Echoes of Good Friday
Chuck shows us where to look for the perfect example of an ethics of love. This BreakPoint commentary first appeared in April, 2007.
Two years ago on Easter I spent the day as I always do, preaching the Gospel in prison. Afterward I visited those in solitary, including a man I will call Richard, who would face his execution in just five short days.
There is something a bit surreal about talking face to face with a man who knows he is going to die. There is a heaviness about the room and, in this case, also a very palpable sense of evil. In fact, I have never felt the assault of evil as strongly as I did in that place.
I shared the Gospel and my own testimony with Richard, but found him very resistant. Every time Richard would throw out an objection, I would knock it down. Intellectually astute, Richard had reasoned himself into a fortress that barred faith as even a possibility. It was as hard as I had ever worked to persuade someone, and I left feeling drained and discouraged.
But God was not finished. As a result of that visit, the warden allowed something highly unprecedented: He allowed a fellow inmate, Mickey, to visit Richard and speak with him before his execution.
Mickey faced a life sentence but had discovered in prison a freedom through the Gospel of Christ that Richard had not yet experienced.
Taking a seat across a table, Mickey looked into Richard’s eyes. Richard’s face was emotionless. Mickey breathed a prayer and began by sharing the simple facts of the Gospel and how it had changed his life. But Richard remained stoic. Talking with Richard “felt like beating my head against a wall,” recalls Mickey.
At a loss, Mickey offered one final thought: “Richard, I wish I could take your place on Friday.”
For the first time since their conversation began, the stoicism on Richard’s face melted. In its place, a look of shock swept over him.
Mickey continued, “You see, Richard, I know where my soul’s going when I leave this world. You don’t yet have that assurance of salvation. I wish I could give you just a little more time.”
Once Mickey was back in his own cell, he cried. He felt like he had let God down. But soon Mickey heard God’s gentle reassurance that he had done exactly what he had been asked to do.
What Mickey said to Richard strikes a real chord with me, because more than thirty years ago, I myself stood condemned and imprisoned. I will never forget when my friend and then-congressman Al Quie sincerely offered to take my place in prison. Imagine my reaction!
But then, imagine the astonishment of a prisoner at Auschwitz named Franciszek. Chosen by the Nazi camp commandant to die in the death chamber, Franciszek was spared when a Polish priest named Maximilian Kolbe offered to take his place. Father Kolbe willingly laid down his life so that another might live.
In Congressman Quie’s offer, as in Father Kolbe’s martyrdom and in Mickey’s wish for Richard, I hear the echo of the first Good Friday: Christ taking our place on the cross, laying down His life so that a condemned people might live.
May Christ’s love, displayed on the cross, continue to astonish us. And may His sacrifice inspire us to follow in His footsteps.
For more insight to this topic, order your copy of Doing the Right Thing, the new DVD series from BreakPoint, from our online store. Or read the article, “Truth and Love,” by Charles Colson.
The Failure of Secularized Morality
In this article, first published in 1995, Chuck explains the need for God if there are to be any ethics worth having.
Christina Hoff Sommers, who teaches ethics at Clark University, tells a wonderful story—one that exposes the bankruptcy of modern ethics. After Sommers had written an article arguing that a just society begins with individual virtue, one of her colleagues berated her for holding to "an antiquated, Victorian, view of ethics."
Modern ethics, her colleague informed her, is social justice. It is concerned not with personal morality but with causes, such as saving Brazilian rain forests and preventing Third World exploitation by multinational corporations.
Three months later the same colleague came back sheepishly to Sommers and said: "I have just had a shocking experience in my ethics class. Half of my students cheated on a take-home exam. And this is an ethics course!"
The woman confessed she needed to reread Sommers's article about private virtue. When people see how flawed the modern view of ethics is, it opens a grand opportunity for a Christian apologetic.
Our modern dilemma in ethics began with the French Enlightenment. Like Sommers's colleague, the Enlightenment thinkers believed that Christians were wrong about individual sin, that people were good, corrupted only by social structures. So reforming social structures would produce a perfect society.
For 200 years ethicists have tried to create ethical systems without God. The result has been the dismantling of any objective standard of right and wrong, leaving the individual to act according to his or her own "personal preference."
But what happens when someone's "personal preference" happens to be cheating on an exam? Or stealing?
Or—for example—collaborating with murderous Nazis?
That is exactly what happened in the very homeland of the Enlightenment. During wartime France the Vichy government rounded up Jews and handed them over to the Nazis. Seventy-five thousand French Jews perished in the death camps. French President Jacques Chirac recently acknowledged that shameful chapter of his country's history. "France," he said, "the homeland of the Enlightenment, and of the rights of man . . . committed the irreparable. Breaking its word, it handed over those who were under its protection to their executioners."
