Chuck Colson: Why Faith Matters
Perhaps more than any recent figure, Chuck Colson's life is a testimony to the power of redemption and God's power to forgive and transform.
former marine and prominent lawyer, Charles Colson rose to become special
counsel and hatchet man to U.S. President Richard Nixon. Tough and
determined, he knew how to get what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to bend
the rules. When the Watergate scandal of the 1970s erupted bringing down
the presidency and those closest to it, Colson found himself disbarred and
in prison with no future. But God wasn’t finished. As a fledgling
Christian in a world behind bars, Colson realized God was calling him to a
ministry to those whose world he now knew first-hand. That led to the
Prison Fellowship, now the world’s largest outreach to inmates, with
ministry volunteers in 100 countries. Though Chuck died at 80 on April 21,
2012, from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage, his phenomenal
legacy continues. In this interview, the cultural
commentator and author talked about his book The
Faith, what he would like to be
remembered for, lucrative attacks on
Christianity, and disturbing trends he saw in the Church.
Phil Callaway: Hi Chuck. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Chuck Colson: My pleasure, Phil.
When I was
about 13 my mother left a book called Born
Again on my night stand in some vain hope that I would read it. I did
and it had a very profound impact on my life. So, thank you. I’ve read a
number of your books through the years, and The
Faith is definitely one of my favorites. I’m getting one for each of
my kids in college. It captivated me.
you came to faith in Jesus
years ago, did you have any inkling that God was going to use you the way
I needed Him and wanted Him and needed forgiveness and was so relieved
that I could be forgiven. I thought at the time that I’d become a
believer, go back to my legal world and put my life back together. I had
no idea until everything fell apart through the scandal of Watergate and I
went to prison. One thing I’d always wanted to do was to make a
difference in the world, make a difference in people’s lives. But as a
number one public enemy after Watergate I didn’t see that happening. But
I underestimated the power of God to transform. Today I rejoice that he
has chosen me to serve Him throughout the world. Prison was the worst
thing and the best thing that ever happened to me because God used it for
would you advise young believers to start, to take a step of faith?
friend had shared Christ with me. I was so nervous I changed the subject
and then came back to him several months later as Watergate began to turn
into a major problem. I’d been reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere
Christianity that week and as we sat on his porch he witnessed to me
and I couldn’t even get out of his driveway because I was crying. I knew
God’s presence at that moment. I began to study. And my advice to a new
believer would be: don’t just have an experience. It’s just the
beginning of a whole new life. The most important thing you can do is to
get well discipled. I had a prayer group that held me accountable, I read
everything I could get my hands on, I studied hard. In prison, of course,
I had seven months in which I could read voraciously and out of prison I
was starting the book Born Again. I continued to study and a friend of mine challenged me
to read Abraham Kyper, which I did, best thing I’d ever done. I read
everything Francis Schaeffer had written. I would say to a new believer
that you are just beginning to experience the joy, but only when you are
spiritually mature, which comes through small group accountability, church
accountability, regular discipleship and study, and then the renewing of
your mind. As evangelicals today we don’t pay enough attention to the
renewing of the mind, to know what that really means, to be transformed so
that you’re seeing the world differently. So I tell people that
they’ve embarked on the most interesting, fulfilling adventure in this
world, to know the God who created us and called us to himself and how
this impacts all of life. Study and don’t give up—keep refining your
matter what your age?
matter what your age.
reading your books through the years it seems to me that your earlier
works warned of the day when this book would be necessary.
need to say that this is not stuffy in any way. I’ve been intrigued. In
fact, I read it on vacation, which I usually reserve for John Grisham.
very exciting when you begin to look into it. Evangelicals think that
doctrine is dry and dusty but it’s not. This is the structure on which
our whole belief system rests. I’m thrilled when a book like The
Faith begins to bring people into serious study. People are telling me
that unlike my other books, they’re really studying this one. My wife
happened to be in a Bible study this morning and a woman came up to her
and told her she was reading The
Faith for a second time and now she’s teaching it to her kids. That
warms my heart. It could meet a major need in the church.
