Chuck Colson, founder of both the Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview — who last wrote for National Review Online on religious freedom less than a month ago — died on April 21 at the age of 80. Friends and colleagues remember him.
Chuck Colson was a skilled practitioner of hardball politics who rose to the highest levels of American politics as a trusted adviser to Richard Nixon. But nothing he achieved there would compare to what he accomplished as an evangelical leader and founder of the global ministry Prison Fellowship. Chuck’s life was the embodiment of the truism found in Scripture that what the enemy means for evil, God can turn for good. He demonstrated in his own life that, with Christ, there is always hope for a better future for us all, a future free from bitterness or regret. Through his ministry, Chuck brought hope and the Gospel to millions languishing in prisons all over the world. His acceptance speech upon receiving the Templeton Prize in 1993 remains one of the most moving and eloquent defenses of the transformative power of the Gospel I have ever read. Chuck was also an influential figure in the larger culture, a behind-the-scenes player in the rising political aspirations of evangelicals and an important interlocutor in Catholic-evangelical dialogue and cooperation. Chuck’s social and theological views were firm, but he expressed them with civility, dignity, grace, and a respect for others with whom he disagreed, something which is all too often missing in our civic discourse.
The first book I read after I came to Christ (other than the Bible) was Chuck’s Watergate memoir, Born Again. The book and Chuck’s testimony had a major impact on me and millions of others. Along with the passing of D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell in recent years, Chuck’s death marks the passing of a remarkable generation of leaders who ushered evangelicals from political and cultural exile into the mainstream of American life. Beyond that, he was a brilliant and good man who used his talents, energy, and intelligence to touch others with the love of God. It was a life well lived, and he will be greatly missed.
— Ralph E. Reed Jr. is president of Century Strategies and the former head of the Christian Coalition.