Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Chuck Colson Critiques Church in Being the Body

  • Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
  • Updated May 16, 2003
Chuck Colson Critiques Church in <i>Being the Body</i>

Wars, terrorism, recession, conflicting worldviews and health epidemics like AIDS and SARS. If there was ever a time that the global Christian church - referred to in the Bible as the "body" of Christ - should be completely united in reaching out to a hurting world, it is now. That is the compelling verdict from Being the Body, a new book by Chuck Colson and Ellen Vaughn.


Being the Body (W Publishing Group) calls Christians from diverse backgrounds around the world to set aside petty differences and challenges them to together engage in the issues of their cultures, rather than approach life with a "Jesus and me" attitude. The updated, revised and expanded edition of 1992's The Body contains insightful stories from today's headlines and intelligent perspectives on the problems dogging the Christian church.


Colson spoke with Crosswalk.com in early May about the book, the church, war and Islam.


Crosswalk.com: What are some of the key differences between this edition and the first edition of the book?


Chuck Colson: Well, the world has turned upside down. 9-11 changed the world forever. What we wrote about 10 years ago was right in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. We were dealing only with the question of our own struggle in our own culture.  9-11 changed so many things. It changed the way people see the world, it changed the way people see good and evil. It changed the way we look at Islam - radical Islam in particular. Terrorism breeds a different environment.


So what we did is to go back and to redo about 30 percent of the book in order to accommodate the fact that the church now has a two-front war, not a one-front war. It's not just against our culture at home, but it is also facing militant Islam abroad.


There are also differences in the church's influence in American culture. We are making less impact today than I think we were making 10 years ago. In the last 10 years, post-modernism has taken an iron grip on American thinking. We've dealt a lot in the new edition with the issues of truth - how you know it, what it means, why it is so important to us, what the real issues are in modern culture. 


Crosswalk.com: In the aftermath of the events in Iraq, it seems this should be a pivotal time for the Body. What can the Church do to take advantage of the current climate?


Chuck Colson: The biggest thing that has happened is that there has been a change in the utopian mindset of the '90s. In the '90s, people thought, "Just put money in your 401K and you'll be fabulously rich." There was that incredible book by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History - "Everybody assumed no more wars, no more battles. Western liberal democracy had won the day." I think what happened with 9-11 is that complacency was shattered and everyone came back to reality. President Bush's talk about good and evil has registered with people.


The fundamental worldview of American people that was so prevalent in the '90s has been badly shaken, which means they are thinking about very basic questions. This is a wonderful time to be able to, not only present the gospel, but to present the case for the Christian faith in culture.  My basic argument in this book is that you can't do that as lone rangers. We have to do it operating as the body. The church has to be the church before we can make any impact on culture.


Crosswalk.com: It seems that the issue of war is particularly divisive among members of the Body. Is there room for disagreement on this issue?


Chuck Colson:  Oh yes. There has been disagreement about war since the beginning of time. There has always been a dividing line in the church because the Anabaptist tradition, which is a very respectable tradition in the Christian church, does not favor the use of force. Christian passivism has had some very respectable adherents. I happen to think it's wrong and I personally believe in the just war tradition and I believe this was an application of it. But I fully respect that some do not. C.S. Lewis was marvelous writing about passivists. You can only afford to be one if you can't persuade everybody else you are right.


We live in a fallen world, and as long as you are in a fallen world, Romans 13 gives to properly ordained government the right to wield the sword. In an age of terrorism, it's a very different thing. It's like we're on the backs of violence that you can't predict so the amount of vigilance and even preemptive part of military becomes vital if you are going to protect innocent people. The rationale for the just war comes out of a doctrine of love. When Aquinas formulated what's the most modern understanding of just war he put it under the heading of love.


Crosswalk.com: A news item I read recently said Franklin Graham is being criticized for going into Iraq, that his relief efforts are thinly disguised attempts at evangelism. You address Christian-Muslim relations in your book. How would you respond to that critique of Mr. Graham? 


Chuck Colson:  Franklin Graham has been working in Islamic nations for years and years with never a complaint. No one has even objected to taking in supplies, no one has ever objected to the fact that he is an upfront Christian - so what we have now is another media invention.  He made some honest and candid remarks about Islam and the thought police and the politically correct forces descend on him. It's a shame, because the politically correct movement denies the right of free speech and they are not even apologetic about it.


Crosswalk.com: When the average Christian reads things like this, I am sure it nudges them into retreat mode: "Why should I bother trying? It is easier to pull back from the world and hang out with church friends, because when you reach out, you are under so much attack." Your book addresses this very issue. Why shouldn't Christians retreat into enclaves?


Chuck Colson: The answer is because we believe the Bible is God's spoken inerrant word and therefore, when God speaks, we better obey. He tells us to take dominion. He tells us to be salt and to be light. Out of Biblical obedience, we don't go seal ourselves in our hermetically sealed churches with plastic sheeting. We get out of the pews and get equipped and go out into the culture and make a difference for Christ. It doesn't matter whether the world is sinking or the world is rising. We do our job because we are told to by the God who created us.


Crosswalk.com: What did you find rewarding and/or challenging about writing this edition of the book?


Chuck Colson: The thing I found most challenging about this book was to try and convey a sense of urgency. Although 10 years ago we tried to convey a sense of urgency - you look around now and see that the church hasn't caught it. It can be, for a guy like me, frustrating sometimes to think, 'I'm doing all this writing and thinking and preaching and exhorting and it's like pulling people along by their heels. When's that spark going to hit the church? When is the church really going to be the church?"


Colson will address thousands in an unprecedented live event,  "Being the Body: A Challenge to the Church," which is based on and titled after his book. On Sunday evening, May 18th, Colson will issue this call to church leaders and laypersons alike, broadcasting live via satellite into over 2,000 churches nationwide and reaching up to 500,000 people. Read more about this event here.


Retired Nixon White House Aide and former Watergate felon Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries in 1976, which has since become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.  Colson has written 23 books, which collectively have sold more than five million copies.  Ellen Vaughn is an award-winning author and speaker. She collaborated with Colson on eight other books and has also written for a number of periodicals, including The Dallas Morning News and Christianity Today.