Remembering Charles Colson, a Man Transformed
Colson's legacy thus extends far beyond the community of prisoners, although prison ministry has been his primary calling. In his contribution to changing the church, he crossed many denominational boundaries. He started a bold initiative called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), which caused controversy but also achieved theological understanding between these wings of the Christian faith. In recent years he has dedicated much of his time to the Centurion educational program. It raises up 100 church leaders a year through an intensive teaching course which he led.
Although Colson's achievements were remarkable, his example is more important. Back in Watergate times, his secular opponents loathed his spiritual journey and longed for him to stumble and fall. Almost four decades later he has confounded his critics and often won their admiration. This is because he has walked his talk.
Colson's personal life has been exemplary since he entered into a relationship with this Lord. He has made considerable sacrifices in financial matters. He battled, successfully, against the petty vices of smoking and drinking and against various forms of the pride described in C.S. Lewis's "Great Sin" that tempted him towards the limelight of trying to be too dominant and too controlling in his ministry. But these struggles have made his journey all the more authentic and effective.
Back to the White House
In the early years of the 21st century, Colson's journey took him back to the White House. He became something of a confidant of George W. Bush on issues relating to the rehabilitation and reemployment of prisoners. Their conversations resulted in some important executive and legislative initiatives in this field. But Colson's influence went further. On October 26, 2003, the lead story on the front page of The New York Times carried the headline "Evangelicals Sway White House on Human Rights Issues Abroad." The first name mentioned in the article was Charles W. Colson. It was reported that he and others had persuaded the White House to take political initiatives towards ending the war in the Sudan, halting sex trafficking, and preventing the global spread of AIDS.
Such achievements represented an ironic full circle in the Colson life story. As a young aide to the 37th President, Colson in the 1970s steered the White House towards activities that were the antithesis of Christian morality. Yet by the early 2000s the older Colson was having a considerable influence in a wholly Christian direction on several of the decisions and policies of the 43rd President.
These examples of Colson's legacy on politics, culture, the church, and Christian ministry have only been possible because amidst the earthquake of Watergate he heard the still small voice of God's call. He obeyed it and stayed faithful to it. As a result he has become a shining example of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the redemptive blessings of God's grace. As many of his fellow Christians will say about him, God changed Charles Colson and used him for good.
Jonathan Aitken is the author of Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed. A reporter, writer, broadcaster, and campaigner for prison reform, Aitken spent 23 years as a Member of British Parliament before pleading guilty to charges of perjury and serving a seven-month prison sentence. He is now a director of Prison Fellowship International and president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
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Christianity Today published a lengthy profile of Charles Colson in 2001.
Colson was a regular columnist for Christianity Today from 1985 until his death.