Charles Colson, respected evangelical leader and former President Nixon adviser, died Saturday afternoon at age 80 from complications resulting from a brain hemorrhage.
Over the span of several decades, Colson became one of evangelicalism's most influential voices within the movement and to the broader culture. Observers suggest Colson will likely be best remembered for his prison ministry, behind-the-scenes political involvement, work on evangelical and Catholic dialogue, and his cultural commentary.
In many ways, Colson's life encapsulated the eclectic nature of evangelicalism. His example shaped how evangelicals would promote ministry and social justice, evangelism and ecumenicism, cultural and political engagement, radio and writing, and scholarship and discipleship.
"His demonization in the 1970s has been replaced by lionizations in the 2000s—at least among the nation's 65 million evangelical Christians," Jonathan Aitken wrote in his 2005 biography. Aitken portrayed Colson as an important but flawed figure in evangelicalism, "America's best-known Christian leader after Billy Graham."
Before his conversion to Christianity, Colson was described as an aggressive political mastermind who drank heavily, chain smoked, and smeared opponents. He served as special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, which led to a 7-month prison term. After his conversion experience, he published Born Again, helping popularize the term many evangelicals use to self-identify.
Colson's public commitment to his faith drew initial skepticism from those who wondered whether he was attempting to profit from a conversion narrative. Criticism faded over time with his 30-plus years ...