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Christians You Should Know: Charles Colson

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April 21, 2015

Name: Charles “Chuck” Colson (October 16, 1931 – April 21, 2012)

Why you've heard of him: Colson was Richard Nixon's “hatchet man” and spent seven months in prison for Watergate-related charges. Entered Alabama's Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian and became a staunch advocate for prisoners. After telling his story in the bestselling memoir Born Again, Colson used the royalties to found Prison Fellowship, the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.

Position: Colson served as the founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International (1976-2012). He was also a commentator for the daily radio broadcast Breakpoint from 1991 until his death.

Previous career: Captain, U.S. Marine Corps (1953-55); Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1955-56); Admin. Asst. to U.S. Sen. Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass.) (1956-61); Partner, Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm (1961-69); Special Counsel to President Richard M. Nixon (1969-73); Partner, Colson and Shapiro Law Firm (1973-74).

Education: B.A., Brown University (1953) J.D. with honors, George Washington University (1959)

Area of expertise/interest: Restorative justice; worldview analysis and cultural criticism

Honors: Won the $1 million dollar Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (the prize money was donated to Prison Fellowship); Born Again was made into a movie in 1978.

Books: Colson wrote more than 20 books, including Born Again (1976), Kingdoms in Conflict (1987), The Body (1994), Loving God (1997), and How Now Shall We Live (with Nancy Pearcey) (2000)

Assessment: Other than St. Paul, there are few ex-prisoners who did more to fulfill the duties of a Christian like Charles Colson. Along with Prison Fellowship, he oversaw the founding of Justice Fellowship (the nation's largest faith-based criminal justice reform group) and Angel Tree (a program that provides Christmas presents to more than 500,000 children of inmates annually on behalf of their incarcerated parents). The ministries now reach over 40,000 prisoners in 100 countries around the world.

As an author, Colson wrote some of the most influential books in the evangelical community, including The Body and How Now Shall We Live? (both co-written with Nancy Pearcey), and Kingdoms in Conflict (1987), a centrist view of the relationship between church and state. In 1994 he was the co-author, along with the late Catholic priest Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a controversial ecumenical document that highlights how the two groups can work together while still respecting their profound theological differences.

While others have used the infamy of Watergate to line their own pockets, Colson donated all of his speaking honoraria and book royalties to Prison Fellowship and accepted only the salary of a mid-range ministry executive as compensation. The man who was once considered “Nixon's evil genius” became a model of Christian charity and service. Colson was a prime example of how God can transform a person's life and use them for his purposes.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More