Seven a.m. in central Michigan during the school year is a dark and chilly time of day. When I was growing up, there wasn’t much that I liked about it. Including the voice that would talk on my parents’ bedroom radio around that time.
Every morning without fail, that voice would capture the attention of my parents and older brother. But I hardly ever took the time to understand what it was saying. My kid brain began to associate the deep, fast-paced voice with my painful, groggy morning routine, and it stressed me out. I didn’t know who this “Chuck Colson with BreakPoint” guy on the radio thought he was, but he was cramping my fourth-grade style.
It wasn’t until much later that I actually started paying attention to the “BreakPoint Radio” programs when they came on. Too soon after I got over my childhood prejudice, though, the news came that Chuck Colson had died. At that point, the only thing I really knew about him was his voice and something about his involvement with prisons.
But around that time, I subscribed to the BreakPoint podcast with John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas. As I picked up on bits and pieces about Chuck’s life, I started to realize just what I had been missing out on all those years as a kid. This amazing Christian guy had been on my radio day after day, but I had never really known who he was.
And it actually wasn’t until this month, when I picked up the new biography of Chuck, “The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World,” that I knew the whole story of his life. In this digestible 200-pager, author and professor Owen Strachan, a Millennial like myself, filled in all of the gaps for me, retelling the tale of Chuck Colson’s life to my generation of evangelicals. The book traces Chuck’s life through his rise and fall in politics, his conversion, his time in prison, and his years in ministry.
Strachan observes that our generation has somewhat slim pickings when it comes to finding a modern role model who has effectively witnessed in the public square. He points to Chuck as a faithful evangelical of “recent vintage” who can serve as a model to me and to other young people—a model of what it’s like to be a Christ-like influence in an increasingly secularized culture. Basically, with this book, Strachan is bringing Chuck back onto the cultural radar. He’s bringing back Colson’s model for witnessing in the public square. In short, he’s bringing back what he calls “the Colson way.”
And I think that Strachan does it well. To many young evangelicals like me, Chuck may just be an unfamiliar name. Or—as in my own experience—just a voice they remember hearing on the radio. But this biography reveals the man behind the voice—the man whose life speaks of God’s great power to change hearts. The story moved me, and it helped me create a more complete image of who this man really was. Strachan’s account illustrates in detail what Sen. John McCain once said of Chuck—that he was a “fine man whose life proved that there is such a thing as redemption.”
Now, we all know that stories of redemption are great. But there’s something about Chuck’s story that gives it extra relevance to Christians in today’s culture, especially my generation. As I read the book, I realized that Chuck’s story debunks several lies that many people of my generation have bought.
First, it debunks the lie that people don’t change. Just take a cursory glance at Chuck’s life before and after prison. Not even a guy like Chuck—who was soaring at the height of power and affluence—can evade the workings of a holy God. It didn’t matter who he was. As Strachan shows in his book, God used the Watergate scandal and Chuck’s time in prison to inspire Chuck to begin a prison ministry—a ministry we know today as Prison Fellowship.
The topic of Chuck’s prison ministry leads to another lie that his life debunks: the lie that you can’t stand firm in biblical truth and still love people. So many in my generation have elevated personal relationships above scriptural truth. Yet as Chuck himself discovered during his own time in ministry, servants of God in the public square who don’t actually seek to study God and His Word are limiting themselves. They’ve got a very small view of God. As Chuck knew, a deeper understanding of God goes hand-in-hand with a dedication to Christ and the Gospel—and a genuine dedication to other people and their welfare.
This leads directly to one of the book’s most important truths: You don’t have to be an expert to be an effective witness. One thing that particularly bothered Chuck during his life was the hesitancy of believers to address issues in the culture. Instead of taking what the world dishes out as it comes, they wait to address the problem until they can write a book about it—and that’s just not right. Chuck Colson had a different idea of public square involvement. As Strachan writes, “The genius of Colson . . . was that ministry did not mean someone was perfect but that [the] person was engaged.”
So I would say the best thing about this book is how it directly challenges readers—especially readers of my generation—to get involved in the public square. Strachan directly addresses issues that evangelicals face today and uses Chuck’s story to inspire us to take a stand for the truth with an attitude of love. He emphasizes that we, like Chuck, need to take part in the bigger story—the story that Strachan describes as “a story God has authored, and that God is bringing to rightful conclusion.”
“The Colson Way” may be just one of the many chapters of the cosmic story, but it’s a chapter well worth reading. It certainly inspired me, and it made me proud to think that this man’s voice played a part in the ongoing soundtrack of my life. I may not have realized it as a child, but my family and I have been truly blessed by Chuck’s ministry, and I couldn’t have asked for a better role model.
For Further Reading:
Eric Metaxas, “‘The Colson Way’: Introducing the Next Generation to Chuck,” “BreakPoint Radio,” July 27, 2015.
Image copyright Thomas Nelson.
Leah Hickman is the 2015 summer BreakPoint editorial intern and a student at Hillsdale College.