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60My Brother in Christhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/04/006-my-brother-in-christ
Wed, 01 Apr 2009 00:00:00 -0400 I was out of the country when I received the news that Richard John Neuhaus had died, and to my everlasting regret, I could not get back for the funeral. I felt the strangest sense of loss. Not only did we lose one of the great warriors in the battle between the culture of life and the culture of death, but we also lost a true healer: a man who worked so hard to bridge the scandalous five-hundred-year-old chasm in the Church. But my first thought when I heard about his death was that I had lost a very dear friend.
Over the twenty-five years that I knew Fr. Richard, there wasn’t a subject under the sun we couldn’t talk about freely and honestly. And no matter the topic, whether we discussed philosophy, science, politics, or anything else, I never heard him say, You know, Chuck, I don’t know much about that. He was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word, truly one of the towering intellects of our time. And I will dearly miss the constant intellectual stimulation.
I know from my time in the Marines that you only get to know a man when he is under pressure, during difficulty. And Fr. Richard certainly had his share of trouble. His book
As I Lay Dying
is the most remarkable reflection on our mortality that I have ever read. I still give it away to friends. It revealed a man whose love for life was deep but who was unafraid of where his relentless pursuit of truth might lead him.
It was that fearless pursuit of truth that earlier on led him to a place that certainly surprised those of us who knew him well”the Catholic priesthood. For a time, I confess, I was vexed over his decision. It took months for me to realize that he was the same man who was a brother to me as a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. In fact, in some ways I learned to admire him all the more, because he had the courage to do something he believed in deeply, though it might cost him dearly in terms of support and relationships.
Of course, I know now that it was his decision to enter the priesthood”combined with his Lutheran past”that prepared him for founding Evangelicals and Catholics Together. As my friend Timothy George wrote about Fr. Richard recently in
: Only a thinker so well grounded in the Reformation traditions could be an honest broker in bringing faithful evangelicals and believing Catholics to recognize the common source of their life together in Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and the great tradition of living faith through the centuries.
Indeed, without Richard’s influence and leadership, we never could have pulled together Catholic and evangelical leaders to openly acknowledge our theological differences, affirm the things we held in common, and confidently assert the Christian worldview we shared. Here was true ecumenism: not ecumenism in the usual sense of reducing things to the lowest common denominator, but rather an open, frank, discussion about our differences and commonalities. All, as Fr. Richard so often insisted, in pursuit of the truth.
It was also an ecumenism that wasn’t warmly received by some in both evangelical and Catholic circles. In 1994, Fr. Richard and I held a press conference in New York during Holy Week to announce a joint statement of the truth we could affirm together. To our surprise, we made headlines: Evangelicals and Catholics to Unite.
There was a backlash in the evangelical ranks like nothing I had seen before. Some donors to Prison Fellowship withdrew their support. Some of my best friends in the evangelical movement, respected theologians, chastised me for holding anything in common with Rome. It was the evangelical equivalent of an Inquisition. But I couldn’t back down. I believed deeply in God’s leading of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. And I knew Fr. Richard would stand with me and stand by his convictions.
In 1997, after two years of discussions in which Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy from the Vatican participated, Evangelicals and Catholics Together issued its most important paper: The Gift of Salvation. And in it, as evangelicals and Catholics together, we agreed to the following statement. We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God’s gift . . . Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (
). It was a remarkable moment. Cardinal Cassidy said that even though ours was an informal group, not having official Church recognition, the The Gift of Salvation was so thoughtfully written that he would use it as a teaching paper in Rome.
What makes the timing of my beloved brother’s death so poignant is that he followed another faithful participant in ECT, Avery Cardinal Dulles, who died in December. Both men were instrumental in writing The Gift of Salvation. And both men lived long enough to read the homily given by Benedict XVI at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on November 19. The Holy Father said: That is why Luther’s expression
is true if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love. That is why, in the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul develops above all his doctrine on justification; he speaks of faith that operates through charity.
Benedict’s statement is a fitting eulogy for the life of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and his remarkable contribution to the Kingdom.
