With the recent 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, many evangelical Christians have been celebrating his life. The Gospel Coalition hosted the MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop conference, lauding his life and work, and calling on the church to reflect on racial unity then and now.
Martin Luther King Jr’s theology was very liberal. In papers he wrote during his time at Crozer Theological Seminary he made his views clear. He said that the evidence for the Virgin Birth is “is too shallow to convince any objective thinker.” He stripped the doctrines of the divine sonship of Christ, the virgin birth and bodily resurrection of all literal meaning, saying, “we [could] argue with all degrees of logic that these doctrines are historically and [philosophically] untenable.” In another paper he wrote:
[A] supernatural plan of salvation, the Trinity, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, and the second coming of Christ are all quite prominent in fundamentalist thinking. Such are the views of the fundamentalist and they reveal that he is oppose[d] to theological adaption to social and cultural change. … Amid change all around he is willing to preserve certain ancient ideas even though they are contrary to science.
He did not believe these doctrines even though the Bible taught them. Instead he rejected them as superstition because they did not fit his notions of modern science. The doctrines he was rejecting are fundamental to Biblical Christianity.
After graduating from college, we do not see a radical change in King’s theology, or a repudiation of his former unorthodox views. Although he did not explicitly preach these liberal beliefs, his messages were still consistent with them. His message would fall under the banner of black liberation theology – he preached a form of Christianity that was reworked to apply to physical freedom of the slaves. The central theme of his Christianity was not Jesus Christ, the son of God coming to earth, it was the deliverance of the Israel from their slavery in Egypt. In his famous “mountaintop” speech, when he was listing the seminal events of history, he mentioned the Exodus, not Christ’s death and resurrection.
Liberation theology is a secularization of Christianity, using the Bible as a framework to speak to people’s longing for freedom. It is an abandonment of the message of the Bible. Instead of applying the full breath of scriptural to the hearers, it constructs a new theology to appeal to your worldly needs. This fits perfect with King’s denial of fundamental beliefs in the supernatural events scripture records. He didn’t need to believe them if he was just repurposing a few events from scripture to construct his own story of the world.
MLK at the University of Minnesota
There is substantial evidence that Martin Luther King Jr.’s private life and character was unworthy of a minister of the Gospel, or even of a Christian. The FBI monitored him for many years, wrongly and unconstitutionally using their surveillance powers to get damaging information to discredit him for political purposes. This monitoring included following him on his travels around the country and placing recording devices in his hotel rooms. The FBI claimed to have evidence, both anecdotal and on audio recording of King committing adulteries on many occasions. They even went to the point of sending him an anonymous letter threatening him with the release of this information and encouraging him to commit suicide. The FBI records on King will remain sealed until at least 2027.
We do not have to take the word of the FBI to believe that MLK was not a man who lived a righteous life. Dr. Ralph Abernathy, a close friend of King’s, admitted as much in his book, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. He wrote that even the night before his assassination, King had committed adultery with multiple women. The consensus among historians is that Martin Luther King Jr. was repeatedly unfaithful to his wife.
It is right to commend and remember King for what he got right, including the equality of all nationalities and non violent protests against injustice. But we must not ignore his failings. As with any other historical figure, we must be honest about King, complementing and emulating what he did well, and condemning him where he was wrong. Christians must not forget, in their rush to crown him their hero, that he lived a wicked life and denied the very basics of orthodox Christianity. It is deceptive and wrong for evangelical Christians to claim King as a brother in Christ, when all the evidence suggests that he was not.
We’d like to invite you to join us on our 2018 Life of Benjamin Franklin Tour this September, to explore the rich history of our nation during the life of Benjamin Franklin. We will begin in Philadelphia, and see the effect that Benjamin Franklin had on the city, through his printing shop, inventions, and organizations such as the American Philosophical Society. Continuing west through Pennsylvania, we will see early settlements in Pennsylvania, and French and Indian War battlefields. Back in Philadelphia, we’ll consider the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and the beginning of the American Revolution, before visiting some battlefields of the Revolution, such as Brandywine and Germantown. We’ll conclude at Benjamin Franklin’s grave after considering his influence on the U.S. Constitution at Independence Hall.