How did the Enlightenment notion of the "rights of man" break down in wartime France? Well, ethical precepts in themselves have no moral force unless individuals view themselves as responsible to a Supreme Being. The French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre understood very well that ethics had no meaning once God was removed from the equation. "It doesn't matter how you act," Sartre said, "as long as you `authenticate yourself' by an act of the will."
Thus, to borrow a trenchant Francis Schaeffer illustration, you can decide to help an old lady across the street—or to push her into the path of an oncoming car. For Sartre, because there is no God, it doesn't matter what one chooses to do.
So the next time someone argues that ethics has nothing to do with obedience to God, show him exactly where that logic leads. And remind him that it is precisely because God exists that there is ultimately no getting away with cheating—or, for that matter, murder.
For more insight to this topic, order your copy of Doing the Right Thing, the new DVD series from the Colson Center, from our online store. Or read the article, “The Failure of Modern Ethics,” by Rick Wade.
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I recently had a discussion with a very bright, middle-aged medical practitioner, who was treating me for a chronic condition. It’s not a big medical issue, just something that needs to be taken care of.
But this routine exam turned into something I hadn’t expected: An opportunity to open someone’s mind to the Christian worldview. I felt the conversation was important, not just in the sense that I believe the practitioner benefited from it, but in that it impressed upon me the importance of leading people to the truth by simply asking questions; by forcing them to struggle with the implications of their own worldview.
Here’s how the conversation went, as best as I can recapture:
At the end of the exam, the practitioner mentioned that she would schedule a follow-up appointment.
I asked, “Why? I’m on Medicare. I don’t like spending taxpayer money unless it’s necessary.”
“Oh,” she said, pausing. “Well, it’s just a good idea.”
She then launched into a discussion about an elderly woman who is terminally ill and is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a treatment that won’t save her.
She shook her head and sighed: “I wish more people took the position you do, that we shouldn’t waste money on medical care.”
I said, “I understand completely. I think the woman should consult with her doctor and her family, and if it’s clear she’s dying anyway, she should not be artificially extending her life. But if she doesn’t do this, how do you deal with the problem?
The healthcare practitioner looked at me quizzically.
I asked her again, “Who should make the decision?”
She said, “Well, right now, doctors pretty well have to persuade patients.”
I said, “Supposing they can’t persuade them?”
She said, “Well, there should be an independent board that makes that decision.”
I said, “Well, that’s possible. But what would be the standard they would go by? How would they make a decision?”
She answered that if there are only limited resources, then you would only provide care to the extent of those resources.
I said again, “How would you make that decision? What’s the standard today?”
She said, “Well, you’d help as many people as you can.”
I then said, “Would you describe that as doing the greatest good for the greatest number?”
She smiled then, and nodded her head and said, “Yes, of course.”
I then asked her if she knew where that philosophy came from. She said she didn’t know. I asked her if she knew where that philosophy had been employed before. She said she didn’t. I then asked her if she was aware of what the German doctors did in the 1930s. Now she began to look like she was acknowledging that there was some problem. But she said, “No. Tell me what they did.”
“Well, the Germans formed medical panels to review the cases of the chronically ill, terminally ill, and those who had mental disabilities. Many of the people who went before those panels simply disappeared. Their families never saw them again.”
Her eyebrows arched up, and she looked horrified.
I then said to her, “If doing the greatest good for the greatest number is your standard, how else would you deal with it?”
Now she was trapped, and she knew it. She said, “It’s really a question of common sense, isn’t it?”
I said, “Yes, it is common sense. But what standard would you apply?”
She said, “I think people would have to be very reasonable about this.”
I asked her if she thought the German doctors were reasonable. She said, “No. They shouldn’t take a life without some proper standard.”
I said, “Well, didn’t they have a standard?”
Then she nodded yes, and said, “Yes, the greatest good for the greatest number.”
I said, “Then what did the German doctors do wrong? These were very smart people, after all.”
She nodded, knowing now she was at a dead end.
I then explained to her that when Christianity burst onto the scene in the Greco-Roman world 2,000 years ago, they introduced a radical doctrine from the Hebrew Scriptures: The idea that human beings are created in the image of God, and therefore life is intrinsically valuable and worthwhile—something we all know, actually, instinctively.
She listened with great interest as I explained to her, very briefly, that in the Greco-Roman era there was slavery, rampant abortion and infanticide. Human life had no intrinsic value. So there was a ruling class that possessed political and economic power and led a privileged life. Everybody else was out of luck. I said Christianity turned that upside down.
“So,” I asked, “do you still believe you can do the greatest good for the greatest number and be humane at the same time?
