FIRST-PERSON: Chuck Colson -- God's man in the arena
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Chuck Colson (1931-2012) was a giant among Christians in America. If there were an Evangelical Mount Rushmore, Chuck Colson would be on it.
Those of us privileged to know Chuck only this side of his conversion to personal faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior found it hard to fathom that this was the same Chuck Colson who was President Nixon's ruthless master of dirty tricks and political hardball. The Chuck Colson we knew and loved was one of the kindest, gentlest, humblest, most generous people you could ever know.
In a way, Chuck Colson was, like a late 20th-century Apostle Paul, radically transformed by his Damascus Road experience with Jesus Christ.
Mr. Colson, after his religious conversion, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served seven months in prison. After his release he founded Prison Fellowship Ministry (1976) which has had an enormous impact in ministering the Christian message of salvation and renewal through Jesus Christ to tens of thousands of inmates and their families. In 1993 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, in recognition of his invaluable contributions to American religion.
When Chuck became an evangelical believer, he devoted all of his brilliance, skill and determination to the advancement of Christ's Kingdom.
On the wall of my office I have a framed quotation from President Theodore Roosevelt. I carried the quotation in my wallet for a long time before having a copy made for my office wall. It is Roosevelt's tribute to the man of action that so encapsulated his persona. President Roosevelt proclaimed: "the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood: who strives valiantly; ... to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly...."
Just so, Chuck Colson was God's man in the arena, daring great things for God's cause, rousing evangelicals and Catholics to work together as allies across denominational lines on issues of common cause. As an advocate for Christian engagement with public policy and culture, Chuck Colson carried on the work of the late Francis Schaeffer (1912-84) more effectively than anyone else in American Christianity.
Perhaps Chuck Colson's most lasting legacy will be the Manhattan Declaration. Chuck was absolutely essential in bringing together evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders to hammer out an eloquent statement of common ground on three issues critical to people of faith in America: the sanctity of life; the institution of marriage; and religious freedom. This seminal document, already signed by more than half a million American Christians, will continue to rise in importance and influence as these issues escalate in controversy in our society. Without Chuck Colson there would have been no Manhattan Declaration.
What a great Christian. What a great American. What a great friend. Chuck, we know you have gone home to a better place, having heard "well done, thy good and faithful servant." However, we who are left behind mourn our loss. Eighty years of Chuck Colson was not enough. We will miss your brilliance, your courage, your devotion, your inspiration and your encouragement.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.