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?
On Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg addresses the “considerable fractures” that continue to divide conservative and libertarian positions on significant policy issues as well as on “deeper philosophical questions.” He pulls apart the “often tortuously drawn distinctions” surrounding the political labels and then offers some reasons why the “often unconscious but sometimes deliberate embrace of philosophical skepticism by some conservatives and libertarians should be challenged.”
Perceptive critics of skepticism have illustrated that the concern to be reasonable and avoid self-deception about reality is the starting point of any quest for philosophical truth: i.e., the very knowledge that skeptics believe we can’t know. What reason could skeptics therefore have for desiring to comprehend that, in the final analysis, all is unknowable, unless they are engaged in a quest for truth? In other words, skeptics draw their deduction that we should be philosophical skeptics from foundational assumptions they cannot doubt.
Also self-refuting is the common skeptic claim that reason is purely instrumental. For to defend this position, the skeptic’s reason necessarily engages in a non-instrumental task. He presumes it is good to know the truth of skepticism, and on grounds of reason rather than feelings. It is thus inconsistent for skeptics to assert that all philosophical viewpoints are arbitrary opinions. When skeptics posit that humans can only be motivated by sentiment rather than reason, they are not proposing this statement as their own impetuous preference. They claim to be making a rational judgment.
Read “Beyond Conservatism and Libertarianism” on Public Discourse by Samuel Gregg.
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
The long and tragic history of government control of property on Indian reservations has led to economic nihilism and moral breakdown. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published April 25), Anthony Bradley argues for a new approach that encourages local control and entrepreneurial business formation. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.
The passing of Chuck Colson has generated a host of online commentary from both mainstream and alternative outlets. Here’s our compilation of recent Chuck Colson material:
Michael Gerson of The Washington Post on “the most thoroughly converted person” he’s ever known:
Many wondered at Chuck’s sudden conversion to Christianity. He seemed to wonder at it himself. He spent each day that followed, for nearly 40 years, dazzled by his own implausible redemption. It is the reason he never hedged or hesitated in describing his relationship with Jesus Christ. Chuck was possessed, not by some cause, but by someone.
CitizenLink has compiled a list of Colson tributes from influential Christian voices.
Monomakhos blog on Colson’s life on earth and in heaven.
Robert Crosby of Patheos: “From Watergate to the Pearly Gates: Remembering Chuck Colson”:
Many people questioned the sincerity of Colson’s conversion during these early days, seeing his “newfound faith” as sheer opportunism, an effort to curry favor and avoid potential criminal conviction. One pastor said to him, “Colson, I believe in Jesus Christ and I want to know how we can know if you’re serious.”
Colson answered, “I guess the best way to tell you whether I’m serious or not is for you see what I’m doing ten years from now.”
Also on Patheos, Timothy Dalrymple recalls Colson’s legacy and his experience with Prison Fellowship:
When I think of Chuck Colson’s legacy, I will think of a living parable of how Christ’s grace redeems even those the world called unredeemable. I will think of a man who found his vocation in the pit. And I will think of a congregation in Trenton, New Jersey, and countless others like it scattered around the nation and around the world, inspired by a man who found his calling — and his new freedom — behind bars.
The Ruth Institute blog links to archived podcasts with Colson.
Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio remembers Colson’s “public Christian witness.”
John J. Dilulio Jr. of The Wall Street Journal on “Chuck Colson and Second Chances” (requires online subscription):
Visiting prisons with him, watching him relate pastorally to prisoners, was an inspiring experience that never got old. Through his ministry, his second chance became a second chance for hundreds of thousands of others. When it came to treating incarcerated citizens, recent parolees, and all persons touched by crime, both perpetrators and victims, with Christ-like care and compassion, he was “ruthless.”
The National Review Online Symposium pauses to remember and reflect. Tony Perkins:
When you can look over the lives of great people, their efficacy in serving others is often in direct proportion to the degree that an event or events in life have humbled them and broken them from self-seeking ways. Going from the pinnacle of power in the office of President Nixon to the powerlessness of prison, Chuck found his purpose — knowing and serving his Creator.
Duane Shank of Sojourners remembers Colson and quotes Jim Wallis:
Chuck Colson and I met for the first time after he came out of prison. We found early agreement and a natural kinship on how Christians should minister to prisoners as Jesus asked us to in Matthew Chapter 25. I was impressed with how Chuck had allowed his own experience of prison and of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ to shape his new vocation which led to Prison Fellowship now the largest prison ministry in the world. It is for that prophetic ministry he will be most remembered.
