Yesterday was the third anniversary of Chuck Colson’s passing. The Acton Institute had the privilege of conducting the last public interview with Chuck before his death. It serves as a wonderful introduction to and reminder of Chuck’s love for Christ and his world.
Over the last 20 years, prison ministry has finally gotten back on the church’s agenda. There are not only large, national ministries like Bill Glass Champions for Life, Kairos, Prison Fellowship and Crossroad Bible Institute, all dedicated to preparing inmates for reentry, but also thousands of smaller groups and churches going into prisons and jails to bring the Good News.
Jim Liske, the current CEO of Prison Fellowship, hosts the series, which includes a session on “Compassion,” featuring Chuck’s story from political insider to prison insider…and beyond. As Chuck says, “I did everything my way. And it crashed and burned.”
For a preview of the session on compassion, check out the video featuring Chuck, “Like I Am.”
I’m just back from the republic of Texas and Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference. One of my fellow lecturers was Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ben Phillips. In between sessions, he showed me a recent Houston television news piece on SWBTS’s Darrington prison extension, where Phillips and other Southwestern profs are bringing prisoners to Christ, with a plan to send graduates of the program to other Texas prisons. Many of these men may grow old and die in prison, but they won’t die without hope, and they won’t die without becoming a blessing to their fellow prisoners at Darrington and other Texas prisons.
The cover story of a recent Religion & Liberty tells about a similar program on a larger scale, at Angola Prison in Louisiana, where many men on death row, with no hope of parole, have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
It’s hard to imagine an example more dramatic than Angola prison, but if there is one, it’s the work of Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana, Prison Fellowship, and others to bring the grace of Christ to the imprisoned genocidiers of Rwanda. Through this work, many of the men involved in the 1994 genocide that took almost a million Rwandan lives have repented of their participation in the genocide, sought and obtained forgiveness from the families of their victims (itself a miracle), and been reintegrated into society after serving their prison sentences. (more…)
Cain is the longest serving warden in the history of the penitentiary, a position he has held since 1995. The prison is more commonly known as “Angola.” Cain is the most well known prison official in the country. He is the subject of the book Cain’s Redemption and has been featured in documentaries and numerous television programs.
Cain is well known for his work as reformer of prison culture and his promotion of moral rehabilitation. He serves on the board of Prison Fellowship, a ministry founded by Chuck Colson. Below is an excerpt from the forthcoming interview:
Rev. Robert Sirico has been invited to participate in The Life and Legacy of Charles W. Colson, a luncheon event at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting next week. The panel discussion will be held on Thursday, November 15th from 11:45am – 1:15pm in Room 101B in the Frontier Airlines Center in Milwaukee. Dr. John Woodbridge of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School will present “Chuck Colson and Recent Evangelical History.” Dr. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., President Emeritus of Calvin Theological Society, will speak on “Ecumenical and Kuyperian: The Theological Postures of Chuck Colson’s Life and Work.”
Rev. Sirico and Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, will respond to these presentations. John Stonestreet will be moderating.
Chuck Colson was a friend to Acton Institute over many years. He spoke at many events and contributed to Acton publications. A listing of his contributions to the Acton Institute can be found at www.acton.org/colson.
A portion of the upcoming interview with Cain will reflect upon Chuck Colson. That good things are happening at places like Angola are in a large part directly related to Colson and his legacy and work on behalf of Prison Fellowship. I’ll have a lot more to say about Angola, but when you study in-depth the history and mystique of this prison, for it to change like it has, you know God is present.
Last month, a Christianity Today editorial noted some of the intellectual foundations for ecumenical efforts in the public square, particularly relevant to evangelical and Roman Catholic cooperation against the HHS mandates. The editorial focuses on Chuck Colson, and says “you can credit Colson, who died on April 21, for a major part of evangelicals’ reduced anxiety about relations with Roman Catholics.”
The editorial goes on to describe how Colson’s ecumenism and broader theological foundations were inspired by “key evangelical theologians,” particularly
the words and deeds of the great Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (died 1920). Kuyper carefully articulated the doctrinal and philosophical differences between Rome and his beloved Geneva. Yet he admired Romanism’s vigor in countries where it became disestablished. Kuyper believed that in the fight against modernism, Protestant Christianity could be effective only if it partnered with Roman Catholics.