All was deathly silent in the small village of Kamiah, in what would one day be the state of Idaho. A neat white chapel testified that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had come to Idaho territory. The fir trees and silent mountains stood around the house of worship as people stood in quiet groups, talking, praying, and pointing to a little house framed with simple boards and roofed with cedar. Inside that house, a man was dying.
This man was Henry Harmon Spalding, the beloved pastor of the Nez Perce Indians. He was on his deathbed, and the people he loved were gathered around, awaiting the end. Slowly, a tall Indian rode into the clearing around the church and made his way toward the house. This was Chief Timothy, once a savage, but now a Christian. Let us follow him into the house and observe the scene.
Columbia River, Oregon
Inside the house we find an old man propped up in a bed. His beard flows down to his chest, and his eyes are sunken and hollow. He knows eternity is near. But when his eyes see Timothy, they brighten and sparkle with the gleam of renewed vigor. Timothy was Spalding’s first convert to the Gospel, and he has proven faithful. The old missionary and the old chief look at one another in silence, for there are no words to express their thoughts.
It is said, that in the final days of life, the mind rushes back to early memories. The sight of old Timothy has brought back a flood of memories to the veteran missionary. He remembered the distant village on the east side of the continent where he had been born, an illegitimate child. He remembered his own conversion to the Gospel, and the first time that he as a young man had heard about the people that lived west of the Rocky Mountains. He remembered the young lady, Eliza Hart, who had agreed to become his wife and cross an unknown continent at his side. Eliza was waiting for him in heaven, and Henry would see her soon.
As Henry continued his remembrance, he remembered the day, forty years earlier, when he and his fellow missionary, Marcus Whitman, and their wives had left all they had known to bring the Book of God to the Indians of the Northwest. He remembered his first sight of the rugged mountains, the first grizzly bear, the first hostile Indian. Many troubles had been weathered and many hardships endured in his long pilgrimage on earth.
He carried some scars in his body as well as in his soul. It is not an easy thing to be a pioneer missionary in a hostile land. But Henry had always risen to every challenge. When most of his comrades had died or gone home, Henry Spalding had stayed.
A friend who knew him well once said that he was “inured to hardship from infancy.” The veteran missionary had been chased by bears, thrown by horses, hunted by savages, and distrusted by his own companions. Even his fellow-laborer, Marcus Whitman, had often misunderstood and slandered him. Working closely together on a foreign field is always hard, and differences of opinion can divide good men. The drive and zeal of Henry Spalding made him clash with anyone whom he considered as lacking zeal. Marcus Whitman sometimes viewed Henry as proud, uncompromising, and cantankerous.
But when Marcus’ daughter Alice Clarissa drowned in a creek, Henry made a hard 120-mile trip through the mountains to comfort his grieving friends. Beneath his rough beard, sunburned face, and fiery eyes there was a soft heart. Henry mingled his tears with those of Marcus and Narcissa as he preached the funeral of the little girl from the tender text, “Is it well with the child? It is well” (II Kings 4:26).
So firm was his love to the Whitmans that Spalding entrusted his own eldest daughter to their care, and the girl had been with the Whitmans on the fateful day of their martyrdom at the hands of the Cayuse in November of 1847.
Henry and his wife Eliza were threatened with death numerous times, but the Lord had delivered them to carry on the work. Their own mission compound, called Lapwai, was protected by converted natives like Chief Timothy who would not let hostile hands touch their beloved teacher.
While Marcus and Narcissa Whitman went to an early martyrdom and reward, the Spaldings were left on earth to continue the task of taming the west with the Bible and the hoe. After losing his beloved wife Eliza in 1852, Henry continued, “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). Over his long and faithful ministry in the Northwest, he lived to personally baptize over 1,000 converts. His ministry extended beyond the Nez Perce tribe to embrace the neighboring tribes of the Cayuse, the Spokane, the Walla Walla, the Yakima, and the Couer d’Alene.