The Becket Fund calls Colson “A True Champion of Religious Freedom”:
As the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Colson brought his faith into the public square and refused to back down when his ministry faced lawsuits that alleged a violation of the Establishment Clause.
Russell D. Moore of Christianity Today on Colson, skeptical obituaries, and the “Conscience of a Hatchet-Man”:
When you read those who smirk and dismiss the Chuck Colson conversion, the Chuck Colson life, don’t get angry and don’t be outraged. Read a subtext that belongs to all of us: the fear that the criminal conspiracy we’ve all been a part of will be exposed, and just can’t be forgiven. Read the undercurrent of those who find it hard to believe that one can be not just pardoned, but “born again.” That’s indeed hard to believe. An empty grave in Jerusalem is all we have on which to base that claim, a claim that speaks louder than our own accusing hearts.
Brittany Smith of Real Clear Religion on Colson’s “Better Way of Life”:
Colson emphasized that the real answer in changing culture for the better is renewing the church, but it’s also giving others “an invitation to the wedding feast, to come to a better way of living. A better way of life. It’s the great proposal.”
James D. Davis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel goes “Beyond Watergate”:
This is the Colson who deserves to be remembered. A man who was changed and who brought about change. A man who found himself in something, and someone, larger than himself. A man who left prison, but continued to touch people in fellowship.
Peter Wehner of The Weekly Standard:
In my encounters with him over the years, I found Colson to be candid, encouraging, principled, a source of wisdom, a person of enormous integrity, and something of a touchstone. He understood the inherent tensions of being a Christian in politics and seemed to get the balance as close to right as anyone.
Orthodox Christian Chris Banescu honors Colson’s life on Catholic Online:
We lost an influential and great champion for Christ and truth. Charles W. “Chuck” Colson’s bright light is no longer in the world, but still shines on in eternity as a beacon of hope and faith for current and future generations. His legacy and example will live on in the hearts and souls of many Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant – who were inspired by his strong faith, admired his clarity of thought and vision, and were reassured by his courage and conviction.
The above links only hint at Colson’s widely-felt influence. The Acton Institute remains indebted to Colson for his friendship and his model for Christian engagement in the public square.
Andreas Widmer, entrepreneur, former Swiss guard, and contributor to PovertyCure, has published an article at First Things, titled “Can Business Save Your Soul?” It is Widmer’s take on the statement by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice regarding the role of business (see commentary on this by Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan here).
…the business community represents a fertile field for the practice of the Gospels and this is, I think, the aim of the Justice and Peace document.
It is, alas, common in our age to separate faith from business and promote a dualism between secular and holy.
The Church represents a counterpoint to that worldview: At the root of Christianity stands the fact that our path to spiritual fulfillment passes through our physical life and actions. Jewish and Christian faith is not only spiritual but also physical. Judaism emphasizes this by focusing on an actual city in this world: Jerusalem and a single historical people, the Jewish people. Christianity emphasizes the incarnate nature of the divine. On the last day, we will be raised in both body and spirit.
The document is a loud and clear call to a strong inner life for business leaders. It is also a call to develop among them a “spirituality of work.” It is even more important to provide a religious “formation” for business leaders and for students in our universities. We have long done the latter. We have barely begun the former.
(The entire statement from Cardinal Peter Turkson is available here in PDF format.)
On of Chuck Colson’s heroes was Abraham Kuyper, and when we set out to publish a translation of Kuyper’s three volumes on the topic of common grace, Chuck was happy to support the project.
Here’s what he said about the first selection from the larger translation project, Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art:
Abraham Kuyper was a profound theologian, an encyclopedic thinker, and a deeply spiritual man who believed that it is the believer’s task ‘to know God in all his works.’ In a day when secular science is seeking to establish hegemony over all knowing, and when postmodern art is threatening to bring an end to art, Kuyper’s solid, Biblical insights can help to restore perspective and sanity to these two critical areas of creation.
On June 7th, 1993, Charles Colson made his first appearance at an Acton Institute event, speaking at our 3rd Anniversary Dinner in Grand Rapids, Michigan on the topic of the decline of American values. Colson’s rousing speech went over well with his audience that night, and still resonates today.
“The single great issue of our times was never put more succinctly than it was by Lord Acton, for whom this institute is named. Lord Acton said these words: ‘Liberty is the highest political end of man. But no country can be free without religion.'”