- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Management guru Peter Drucker famously described the entrepreneur as one who embodies and declares “a manifesto of dissent.” They see what is and envision instead what ought to be, and set themselves to the task of disrupting the status quo. Drucker meant this as relating to both commercial and social entrepreneurs. More recently, some Christian writers have referred to this instinct in leaders of spiritual movements as “sanctified discontent.”

Indeed, sanctified discontent inspired Wilberforce to define and pursue his two great objectives: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. These two objectives inspired Chuck Colson to define and pursue his own two great objectives from the days following his conversion on.

Following his conversion, Colson’s two great objectives became the reform of the prison system and the reform of America’s increasingly secularized worldview which he believed was much to blame for the swelling prison population. The Church had become apathetic, he believed, and needed to be reminded of its call to both orthodoxy and orthopraxy: offering faithful witness of both truth and grace in word as well as in deed. Christians are called to share Christ and to be Christ, beginning with “the least, the last and the lost” in our midst.

Colson tethered himself to this conviction by visiting and befriending inmates and their families in the most difficult of circumstance all his days. They grounded his vision in humility. And, almost ironically, his steadfast service to them gave him moral authority beyond the reach of any talking head on TV.

I met Chuck Colson in the later season of his life and ministry. By that time, Prison Fellowship, which he founded, was active in more than 100 countries around the world, serving prisoners and their families with gospel-centered spiritual formation and compassion.

Colson had begun to focus more on the cause-and-effect relationship between the social disintegration evident in the West, and its connection to the Church’s failure to teach and practice biblical worldview. He often referenced the Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, noting that Christians were abdicating from “spheres” of public life and culture that needed “the common grace for the common good” that only Christianity could offer. His passion was compelling.

There were always new projects afoot in those later years, almost as if Chuck knew there was so much to do, and so little time. In 2003, at a Wilberforce Forum Advisory Council meeting in Colorado, he shared with us that he felt something was missing. He had angst about it: a sense that some aspect of his calling from God was as of yet undone. He sought our counsel, with a beautiful and pensive humility.

He was processing, I’m convinced, the immanent passing of The Old Guard to a new generation. The picture came to me of an old Roman General surveying his troops and surveying the field, knowing that he needed to connect with the rising class of Centurions in the same manner that those Centurions the mid-level leaders who led bands of a hundred men needed to connect with him. And so the Centurions Program was born.

The Centurions were hand-picked to form classes of 100 people each year, drawn from the ranks of politicians, entrepreneurs, academics, home-makers, pastors, movement makers, and more. They engaged in a one-year schedule of readings and conference calls and in-person conferences led by Colson and his worldview staff, as well as authors and influencers who offered their time and counsel. Commissioning as a Centurion required a three-year plan detailing how each graduate would engage their spheres of influence as advocates for biblical worldview.

As the program moves into a second decade, Centurions all across the country and also overseas have had impact. Gabe Lyons started Q which works with Christian leaders. Scott Kauffmann became the editor for Timothy Keller, a prominent pastor with global impact, and Sheila Weber became the national spokesperson for putting the Bible back into schools academically and for strengthening marriage. These are a few graduates of the program.

The collaborations that ensued from this were equally remarkable. I witnessed this up close. A group of Centurions, with Chuck Colson’s encouragement, helped rally around my father, my oldest son James and me to help launch Free Think University, which now offers worldview courses for free to some 40,000 students worldwide.

Like Wilberforce, Colson would press hard to the end. As one of the youngest Marine Corps Officers in U.S. history, it is likely that he knew no other way. His final speech was given to a hall of worldview students outside of DC, many of them Centurions in training and commissioned Centurions who saw his tired body give out at the lectern due to a subdural hematoma from which he would not recover. In some sense, it was fitting. He would be at his post until God’s appointed end. His example inspires us all to do the same.

• Jim Van Eerden is Managing Director of Helixx Partners, LLC.

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