Chuck Colson has just passed away after surgery for a brain haemorrhage. He was one of the most influential Christian leaders of the past half century. His legacy will live on, and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.
Born in 1931, he made a career out of the rough and tumble of politics. After a stint with the Marines and some work in law, he joined the Nixon administration in 1969. Known as one of Richard Nixon’s “hatchet men,” he was one mean operator.
But his life and career came crashing down all around him with the Watergate affair. He and a number of others were found guilty of various offences, and his cushy life in the White house was replaced by a stay in prison. He was found guilty of obstructing justice and served seven months in jail in 1974.
Just before this sentencing however, in 1973 he had become a Christian. He famously tells his story of a political tough guy becoming a compassionate Christian in the best-selling autobiography, Born Again (Chosen Books, 1976).
His time in prison would of course give him a lifelong concern for prisoners, and he founded Prison Fellowship in 1976. Through this remarkable ministry he has offered real help and hope to prisoners all around the world. Many prisoners have been helped in so many ways, not least in many of them coming to know Jesus Christ as their own saviour and lord as well.
But he is perhaps just as well known as a Christian apologist, ethicist, promoter of the biblical worldview, and cultural commentator. Indeed, if I can humbly say so here, the sort of work I do at CultureWatch may in many respects be said to resemble (to a much lesser form and degree of course) the sort of work Colson was involved in for nearly four decades.
He penned well over thirty books, which have sold in the millions. I only have a dozen of his volumes, but they are all important and very significant books which we all should be aware of. Some of his many excellent titles include:
1987 – Kingdoms in Conflict
1989 – Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages
1992 – The Body
1993 – Dance With Deception
1996 – Loving God
1997 – Burden of Truth
1999 – How Now Shall We Live
2001 – Justice That Restores
2005 – The Good Life
2011 – The Sky Is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in These Turbulent Times
He of course was a popular speaker and writer, and hosted a far-reaching daily radio program offering commentary on the issues of the day. These BreakPoint commentaries can be heard and read here: www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries
He was always concerned to affirm the biblical worldview, to highlight the overwhelming importance of truth, to defend biblical Christianity in a postmodern culture, to stand up for the sanctity of human life, and God’s institution of marriage and family.
Thus he was a co-author of the influential Manhattan Declaration which appeared in 2009 and has been signed by nearly a half million people. The website for this is found here: www.manhattandeclaration.org/home.aspx
It of course became the inspiration for our own Canberra Declaration which we established in 2010. It has at this point some 40,000 individuals who have signed the document. It can be viewed here: www.canberradeclaration.org.au/
Given that he has just passed away, there will of course be numerous tributes and eulogies penned about this great man. They will offer far more important and worthwhile reading than my own here. So perhaps I can close with the words of one man, John Stonestreet, who wrote this piece just before Colson passed away. He concludes his moving tribute with these words:
“I first met Chuck just before speaking on worldview to a class of Centurions. Chuck launched the Centurions Program to train adults around the country in Biblical worldview, and I was honored just to have the invitation to be a part of the teaching faculty. I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect Chuck to stay in the room when I spoke! My knees were knocking so loudly, I was just hoping people could still hear my words.
“These last two weeks, I’ve been honored to host BreakPoint along with Eric Metaxas, another person whose life was impacted by Chuck. You know, Chuck spoke often recently about the next generation and what he hoped to see from those of us who follow his lead. In an age when so many young Christians find their passion in causes of social justice and are skeptical of Truth, it’s worth mentioning that Chuck was doing social justice before it was cool. He went from prisoner, to prison minister, to prison reformer.
“And yet Chuck taught us that social justice, and any cultural work, must be undergirded by Truth, Truth with a capital T – something he learned from the late Francis Schaeffer. For Chuck, Biblical worldview is more than theoretical posturing, it’s embracing and living out Truth with courage. And that Truth sets us free.
“Chuck knew that personally. Of course, what set Chuck’s life apart was that it was not his own. It had been bought, by Christ, and returned to Chuck, redeemed. You know once in a sermon, Dietrich Bonheoffer said, ‘Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.’
“What transformed Chuck’s life is now what transforms his death. I’m reminded of what C. S. Lewis wrote to close the Narnia adventures. I think it applies here: ‘now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before’.”
Colson, like everyone else, was not perfect. Some will not agree with everything he did. For example, while many have applauded his efforts to get Protestants and Catholics to work together on some of the key cultural battles of our day, others have been critical of this.
This effort to work together against some greater evils is known as co-belligerency. I have discussed the pros and cons of this more fully elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/on-co-belligerency/
When people ask me what I do, or try to get a handle on what I am on about, what my passions are, and what sort of ministry I am engaged in, I usually tell them that I try to do things which people like Colson have been doing, with an emphasis on truth, apologetics, worldviews, ethics, cultural engagement, and so on.
So the ministry of Colson comes pretty close to the sort of work I am doing, and I am happy to hold him up as an example, and as someone I am almost always quite happy to be in agreement with. There are not too many people I can say that about. I also find myself in substantial agreement with a few others, such as D.A. Carson, or Francis Schaeffer.
Because I, like Colson, see truth and worldview thinking as being so absolutely vital in this day and age, let me offer just a few quotes from him on these areas:
“The world is divided not so much by geographic boundaries as by religious and cultural traditions, by people’s most deeply held beliefs – by worldviews.”
“The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.”
“God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God.”
Colson has left a huge and rich legacy. He will be sorely missed. And it is interesting that his downward spiral occurred when he was doing what he loved: speaking at a Christian worldview conference. While there on March 31 he fell ill with the brain clot that surgeons sought to remove.
Sadly he did not pull through. But he lived to a ripe old age of 81. I hope I can live that long, and I hope I can be even half as effective and influential as he was for Christ and the Kingdom.