Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Charles Colson 1931-2012

Charles Colson died this past weekend. I was in seminary about the time he was released from prison and soon after his book, Born Again, came out which told his story about his conversion to Christ. There was one professor at my school, Richard Lovelace, who made many trips down to the D.C. area to mentor Colson in Church History which was Lovelace's subject of expertise. Colson was known for pulling in several theologians and Bible scholars along with Lovelace to bring him up to speed with what he had been missing in his Christian Education all those years before ( he was a lapsed Episcopalian who didn't think religion had much use in the real world). Many people doubted his conversion; it looked like he was still manipulating the justice system and trying to get out of prison early. Those doubters have the last 40 years of Colson's life to scrutinize. Colson's life falls neatly into two halves. The first half was full of ambition: a law degree and a promising political career rising to a prominent role in the Nixon White House. As told by his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, he worked long hours, drank too much and it cost him his marriage. He was a close confidant of Nixon though and when Watergate blew up Colson was caught in the middle. And on tape. His win at all costs attitude was revealed in his own words for anyone to hear. His famous statement about "walking over his own grandmother" if it would help Nixon win captured his "hatchet man" reputation. He was ruthless and proud of it. Prison changed him. He was surely humbled and spiritually prepared to commit his life to Christ. There was little of a spiritual background to suggest he would turn to God in prison. He had never been a churched man. But through the dark days of Watergate and beyond he was befriended by a couple of Christian colleagues, Mark Hatfield and Harold Hughes, a Republican and a Democrat. These men and other Christians on Capitol Hill showed him the love of Christ. Eventually, Colson had his own meeting with Christ and the rest is history. Colson went on to a ministry that took him into many prisons around the world. Later, the organization he founded was called Prison Fellowship. Colson became a much sought after speaker and he took his place as an Evangelical leader and speaker. He authored and co-authored a number of books on living the Christian life and the Church. He continued to have a role in politics but mostly it was as a counselor to those in power. Because he lived so large and (in)famously before he became a Christian and that part of the story was so well known, it was easy to see the difference in his life Christ made. He was a redeemed person and because of Christ his life produced many good works. Whatever good he did after he met Christ he gave Christ all the credit. In Colson's life the transformation the Christ brings into a human life was most apparent.