CultureWatch is many things, but it is certainly about engaging in the culture wars we find ourselves in. Not everyone is convinced this is a worthwhile calling. Some say it is a waste of time, or not a biblical priority. Some think it counterproductive or unnecessarily alienating people.
How do I respond to such concerns? Perhaps one way to respond is to refer to another person with a very similar sort of ministry. Chuck Colson is one Christian writer and activist that I have a lot of affinity with and sympathy for. In fact, there is very little that I find myself disagreeing with, either in his work or his writing.
So the way he defends his ministry may be something I can latch onto as well. And it just so happens that his newest BreakPoint commentary (September 1, 2006) deals with this very issue. Entitled, “Fifteen Years Ago,” he writes about the fifteenth anniversary of BreakPoint, his daily radio commentary.
Interestingly, I too started this work just around fifteen years ago. In 1971 (the year I left my radical past and became a Christian) Colson was embroiled in the Watergate affair in the Nixon administration. He was sentenced to prison for his activities, but became a Christian in 1973. So our chronology is somewhat similar here, although he was born 22 years earlier than I, in 1931.
He begins his article by noting that many are curious as to why he started BreakPoint: “I have often been asked why, as a prison evangelist, I comment on cultural issues and biblical worldview. Why don’t I just stick to bringing prisoners to Christ?”
And I too am asked similar questions. Why not just preach the gospel? Why waste time trying to reform culture? I think the answers Colson provide are right on the money, and deserve careful attention. This is what he says:
“In the first ten years of Prison Fellowship, I did focus on evangelizing, building discipleship programs, and training volunteers. But I was perplexed because prisons were filling up with criminals faster than we could start Bible studies. And this despite the fact that we were in prosperous times and poverty was on the wane.
“Then an inescapable fact hit me: The surging moral relativism in our culture was eroding our value system. This revealed itself most significantly in the breakdown of the family, which, of course, negatively affected kids. What’s more, sleazy television, movies, and music poisoned the minds of young people, dulling their consciences. And the schools no longer taught right from wrong – only tolerance. Young people had no moral compass, and many of them followed their parents’ footsteps into prison. It wasn’t poverty and racism, I came to conclude, that put people in prison; it was wrong moral choices and the lack of moral training during the formative years. Studies at the time were discovering the same thing.”
So what can be done? Like myself, Colson was introduced to such Christian thinkers as C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer early on in his Christian journey. They had a profound impact on him, as they did me: “I realized that if we were going to do anything about prisons bursting with ever-younger inmates, we would have to begin to help Christians challenge this false view of life. I was studying, at the time, Biblical worldview – the writings of Francis Schaeffer and Abraham Kuyper – and it took on a new sense of urgency.”
Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch Prime Minister, statesman, journalist, theologian and active Christian, who showed by personal example how believers can make a difference in their culture. Having lived in Holland myself for five years, I too have a great appreciation for the likes of Kuyper.
Colson continues: “So, after many years of urging – I’d even call it nagging – by my friend Jim Dobson, I went on the air for the first time on September 2, 1991, to challenge the false values of our culture from a Biblical perspective. In that broadcast, I talked about a Phil Donahue show where parents were interviewed who let their kids have sex under their own roof, presumably so they could keep an eye on them. And even worse, the audience was nodding sympathetically – nobody challenging these parents’ actions! Nobody was concerned with truth – only feelings.”
Colson discovered that key issues such as truth, value and personhood, need to be addressed. “I realized then we have to start asking the right questions: What is truth? What is real? What are we living for? And as I said that day back in 1991, unless we realize that there are such questions – that all through history humans have been seeking answers to these questions – then we are simply going to flounder along, drifting with popular trends.”
And he has been getting people to ask such important questions ever since, with great effect. Indeed, his ministry has influenced millions of people, be they hardened criminals in prison or mild-mannered parishioners at the local church. His fifteen year ministry has helped equip a generation of Christians to love God with their mind as well as their heart.
As Colson concludes, “So for the past fifteen years, BreakPoint has been helping Christians articulate a thoughtful and winsome biblical worldview in all areas of life – presenting big answers for big questions.” And such is the sort of ministry that I also have been led to engage in. Ideas have consequences and truth matters. Our world is in a mess because of bad ideas, poor values, and our rejection of our creator.
My job, like Colson’s, is to present the truth of the gospel as it impacts every area of life. I hope his ministry continues for many more decades. And with God’s grace, I hope mine does as well.