Voices

The plain truth

Charles Colson's new book steps onto "the great fault line" of our culture

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

Truth matters. Even in a relativistic, post-modern age, you don't want WORLD magazine to make up and fabricate the stories we report in our news columns. You don't even want our staff footnoting their accounts with disclaimers saying that while the gist of the reporting is mostly on target, readers should never assume that every detail happened just the way we said it did. If WORLD did that just once or twice, you would properly cancel your subscription.

Indeed, none of us likes to be lied to. In the same way that we don't want strangers (or even family members!) reaching into our pockets and helping themselves to whatever they might find there, we don't want people telling us things that we discover later simply aren't so. When you find I've told you a lie, you understandably feel cheated.

So why are we so casual about truth in the abstract? How can it be that 63 percent of all Americans don't even think that truth is knowable? Or that 53 percent of those who call themselves evangelical Christians are similarly skeptical?

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Charles Colson told me last week how that last pair of statistics grabbed his attention not so long ago. "We like to worry about all the enemies outside the church," he said, "and they are real. But I've come to think that the biggest enemy by far is right within the church. Not only are we ignorant about what we ought to believe-we're not even sure any longer whether it's possible to believe."

That sober realization prompted Colson to launch into writing The Faith, the 12th book of his 32-year writing career. Now he thinks this straightforward summary of what Christians through all the ages have believed to be true is also the most important. It is a sort of expanded Apostles' Creed.

One of Colson's friends-an academic-told him after reading a pre-publication copy that The Faith was too simple, too frontal, and not nuanced enough. Colson took that as a compliment. The title of Chapter 2, for example, is very ­simple: "God Is." Chapter 3 reminds us that "He Has Spoken." (Colson has always acknowledged his debt to Francis Schaeffer and his early book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.)

Colson highlights those two great doctrines, along with a dozen others, to summarize what he suggests historic Christianity has always taught. "Now we need to be catechized," he told me last week, using a word and hinting at a discipline that have both become pretty quaint in the contemporary church. His new book could well be useful to that end, producing a great new cadre of catechumens.

The Faith is by no means a systematic theology. Sometimes, in fact, the book's structure seems a little confusing. But, aided by co-writer Harold Fickett's colorful illustrations, Colson reminds his readers of 14 great truths that have always been the distinctives of the Christian faith. It's easy to imagine new Christians benefiting enormously from this work.

But if Chuck Colson had skipped all the rest of the book and given us nothing more than Chapter 4, The Faith would still be a worthy gift to God's people. That's where he makes a cogent 14-page argument that the Christian faith is uniquely true.

"The question of truth," Colson says, "-of a common and knowable reality that exists independently of our perception-is the great fault line of Western culture today. The dominant point of view dismisses the idea. The fastest way to provoke scorn from most university professors is to use the words reality and truth."

Yet Colson stressed to me last week that his great concern right now is not the unbelieving world, but those within the evangelical church-and especially the church's young people-who have adopted that same spirit of skepticism. "Understanding the way an audience thinks," he says, "does not mean converting to the way that audience thinks." But Colson says that is exactly what has happened. "Some believe the church should give up on doctrinal teaching-and even on the Bible, according to certain emergent church leaders-for the sake of presenting Christianity as a big-picture story in which all of our individual stories and experiences can find their meaning."

But if truth doesn't matter, worldview thinking certainly doesn't matter either. Careful reporting of the news doesn't matter. The clerk at the convenience store giving you back your proper change doesn't matter. The gospel of Jesus doesn't matter. Everything out there, Chuck Colson reminds us, is mere sentimentality.

If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to jbelz@worldmag.com.

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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