King Came Preaching:
The Pulpit Power of Martin Luther King Jr.
Mervyn A. Warren
IVP, 223 pages, $19.99
When students enroll in my "Life and Thought of Martin Luther King" course, they expect to encounter his learned theological treatises. They are surprised to discover that in his mature years he wrote no sustained theological reflections on love, justice, suffering, or reconciliation. What he did do was preach sermons. In fact, until the day of his assassination, King never stopped preaching. In his sermons, mass meeting speeches, and civil addresses he articulated his theology and his vision for America. He admitted as much in an Ebony magazine article: "In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher."
In the last 15 years, more than a few commentators, including James Cone, David Garrow, Keith Miller, Taylor Branch, and Lewis Baldwin, have acknowledged and celebrated King the preacher and his roots in the black church. Before he was a thinker or an activist, King was an orator who skillfully transposed his message from beneath the sacred canopy of the black church into the arena of American law and public policy.
King Came Preaching is by Mervyn A. Warren, a veteran preaching teacher at Oakwood College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Huntsville, Alabama. Warren looks at King's sermons through the lens of current speech and communication theory. Warren promises to avoid the two extremes of "a mere biographing of a preacher with only incidental references to his hands-on process of bringing a sermon to readiness … and a flooding of readers and practitioners with homiletical assumptions whose vagueness and impalpability would be mere shadows for chasing around discussion tables ...1