Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Born Again, by Charles W. Colson (book review: Presbyterian Journal)

Presbyterian Journal
September 1, 1976

A story making the rounds says, “Ever since Chuck Colson got religion, ‘Dial a Prayer’ has been using an unlisted number.” The butt of this cynical humor is Charles (Chuck) Wendall Colson, known to millions of Watergate television viewers as the unswervingly loyal defender of President Richard Nixon.

Time magazine called Colson, “a shadowy figure, a man feared, disliked and little known even by fellow power-mongers in the White House.” Colson, the articulate and aggressive legal beagle to the 87th President of the United States was converted to Christianity in the late summer of 1973. He has written a chronicle of those days, subtitled “What really happened to the White House hatchet man.” The book deserves our attention.

The book is roughly divided into four sections: pre-conversion activities, conversion narrative, trial account, and prison experiences. As a theological handbook, it is weak. Perceptive readers will question Colson’s views on free will, civil rights and the state, the Holy Spirit, Satan, healing and discerning God’s will. They may also question his guilty plea to an obscure law under which he was not even charged.

But no one can question the vividness of his story. The chapters dealing with his religious experience, “An Unforgettable Night” and “Cottage by the Sea,” are moving and powerful.

Aside from any political lessons to be learned from Colson’s story (one would probably learn more from one of the secular accounts), there are important religious lessons for all Christians. Colson has effectively painted the picture of a group of people who believed they were “under sieve” by a hostile press, critical Congress and radical public. Indeed, the rationale for much of the unethical activity Colson describes is based upon this defense mentality of the Nixon White House.

The similarity between the situation in which the Nixon administration believed itself to be, and that of many of us is quite striking because the temptation to have an ethical posture only whitewashed by Christianization is very real.

First, there is the general public opposition to the application of a vital Christian ethic in our “pluralistic society.” Second, even within the Christian society those of us who are Reformed in persuasion are in the minority and our views have a tendency to come under attack, ridicule or neglect by other believers.

With this kind of double hostility, it is easy for us to think of ourselves as “strangers in a strange land.” Our reaction can be theological pride and an inordinate desire to prove that our pride is well founded. This desire has the force of leading into improprieties.

The book contains the antidote for such a besieged mentality: total submission without reservation to God. The last 100 pages, genuinely suspenseful and gripping, dealing with Mr. Colson’s prison time, tell of a Christian’s struggle to apply his new ethic to daily life situations. It is a powerful piece of testimony. May God use this book to convict us of any religious self-righteousness before it is too late.


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