Article Jul 24, 2015

Emulating 'The Colson Way' in Our Day

American culture is quickly evolving. Christian witness is now met with increasing resistance. The social compact that held together a fragile civil religion has been broken. In this new paradigm, many young Christians are looking for models of faithful cultural engagement.

To meet this need, Owen Strachan, author, professor, and scholar, offers an unlikely candidate: the late Chuck Colson.

For one generation of Americans, Chuck Colson was remembered only as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” willing to “walk over my own grandmother” to ensure his boss’s reelection. For another generation, those familiar with his powerful conversion and decades of post-prison ministry, Colson was a leader in a renewal of Christian worldview. However, most millennial Christians are are likely unfamiliar with Colson’s life story or his work in the public square. It is Strachan’s desire, then, to introduce this titanic figure to a new generation of evangelicals. In his book The Colson Way, Strachan presents the life and work of Chuck Colson as an enduring model for those wishing to apply the gospel of the Kingdom to moral and ethical issues.  

In the marketplace of ideas, Christians have often resigned themselves to playing defense and have been reluctant or unable to articulate a positive vision of humanity. Recognizing the public square as the place where spiritual, political and cultural questions are debated, Chuck Colson’s approach was to play offense, engaging the most difficult arguments with persuasion and winsomeness.

Although not a comprehensive biography, Strachan nonetheless offers an abbreviated chronology of Colson’s life, highlighting foundational experiences, such as service in the Marine Corps and an Ivy League education at Brown University. Both military service and academic preparation would serve Colson well throughout his career, specifically as he engaged worldview conversations. Pre-conversion, pre-Watergate experiences are often overlooked in Colson studies but are vital for understanding his later work.

Strachan’s book serves a twofold purpose; it is both descriptive and prescriptive. It is descriptive, detailing the major moments, relationships and accomplishments in Chuck Colson’s life. It is prescriptive in offering a compelling vision for contemporary evangelical cultural engagement. To fully live out the gospel, followers of Christ can’t afford to adopt a pietistic approach, privatizing their faith to Sunday mornings. The people of God must advocate for human dignity, family stability, and religious liberty.

Strachan sums up Colson succinctly: “We must not privatize our convictions. We need to out our faith in the rough and tumble of a fallen world. Let us make this as plain as we can: more evangelicals, many more, need to get plugged into the momentous public square issues of the day” (139).

Chuck Colson possessed a model of public theology that outlived him. And Owen Strachan presents the best of the Watergate hatchet-man turned evangelical intellectual in an accessible format for a new generation. He details Colson’s friendships with leading theologians and pastors, and shows how these great thinkers influenced Colson and helped prompt his intellectual engagement.

Owen Strachan’s newest book is the first treatment of Chuck Colson’s life and legacy since Colson’s passing in 2012. It sets the record straight on Colson’s Watergate involvement and documents the Prison Fellowship ministry that now exerts worldwide impact. Perhaps most important for Christians, it also sheds light on how deeply transformed Chuck Colson was by the Gospel. Strachan explains: “Chuck Colson was not ruined by Watergate. He was ruined by the gospel of Jesus Christ, which hunted him like a hound of heaven and claimed him when he was at his most vulnerable” (34).

The Colson Way articulates a prophetic message through the lens of a modern day prophet. Colson’s contra mundum pro mundum (against the world, for the world) template for cultural engagement is instructive for believers looking to influence their culture. This is especially true for a generation of Christians fed a steady diet of antagonism toward a previous generation’s cultural witness.

The best biographical books examine historical figures, explain their significance, and inspire others to emulate them. Owen Strachan’s The Colson Way accomplishes these aims at a crucial time for evangelical cultural engagement. Christians will be inspired live out the gospel with kindness and conviction in the tradition of William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., and most recently, Charles Wendell Colson.