In the course of filming the last interview given before his death with the Acton Institute, Colson describes the influence of Abraham Kuyper on his work in his own words:
For more, check out Colson’s concluding plenary address, published as “How Now Shall We Live?” in the proceedings of “A Century of Christian Social Teaching: The Legacy of Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper,” held at Calvin at Calvin College in October of 1998, in which Colson discusses “the remarkable and still controversial idea of Calvinists and Catholics coming together.”
A public memorial for Chuck Colson is slated to take place Wednesday, May 16, at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. The event is open to the public and will also be streamed live at nationalcathedral.org. Additional information can be found in this DeMoss News news release. For more information on Colson’s life and relationship to the Acton Institute, please visit our Chuck Colson resource page.
Earlier this week the Christian Post published an article with some statements from me about evangelical (and more broadly Christian) debates about the federal budget proposals. In the piece, “Evangelical Christians Agree, Disagree on Budget Priorities,” I said that
The Church, the Christian faith, is not to identify with a single political order, or structure, party or platform. It does show something of the dynamism and vitality of the Christian faith that, in the midst of what the world thinks are the most important things, like politics, in the midst of disagreements about those things, Christians come together and worship every Sunday and say the same Lord’s prayer and in many cases cite the same creed, engage in the same sacramental practices, and so on.
This conviction is one of the things that animated my thinking when I wrote Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.
One of the driving figures in the case made in that book is Paul Ramsey, who wrote that “the specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain—which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”
I was reminded of this perspective again when listening to the interview Gabe Lyons did with Chuck Colson back in 2007. At one point in the interview, Gabe asks Chuck about younger evangelicals’ disenchantment with the politicization of evangelical Christianity. One of the things Chuck says is,
I do a very unscientific poll myself whenever I talk to young people and I know exactly the kind of answers you’re getting. They’re turned off by what they regard as right wing politics. Which is unfortunate. I wrote a book about this called “Kingdoms and Conflicts,” recently re-released and updated by Zondervan as “God and Government.” It says Christians shouldn’t be [in the hip pocket] of any political party. It’s a mistake when we are looked upon as marrying an ideology.
On the danger of ideology, he continues: “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a manmade formulation about [how] world [ought to] work. We don’t believe in that. We believe in the revelation of truth in Scripture.”
In returning to my comment cited above, I think we can see corporate worship as a kind of litmus test for what does and does not inspire us, ideologically, confessionally, and otherwise. Perhaps there are churches or parishes or even denominations and ecumenical bodies that we deem unfaithful, or at least distasteful, for the way they have integrated a social or political ideology into the corporate life of the church. But even so:
Would you be comfortable worshiping next to someone at church on Sunday morning whose political convictions are diametrically opposed to yours? If so, why? And if not, why not?
Acton University alum R.J. Moeller looks back on Chuck Colson’s life-changing influence. R.J. produces a popular podcast for the Values & Capitalism project at the American Enterprise Institute and also works as the director of communications for radio talk show host Dennis Prager and his Prager University. Moeller:
Since embarking on a career in writing, podcasting, and anything else related to the articulation of a God-fearing, free market-defending worldview that can pay my bills> Whenever I’m asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I always answer the same way: whatever it is Chuck Colson does.
The name of Chuck Colson was revered in my home growing up. His books adorned our shelves. His voice echoed from the speakers that my mom always had turned to Christian radio. Before I ever read a single word of his, I knew Chuck Colson had something to teach me.
And boy did he ever!
It was a little over a decade ago, when I started college at Taylor University, that I finally sat down and read Born Again and How Now Shall We Live? Nothing was ever the same. I learned that ideas mattered (and have consequences). I learned that God cared about the way we conducted ourselves in the culture and that we had a duty to learn about things like history and economics. I learned that politics and party affiliations weren’t “ends” but “means” toward a free and virtuous society.
I learned that one didn’t have to compromise conviction for compassion.
For all the things that other prominent conservative evangelicals of the past 30 years have not been – whether that be the loud, pushy, painfully nuance-free voices that should have remained silent, or the indifferent, silent voices that should have cried out in disgust as Rome burned – Chuck Colson lived the life others talked about living.
Full of redemption, service, passion and truth, his was also a life worth emulating.
It’s wildly unpopular these days to label yourself anything. People are either afraid of being pigeon-holed into something they don’t really understand, or become convinced that staking an ideological claim will cause them to “lose their witness.”
An entire generation of religious, free-market conservatives has Chuck Colson to thank for being the tip of the spear, voice in the wilderness on behalf of our values for more than three decades.
“Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference which is an elegant name for ignorance.”
― G.K. Chesterton