Charles Colson

Charles Colson passed away this last Saturday, April 21st. Remembrances and tributes are still being made, as is appropriate. He was a tremendous figure, and his work for the Lord, his impact on the church and how Christians should live and think, and his service to the least of these as well as his country cannot be measured and will not be replicated.

He had a special relationship with Union University, and he also had a particular impact on politics. Ultimately, he didn’t have this impact as he once would have envisioned. As an important aide to Richard Nixon, the pre-conversion Charles Colson must have thought he had “made it” and would be doing great things for his country.

But his real impact came in the decades of service, witness, and worldview thinking that followed his conversion. He did not see a disjunction between changing society through political means and changing society by changing hearts. Laws matter, and policies matter. Hence his involvement with Timothy George and Robert George to found the Manhattan Declaration and stand for life, marriage, and religious liberty. But he also worked tirelessly for “heart” change, but in the church and in one of the most neglected areas of our society, prisons. He was also instrumental in furthering genuine and robust conversation between Evangelicals and Catholics. The following are some reflections from Union’s political science professors when asked for their thoughts about his passing.

Hunter Baker:

The first time I saw Chuck Colson walk across a room, I was deeply moved. His book Born Again made a powerful impression on me, both in terms of politics and faith. Colson had a reputation as Nixon’s axe man, the tough fixer willing to run over his own grandmother to help Nixon. His conversion is the closest modern day equivalent I can find to Paul’s dramatic transformation in Damascus. He continued to care about politics, but found a greater purpose than he’d ever had before which was to share the gospel with men in prison. God blessed his ministry. As his influence grew, he sought to influence our nation’s political life with a combination of love and truth. America was better because of Chuck Colson’s life and work.

Sean Evans:

I think of the power of God and redemption. Here is a man who served the god politics and lived by its mantra of “by all means necessary” which led him to his inevitable conviction after Watergate. But it was in prison that we saw Colson be humbled and turn to God and accept him as his Savior. Colson’s creation of Prison Fellowship and his ministering to convicts over the past thirty years proves the power of Christ and his ability to redeem humanity.

Micah Watson:

I remember being fed spiritually by Colson’s early books, Born Again and Loving God. And I remember being challenged to think “Christianly” by Colson’s later works in which he encouraged developing a Christian worldview. I met him once, at a planning meeting for what would become a movement to promote the federal marriage amendment. I remain struck by the lie he puts to the notion that Christians are necessarily mean-spirited or mushy-minded. It’s hard to convey this without appearing to put down other high-profile Christian leaders, but there was something different about Colson, something winsome yet without compromise. I am grateful for how God used him after God called Chuck to Himself, and I remain grateful now that God has called him home. Colson’s conversion came about in part through his reading of C.S. Lewis, who was once described as “the most thoroughly converted man I ever met” by someone who knew him. Surely we can say something similar about Colson. And may we live so that others will someday want to say the same about us.

(cross-posted at Union University).

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The Be-appletudes

From my friend and colleague, Justin Barnard:

The Be-Appletudes

Blessed are local food and spirits, for there is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who friend, for they shall be friended.

Blessed are the chic, for they shall accrue more worth.

Blessed are those who blog and tweet upon the net, for they shall be archived.

Blessed are the seekers, for they shall be sought.

Blessed are the Mac-at-heart, for they shall see Jobs.

Blessed are the protesters, for they shall be called “Person of the Year.”

Blessed are those who are persecuted for hipsters’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of fashion.

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Michael Novak’s Immoral Indignation

As with so many controversies, it’s very easy to fall into one extreme or the other. So it is with how to think about Joe Paterno’s legacy as coach of Penn State. One camp throws out the sixty-plus years of good things the man did and focuses entirely on the last decade or so and the enabling of child rapist Jerry Sandusky. This is understandable, but incomplete.

The other camp is less sympathetic. It is made up people like Nike’s Phil Knight, and today, Catholic thinker Michael Novak. Knight’s emotional defense of Paterno, again, is somewhat understandable if still reprehensible. Novak’s defense of Joe Paterno–moral giant–is less understandable. He, after all, has demonstrated a keen mind on many issues in the past (and what does it say when the Onion has the best commentary on the matter?)

Look past Novak’s invocation of the “judge not” meme in a rather judgmental essay in which he takes critics of Paterno to task. To what extent does doing a great job coaching football make one a “moral giant”? Football players are supposed to graduate. Coaches are supposed to inculcate moral values and do more than just win. Those coaches who do so do a good job, and had the Sandusky issue not arisen Paterno would deserve all the accolades that the sporting world can offer (though can we not reserve “moral giant” for people like JP II or Billy Graham?)

What Novak misses is that Paterno would have seen Sandusky for years after learning about what happened in 2002. Every time he saw him in the facilities was another moment his conscience should have pricked up. Novak also puts a great deal of blame on the trustees. Perhaps so. There is a lot of blame to go around. But how often do we hear “JoePa was Penn State.”

And this is the real dynamic that people in both camps miss. It was the very goodness and decency of Joe Paterno’s program and teaching that makes what happened over years even more despicable, if that is possible. It is not a matter of seeing the good record besmirched by a judgmental public and scapegoating university officials (Knight, Novak), nor a demonic man whose entire life is summed up by these horrible lapses in judgment and willful blindness (the other camp). It was a good man and a beloved program, so built up and praised that otherwise decent people could look the other way when children were being raped. And otherwise decent people could put their considerable writing and thinking skills to defend a supposed “moral giant” who knew about it and did not stop it.

You cannot have it both ways. JoePa can’t be Penn State and do such a great job and not bear the brunt for what happened. The good record and accolades are inextricably linked to the rot that was allowed to fester.

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Having something to say

Having a blog is bad enough. Trying to come up with a rationale/excuse for having one is worse.There are times when I have something to say that won’t fit well into a Facebook update. That is all.


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