The Myths of MLK and Jesus

Throughout my youth Dr. King was a hero of mine. As I got older and began to read his writings and listen to his speeches, I found his legacy more complex than I was able to reconcile. I loved the message of racial equality, I truly didn’t know what to do with the rest and the older he got, the more he talked about the rest.

I put it on a shelf for a very long time. I decided to worship the myth of King more than the man.

The truth is that we love mythological figures more than truth. They are like the unborn. They are the idealized fantasy. They are simple. They never do anything wrong. They are easy to rally around. Dr. King was none of those things. Actual living people are far more complex. They do things amazing and terrible. Often the same things can be viewed either way depending on the angle you see them from.

The truth is that the mythological MLK would have never been murdered. But he was, because the mam and the myth are not the same person.

The mythological MLK would have never been murdered. Click To Tweet

As I began to broaden my mind I appreciated the complexity of MLK’s message. I was initially disappointed when I understood his teaching went beyond the idealistic. I wanted him to stay the mythological figure I had him pegged as. That was easy and defensible. But that’s not who he was. He spoke on housing, employment, living wages, wealth distribution, white supremacy, Christian apathy, and many, many other issues that surrounded his desire to help the poor and minorities get their piece of the pie. Mythological MLK can’t be found in the real MLK’s writings.

I didn’t want to think about those things. I now understand I wanted mythological MLK to be like mythological Jesus. He’s the happy-go-lucky guy who wants to help us achieve the American Dream. Mythological Jesus wants to keep me happy and safe from the scary world. Mythological Jesus understands why I am supposed to be over them. Mythological Jesus stays in my spiritual life and doesn’t demand anything from me other than attention when I am alone.

Like mythological MLK, mythological Jesus would have never been murdered. Click To Tweet

I know now that mythological Jesus would have been loved in the Roman world. He understands violence and blesses greed. He never wants to offend the powerful and understand the poor have nobody but themselves to blame.

None of these things is the real Jesus no matter how legendary the myth becomes. The reality of Jesus is far more complex. And if I am being honest, I have had the most trouble with the people who have accepted the mythical messages of Christ and MLK. Invoking Christ is enough to be a Christ follower or tweeting an MLK quote on his birthday is enough to be a follower of MLK. Both are not true.

This week honor The Dream and read one of King’s less famous speeches or articles. Likewise, read the Sermon on the Mount and take it literally. See how these legends challenge how you see the world.

The Death of the Father Heart Message

The neglect of Holy Spirit in churches and academia is the voter fraud of theological writing today. Lots of people claim it but its not actually a thing. Pneumatology (the study of Holy Spirit) has a massive niche in popular writing and a solid community in academia. Not only is there study of God the Spirit by Spirit-filled folks, there is now an emerging body of work studying through a fresh Pentecostal lens

You know what we are missing? We are missing a Spirit-inspired systematic theology of the Father.

The Father Heart of God : The 90s Renewal

I came up in the teachings about the Father heart of God in the late 90s and early 00s. There was a rich study of the Father’s love for His people. Anyone remember the Father’s Love Letter? A strange thing happened with all that revelation of the Father’s love. It was never folded into any form of systematic theology. The charismatic revival which started in Toronto never took that revelation and asked themselves, “How should we view the atonement with this revelation? How should we interpret the Old Testament? How should we communicate the nature of God?”

In short, they preached a new revelation of God the Father as a loving father but did not develop a renewal hermeneutic. Most of the leaders came from a Baptist background and never challenged what they learned in their formative years. Instead there were proof texts of Father’s love and little more.

Some major charismatic churches have done a better job folding this view of the Father into their worldview. This has paid off in favor in the form of worldwide itineraries and massive book and album sales. Their theology has been communicated in phrases and messages more so than a statement of belief, but a core value remains that “God is in a good mood.” This was preached at least a dozen years that I know of until the current presidency’s power seemed to be threatened. Then a prophetic message came that God would give President Trump another term because of gender reassignment surgery, those that oppose him oppose God in this “kairos moment,” and they will be likened to Ananias and Sapphira.

I wish I was exaggerating or making this up. The daddy God stuff got thrown out the window.

It would seem that voting for a Democrat is the only thing that upsets God. He was unfazed by the widespread horror of American slavery over several centuries but gender reassignment alone will cause Him to disregard His nature, change His mood, and punish those that oppose President Trump.

The Theological Train Wreck We Are Left With

What this has exposed is essentially twofold. (1) Popular charismatic Christianity has no systematic theology. At best it possesses an ethic of relativism based on its current priorities. There simply has not been the work of theology to try to understand what God was doing in the 90s, form a comprehensive hermeneutic that takes that into account, and apply it with integrity to all aspects of the relationship between God, human, and the Bible. (2) There has been no renewal inspired Paterology. That is, a doctrine of God the Father as revealed by the move of Holy Spirit in the 90s. We have a desire for an all-loving God who acts as a good father but we are currently unwilling to give up our right to condemn, judge, or get self-righteous. In the words of Carlos Rodriguez, we are unwilling to “drop the stones.”

Why are we here? Why have the revivals of the 90s and 00s not produced real theology and real theologians? Why has it not birthed bible colleges and doctrinal fellowships? Great question.

My working theory is that the charismatic revivals had a message but were really centered on the messengers. The signs pointed to the messengers rather than to the message of love the Father was trying to tell. It wasn’t ideas that traveled the world as much as the people who taught those ideas and those who could replicate their signs and wonders.

Eventually the message was not important, just the charisms displayed which validated the workers who carried them. The message of the Father became an afterthought. When the spiritual sons of the next generation began to rise and challenge old notions of the judgmental Father and oppressive patristic structures they were canceled.

History Repeats Itself

There is a reason that most of these leaders set themselves up as singular “apostolic leaders” instead of restoring the early church model of five-fold ministry (see Acts 13:1). There is a reason that none of the leaders of the moves of the 90s and 00s have given up the reigns of the works they began to the next generation. Oh, some have hired managers, but they still lead the movements.

I don’t claim to know anyone’s heart. But I do know that the church desperately needs real prophetic preaching that comes from the hard work of a trained mind formed in part from the critical feedback of other trained minds that see the inconsistencies and errors of an intellectual silo. When their power was threatened they rebuilt the house of their fathers.

This has not been the easiest season for me. Relearning what we thought we already knew is humbling and a little scary. People have insulted me, questioned my salvation, in the midst of it I am more encouraged than ever and I hope to encourage a generation of believers who will unashamedly preach the real Gospel, about the real Jesus.