Colson's magnum opus

Even Prison Fellowship was just a platform for this book

Issue: "Worse NOW than ever," July 24, 1999

Sometime in the next century, when journalists are still compiling lists of different categories of this and that, someone will ask the question: "Who, more than anyone else, helped foster the development of a biblical worldview among evangelical Christians during the last half of the 20th century?" Two names will dominate that list. The first should be Francis Schaeffer, who during the 1960s and 1970s served as a one-man wrecking crew for the floor that in earlier years tended so much to separate the lower story of secular things from the upper story of spiritual considerations. Pietism had dominated evangelicalism. Bible colleges (in education) and missions (by way of vocation) had become expressions of the highest good, while withdrawal from the culture was for many the mark of true spirituality. For all of evangelicalism, but especially for thousands of students during those years, Francis Schaeffer changed the landscape. It happened partly by personal influence, both at L'Abri in Europe and during extensive speaking tours. But it happened especially through books-a contribution for which InterVarsity Press and its editor, James Sire, also deserve more than a footnote in history. The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and all the rest still get regular mention when you ask a host of middle-aged Christians today what got their thinking on the right track a generation ago. The other name Christians of the future will think of almost automatically when discussions turn to Christian worldview (both theory and practice) will be that of Charles Colson. I'll admit I still haven't actually heard people speak yet of "Colsonian" thinking in the same way many do of "Schaefferian" thought-but the combination of his keen mind's insights and his forceful application of those insights to the nitty-gritty culture that surrounds us has produced a pattern of thinking and action for Christians everywhere to emulate. Although the Colson perspective was colorfully shaped by his own unusual experiences in the highest levels of government and in bleak prison cells, dozens and even hundreds of folks can tell similarly fascinating tales of God's providence in their lives. But the Colson influence, like the Schaeffer movement before it, found itself providentially rooted in sound theology. And in the same manner the Sire editorial touch multiplied the effectiveness of the Schaeffer message a generation ago, Mr. Colson has also been blessed to pair himself up with good minds and fluent writers to amplify his own considerable publishing prowess. All of which is to call due attention to the newest-and certainly most important-of Charles Colson's books, due out next month. How Now Shall We Live?, written with his colleague Nancy Pearcey and published by Tyndale House, is by Mr. Colson's own evaluation his magnum opus. "In some senses," he told me bluntly a few weeks ago, "my work with Prison Fellowship-as important as that is-has simply been a platform to demonstrate the importance of this thing we call a Christian worldview." So here, under a title that quietly reminds the reader that this picks up in some ways where Francis Schaeffer left off, you will find Charles Colson at his best. With Mrs. Pearcey, he is an astute theoretician, faithfully explaining how the great themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration are key to a Christian's understanding of the Bible itself, but also of science and symphony concerts. But the wonderful Colson technique here is also his gift as a storyteller, showing how all this theory works out in the lives of real people. Just as the Bible itself weaves wonderfully back and forth between theory and practice, so the Colson-Pearcey book demonstrates the real-life quality of truth. Yet in doing that, and through the integrity of all this down-to-earth application, the nature of truth itself is wonderfully exalted. In Charles Colson's scheme of things, Christian worldview isn't a subject you tackle after you've got your basics covered-a sort of graduate course in Christian action for those who have got the fundamentals straight. This isn't a book for people who are already accomplished at theology and evangelism and missions. Instead, Mr. Colson stressed to me when we discussed the book recently, "You have to understand this whole scheme before the gospel message itself can make sense. You've got to see the gospel in context. I think a Christian worldview is essential for consistent evangelism." To the extent Christians at the dawn of a new millennium need to bone up on their worldview theory and practice, the reading assignment is a hefty one. How Now Shall We Live? is a huge book-and at 500 pages plus, you won't finish it off in an evening. Yet even more sobering is the fact that by the time you've finished reading this remarkable work, you'll really just be ready to begin. For the essence of this book is that the Christian faith is not just a theory, not just a system, not just a framework. It is an all-consuming way of life, robustly applicable to every minute of every day of the rest of your life. That's the way Charles Colson has lived for at least 25 years. It's also why I think people will look back at him, and at this book, as major building blocks in the development of their own worldviews.

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Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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