Henry had lived to see the wilderness of Oregon reach the status of statehood. By the time of his death, the transcontinental railroad had been laid. The mountains over which he had once walked on foot beside a mule were now crossed by trains. On his last trip east in 1871, the old missionary had gazed in wonder as the landscape slid past the window of his comfortable railcar. On this trip to the east, the old missionary was hailed by large crowds wherever he went. He was welcomed by august bodies of statesmen and stood before the U. S. Senate as well as the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. He always preached to crowded churches, telling the people the fascinating story of the mission work in the Northwest and the blood of martyrs that had hallowed that ground. Spalding pled that the work was not over, and that the west could not be won with the railroad, barbed wire, and the Winchester rifle, but that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that alone, could tame the wild frontier. The U. S. Senate applauded his efforts and all the famous newspapers sang the praises of the old missionary.
But Henry Spalding would not bask in personal glory. He set his face toward the western sun and returned to his old station at Lapwai, wanting to die at his post of duty. Indeed, his last years were some of his most fruitful, as he began to train a host of young Nez Perce pastors and teachers who would continue his work.
Even at the age of 70, old Spalding worked as hard as ever. That year, he travelled more than 1,500 miles on horseback. He lived with the Indians, slept on the hard ground, ate their food, and taught them the Book of God. He gave the Nez Perce a written language and translated large portions of Scripture for his beloved people. He also taught them to sing, and Henry loved nothing better than to sit in that white frame church and hear the sweet songs of Zion being sung by his converts.
Gentle singing now called the old man out of his memories. The loved ones about his bed were singing a favorite hymn, a hymn loved by his wife Eliza, now awaiting him in glory, “The delightful day will come, When my dear Lord will bring me home, And I shall see his face.”
The Site of Spalding’s Mission
Near Henry was his well-worn Bible and his journal. The last entry of that journal was written with a shaky hand, telling of the baptism of several natives from the Umatilla tribe. Interestingly, the final two natives, a warrior and his wife, who were baptized by Spalding took the Christian names Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Under this baptismal record, the final words of Henry’s journal were these, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.”
Over the dying missionary, Chief Timothy stood reverently, his dark cheeks wet with tears. He had joined in the singing, and now he opened his copy of the Gospel of Matthew, translated by Henry into the Nez Perce language, and offered his pastor a few words of comfort from the Book of Books. The old chief then joined his hand with the hand of the old missionary and gave his teacher these final words of parting:
You are my great interpreter. You was sent by God to me and to this people, to teach us life, the Word of God. You are going first. God only is good and great. Jesus alone gives life. Now don’t be concerned. I will never turn back. My wife will never turn back. This people will never turn back.
With these words echoing in his heart, Henry Harmon Spalding finished his earthly pilgrimage and entered the eternal rest that is reserved for the people of God. He was buried at Lapwai, his old mission station, under a grove of trees, and his grave is carefully maintained by a grateful people to this very day. He had committed the truth to faithful men, men who would teach others also.
The churches that Henry Spalding started still stand today, and there are Nez Perce pastors alive and preaching today in the Northwest who gratefully trace their heritage to his influence. Nez Perce National Park now marks the place where Henry Harmon Spalding lived and labored.
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
The prairie near the site of Spalding’s work
Henry Harmon Spalding by Clifford Drury Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the Opening of Old Oregon by Clifford Drury
This series recounts the stories of mighty men from the past - from the earliest days of the Roman persecutions all the way up to our modern era.
The book of Hebrews speaks of men of faith “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong” (Hebrews 11:33-34).
