Chuck Colson, one of the greatest, most treasured Christians leaders of all time, went home to be with the Lord on Saturday, April 21. On the same weekend of Colson’s passing, NBA player Ron Artest (who has re-named himself “Metta World Peace”) took a cheap elbow to the head of Oklahoma City Thunder basketball player James Harden, knocking him out of the game. Evidently his changed name may have had little effect on his behavior.
What a stark contrast to consider these two. On the one hand, we consider the life of a man who was once known as the “hatchet man” for Richard Nixon transformed into a Christian who bore much fruit, including the formation of Prison Fellowship. On the other, we behold an athlete, whose early career was checkered with thuggish behavior, change his name and reportedly turn over a new leaf. Of course I do not pass judgment on “World Peace’s” heart, and hope he, too, is redeemed in the end.
Yet the larger point is that a mere name change does not change your reputation. In fact, if anyone could have changed his name, it would have been Colson, whose conversion is so stark he is compared to Paul (formerly Saul). Instead, Colson, with the Holy Spirit ablaze in his heart, improved his reputation year by year. And that is the real key.
Colson’s rebirth occurred in 1973. In the 39 years since that mid-life transformation, consider all he has done. He has penned some 30 books including Born Again, How Now Shall We Live and The Faith (the latter of which I recommend highly). His prolific “Break Point” commentaries have spoken to and for Christians in a powerful way, and he was a sought-after guest on all of the major TV talk shows.
Colson was not merely about ideas and words. He took literally the words of Christ in the parable of the sheep and the goats and had mercy on “the least of these,” including those in prison and their children. Prison Fellowship International is now in some 112 countries and has partnered with thousands of churches and organizations to reach the incarcerated for Christ. The Angel Tree ministry is now the standard for caring for children of prisoners in need during the holidays. Many stories could be shared on this point.
He also took a stand on key cultural issues, such as abortion and homosexuality. Yet he did it in a way that reached people instead of repelling them. One of the hallmark legacies of Colson has to be his leading role in The Manhattan Declaration, which is a joint statement of Evangelical, Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders on the three major “non-negotiable” issues in the culture; namely, pro-life, against the redefinition of marriage and for religious liberty.
Despite his many accomplishments, one palpable quality of Chuck Colson was his humble demeanor. Whether arguing passionately for life, or contending for the Faith against a skeptic, Colson had a winsome way about him.
There is a phrase in the Book of Common Prayer, in the portion on a burial liturgy, that applies most appropriately. Adding his name to the prayer in the book, it would read:
“Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant Charles Colson. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming.”
All Colson ever claimed to be was a sinner of Christ’s redeeming. That was his only source of joy and hope. In the end, like the Apostle Paul, we now know he can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Tim. 4:7.
While there will never be another Chuck Colson, may the Lord be gracious to us in raising up others to carry the mantle he so faithfully did.