Charles Colson is the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Terrorists Behind Barshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2002/11/terrorists-behind-bars
Fri, 01 Nov 2002 00:00:00 -0500 It is a telling”and alarming”sign that following September 11, 2001 the two failed terror attacks involved people who were drawn to Islam while serving time in prisons.
Jose Padilla, now known as Abdullah al-Muhajir, the man accused of plotting to build a dirty bomb, had been in and out of Americas prison system, where he was influenced by Islamic inmates. Richard Reid, the failed shoe bomber, was converted to Islam in a British prison by a radical imam”one who was later suspended by British authorities for inappropriate conduct.
Both are chilling reminders of the on-going threat of terrorism. If not for the good work of our intelligence officers (and the alertness of the airline passengers who subdued Reid) we might now be adding hundreds more names to the list of American terror victims. Both cases are reminders, as well, of what fertile fields prisons are for cultivating terrorists.
That both Padilla and Reid were influenced in prison did not surprise me. I have visited over six hundred prisons the world over; in most Ive encountered Muslims. The majority are peace-loving men who were drawn to the brotherhood and who cared only about following Islamic worship and dietary laws. But Ive also seen thousands of angry inmates smoldering to get even with the society that put them behind bars. Its these men radical Islam has in its conversion crosshairs”and its these men we need to worry about.
A visit I made to the Michigan City State Penitentiary in Indiana a few years ago illustrates why. Michigan City is an old, decaying institution. The stale, rancid odor so common in prisons is particularly pungent here; the concrete floors are pockmarked with depressions reflecting the wear from decades of shuffling feet; paint peels from the bars of the cells. Many inmates are locked into the maximum-security wing, where theyre allowed out just one hour a day; others await execution. As you stand looking up at the catwalks, the cellblocks appear endless.
Into this terrifying maze we herd hundreds of humans. They feel that the only way they can express their humanity is to rebel, snap back at a guard, or yell at one another”anything to break the dreadful, mindless tedium of marching in and out for meals and work assignments.
On the day of my visit, heat rose in waves from the dirty concrete floors. Most of the inmates had their shirts off; many were clad only in undershorts. I walked from cell to sweltering cell greeting the men. In most prisons, inmates approach the bars, shake hands, and talk to me. But on this day in this one wing, as many as one-third would not. They wore hard, angry expressions; their head apparel identified them as Muslims.
Later, visiting with men in the prison yard, I put my hand on someones shoulder”something Ive done routinely in prison. This time, my hand was slapped away by an inmate seething with anger. Again, he was Muslim.
In a way, I could understand. I remember from my own time in prison the despair of being locked up, not knowing how long the incarceration would last. Add to the confinement the physical deprivation, the isolation, the separation from family, the anger over the flagrant disparity in sentencing (anger justified in the case of blacks who are sentenced more harshly for crack, their drug of choice, than are whites for the same amount or more of cocaine), the indignities visited upon the inmates”all these things feed a prisoners resentment, his sense of victimization.
I left Michigan City realizing that the rage was as deeply imbedded as the dirt and the stench”rage against me and against the society that, in the prisoners eyes, put them in that hole. I remember thinking that if you wanted to recruit terrorists”people who would like nothing better than to destroy American society”you couldnt find better recruiting stations than prisons like these. Angry inmates are ripe for terrorist plucking”and radical Islamists know it.
According to published reports, radical Islamists”Muslims who follow a rigid interpretation of the Koran called Wahhabism”have put a high priority on reaching disaffected inmates around the world and recruiting them for their own deadly purposes. The
quotes an al-Qaeda training manual that identifies as candidates for recruitment those who are disenchanted with their countrys
policies, including convicted criminals. The article quotes a U.S. corrections official who acknowledges that Americans behind bars are literally a captive audience, and many inmates are anxious to hear how they can attack the institutions of America.
In Spain, England, and France, while the authorities went after separatist and nationalist extremists, the al-Qaeda network recruited members, often using local . . . prisons, notes the
New York Times.