These words apply very well to the life and death of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Unlike the typical bold and fiery Reformer, Thomas Cranmer was a man of peace, a gentle soul, a warm friend, and a man who earnestly shunned controversy. He had many days of glory, wealth, power, and prominence. Thomas Cranmer was the Primate of all England, the respected protector of kings, the trusted friend of queens, a loving husband, a devoted father, a trusted churchman, and the author of the beloved Book of Common Prayer. But the year 1556 saw Cranmer at the great crisis of his life. We will peek into the cell of his prison and see how “out of weakness, Thomas Cranmer was made strong.”
A gloomy light filtered into the dark cell of the prison where Thomas Cranmer sat. The feeble shaft of daylight illuminated a piece of paper. Cut off from the succor of his friends, separated from his wife and children, racked by grief, and bombarded by the rhetoric of his enemies, his weary heart pondered his options. Cranmer had only two. First he could assert the truth he had so long preached: that Christ alone was the head of His Church, that the mass was a Roman innovation, that purgatory was not found in the Word of God, and that man must be born again. Second, he could give in to the pressure of the age and hope to retain his position as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Only weeks before, two of his very dear friends, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, had decided for the first option. They had boldly stood for the truth, and had been burned to death at the stake. Cranmer could stand at the window of his cell and look down the street at the place where they had suffered such a cruel death. Now, if he persisted in his beliefs, their fate would be his.
His mind began to play with him. What good came of their death? Latimer and Ridley were gone. Their voices were forever silent. He could avoid their fate simply by signing that piece of paper in front of him, recanting his “errors.” But he sincerely believed the truth, and he also knew that Jesus had said, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).
For many decades now, Thomas Cranmer had survived when others had died. When popular current had run against the Gospel, Cranmer, like a reed blown by the wind, had bowed over until the storm had passed. He had survived by keeping a low profile and speaking out only when it seemed that the truth would be received. He had always been a peacemaker, a gentleman, a kind-hearted soul who hated no one and sought no controversy. He was now an old man. Could he stand a burning? Would it not be easier to die in a comfortable bed like a respectable man, rather than in open shame like a criminal?
Cranmer was a gentle, timid old soul. He reckoned with himself that, if he lived, he could continue to labor for the cause of Christ. There, in the quietness of his cell, he made his decision. With trembling hand, he signed the paper in front of him. Like Peter before him, Thomas Cranmer had denied his Lord in the hour of trial.
For a while, Cranmer was relieved. He would retain his honor. A date was set in which he was to enter the church and publically renounce his errors before the assembled throng. But as the awful day of public recantation approached, Cranmer’s heart began to smite him with reproach and guilt. The words of Jesus again came throbbing into his heart. “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33). He had done it. He had denied the Lord Jesus. He had betrayed the Christians who looked to him for leadership. He had given cause for the enemy to blaspheme.
But the deed was done. Oh, if he could only recall the ink! If only that quill pen could suck up the words. But it was too late. The recantation was submitted. The date was set for him to publicly deny the Gospel. We dare not enter the sacred ground where our old penitent sought pardon of his God. What were the agonies of his soul? How many were the tears that etched their way down those aged cheeks? What were the heart-rending cries of the man who had denied his God? But then he remembered Peter. Had not Peter also denied his Lord? Had not Peter also sought and obtained pardoned?
The Book of Common Prayer
Perhaps in those sacred moments Thomas Cranmer bent his knee in his cell and turned with sorrowful eyes to the very words that he had composed in brighter days, words that had been printed in the glorious reign of Edward VI, words which now were a balm to his troubled heart,
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that be penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind, in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name.
The day finally came for the public recantation. With fixed resolve, the aged penitent entered the massive pulpit in the cathedral. Many people had assembled to hear the public recantation of the heretic. Some were there who had once been earnest followers of his preaching, those he had led in days past. Now, they had come to hear him deny his Lord. Their earnest faces gave the penitent new courage.
Looking upon the assembled throng, old Cranmer’s heart quailed but a moment, then his old eloquence and courage empowered his tongue. He addressed the people in carefully crafted words, proclaiming the duty of the people to live as Christians, to shun error, to be loyal to true religion. Then he got to the end of his speech. Up to this point, all the people still assumed that he would now recant his former preaching. Cranmer then said, “I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life, and that is the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth: which here now I renounce and refuse.”
