24 April 2012

The Mixed Legacy of Charles Colson

With the passing of Charles Colson on 21 April 2012, obituaries and remembrances of him appear to fall into one of two categories. The mainstream media seems content to focus on Colson's involvement in the Watergate scandal and his subsequent conviction, while Christian reports and blogs have offered nothing but undiluted praise for Colson and his post-conversion life. Until Tim Challies offered this balanced post, it seemed as though the Christian community had altogether forgotten about Colson's detrimental contributions to the Body of Christ.

To be sure, we may be thankful for the conversion of Colson and his concerted efforts through his Prison Fellowship ministry. Yet, to simply ignore not only Colson's ecumenical perspective, but his ecumenical endeavors, is to stand silent in the face of an attack against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Tim Challies notes,
The fact is that as we remember this man, we remember someone who labored to strike a significant blow against the gospel, and who time and again called on the church to do the same. And this is what is absent in so many remembrances. He labored for good and positive causes, but he also labored for outright sinful causes. (Source)
Charles Colson was a leader and drafter of the 1994 document Evangelicals and Catholics Together. In essence, this document undermined the Reformation as it affirmed that there was little difference between the gospel of Roman Catholicism and the gospel of the Reformation (i.e., the Biblical Gospel). Sadly, as noted by Challies, the obituary for Colson found at The Gospel Coalition actually seems to celebrate his efforts with ECT. Both Dr. James White and Dr. John MacArthur offered extensive responses to ECT at the time of its appearance. White states:
The document also asserts "All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ." This is probably the key affirmation of the document, and everything else hinges upon this statement. We could wish to ask what the authors mean by "accept Christ as Lord and Savior," and if this would also include Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Bahais. Given the fact that the Apostle's Creed is included as a basic confession that all sides can accept, we would suspect that they would exclude these groups. But if a Mormon understands the Apostle's Creed in an LDS-fashion, would they then have to accept this confession, and embrace such a person as a brother or sister in Christ? Such problems are glossed over by the document. But most importantly, every other issue, including, as we shall see, the very nature of the gospel itself, is subjugated under the affirmation that "Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ." No amount of doctrinal difference can do away with the ultimate belief that Evangelicals and Catholics are both Christians, and are both members of the Body of Christ. (Source)
In 2009, Colson appeared at the helm of the drafting of another ecumenical document, The Manhattan Declaration. This document, though standing against social ills such as homosexual marriage and abortion, did so at the expense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In his response to The Manhattan Declaration, John MacArthur explains:
Instead of acknowledging the true depth of our differences, the implicit assumption (from the start of the document until its final paragraph) is that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and others all share a common faith in and a common commitment to the gospel’s essential claims. The document repeatedly employs expressions like “we [and] our fellow believers”; “As Christians, we . . .”; and “we claim the heritage of . . . Christians.” That seriously muddles the lines of demarcation between authentic biblical Christianity and various apostate traditions. 
The Declaration therefore constitutes a formal avowal of brotherhood between Evangelical signatories and purveyors of different gospels. That is the stated intention of some of the key signatories, and it’s hard to see how secular readers could possibly view it in any other light. Thus for the sake of issuing a manifesto decrying certain moral and political issues, the Declaration obscures both the importance of the gospel and the very substance of the gospel message. (Source)
As MacArthur would later state in a radio interview on Chris Fabry Live, "I just don't think you fight the spiritual war by conceding ground to the enemy and redefining him as your friend."

Christians ought not ignore the detrimental influence wrought by Charles Colson on American evangelicalism. To do so is akin to ignoring the call to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Colson's leadership and promotion of these ecumenical endeavors undermined the precious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To acknowledge this is not to be unkind or unfair, but rather to be honest. We ought never to shirk from exposing those things which attack the Gospel of Christ.

May this be a reminder to each Christian to review what his own legacy might be upon passing away from this world, and may it ever encourage us to uphold the Truth above all else.


  1. "I just don't think you fight the spiritual war by conceding ground to the enemy and redefining him as your friend."
    I love that quote!

  2. I've never cared for Chuck whenever he's been on Christian radio station especially his "break point" tripe.

    I'm not in any way saying he wasn't a kind or wonderful person on a personal basis-I'm sure he was. And I'm not measuring those things that only God knows of whether his conversion was genuine or not.

