was a Baptist minister. But take a look at some of his theology. He denied the deity of Christ, thinking that the unity Christ had with God was in purpose alone. He found penal substitutionary atonement to be an impossibility. If this wasn’t bad enough, he believed that man’s salvation rested in his own hands.

There is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a humanitarian who left a huge imprint on the world, but a nice man does not a Christian make. In terms of his theology, it was just another “dream” he had.

The following paragraphs are direct quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. taken from
The papers of Martin Luther King, Jr, Volumes 2-3
Martin Luther King (Jr.), Clayborne Carson, Peter Holloran, Ralph Luker, Penny A. Russell

“God is first and foremost an all loving Father, and any theology which fails to recognize this, in an attempt to maintain the sovereignty of God, is betraying everything that is best in the Christian tradition. Luther dimly recognized this, and attempted, although often unsatisfactorily, to stress the love of God. But not so with Calvin. It is justice and power that are prominent in Calvin’s God. The God of the Genevan reformer was a monster of iniquity. He was so bent on justice that he possessed no conscience. He was so concerned about being respected and glorified that He found in Himself neither glory nor respect for men. When men become servants of such a God, they may be expected to set flame to the faggots piled high about the body of a Servetus or preach the sermon of Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”   

Hence, we must affirm that Christ is a unitary personality, and this unity we find in his own ego. There is nothing in rational speculation nor New Testament thought to warrant the view that Jesus had two personal centers. We must then think of Christ as a unitary being whose divinity consists not in any second nature or in a substantial unity with God, but in a unique and potent God consciousness. His unity of {with} God was a unity of purpose rather than a unity of substance.   

Concerning the work of Christ the two reformers stressed a substitutionary theory of atonement. They maintained that Christ actually took the place of sinners in the sight of God, and as a substitutee suffered the punishment that was due to men. But all of this is based on a false view of personality. Merit and guilt are not transferable from one person to another. They are inalienable from personality. Moreover, on moral grounds, a person cannot be punished in the place of another.   

Another weakness in this theory of atonement is that it is based on the assumption that the chief obstacle to man’s redemption is in the nature of God. But there was never any obstacle to man’s redemption in God himself. The real obstacle to man’s redemption has always lain in man himself. It is from this standpoint, therefore, that the death of Christ is to be interpreted. Christ’s death was not a ransom, or a penal substitute, or a penal example, rather it was a revelation of the sacrificial love of God intended to awaken an answering love in the hearts of men.    We are compelled, therefore, to reject the idea of a catastrophic fall and regard man’s moral condition from another point of view. Man’s fall is not due to some falling away from an original righteousness, but to a failure to rise to a higher level of his present existence.   

In the same vein we must reject Luther’s and Calvin’s view that man is incapable of performing any saving good, and that man can do nothing to save himself. Certainly we must agree that the image of God is terribly scared in man, but not to the degree that man cannot move toward God.    A final doctrine of Luther and Calvin which needs to be critized is the doctrine of predestination. Any form of mechanical determinism is far from adequate for lasting Christian doctrine. The Kantian “I ought therefore I can” should stand out as a prelude in any Christian conception of man. Any attempt to maintain a doctrine of man devoid of freedom leads us into needless paradoxes.