In Paris, prison is a good indoctrination center for the Islamic radicals, much better than the outside, a French Interior Ministry official told the
last December. There are about three hundred Islamic radicals in prisons in Paris, and they spend a lot of time converting the criminals to Islam.
In England, several radical imams have been expelled from their prison ministries. Among them was the imam who instructed Richard Reid, removed after he was caught ranting anti-American rhetoric, cheering on the Trade Center hijackers and referring to America as a big devil.
In the U.S., just two weeks after the September 11 attacks, Muslim Chaplain Aminah Akbarin at New Yorks Albion Correctional Facility was put on paid administrative leave after telling inmates that Osama bin Laden should be hailed as a hero to all Muslims and that the terror attacks were the fault of President Bush.
Its no accident that radical Islams influence is growing behind bars here in America. The National Islamic Prison Foundation (NIPF) was specifically organized to convert American inmates to Wahhabism. The Washington-based Center for Security Policy (CSP) reports that the NIPF is one of more than two dozen interlocking groups that together form a huge, nationwide network of outreach programs, funded with hundreds of millions in Saudi Arabian money. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, many of these groups have been raided, closed, or had their assets seized. Thor Ronay, executive vice-president of CSP, says there are many complaints from prisoners that those who run the NIPF programs bully more moderate followers of Islam; their literature disappears from prison libraries and their adherents are intimidated.
Radical imams are not the only problem. I recently spoke with an Islamic leader who said he was not as concerned about the imams as he was about hotheaded inmates who convert to Islam. With no one to moderate them, he said, they could become dangerous.
This news should surprise no one. The teachings of Islam were, after all, written by Muhammad in the middle of a war. We can appreciate that most Muslims view jihad as simply an internal struggle, but we cannot fault those who read the Koran literally”especially if they convert behind bars.
Consider: Youre black, and you believe youre being oppressed by the white power structure. Along comes a person of color who invites you to join the brotherhood”the most appealing aspect of Islam in prisons”and offers you a means of striking back at your oppressors. If, on top of that, prisoners are taught that the more aggressive they are, the more favor they gain with Allah, you have a dangerous mix.
How can we prevent the transformation of petty criminals into professional terrorists? Prison officials must be vigilant, but balanced. They need to be on the lookout for anyone preaching violence, and they ought to run out anyone, Christian or Islamist, who condones it. Court decisions give them sufficient legal authority to do this.
A generation ago, wardens were forced to deal with radical religious teaching involving both white supremacist and Black Muslim groups. In
OMalley v. Brierley
(1973) prison officials were supported in preventing two priests from leading religious activities in a prison after they conducted what was described as an Afro-American Mass attended mostly by the prisons Black Nationalists and Black Panthers. The prison officials charged that the Mass had been a political rally, not a religious service, and that the priests activities were likely to have incited violence. According to the Becket Fund, a nonprofit legal institute that litigates on behalf of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, the court held that in determining whether the inmates rights had been violated, state authorities were to be held only to a reasonableness test and were not required to prove that presence of clergymen constituted a clear and present danger to the prison.
Elsewhere, courts suggested that there is no violation of free exercise when restrictions stem from a reasonable concern about preventing violence and hatred. In an important 1969 case (
Knuckles v. Prasse
) the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that so long as services in prison were of a religious nature, Muslim prisoners could have visitations by Muslim ministers and worship services that prison authorities could monitor; but if Muslim gatherings in prison proceeded along nonreligious lines and defiance of authority became the message of such gatherings,
prison authorities might cancel the communal worship and ministerial visitation privileges.
Of course, these cases were decided decades prior to the passage of the recent religious liberty statutes, which have yet to be fully tested in the courts. But those statutes are unlikely to change settled law. Prison Fellowship is deeply committed to the religious rights of all prisoners, which is why we lobbied hard for the passage of these laws; we must be watchful that prison officials not be arbitrary in their actions. But it is never a legitimate religious expression for clergy to preach violence, be they Christians advocating abortion clinic bombings or imams advocating suicide bombings.