    I will say that it is very telling that his lending credence to Catholicism as being equal to the same belief as orthodox Christianity is belying ~

    And I am a bit upset at how the truth of his ecumenism efforts are just somehow brushed under the rug and ignored. People as usual gravitate to saying only one side -good things about a person when they have died. It's pretty typical because it is hard for us as human beings to show any kind of "disrespect" since people are hurting.

    I was listening to my radio just yesterday and Nancy Lee Demoss whom I love to listen to had her respects for Colson and spoke very well of him. I'm sorry but I had to disagree with her just laying on the sauce and turn her off.

    I've listened to Dr Renald Showers and his assessment of Colson just last year and I agreed wholeheartedly with Dr Showers. It does not very promising when it comes to Colsons beliefs in the one true Gospel and that's to put it euphemistically.

    I just pray for the Lord to comfort his family ~

    1. I am not sure what station you are listening on but for example Moody went from bad to worst as evidenced in their defense of MacDonald and TD Jakes. Same with that guy Micheal Rudnik from Moody Bible Institute who publicly and on Moody Radio described TD Jakes as a "fine preacher". There is also lots of problems with Nancy Lee Demoss as she embraces weird practices.

    2. Despeville, I usually don't listen to the (Radio station itself)since I have selective hearing, but only certain credible sound biblical teachers such as John MacArthur umm, Ravi Zacharias and sometimes Kaye Arthur. At nite If I'm in my car I'll listen to Adrian Rogers, Allister Begg.

      I listen to Faith Radio 90.3 in Alabama where I currently live

      They also have a bunch of grunge filtering in whittling away the few good preachers. James MacDonald, Family Life today--lots of mysticism and self help type teachings on marriage, children etc, break point --it's all BLAH

      Usually though I will listen to BBN for the old Gospel hymns as they remain true to the Gospel and God's word.

      Other then that I will turn it on a classical radio station and or pop in my CD with the Proverbs and just learn them.

      All I can say is I never thought I'd see the day coming on the horizon that Good solid preaching will be gone~

      "There is also lots of problems with Nancy Lee Demoss as she embraces weird practices." --I've listened to her and rather enjoyed her. I DO have some slight hesitation about her and I don't know what it is. If you can I'd like to know what she embraces so that I can perk up my ears~Thanks

    3. Right you are Linda. One has to be so careful nowadays as to whom to listen to. Discernment is in most priority. We have here in Chicagoland WMBI Radio where there is a mixed bag of teaching. Along with solid one you can hear lots of falsehood and affirmation of false teachers like TD Jakes as "fine preachers". Nancy Leigh Demoss embraces contemplative fad in my opinion. If you like classical music as I do check out on line Classical FM from UK: http://www.classicfm.co.uk God Bless.

    4. sad to hear about nancy leigh, i really liked her teachings. I have never heard her encourage contemplative prayer though but I believe it.

      " Family Life today--lots of mysticism and self help type teachings on marriage, children etc, break point --it's all BLAH"

      OH GOODNESS...I listen to 105.7 KHCB here in Houston Texas and I'd say they do a fairly good job with selecting the preachers they play. They play some sour grapes like Beth Moore who comes on for a minute (THANK GOD) BUT at 8AM. You hear soothing hymns then suddenly you hear Beth Moore almost SCREAMING about something that just makes no sense and has no basis in scripture. It gets me so upset sometimes.

      But yeah, they also play family life today and some other of these "talk" shows that are just fluff and all you mentioned. I just tune them out or put on a worship CD when they come on. Otherwise, KHCB plays nothing but blessed hymns and worship songs. I love it.

  3. Unlike the praises heaped on Chuck Colson by WMBI (Moody Radio) and other ministries, a scathing commentary regarding Chuck Colson's legacy can be found here:

    I don't agree with everything on this website, but the remarks about Colson are true and interpreted in the most devastating manner.

  4. Don't forget "The Gift of Salvation," which likewise subverted the biblical gospel: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/09/001-the-gift-of-salvation-28

    Our friend Richard Bennett has written cogent critiques of the three modern ecumenical debacles.


Please keep it pithy (in other words, if your comment is long enough to be its own blog post, don't bother), pertinent (please don't go off-topic), and respectful (to the author, to the other readers, and to the subject of the post). If you can't do that, your comment will not be posted.

If you haven't already, please read the Comment Policy in its entirety.