Two years ago, Chuck Colson asked me to join him in writing this long-running column with the idea that I would one day become its sole author. But with Chuck's departure for heaven last spring, that assignment has come due much sooner than I expected.
Chuck once described how the title for this column, Contra Mundum, occurred to him. He was reading a letter John Wesley wrote to the abolitionist William Wilberforce, one of Chuck's great heroes. Writing four decades before the English slave trade was finally abolished, Wesley compared Wilberforce to Athanasius, who had stood with courage "against the world" on behalf of the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century. Chuck was a genuine Christian contrarian in the line of Wilberforce and Athanasius, and in this column, I want to keep advancing that tradition.
You can sum up the life of Athanasius in two sentences: "Truth matters. Courage counts." As a young 20-something, Athanasius represented the church of Alexandria at the Council of Nicaea, where he defended the deity of Jesus Christ against the popular watered-down version of Arius. For the rest of his life, Athanasius struggled on behalf of the orthodox faith. Like Luther and Calvin during the Reformation, the word contra titled his writings—against the Arians, against the pagans. When one day the whole world found itself in the grip of the Arian heresy, Athanasius found it necessary to stand contra mundum.
Athanasius served as the bishop of Alexandria for 45 years, from 328 until 373. During that time, he was sent into exile five times at the command of four different Roman emperors. C. S. Lewis recommended that Christians today read Athanasius, "with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand." It is the ...