This Fall I took a class with Dr. W. Stacy Johnson titled “The Theology and Ethics of Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr.” The summary of the course as per the syllabus was:
This course offers a critical analysis of two of the most influential American Christian voices in the twentieth century, with particular emphasis on their theological background, their understanding of the relation of theology and culture, and their methodological importance for ethical thought and practice in our day. Topics to be explored include Niebuhr’s influence on King; King’s place in American theology and ethics; the relationship of each man to the Social Gospel movement; the place of race, gender, and politics in their work; and their continuing influence on prophetic religious thought today.
The books used were:
Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (1932)
The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation, 2 vols. (1941)
The Irony of American History (1952)
Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Testament to Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington (1990)
Strength to Love (1963)
Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community? (1967)
The class schedule went something like this:
Week One: Introduction
Week Two: Text: Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932)
Week Three: Text: King, Strength to Love (1963)
Week Four: Text: Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 1
Week Five: Texts: King, Letter from Birmingham City Jail (1963)
“I Have a Dream” (1963)
“Eulogy for the Martyred Children” (1963)
“Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech” (1964)
Week Six: Text: Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 2 ()
Week Seven: Texts: King, “Our God is Marching On” (Selma, Alabama) (1965)
“Beyond Viet Nam: A Time to Break Silence” (April 4, 1967)
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (1968)
“A Testament of Hope” (1969)
Week Eight: Niebuhr, The Irony of American History
Week Nine: King, Where Do We Go From Here?
Week Ten: Conclusion
The course consisted of 2 hours of lecture and 1 hour of precept (or smaller discussion groups). Prof. Johnson is a good lecturer and I definitely learned a lot in the class. Since I am a practically minded person, it was hard for me to live in the theoretical for so long. I would have benefited more from being able to go back and forth between the theoretical and the practical. It was especially hard for me to live in the theoretical with an issue that is in dire need of practical discussion and application. Since part of the course was to see how Niebuhr’s theology affected MLK, I think it it might have been more helpful to spend the beginning of the course focusing on Niebuhr’s take on things and then reading MLK in light of that. The grade in this course was based on class participation and one final paper. There were 3 options for the final paper/project:
- Standard research paper (min. 12pg., max. 20pg.): In this option you will develop a thesis related to the themes and figures covered in the course. While the paper need not treat both figures in the course equally (though you can if you want to!), it is a good idea to at least highlight connections between Niebuhr and King at some point in your paper. Papers should focus on at least one of the figures.
- Sermon and Rationale: You may write an original sermon that engages the themes of this course. If you choose this option, please submit a manuscript (8-10pg.) and a 5-7pg. theological rationale paper. The theological rationale paper should engage both Niebuhr and King.
- Church Education Project and Rationale: You may choose to submit a multi-media presentation or curriculum plan that focuses upon the Prophetic Christianity of Niebuhr and King. Like the sermon option, please include a 5-7 pg. theological rationale.
My paper/sermon is posted separately here.