Rufus Burrow, Jr.
“This is a strong and sophisticated treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., that makes an important contribution. It reflects Burrow’s immense knowledge of personalist philosophy and the thought of King.” —Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary
Although countless books have been devoted to the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., few, if any, have focused on King’s appropriation of, and contribution to, the intellectual tradition of personalism. Emerging as a philosophical movement in the early 1900s, personalism is a type of philosophical idealism that has a number of affinities with Christianity, such as a focus on a personal God and the sanctity of persons. Burrow points to similarities and dissimilarities between personalism and the social gospel movement with its call to churchgoers to involve themselves in the welfare of both individuals and society. He argues that King’s adoption of personalism represented the fusion of his black Christian faith and his commitment not only to the social gospel of Rauschenbusch, but most especially to the social gospelism practiced by his grandfather, father, and black preacher-scholars at Morehouse College. Burrow devotes much-needed attention both to King’s conviction that the universe is value-infused and to the implications of this ideology for King’s views on human dignity and his concept of the “Beloved Community.”
Burrow also sheds light on King’s doctrine of God. He contends that King’s view of God has been uncritically and erroneously relegated by black liberation theologians to the general category of “theistic absolutism” and he offers corrections to what he believes are misinterpretations of this and other aspects of King’s thought. He concludes with an application of King’s personalism to present-day social problems, particularly as they pertain to violence in the black community.
This book is a useful and fresh contribution to our understanding of the life and thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. It will be read with interest by ethicists, theologians, philosophers, and social historians.
“This is a strong and sophisticated treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., that makes an important contribution. It reflects Burrow’s immense knowledge of personalist philosophy and the thought of King.” — Gary Dorrien, Union Theological Seminary
“This scholarly, courageous, insightful work, which fuses so successfully King’s academic career with his heritage from the Black Church, is a much needed addition to Martin Luther King studies and breaks new ground for all of us who pursue truth of the ‘whole’ King. No book more clearly illustrates how pervasive an influence the philosophy of personalism was on King’s life and thought. It is an obligatory read.” — Ira G. Zepp, Jr., Professor Emeritus, McDaniel College
“Like a seasoned maestro, who uses his or her insight to bring new life to the symphonic warhorses of Beethoven, Mozart, or Wagner, Professor Rufus Burrow, Jr. wields a baton of passionate, analytical, critical, and creative discourse in his narration of the life, intellectual scholarship, and social activism steeped in the “home grown” personalism of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in God and Human Dignity: The Personalism, Theology, and Ethics of Martin Luther King, Jr. Midst the woodwinds of King’s metaphysical and ethical personalism, the strings of his intellectual history and cultural social activism, the brass relaying King’s metaphysics and ethics, and the percussion which challenges those who negate the import of personalism in King’s thought, Burrows engages King scholars, to probe, in a brilliant manner, King’s strengths and weaknesses, including his foibles with his own sexism, to orchestrate the life of a human man with an embodied faith. This volume is a must read and reference for all persons interested not only in the life and thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., but for those intrigued by Civil Rights, the history of nonviolence and personalism in Christian thought, moral law and ethics, and for grappling with a notion of the universe as a place for socio-ethical analysis." — Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Shaw University Divinity School
“Burrow offers a well-written analysis of the intellectual tradition of personalism. He shows how the tradition influenced Martin Luther King Jr.‘s theology and ethics, and how King in turn made his own unique contributions to this system of thought. . . This book is both an excellent introduction to King’s thought and an excellent survey of scholarship on this aspect of King’s life and contributions.” — Choice
“Burrow insightfully makes the case that King had learned themes of personalism and of the social gospel in its African American form from his family, from Benjamin Mays and George Kelsey at Morehouse College, and from George Washington Davis at Crozer Seminary, prior to King’s own studies at the seat of personalism, Boston University. . . . “ — Journal of Religion