In Memoriam – Charles Wendell Colson

“It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began…Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man but enmity to God.”  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself.  Unless you know God as that—and therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all.  As long as you are proud you cannot know God.  A proud man is always looking down on things and people:  and of course as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” Ibid.

The above quotes from Mere Christianity were portions that Thomas L. Phillips, president and CEO of Raytheon Corporation (1960-1991), read to a struggling Charles Colson the night of his conversion experience.  I pick up the narrative from Jonathan Aitken’s great read Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed, page 203f…

“Colson suddenly felt mercilessly exposed by the power of this passage.  Lewis’s words are describing me, he said to himself in anguish.  Then as Tom Phillips continued, Colson was stunned by one particular sentence that seemed to summarize exactly what had gone wrong in his own life, and in the lives of so many who were working in the Nixon White House:  ‘For Pride is spiritual cancer:  it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.”

“For a few moments after hearing these words Colson entered a dream world of flashbacks, revisiting past episodes in his life when high-blown pride had puffed him up into excesses of arrogant behavior.  Some of the images that whirled before his eyes went back to his prep school days at Browne & Nichols; to his first marriage, with Nancy; and to his early successes as a young Boston lawyer.  However, most of the scenes that were suddenly tormenting his trouble mind involved incidents from his rise to power in the Nixon administration.  These flashbacks were accompanied by echoing voices of the White House switchboard operations: ‘Mr. Colson, the president is calling…Mr. Colson, the president wants to see you right away.’  As he sat in silence on the dimly lit porch, shaken to the core of his bring by these strange reveries, Colson was tortured by reminders of his godless life that kept flashing through his brain.

“My self-centered past was washing over me in waves.  It was painful.

“Agony is how he recalled those minutes.  ‘Lewis’s torpedo had hit me amidships…In those brief moments while Tom read I saw myself as I never had before.  And the picture was ugly…

“Phillip’s perseverance took the immediate form of reading scripture to his guest.  Reaching for his Bible he turned to Psalm 37, which contains some of the most beautiful and comforting verses in the Psalter…’Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.’…Tom Phillips read him the third chapter of John’s gospel, which includes Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus of how to be Born Again of the Holy Spirit, and how to come into the light.  This famous passage also leapt off the page to Colson, but again he had no clear idea of how to respond to it.

“Eventually Tom broke the silence.  He handed Colson his paperback copy of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and one or two Christian pamphlets. ‘Take care of yourself, Chuck, and let me know what you think of that book, will you?’

“As he climbed into the seat of his car, the emotions Colson had been suppressing during the prayer erupted inside him.  His tears started to flow…

“Colson has described his emotions sitting in his car on that night of August 12, 1973:  ‘I had the strange sensation that water was not only running down my cheeks but surging through my whole body as well, cleansing and cooling as it went.  They weren’t tears of sadness and remorse, nor of joy, but somehow tears of relief.

“And then I prayed my first real prayer. ‘God I don’t know how to find you, but I’m going to try!  I’m not much the way I am now but somehow I want to give myself over to you’  I didn’t know how to say more so I repeated over and over the words ‘Take me.’…

“Jesus Christ, lunatic or God? was the question that kept pounding away in his head.  On Friday morning he answered it.

“After a near sleepless night wrestling with more doubts about his motives for turning toward Christ (‘Was I seeking a safe port in a storm, a temporary hiding place?’), Colson eventually returned to the state of surrender he had entered six days earlier, when he said the ‘Take me” prayer in his care on the country road close to the Phillip’s home.

“Sitting alone, staring out across the rocks to the Atlantic Ocean he loved, Charles Colson said these words: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe you.  I accept you. Please come into my life. I commit it to you.’

“As he said this prayer of acceptance, Colson felt an immediate inner surge of strength and serenity.  Old fears, tensions, and animosities were draining away.  They were replaced by a new sense of peace and assurance.  His conversion experience was complete.  ‘The long unremitting and courageous effort that conversion begins’ was about to open as a new chapter in his life.”

CultureWatch – Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

Notable Christians: Charles Colson

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.


2 thoughts on “In Memoriam – Charles Wendell Colson

  1. dadarrow says:

    “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” -John 17:17
    I am grateful that Chuck Colson stood firmly for truth. We can all take away from him this steadfast commitment to standing for truth. Let us continue to anchor ourselves to this truth and to encourage others in the same manner. Condolences to The Colson family and yet I celebrate in knowing that a faithful servant is in the presence of our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.

  2. Rev. Bill D. Kruger says:

    Reblogged this on SODEGLO and commented:
    Colson has been an instrument God has used to cultivate the Christian mind. I miss him already.

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