At this point, there was a moment of tense silence in the room, as concerned believers and triumphant bishops alike looked to the pulpit with fixed eyes, waiting for him to renounce his errors. Cranmer then said, “I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall be first punished; for if I come to the fire, it shall be first burned.” The aged man still hated controversy, but his hour had come. He had bent over in the wind far too long. He squared his shoulders and continued, “And as for the Pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy and anti-Christ, with all his false doctrine. And as for the Sacrament . . .” Here a violent outcry of sound interrupted Cranmer, and his speech was cut short by the enraged bishops. As with the first martyr in the book of Acts, his enemies gnashed upon him with their teeth, and hauled him away to his death.
Very soon, Thomas Cranmer, once the Primate of all England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the English Reformation, was chained to a rough stake. His wife and children were far away in the safety of Germany and would not learn of his death until the crisis was past and the battle was won.
Cranmer stood in the same place where his two friends had recently gone before him. A mixed crowd was there, a vast concourse of people, for this was none other than the highest churchman in the land of England. Some were his sincere followers from old days, the people who had earnestly followed his preaching and who rejoiced that, even in death, their teacher maintained the truth of the Gospel. Some were his mortal enemies. As the fire was kindled and the flames leaped up, true to his promise, Cranmer held his right hand directly into the fire. Cranmer did not die until the right hand was burned all the way to the stump. The old man then lifted his eyes triumphantly to heaven, his face ringed with flames but full of heavenly peace, and cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
In his lifetime, Thomas Cranmer had indeed “subdued kingdoms, obtained promises, and wrought righteousness.” Now, in his death, he “quenched the violence of fire” and “out of weakness was made strong.”
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe Masters of the English Reformation by Marcus Loane The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne The Book of Common Prayer
This series recounts the stories of mighty men from the past - from the earliest days of the Roman persecutions all the way up to our modern era.
We are giving away a copy of Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy, a new biography of Hannibal that we just reviewed here on Discerning History. You can enter using the widget below, the giveaway closes at 12:00 am on November 10th, 2017.
The story of Hannibal’s brilliant campaigns in Rome is one of the most famous and dramatic in military history and it has been oft told. Nearly all that we know about him is contained in the works of just a few Roman historians, and after so many years new information is very rarely discovered. Historian John Prevas acknowledges this in his new book Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy, which was provided to Discerning History for review. All historians are working from the same material, but Hannibal’s Oath provides an interesting version of the story that readers would do well to consider.
Prevas insightfully brings out some aspects of the story that other authors graze over that shed new light on the man and his battles. He also has spent time in Europe visiting the sights that he mentions, and so speaks from first hand knowledge wherever possible. The book is not very long, and sometimes it feels as if he moves quickly over certain events that would be well worth dwelling on. One somewhat strange example of this is the one referenced by the title – Hannibal’s Oath, referring to the time as a boy when Hannibal’s father had him swear that he would never be a friend of the Romans.
Prevas does not use extensive quotes from the ancient sources, rarely quoting more than a phrase here or there. While some may prefer that, I enjoy occasionally hearing directly from the historians on which all of our knowledge is based.
This book, while acknowledging Hannibal’s brilliance and military skills, is definitely a negative assessment of the man. It is based on the principle that “great men, those who make history and even change its course, are invariable the most evil.”1 It attempts to show that in many ways Hannibal was a “colossal failure.”2 While you may not agree with all of his assessments, it is still a useful perspective to hear and evaluate.
In summary, if you are looking for a short, readable and insightful account of Hannibal, this may be the book for you. This book may not be suitable for younger readers, as it deals with some quite unsavory aspects of Carthaginian culture.
We are giving away a copy of Hannibal’s Oath, see this post for details!
1. Hannibal’s Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome’s Greatest Enemy by John Prevas (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2017) p. 241. 2. Ibid, p. 238.