Christians in History: Charles Colson (1931-2012)

ColsonThe life of Charles Colson is one that illustrates what God can accomplish through one who has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. His transformation was as profound as his change was real. And as the writer of Hebrews said of Abel many years ago, we can testify of him that though he is dead he still speaks.

Born in 1931, he was educated at Brown University and George Washington University where he trained to become a lawyer.

He was a Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. How significant was this role? According to Wikipedia, this role has the following tasks:

The office of Counsel to the President was created in 1943, and is responsible for advising on all legal aspects of policy questions, legal issues arising in connection with the President’s decision to sign or veto legislation, ethical questions, financial disclosures, and conflicts of interest during employment and post employment. The Counsel’s Office also helps define the line between official and political activities, oversees executive appointments and judicial selection, handles Presidential pardons, reviews legislation and Presidential statements, and handles lawsuits against the President in his role as President, as well as serving as the White House contact for the Department of Justice.  

Thus Colson was a very influential person in American politics at the time. He was such an ardent supporter of the President that he earned the nickname ‘Nixon’s hatchet man’.

Then something happened.

A scandal was discovered. Five men were arrested for breaking into the office of the Democratic Party, which was the opposition party at the time. The President and several of his aides (including Colson) were implicated. Colson was brought to trial for obstruction of justice and sentenced. He spent seven months behind bars. And that was it. Colson came out of prison a totally different man.

His conversion shortly before his incarceration and his experience of prison conditions awakened a sense of calling to work for prison reform. He founded Prison Fellowship, a global outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families and became a tireless advocate for a Christian perspective on several contemporary issues, including abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty. To this end, he established the Colson Center as an organization for training in Christian worldview.

He was an author, speaker and Christian leader. From his conversion to Christ in 1973 till his death in 2012, he was a powerful voice rallying evangelicals to see the comprehensiveness of the Christian worldview. He wrote several books helping believers to understand and apply the Christian worldview in the present day. Some of these include:

Loving God

How Now Shall we Live (co-authored with Nancy Pearcey)

The Body: Being Light in Darkness

Justice That Restores

The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions
about Intelligent Design (co-authored with William A. Dembski) 

Why Nigeria needs his ideas

The central concern of Colson’s life after conversion was to help believers understand that the Christian faith was more than a personal relationship with Jesus. It is a comprehensive view of reality and should be passionately lived as such. In this many see him as a successor to the evangelical theologian, Francis Schaeffer, who pioneered the modern understanding of the Christian faith as a worldview.

Colson emphasized that the Church must become lovingly radical in its mission to influence the world for Christ. For so long, the Church has thought of its mission as merely rescuing individuals from hell and helping them get to heaven safely. This is the prevalent understanding of the Church in Nigeria. We believe that Jesus came to die for sinners and then preserve them until they enter into the celestial city. However, we fail to see the wider scope of redemption. Jesus is more than just a Saviour; he is a King! He is Lord of the nations. The nations of the world have been given to him for an inheritance (Psalm 2). The scope of Christ’s rule extends beyond our inward souls – it reaches every aspect of life and society. Therefore we must lovingly proclaim his rule over every sphere of life, whether business, politics, or entertainment. We would be radical, no doubt, but we would be saving our world.

We are called to redeem our cultures, to have dominion and exercise godly influence in society. This requires the development of a truly biblical understanding of things. For instance, how does Christian belief impact our view of the nature of human life? What policies of government are consistent with the Christian worldview? Is the regulation of an economy morally sound? What is the place of our work in God’s kingdom? These are just a few questions that we could ponder in an attempt to understand our world as Christians. Colson’s life was given to helping believers tackle these questions.

The Christian Church must also work for greater unity within its ranks. In 1994, Colson and John Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic priest, along with other Christian leaders, signed a statement titled, ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’, which was to serve as a common Christian witness to the modern world. Although the document was much criticized by evangelical leaders for its theological imprecision, Colson believed the statement highlighted the need for Christians of all ranks to work together for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. It was an essential step in bringing all Christians, regardless of their denomination or tradition, to join hands in tackling contemporary challenges to the Christian faith.

What then, in summary, is Colson’s importance to our world today?

In his own words:

*“I would hope my legacy will be that, the worldview notion and the idea that Christians need to put their faith in action, that we need to be instruments of righteousness, not only in bringing people to the righteousness of God for their salvation, but bringing righteousness into our communities. I’d loved to think I could have a little bit of a legacy like Wilberforce. He recognized you had to change the culture if you were going to change the politics which—I mean, I would hope that would be the message.

The other message, I hope people would remember me for is that it’s time for all Christians who confess the creeds to find a basis of working together and coming together because Jesus tells us to.”



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