You go to a friend’s house, of course. With the debacle of Watergate hanging over his neck, with the public outraged at the Nixon administration he served so loyally as a hatchet man, with a prison sentence looming over him on the horizon, Chuck Colson went to see his friend Tom Phillips. Phillips, a quiet, soft-spoken man was then President of Raytheon Corporation, one of the largest and most successful companies in the Country. I remember talking with Tom about the evening he spent with a dispirited and very guilty forty-something Chuck Colson.
Almost reluctantly, Tom Phillips shared his faith in Jesus Christ with Colson that evening and pointed him towards the writings of C. S. Lewis. With yellow pad and ballpoint pen Colson took off for Maine where he began pouring over books like Mere Christianity. The Holy Spirit did his own “magic” and in a short time this man who had graduated from Brown University, worked for Sen. Leveret Saltanstall, founded his own law firm, and in an unguarded moment boasted that he’d “walk over his grandmother to get Nixon re-elected” hit the dust – the sawdust trail, that is. Chuck Colson was born again by God’s Holy Spirit and from that moment began a lifelong process of repentance and learning to walk in the obedience of faith.
Some, of course, refused to believe that this “by all means get it done” guy, who had misguidedly and unreflectively served a disgraced President, could really change. To this day a few of his former political enemies have not forgiven him, and those on the extreme Left along with the pro-gay bloggers still hate his guts. To them his post-conversion crusading for biblical views on sexuality, marriage, and abortion will forever prevent him from being canonized, no matter how many good works he eventually did.
But he did good works, and his works showed his faith. I recall sitting in his living room back in the years following his conversion, and before Prison Fellowship had really taken off. Very humbly, he told about his childhood as an Episcopalian, his years in a private day school and later at Brown, and then his White House years all as prelude to an account of his conversion that seemed as real to me as any – including that of St. Paul on the Road to Damascus. I didn’t know him well, but he gave me and a colleague an hour of his time while we taped and photographed him and later built his testimony into a multi-media show we were working on. Our production, “The Potter”, was later taken and shown to thousands of students in various private secondary schools throughout New England and elsewhere.
Often compared to William F. Buckley because of his clarity of thought and expression, Colson became a tireless advocate for those in prison and their families, and a vigorous spokesman for evangelical Christianity. Light years from the Pat Robertsons, Jerry Falwells and Jim Bakkers of this world, he brought a keen mind, a humble repentant spirit, and a truly compassionate conservatism to his writing and later his radio show, BreakPoint, that was carried by 1,300 stations. He wrote 30 books, and donated all royalties, including the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, to Prison Fellowship. He took only a modest salary, and stayed away from the political limelight.
The media will no doubt offer much more comprehensive evaluations of his life and work, but to me Chuck Colson remains a fellow-fighter for the Good News that Jesus Christ truly changes lives, and through us changes cultures. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners behind bars are involved in life-giving Bible studies, live in God-honoring prison wings, study programs aimed at life-improvement and are assured that their families outside are being cared for. And well beyond the Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson’s Center for Christian Worldview helps believers think through the implications of their faith for the whole of life.
I salute this humble, courageous, faithful man, and give thanks for his life witness, and for the brief few moments I was privileged to have with him. I also never want to forget Tom Phillip’s role in Chuck’s life. It shows that a quiet Spirit-led conversation with someone who’s really down, whose life is in a shambles, can have huge long-term results for the Kingdom.
-Peter C. Moore, D.D.