The first time I remember reading Letter from a Birmingham Jail was in Divinity School pastoral ministry class. And while I have read portions of it since, I am not sure I have read it straight through again until this morning.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail is both convicting and relevant right now. Protests are back in the news and I keep frequently hearing complaints that are very similar to those that Martin Luther King Jr directly addressed in this letter. ‘You are outsiders’, ‘You advocate breaking the law’, ‘You are moving too fast’, ‘The police are just keeping order.’
But even more important, at least for me, is the words that King has for Whites that are supportive but not actively working for Civil Rights. King’s words of concern for those that are more concerned about ‘order than justice’ and those that, ‘..agree with you in the goal you seek, but…cannot agree with your methods’ are words written to people that are not experiencing pain themselves.
I am also purchasing one and will put two more books about Letter from Birmingham Jail in my watch list.
The book I am buying today is Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church by Edward Gilbreth. It was released just over a year ago and published by IVP. I didn’t realize it initially, but Gilbreth is the brother in law of a good friend of mine. Gilbreth is also an editor at large for Christianity Today and has another well reviewed book ‘Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. I am intentionally purchasing Birmingham Revolution for kindle, but you can also get it on the ebook subscription service Scribd.
Bryan Loritts who has a very good post today at Christianity Today also edited a book of essays called Letters to a Birmingham Jail. These essays are written by a variety of Evangelicals from John Piper to John Perkins to Soong Chan Rah to Matt Chandler.
Another book that is directly looking at Letter from Birmingham Jail and breaking it apart to give it context and history is Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation by Jonathan Rieder. (It is also available on Scribd).
All three books were published in 2013, the 50th anniversary of King’s original letter.