Whats the answer? This gets to the heart of what Prison Fellowship is all about: bringing the gospel into the prisons and telling inmates that in Christ their sins are forgiven. Ive seen the result firsthand: when the gospel is preached, and the men embrace Christ, they eschew violence. The prisons run by PF prove it. In Texas, Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota, these prisons are filled with once-angry, dangerous men who now love the Lord and live new lives. Their success is measured in dramatically reduced recidivism rates.
Thats the long-term answer; the short-term one is keeping the promoters of terror out of our prisons and away from the inmates they would exploit.
Charles Colson is the founder of Prison Fellowship.
]]>Modernist Impasse, Christian Opportunityhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/06/modernist-impasse-christian-opportunity
Thu, 01 Jun 2000 00:00:00 -0400 The dawn of a new millennium finds us at what some have called the modernist impasse. During the past generation, as the writings of European existentialist philosophers swept across this country, people began to believe that the ultimate object in life was personal autonomy. The “do your own thing” mentality gripped us in the sixties, was translated into a variety of slogans in the seventies and eighties, and has emerged as an extreme individualism that is now our highest value. This passion for autonomy is responsible for many of the social pathologies that plague our nation. It has even affected our understanding of law, and profoundly so.
We now see that the 1973
Roe v. Wade
decision was about much more than abortion. It was about the Supreme Court of the United States finding in the Constitution an implied right to privacy that extinguished the moral debate going on in all fifty state legislatures. That decision has led to innumerable decisions in which the judiciary has taken more and more of the rights of self-government away from the people—all in the name of a right of privacy, that is, personal autonomy. The most egregious example of this is the 1992
Casey v. Planned Parenthood
decision. In words written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, but which might as well have been written by Jacques Derrida, the Court handed down the following: “Liberty is defined as the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of being, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
This obsession with autonomy has created utter chaos. For example, it has led us to a sexual epidemic, to brutal violence, and to the rampant fatherlessness that is at the root of so many of our social pathologies. I’ve been in six hundred prisons across America; I’ve looked in the faces of these kids, and I have watched them over twenty-five years of ministry. Those faces have changed. Twenty-five years ago, you could talk about God the Father and at least those kids had a frame of reference for what you were talking about. Today, God the “Father” is a bad word. I’ve seen the anger in the eyes and the lack of any real conscience. Conscience, the law written on the heart, is in these kids horribly malformed, for it has no basis on which properly to be formed. Augustine had it right: the desire for autonomy is “a deadly corrosive for the soul.”
Unmitigated love of autonomy has led us to one of the most galvanizing contemporary events. It will be recorded by historians as the Columbine High School tragedy. I have called it the Pearl Harbor of the culture wars, because suddenly people have been caught up short. They thought that they had an adequate worldview, a secular modern worldview that gave them all the freedom they could want. But all of a sudden they discovered that the wonderful fruits of that worldview have produced tragedy. They saw on display at Littleton two fundamentally opposed world-views. On the one hand they saw Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, self-professed disciples of Hitler, himself a disciple of Nietzsche, who proclaimed the news that God is dead, denied the reality of evil, and celebrated a radical will to power.
But at the same time they saw that worldview on public display they also saw the worldview of two girls, Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, who would not deny their faith and were gunned down in cold blood. And for a week thereafter the world saw on every news broadcast those incredible church services, both Protestant and Catholic, which exalted Jesus, featured parents forgiving the slayers of their children, and showed what was almost a celebration of the lives of the kids killed by their classmates. Columbine forced the culture to look at those two worldviews, displayed in vivid relief, and choose which way they will live. It is as if God was saying, as He did to His people of old, “I have set before you life and death. Choose life.” People are becoming eager to listen to something more reasonable and more rational as a way of life than what led to Columbine. There is evidence that the culture is beginning to change even before our very eyes.
