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HAGELIN: Colson’s Nixon years prologue to real story
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 spreading the message of 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-in to 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 his conviction — in the deepest sense, not just time spent at Maxwell federal prison in Alabama. 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.
So what’s the lesson for us?
How to save your family: Make wrong turns right
All of us — parents and children — take wrong turns on the road of life. But finding the right road is not simply a matter of pragmatic “recalculating.” True conversion requires deep acknowledgment of our sins — and the willingness to see the grace that brought us there. True conversion means that we acknowledge the person — God — who has called us to our life’s work.
Cynics and pragmatists fail to understand the real truth behind Colson’s second chance: Chuck Colson was a man who sinned and then fell in love with God — and everything was changed. Those who refuse to admit the reality of sin cannot possibly understand the depth of change wrought by Colson’s conversion.
Conversely, those of us who believe not only in the reality of sin but also in the grace of the God who calls us to himself see Colson’s life differently. In his heartfelt eulogy for Colson in the Weekly Standard, Peter Wehner wrote that Colson was “a man who fell in love and stayed in love with the Lord. … He became God’s servant [and] faithfully followed Him to the end. … And now, blessedly, he is united with his Lord.”
That’s the real story of Chuck Colson’s life: passionate love for the Lord, lived out in faithful service.
Let’s make it our story as well.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.
By Tom Fitton
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