God and Human Dignity
The Personalism, Theology, and Ethics of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Paperback | 9780268021955 | April 2006
Hardcover | 9780268021948 | April 2006
eBook (PDF) | 9780268161002 | April 2006
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268161019 | January 1992
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.
Rufus Burrow, Jr., is Indiana Professor of Christian Thought and professor of theological social ethics at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“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. Burrow also identifies a number of themes common to personalism and the social gospel. Thus, for King it was not either/or; it was a pilgrimage to find the academic understanding that best fit his own family tradition and faith. ~Journal of Religion
"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
“One of my favorite commentators on Dr. King is Prof. Rufus Burrow, Jr. In his book, God and Human Dignity, Burrow writes of King’s theistic personalism. . .” ~Patheos
“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