Just look at the indicators. Crime, for one, is today down to pre-1973 levels. Part of that can be explained by demographics, part by the huge explosion of prison construction that now accommodates 1.9 million people in America’s prisons and jails, and part of it by the kind of community policing that New York, among other cities, has adopted. But these alone do not fully account for the changes we are seeing.
Welfare has been cut in half, and the percentage of the population on the public dole is the lowest since 1967. The divorce rate is down 19 percent since 1980. Teenage pregnancies are down 12 percent since 1991. The number of sexually active teenagers in high schools has declined for two years in a row. Abortions are down 15 percent since 1990, despite the regime of the most pro-abortion President in our history.
The nation’s moral discourse is changing as well. Just over two years ago, I participated in a television round table with five other talking heads. When I suggested that the inner city crisis was basically a moral problem, there was an awkward silence. The host looked at me as if I’d just arrived from some distant planet. After a nervous cough or two and a lengthy pause during which no one said anything, a woman two seats away from me finally piped up saying, “Yes, that’s why we built a new community center here in D.C.” They just didn’t get it; they didn’t understand what I was talking about. And yet it wasn’t a year later that I was on every major talk show explaining what moral reformation is, what repentance is, and why private morality has public consequences.
The polls indicate that people want something different. Right after Columbine, a
Wall Street Journal
/NBC poll asked Americans about their values. Eighty-four percent of those who described themselves as conservative and 33 percent of those who described themselves as liberal agreed that a priority of contemporary America was to promote respect for traditional values. What was until recently a pejorative term has now become something both conservatives and a large minority of liberals would identify as a national priority. In the same poll, 58 percent said youth violence was the number one social issue, and 76 percent said they favored federal funding for faith-based solutions to public policy problems. This is evidence of a significant shift in our nation’s values.
We’re witnessing the coming of what Professor Russell Hittinger describes as the death throes of modernity. We’re seeing its dying gasps, as people are recognizing that the prevailing value system of the past forty years simply doesn’t work. This is what provides believing Jews and Christians of all confessions (and, I would add, moral conservatives who draw their moral views from the accumulated wisdom of Western Civilization) such an extraordinary opportunity to reshape the culture.
In the sixteenth century, Erasmus sought to create a network of like-minded scholars from across Europe in the hope that, joined together around the truth, they would be able to restore a moral consensus and save Western culture from sectarianism, nationalism, and superstition. Erasmus crossed confessional lines and intellectual disciplines in his effort to renew moral life on the Continent, publishing the works of a wide range of scholars from many nations.
Although Erasmus did not succeed in his project, his strategy was the right one. Today we must, in every discipline, in many and varied contexts, and with a spirit of mutual love and encouragement, reach across confessional divides and present together a rational and biblical view of life that can reach our desperate neighbors and transform our culture. This is precisely what is needed as we enter the new millennium—not just for the sake of the Church, but for the greater good of mankind.
What must we do to make our case for Christian truth? What is our challenge as we enter the new millennium?
First, Christians must understand that faith in Jesus Christ is much more than a matter of personal conversion and salvation (the heart of the Evangelical faith); and it is much more than liturgy (a principal focus of the Roman Catholic faith). Christianity is a worldview. It is a way of comprehending all of reality by seeing all of life through God’s eyes. It affects every single aspect of life; it isn’t simply a matter of, “I’m saved, you’re saved, and we’re okay.” It is a matter of God, Creator of all, being Sovereign over all. As Abraham Kuyper, the great Dutch theologian and political leader, put it, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign, does not cry out, ‘Mine!’” Christians must recognize this in order to know the fullness of life in Christ, to be able to formulate a defense of Christian truth in every single area of life, and to begin taking back our culture in the name of the King of kings.
Next, we must understand that the great battle going on in the world today is not the culture war. Rather, it is a cosmic struggle over first principles, as Kuyper also recognized. At root are competing answers to the question of how we understand reality itself. This issue turns on the question of origins. On the one hand, secular naturalism argues for a materialistic explanation for the origin of the universe, the earth, and human life. On the other hand, opposed to secular naturalism, biblical theism testifies to the God who is, who is not silent, who spoke us into being, and who reigns over the earth and all His domain. If we are to persuade a hungering world that our view of reality is true, we must be prepared to advance our case in both word and deed and to present a sound cultural apologetic.
