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.

Speaking the Language of the Other

Pentecostal love was demonstrated by God with the outpouring of the Spirit. On Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on those in attendance and they spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Many followers miss the fact that Holy Spirit empowers people to speak the language of the other. He gives us the ability to understand people in a way we could not without His infilling. Pentecostal power is the ability to transcend our own self interest and see the needs of others and be transformed in a way that we can meet those needs.

While in Birmingham Alabama in 1963, Martin Luther King wrote a manifesto which invoked Christian ethics and American ideals as a call for justice in race relations. He was arrested during the peaceful protest that followed. While he was in jail, eight white clergymen wrote An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense.  They wrote that the acts of protesters were unwise and that if King and his people would just wait, in time the courts would give equal justice. In the meantime, people of color should submit to the segregationist laws.

Law and order would become an inportant phrase in politics. Law and order would become cemented in American conservatism. It was a tool to shift any conversation from the need for civil reform toward the actions of reformers that upset those who would need to give up power.

In reply, King wrote what was to be know as A Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Addressed to the white clergy who signed the letter in the paper, King replied that, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.” He then went on to recall how the Apostle Paul left Tarsus to carry the Gospel, because he had to respond to the Macedonian call for aid. He then justified the confrontational nature of his work.  “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

He later writes, “when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’; then then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

He finally writes the point of his letter. He was not so frustrated with the KKK or her sister organization the White Citizen’s Council, he was frustrated and dissapoitned with the white moderate who was more devoted to “order” than to justice. He then wrote extensively toward the white church, who according to King gave more emphasis about obeying the law of segregation instead of preaching on morality.

King wrote the prophetic words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We are all connected. The murder of George Floyd is another murder of a black man. But we must see ourselves as George Floyd no matter our race. We must see ourselves as Christian Cooper who just wanted to bird watch without a loose dog following him.

Through relationship with Holy Spirit we can identify with Christ. By the same Spirit we can identify with people who are hurt and fighting for their full personhood. As we mature in our theology, we must transcend the first identity (loving God), into our full identity (loving others). If we don’t, we risk abandoning the faith we seek to protect with law and order.

As people of faith, we must identify with:
George Floyd
Breonna Taylor
Ahmaud Arbery
Tamir Rice
Oscar Grant
Eric Garner
Philando Castile
Samuel Dubose
Sandra Bland
Walter Scott
Terrence Crutcher

Truth Over Ideology

I recently watched the Netflix show Waco, which is a tv series about the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas led by the devilishly clever David Koresh (not his real name). Without getting into the fictionalizations in the storytelling, the show rightly portrayed Koresh as the center of this offshoot of Seventh Day Adventists and how his personal teaching gift became the locus of their faith. It was his contention that all the Scripture pointed toward the seven seals of the Book of Revelation. He taught that faithful followers of God pursued the knowledge contaied in these sealed documents and their key to gaining that knowledge was Koresh himself. In order to be a successful cult leader, one must shift the focus from Jesus revealing the nature of God, toward the fulfillment of human desire through the cult leader. Every cult is based on this.

The teachings of Jesus are pretty clear, give up what you think is important. Focus on what God calls important. Lay down your life if that’s what it takes. Add value to the lives of others. It’s pretty simple when you take the teachings of Jesus at face value but all too often, people don’t want simple. They want super-spiritual convoluted teachings that make them feel special because of their insight.

The crazy shift

Jesus knew he was teaching people who needed rules. Their mind could not yet comprehend a system whereby they would have a personal, dynamic relationship with the God of heaven. So like Moses of old, he came down with commandments. He said that his new commandment was to love one another. This was not a suggestion, philosophy, or a religion. It was a commandment. He said that this new relational dynamic would be so remarkable that people outside the community would see and be so impacted that they would know that only God could be working in their lives. He again appealed to the desire to keep laws. He said that if you love God you will keep this commandment to love.

This is the crazy shift that Jesus brought. He connected our relationship with God to our relationship with each other in no uncertain terms. Over half the Ten Commandments teach this, but we missed it for hundreds of years. But Jesus said we were not alone in this quest to follow his love leadership. He promised another Helper. This Parakletos is not our servant, he is an advocate with the Father who gives us the ability to do what we could not do on our own. He empowes us to love. Those not connected to Jesus would not understand this love power but the promise was that we would.

It was this empowerment that Jesus called the Spirit of Truth. This empowering advocate will turn our thoughts to Jesus, and in turn, we will turn other’s thoughts to Jesus. Here is that connection between our relationship with God and other people. The Holy Ghost is the bridge between our heavenly relationship and our worldly relationships. Jesus is drawing a clear line. We are commanded to follow truth as sent by Jesus, not ideologies as formulated by people.

Truth or Ideology

An ideology is a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory or policy.

Truthcomes from the Spirit of God. It is the conviction of Holy Spirit  who said he would testify about Jesus, our God who laid down his life for us.

How do we find this truth?

When we connect with Holy Spirit he guides us into the truth. This is a foundation of Pentecostal theology. This is why we pray in tongues. This is why we seek Charismatic experiences. We want to encounter God so we can be further guided into his truth. The promise is that if we live by this system of encountering God and walking in the truth, we will live a life of joy. 

Jesus came to level the playing field

Jesus came to a world fraught with ideological strife and taught followers to set our focus on truth. The Father moved heaven and earth so that we can display the kingdom of heaven to the world around us.

Jesus sent his Spirit to give us all the supernatural ability to be a touchpoint of the kingdom of God. We each have access to the riches of the Kingdom with the ability to distribute the wealth of our heavenly Father as we see need. This ability has a byproduct of personal reward but when the motivation is personal reward, that which is holy, the sharing of the Kingdom, becomes corrupt. The material rewards of following Jesus have the potential of overshadowing the real rewards in heaven we are supposed to be focusing on, and when this happens, it brings out the worst in people and damages the reputation of our Savior.

The Christ did not come to bring us a higher quality of worldly experience. He did not leave heaven, put on flesh, subject himself to humanity, so we could satisfy our egos in a more efficient manner. Nor did he come so we could quiet our conscience while we extracted the most value for ourselves while devaluing our fellow man. We know we are experiencing spiritual maturity when we realize we are not in competition with anyone. There is no competition. Jesus invites us into a life in the kingdom of God where there is always enough for everybody. Those who have not had their minds transformed are still in the competition of the world where there is a the law of zero sum gain. Your victory is my defeat.

Real joy comes from knowing Jesus

When people don’t know God, they think he is focusing on Presidential elections, economic activity, or personal freedom.   These poor souls lay down the life of joy that Jesus promised for earthly riches. They are then deceived into thinking that he is willing to bend his morals so they will never need to be uncomfortable. This is the deception that makes people think Jesus came to protect our ideologies. This self-centered focus in the name of Jesus alone defines their truth. Though they may compile volumes of Scripture, they are always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.

This was the devilish plan of David Koresh. He would argue people into the belief that what was best for him was best for them. This led to him comadeering their money, their labor, their wives and daughters, and ulitmately their lives. But this all started with him becoming the gatekeeper of their relationship with God.

We have modern gatekeepers. They are not selling sheep in the temple, they are selling ads on tv and our future for their gain.

I plan to walk in the conviction of Holy Spirit and point out their lies so that I can walk in the joy of the Lord. I hope you join me on the mission.