“No, you can’t,” she replied.
I asked, “Can you conceive of any middle ground between the Christian view and the view of the Greeks and Romans?”
She pondered this for a moment, and she came back with, “Common sense would be middle ground.”
“But common sense,” I replied, “means that you can apply some standard that everybody would agree with. If human life isn’t precious, what is it? Is it just a commodity?”
She eventually said, “I don’t think I can have an answer to that.” And then she asked me, to my great surprise, if I’d seen the movie “Expelled.” I told her I had, that I knew Ben Stein. That it was a great film, that it raised these very important questions about the existence of God.
She had to end the discussion, because she had a patients waiting to see her. But she said she was going to give our conversation a lot of thought.
After she’s had time to think about our conversation, I plan to follow up with her. Will the conversation lead to her conversion to Christ. I don’t know. But I do know that she now has something to consider: that humans are precious because they are made in the image of God. And as she thinks about thorny issues such as end of life decisions and health care rationing, she will do so in light of that truth.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, Questioning Evangelism, by Randy Newman, from our online store. Or read the article, “Answering the Big Questions,” by Sue Bohlin.
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Christianity as a Worldview
First published in September, 2009, this BreakPoint commentary explains the mission and purpose of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
Today I want to tell you about a major new effort to renew the Church and transform the culture.
What is the vision of the Church? That was the sermon topic one Sunday a dozen years ago or so when I visited a friend’s church. But as I listened, I found my mind wandering. I had just signed a contract to write a book on Christian worldview, and I was experiencing writer’s remorse. Did this book really need to be written?
Suddenly the pastor’s words caught my attention. The mission of the Church, he said, is to prepare for Christ’s return in five ways: prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and evangelism. In that instant, all doubts about writing the book vanished. Of course, these five spiritual exercises are central to the Church’s life, but we can never overlook our responsibility to redeem all of culture as well. Though well-intentioned, the pastor’s words were a prescription for the continued marginalization of the Church.
Just like this pastor, many evangelicals define faith strictly in terms of personal salvation. Yet soul-winning is not an end in itself. We are not only saved from sin, we are also saved to something—to the task of cultivating God’s creation. Genesis teaches that on the first five days, God did the work of creating. But on the sixth day, He made human beings in His image to carry on His work—to develop the raw materials of the world He had created.
This is called the “cultural commission,” just as binding as the “Great Commission.” It means our faith is intended to encompass every part of life, every sphere of work, every aspect of the world.
In short, our faith must be a complete worldview, the basic set of beliefs that function as a set of glasses helping us to see all of reality through God’s eyes. If God is creator and sovereign over everything, as we confess He is, then everything finds its identity and meaning in relationship to Him—not only our spiritual life but also our work, politics, science, education, the arts, etc.
Developing a Christian worldview is not some ivory-tower exercise. It is crucial for every believer—affecting every choice we make. The doctrine of creation tells us that God made the world with a moral and physical order—that there are God-given norms for every aspect of creation.
This is why I’m so excited to announce that we have launched the Colson Center for Christian Worldview™. This online Center is the culmination of years of work to help believers understand, articulate, and live out an authentically Biblical worldview. I believe in this effort so deeply, that I will be devoting my remaining years of ministry to it.
When you visit ColsonCenter.org, you will be able to search for all kinds of articles, speeches, and videos by me and many of the leading Christian worldview thinkers today. We’ll also be providing online courses and opportunities to network with Christians who are passionate about renewing the Church and transforming the culture.
Visit us at ColsonCenter.org—and come back often.
If we don’t know the norms God has ordained for every area of life, then we will drift with the tide of this postmodern age, and, instead of transforming the culture, as we’re supposed to, we will transformed by it.
The mission of the Church is indeed prayer and evangelism, just as that pastor said that Sunday. But to be effective, we must also develop a comprehensive worldview. And that, too, is the urgent mission of the Church in a post-Christian world.
For more insight to Christian worldview and the mission of The Colson Center, get the book, How Now Shall We Live? by Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey, from our online store. Or read the article, “Introduction to Christian Worldview,” by David Naugle.
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Christianity in China
This BreakPoint commentary first aired in September of last year.
If you owned a factory, what kind of workers would you want? One Chinese businessman knows
The man who owns the industrial valve company makes no secret of his religious faith: He’s a committed Christian. Once a week, he gathers together his senior staffers for prayer. Employees are invited to attend Bible studies on the premises and pray for one another’s needs.
The factory owner is also quite open about another fact: When it comes to hiring, he would choose Christians over non-Christians every time—because he thinks they make better workers.
You may think this company is located in South Carolina—but you’d be wrong. It’s in southeastern China. The company is exhibit “A” for the argument, backed up by social researchers, that Christian faith is responsible for much of China’s productivity.
