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Thinking about Chuck

April 24, 2012

“Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away and new things have come.”  II Corinthians 5:17

I am sure that by now you are aware that Chuck Colson, Watergate burglar turned evangelical, has passed away.  The reaction in the public media varies based on the political and religious point of view of the writer but, with a very few horrible exceptions, has agreed on one defining point, that Colson’s conversion to the Christian faith was genuine and heartfelt.  One writer calls him “the most thoroughly converted person I have ever known” and I would have to agree.

While few doubted the reality of his conversion and, in keeping with the cultural tradition not to speak ill of the dead, few actually were critical (Frank Schaeffer being a notable exception) the comments reflected the political views of the writers as to whether they were glowing praises or polite dissents. 

There was much to be admired about Colson.  Living overseas as I did for many years I can assure you that, internationally, neither his Watergate past nor his conservative political commentary was that big a deal.  He was known, by and large, as a man who cared deeply about prisoners and their families, a reality I have no doubt would please Colson greatly.

But, to me, Colson’s life has always illustrated an important point about conversion.  While, on conversion, we are new creatures in some ways the new creature is a lot like the old.  Both before and after conversion Colson was intense, driven, intellectual and, yes, right wing in his political views.  From what I have read, most notably in his own writings, the old Colson had very few qualities, other than loyalty, that we might admire. 

The converted Colson had the same qualities of intensity, drive and intellect informed by a grace and humility that could only come from God.  He was, in many ways, just as right wing in his politics but he seemed to see those who differed more as wrong than evil.  Indeed, he was often criticized by others for being willing to work with those who were not “pure” in their evangelical orthodoxy.

This speaks to an important truth about all of us and the new creatures we have become.  Yes, there are times when our conversion forces us to rethink our political and social convictions.  But the new creatures God makes of us are not cookie cutter images of one another.  Too often, particularly in the political sphere, many evangelicals whip out their lists of “things true Christians must believe in politics” and doubt the faith of those who don’t buy the whole list.  But I seriously doubt that conversion is something that requires us to switch political parties.    Yes, it is possible to be a good Christian and a Democrat.

But this cookie cutter theory goes beyond politics and social issues.  As believers we are called to have a heart for the lost.  But our gifting and personalities don’t change with conversion.  As an introvert and quiet person, my conversion does not make me an in-your-face fiery evangelist. Yet in our churches there is a “here’s how you do it” “one size fits all” approach to witness, discipleship, and worship all too often.  It is too often that “Sign up today for our door-to-door outreach on Saturday” (or whatever) exhortations are given with those who don’t sign made to feel less than holy.

The characteristics that made Colson, Colson were not changed, they rather were yielded.  You could see that he was still Chuck but was somehow different.  The call for me is not to be more like Colson, or any other example, but to yield the “me” that God has made to his control.  Frankly, that is more than enough challenge for anyone.

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