What is true Christianity?
wife Patti and I were in
picked up a book by Richard Dawkins in an airport several years ago and
was startled to think this kind of diatribe against God and faith has
received such wide-spread acceptance and been a bestseller. Why is our
culture so ready to accept falsehood?
been conditioned to believe that if you hold a strong opinion and believe
in absolute truth, you’re being judgmental. Nothing’s going to change
the truth about God and that can be offensive to people. And it is. So was
the cross. People today are scared to death of taking a strong position on
any subject. I’ve had people tell me in church, I don’t like to talk
about these things with our neighbors because they’ll think I’m
in your own life if someone hadn’t done this.
you’re standing near a precipice looking over a cliff and someone warned
you—that’s judgmental? People are lost and they need to hear that
there is good news. And they need it explained. We don’t do the best job
of explaining the gospel.
we should never be discouraged. I learned in prison that God could take
the worst possible circumstance and turn it around. What we have to do is
gently lead people to water and encourage them to drink. Sometimes have to
illustrate it in a simple way. I get a lot of students who come to work in
our ministry in the summer as interns, most of them from Christian
colleges. I’ll do the same thing with every group every summer when I
get them together. I’ll say, “How many of you believe there is such a
thing as absolute truth?” And you’ll see them kind of shift
uncomfortably in the chair and look at their neighbor; nobody really wants
to be first to raise his hand. I’ll say, “Well, I realize
that’s a politically incorrect question, but let me ask you a practical
question. If you were standing on a street corner and saw an old lady
standing there with shopping bags, the traffic is whizzing by in all
directions. You’ve got three choices. Help her across the street. Ignore
her. Or push her into the traffic. Which is wrong?” And of course, the
kids all chuckle. And after I do that then I say, “Now how many of you
believe in absolute moral truth?” and the hands all shoot up. Of
course! The truth is written on the human heart. Paul makes it so clear in
Romans 1. People are without excuse because that which has been made has
been made known to them. So we see it in what earlier generations of
evangelicals called “The Book of Nature.” We see it in nature. We know
it’s written on the heart. And you can teach someone to answer the great
questions of life: “Where do we come from? Why is there sin and
suffering? What is the answer? Is there hope? What’s our purpose?” You
can answer those—creation, fall, redemption, restoration—you can take
that four-part grid. You can apply it to every other religion, every other
worldview and see which ones rationally answer those questions. The only
one that does is the Christian worldview. If you empirically study how
various religious and secular belief systems work out in practice,
you’ll see that the only one that is rational is the Christian
worldview, all others fail.
problem is we have so exalted tolerance as almost our supreme virtue that
we’re afraid to even say the obvious. I’ve found with kids, when you
start working this through with them, all of a sudden their eyes brighten.
I’ve been teaching the knowability of truth for years and have found a
need to be shaken out of their comfortable, lethargic accommodation of the
culture and realize that we have something to say, which is a truth claim
and has been since the beginning.
does truth matter?
the very heart of what we believe is at stake. When doctrine and truth are
abandoned you don’t get liberal Christianity, you get another religion
called liberalism. We saw how this led to the decline of mainline churches
in the last century, and conservative churches are at risk today. Without
truth the Gospel is perverted. The current fracturing of the Episcopal
Church and the Anglican Church in
are the rewards of embracing this truth?
if you live life fearful of offending others, you will never have the joy
of knowing you have contributed to the transformation of someone’s life.
Second, this life-changing faith is the only thing that will sustain you
in crisis. Therapy can help you deal with a problem; transformation fixes
why has the Church in
too many see Christianity in terms of self-improvement or as a guide to
successful living. They ignore the command to holiness. The Church’s
mission is to make visible God’s invisible Kingdom in the world. God
lives in the midst of His people, we are called to share in and reveal His
loving character to our neighbors. Having said that, this understanding of
holiness has moved Christians throughout history to some of the greatest
advance in human dignity and freedom. I’ve worked loving with hundreds
of prisoners stricken with AIDS and it is Catholic Charities that runs
most of the AIDS facilities in America.
Schaeffer said that bitter division gave the world the right to disbelieve
sometimes seen more bickering in Christian groups than I can remember in
the secular world. Reconciliation requires a surrender of pride and a
willingness to put God’s interests over our own. It is at the heart of
the Gospel. Peacemaking should be a high priority. We must repent of
division among true Christians. The scandal to the world must be the
cross, not our division. Now admittedly, Christians are flawed, fallen,
and broken people who often profess one thing and do another. But the
Christian Church and the truth it defends are the most powerful life- and
culture-changing forces in human history. They provide answers to the
deepest questions in the human heart. The Christian West is under assault
by the twin challenges of secularism and radical Islam—who roots have
some unsuspected likenesses. Only through Christianity can Western Europe
can I know that my faith is alive?