A faithful BreakPoint listener alerted me to an article from the BBC, written by Christopher Landau. Landau reports that the valve company’s owner, Weng-Jen Wau, believes that the more Christian employees he has, the better his business will prosper.
“If you’re a Christian you’re more honest, with a better heart,” Wau says. And if they do something wrong, “they feel guilty—that’s the difference,” he notes.
An employee at Wau’s factory agreed. “If everybody became a Christian,” he said, “it would have a very big impact, and would really help the development of our factory.”
Wau and his employees are not alone in believing this. The Chinese government is studying the impact of Christian entrepreneurs and Christian-run businesses. A professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Landau that it’s clear to him that the growth of Christianity and economic prosperity are taking place simultaneously in Wenzhou—a city deeply influenced by Christian missionaries in the past.
An American sociologist named Rodney Stark would not be surprised at this finding: He’s been saying the same thing for years. Stark is the author of a wonderful book titled the Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.
Stark writes that without Christianity’s commitment to “reason, progress, and moral equality . . . today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800.” This would be a world “lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos”—not to mention scientists.
Amazingly enough, at the end of his book, Stark quotes a published statement by Chinese scholars, who said they had no doubt that Christianity is the source of Western prosperity! “The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life,” they said, “was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and the successful transition to democratic politics.”
For some time I’ve been saying that America’s economic collapse was the result of a moral and ethical collapse—and the abandonment of Christian principles in public life. I find it amazing that a Chinese factory owner can understand this, but our business, academic, and political elites cannot.
The simultaneous rise of Christian faith and economic success in China is just one piece of evidence that worldview matters. And that the Christian worldview, above all others, allows us to thrive in—and make sense of—the world we live in.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Victory of Reason, by Rodney Stark, from our online store. Or read the article, “Christianity in China: An Irreducible Complexity,” by David Lyle Jeffrey.
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A truth your teenagers should hear
All talk of freedom ultimately raises the question of where freedom comes from. This BreakPoint commentary was first aired in October, 2000.
In a recent cover story, Newsweek magazine asked, "What do Teens Believe?" For parents who worry about their teenagers, the Newsweek results can be both encouraging -- and distressing.
Take religious faith, for example. While Newsweek reports that "we're witnessing a new revival of religion" among teenagers -- and that's the encouraging part -- it is distressing to find that "more than half agree with the statement that 'all religious faiths teach equally valid truths.'"
If that sounds like relativism to you, you're right -- it is. Now, one can argue with a teenager that relativism is ultimately incoherent. Christianity and Hinduism, for example, will be equally true only if both are equally hollow, and the word "truth" has lost all meaning. But there's another way to challenge the relativism that young people face in our culture.
Over the next couple of days, I want to tell you about some great new books, written for teens, providing sharp arguments and evidence that truth is real, and that truth matters -- truth in history, truth in personal behavior, and truth in science. If relativism tosses truth out the window, we ought to reach out and grab it back, by showing our kids that the deepest things they value, such as real freedom and genuine love, need to be based in solid knowledge about the world. And the books I'll tell you about can help.
Let's start with relativism. Many Americans think the notion that relativism -- your beliefs are true for you, my beliefs are true for me -- is a praiseworthy American value, rooted in our Constitution. In fact, as historians Gary Amos and Richard Gardiner show in their book Never Before in History, what's especially American, and valuable, is our legacy of religious freedom -- which is different.
Though often confused, religious freedom and relativism are not the same thing. Amos and Gardiner point out that the American tradition of religious liberty rests on a Biblical foundation. Why did the Puritans leave England to sail to America? Because the Bible taught them that every human being must respond to God and His Word alone, in freedom -- and no one should be forced to assent to doctrines against his conscience.
While relativism denies the very existence of truth, real religious freedom upholds truth as something precious, created by God, which we may freely embrace -- or not. Never Before in History explains that our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and our entire system of government work because their framers "drew their ideas about religious liberty and separation of church and state from Christian sources."
Does that surprise you? It probably does -- because the Christian roots of our civil liberties is one of best-kept secrets in American history, particularly in schools. But the book Never Before in History lays out the key evidence beautifully -- something teens are not getting in civics courses.
We should be teaching our kids that there's a world of difference between the freedom of conscience that the Bible teaches, where truth is real and precious, and the relativism that uses the cloak of freedom to deny the existence of truth itself. Never Before in History makes the case that if we forget the foundations of our freedoms, we'll lose them -- and that's a lesson teenagers, and the rest of us, need to learn!
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For more insight to this topic, get the book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, by Michael Novak, from our online store. Or read the article, “God and Politics,” by Brian Bolton.