This is a strategy Christians have pursued from the earliest days of the Church. When Christians were accused of heinous crimes against the Roman Empire in the second century, they not only defended Christianity rationally, on the merits of the faith, but also answered the objections of the rulers of Rome by challenging them to look at the way Christians lived. Justin Martyr argued that the Christian life was more rational and created a better-ordered society. The writer of the
Epistle to Diognetus
boasted of the morality of his Christian contemporaries, as did Tertullian a generation later. Augustine engaged in cultural apologetics famously, of course, in
The City of God
, as Aquinas did much later in his sweeping
Summa Contra Gentiles.
John Calvin and other reformers carried on this tradition in the Reformation by showing how Christianity improved every sphere of life, personal, communal, and cultural.
We must make precisely this same case today, and we must make it comprehensively, and together. Consider the law that holds together the fabric of a nation. As we have seen, it has been hijacked by judicial activists who say law is not found in any overarching standard but merely in what judges say it is. The public needs to understand the Judeo-Christian idea that law must be reconnected to transcendent truth.
Similarly, a powerful case must be made that Christians have been and are the great defenders of human rights and human dignity, not just for the unborn, but in every area of life. The Star of David and the Cross of Jesus Christ have stood as great scandals to the tyrants of this world because they express belief in a King above the kings of this world. One thinks of the great nineteenth-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth; of the English parliamentarian William Wilberforce and the noble effort he led to bring an end to the British slave trade; of Susan B. Anthony, who was a pro-life Quaker. That is our Christian tradition, our common heritage.
Understanding and defending Christianity as a comprehensive worldview enables us to do something else that, in the long view, may be more important than rescuing a culture. It enables us to achieve Christian unity in a way that could perhaps not be possible otherwise. All Christians must bear the shame of the millennium just ended in which the world has been offended not by the scandal of the Cross, but by the scandal of division among us. Whether it is the division that erupted at the beginning of this millennium between East and West, the rift of the last five hundred years between Roman Catholics and the heirs of the Reformation, or any of the countless rifts and strifes that divide Protestantism today, it is
shame; it belongs to every one of us.
Now, as one who has incurred no small number of battle scars for my role in the ongoing dialogue called Evangelicals and Catholics Together and for my commitment to reaching out across the confessional divides, I want to be the first to say that there are still deep divisions that remain between communions. ECT has made some progress, but I do not minimize or trivialize the issues that separate us. But the fact is, as we begin to see Christianity as a worldview, we are able to do what Edward Cardinal Cassidy argued is the duty of Christians: to work for unity, because unity is the normative condition that Jesus himself called for and established. It is unity for which Jesus prayed, and to work against it is a sin. Seeing our faith as a worldview helps us to work toward that divinely sanctioned condition, because, while divisions remain among us, we nevertheless engage in what my good friend, Dr. Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School, calls “the ecumenism of the trenches.” We discover that we stand and fight side by side as Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. In doing so, we are enabled to see beyond those divisions, as important as they are, when our focus is upon the great contours of Christian truth as it is presented and defended in the world.
There was no more determined a Calvinist reformer than Abraham Kuyper. He saw clearly our need for unity. In his famous Stone Lectures of 1898 at Princeton, Kuyper described what happens when we see Christianity as a worldview: We “might be enabled once more to take our stand by the side of Romanism in opposition to modern pantheism. For what we have in common with Rome are precisely those fundamentals of our Christian creed now most fiercely assaulted by the modern spirit.” “If Roman Catholics pick up the sword and do valiant and skillful battle against the same enemy,” Kuyper argued, “is it not the part of wisdom to accept their valuable help?” It is precisely this kind of ecumenism of the trenches that moved Father Richard John Neuhaus and me to begin the work of ECT.