will experience changing affections and habits. Things that once appealed
to you no longer will; things that weren’t appealing now are. You will
experience increasing discontent and conviction over sins of the past and
will respond with a genuine desire to turn away, to be changed.
antitheists claim that Christianity has made nothing but negative
contributions to human history. Are they right?
orthodox faith is the one source that can renew culture. We’ve seen this
repeatedly. This is why the early church exploded. It was the Christians
that took care of the dying and rescued aborted or abandoned babies. They
knew what they believed and they were strong about it. Correspondence from
the church fathers shows us how deep the people were in their faith. In
the Celtic era there was a regeneration of belief in the church in the
dark ages. And it spread to
history you can trace the rise of Christianity with the rise of society
and the decline of Christianity with the decline of society. The faith
teaches how God can change humanity. It was our faith that met the needs
of the late
are the results of embracing what Dawkins and friends are prescribing?
watching it right now—the decline of the West, a moral decline. In the
thirty-five year period since I got out of prison, the prison population
has gone up ten times! This is a well-established fact. The breakdown of
the family has led to chaos and it’s undermining society as a whole.
You’re seeing today in
is reeling from a bruising attack by aggressive atheism. In 2006, a clever
you had experience talking with atheists?
dinner before a governor’s prayer breakfast the gentleman seated next to
me warned me that he was an atheist. I told him I was glad to sit beside
him because I had never really met an atheist. “An atheist believes that
the existence of God can be disproved. So please, tell me how you’ve
done that.” He said, “Well, perhaps I should say I’m an agnostic.”
I asked him when he’d given up studying about God. He admitted that
he’d really never tried. “But an agnostic is one who says he doesn’t
think God can be known, and you can only be an agnostic if you’ve tried
to know him and exhausted the search. So I would say that while you appear
to be a well-educated person, you’ve made an unsupportable statement.”
He was rather quiet, but some weeks later I received a copy of the
editorial page of the state’s largest newspaper. He was the publisher.
His editorial talked about my visit and how it had affected his view of
life and religion. He had found that his point of view was unsupportable.
The presupposition that God is is not without abundant supportive
Christian Bible was assembled over four centuries of the most painstaking
study, open debate, discussion, and research. And the New Testament
scholars who participated in these discussions were close in time to the
events, many were taught directly by the apostles or their immediate
successors. Our Bible is the most studiously examined proclamation of
faith ever compiled. Before the end of the 1950s, 25,000 biblical sites
had been substantiated by archaeological discoveries, not one proved the
Bible false. No other religious document is so accurate. The Book of
Mormon, for instance, talks about a civilization in
about the attacks on the veracity of the Resurrection?
personal experience in the Watergate scandal convinces me of the historic
proof of the resurrection. The most powerful men around the president of
could have retired awhile ago. What keeps you going and revved up and
someone like you reads my book and it makes a difference. I also feel
passionately that I’ve got gifts that should be used. I wouldn’t enjoy
fishing and pleasure reading nearly as much as I enjoy doing God’s work.
There will come a time when I can’t do it, but until then I’m going to
give it everything I’ve got.
are some things you keep on learning in your walk with God?
a Type-A guy. If I hear something is impossible, that’s a real challenge
to me and I want to prove them wrong. And after awhile you begin to think
that you’re doing it. So there have been many days when I’ve had to go
to my knees and confess to God that I thought I was in control and I’m
not. I need to stay in a state of total dependence on God. The second
thing—humility. It’s the most elusive of all virtues and when you
think you have it, you don’t. I am really not comfortable with
celebrity. At church I try to get out the back door. It’s not that I
don’t like people, I’m just uncomfortable with the adulation.
someone like me just wants to say thank you. Your books have made a
difference in my life.
know that and I appreciate that. You tell me that and it’s a real
encouragement. A fellow stopped me the other day and said, “I just want
to tell you how much you’ve meant to me.” I thanked him and kept
walking. He said, “I was in prison and I came to faith in Christ because
of your influence.” If I hear that I am so grateful. But there’s a
fine line between indulging yourself and giving God the glory.
the last chapter of your earthly life has been written, how would you like
to be remembered?
as a great Christian leader or icon. I don’t think we’re called to
anything more or less than just to do our duty. That’s how I look at my
life. I want to use my gifts to the fullest.
thankful for the opportunity to talk with you and for the difference
you’ve made in my life.
bless you and your ministry too, Phil.
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