Culture Challenge of the Week: Wrong Turns

The news coverage of Chuck Colson’s recent death betrayed our secular culture’s continuing discomfort with God’s power to transform hearts and lives. Colson, “born again” to a life of profound Christianity on the heels of his Watergate disgrace, founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, a life-changing ministry to prisoners and their families. He spent his life messaging the need for personal and cultural transformation in the face of sin, urging Christians to embrace and live by an authentic Christian worldview.

But our secular culture — which denies the reality of sin and the need for redemption — tripped all over itself trying to explain Colson’s life without affirming the truth that changed him.

Some headlines focused on Colson’s role in the Watergate scandal and reported the death of Richard Nixon’s “Hatchet Man.” Other coverage framed his life in political terms, describing how “what he called his religious awakening,” led to his leadership in the “evangelical political movement” and his attempts to push “religion-based policies in government.” Earlier coverage of his life and work often smacked of similar themes: that his ministry was a second career or that his life was “less a life redeemed than a life reframed,” now by “attacks … in the name of God.”

Second career? Political strategist fueled by a new passion? Such characterizations are tragic, because they deny the powerful truth that became the central message of Colson’s life: There is redemption and restoration in Christ for anyone who seeks Him. Anyone.

Calling Colson’s ministry a second career -- or framing it as the next chapter in his political journey -- makes about as much sense as talking about the apostolic journeys of the apostle Paul as if they were the second career or new political trajectory of Saul of Tarsus.

Spreading the Gospel in prisons wasn’t Colson’s second career. It was his primary calling. It’s not the afterword of the story. It IS the story. Everything that came before was just the prologue, just as Saul of Tarsus’ persecution of the early Christians -- before he was knocked from his horse on the Damascus Road -- was prologue. 

And that prologue — the lead into the real story -- begins with sin: Saul’s persecution of Christians brought him to the point where he would be ripe for conversion. The same is true of Chuck Colson. His tenure as Nixon’s hatchet man brought him to conviction — in the deepest sense, not just time spent at Alabama’s Maxwell Prison. Like Saul, he met Jesus on his own Damascus road and became “deeply convicted of my own sin.” And then the real story of his life could begin.