Now the spirit of ECT is spreading around the world. A group similar to ours has been meeting for several years in the Republic of Ireland. Just recently, I received an invitation to speak to a group of churches in Nebraska. This group, comprising several Protestant churches of various denominations and a number of Roman Catholic churches, has been meeting together to discuss how to put ECT into practice. In South America, Evangelical leaders have been meeting with the Catholic Bishops Conference, and just recently the two issued their first joint statement. And just a few weeks ago, in Sofia, Bulgaria, the ministries of Prison Fellowship International came together for our international convocation. On the closing night, the host ministry, which is heavily influenced by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, held the communion service. Unconsecrated bread was shared by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox believers in a spirit celebrating the great truths held in common in Christ.
I believe we can succeed in bringing Christian truth to bear on our culture only if we stand together in defense of our common faith, drawing upon the best of our respective traditions. The Roman Catholic tradition offers much: the Church’s historic role in the culture, the authority of the Magisterium, a commitment to scholarship, and a long tradition of reflection on social and political issues, particularly a concern for social justice and the poor. As an Evangelical, I have to confess that the Roman Catholics were in the trenches of the pro-life struggle before we were. We were laggards until Francis Schaeffer challenged us in the seventies. The Catholic tradition brings a great commitment to the life of the mind, as well as a passion for the arts. It is a tradition with an appreciation of a well-formed worldview.
On the Evangelical side, we bring much to the table as well, especially what I call the Evangelical impulse. The Evangelical impulse is fueled by three distinct elements of evangelicalism: first, an emphasis on personal conversion; second, devotion to Scripture; and third, belief in the priesthood of all believers, which energizes a whole army of people to do marvelous works of service, turning every legitimate vocation into a ministry.
Those who say today that we should give up on the culture—that there’s nothing more we can do to win the culture war—should study the history of the great revival that began in 1858, when just ten men gathered to pray in downtown New York in the Dutch Reformed Old North Church. They assembled under the gathering storm clouds of war, in a time of great economic uncertainty. Jeremiah Lanphier gathered ten men to pray every day at noon. Before long, seven hundred churches joined them. Within six months, every public facility in New York City was filled to overflowing, and ten thousand people were in the streets gathering every day for noon prayer.
That revival spread up the Hudson River, into Canada, across the sea to England, throughout Europe, and then on to the entire English-speaking world. It resulted in the great awakening of the latter half of the nineteenth century, out of which came such organizations as the Salvation Army, a pure demonstration of Evangelical enthusiasm. In this country, it inspired the great work that followed from the preaching of Dwight Moody. (It is ironic that some of Moody’s spiritual heirs are critical of the work of ECT; were Moody alive today, he would be one of the first at the ECT table. In 1893 Moody invited Roman Catholics to the platform at his crusade in Chicago. More significantly, in his hometown of Northfield, Massachusetts, Moody contributed to the building of a Roman Catholic church, arguing that if people are going to be Christians, whether they’re Catholic or Protestant, the object is to help them to be good Christians.)
If Catholics and Evangelicals come together, combining the great strengths of our two traditions; if God fuels us with the Evangelical impulse, this love of God which comes from our conversion; and if we are faithful to the scriptural commandments, then a great army of people will be unleashed to defend and demonstrate Christian truth in the world. Ours is a truly wonderful opportunity as the world looks around and surveys the shambles of the modern experiment.
The history of the twentieth century is a catalogue of failed utopian promises. It started with post-Edwardian triumphalism, wonderfully captured by a scene in the movie
in which a British aristocrat starts to board the ship. He looks up at it, this enormous feat of modern engineering, and he arrogantly proclaims, “Even God couldn’t sink this ship.” You know the rest.
The same fate has befallen every one of the other twentieth-century “isms”: Darwin’s and Hegel’s ideas about continuing revolution and progress; the utopianism of Dewey and Freud that has crippled education and our sense of responsibility; scientism; Marxism; National Socialism; humanism; materialism; consumerism. All of the great utopian promises of the twentieth century lie in shambles. Some of them are still with us today, but they are bankrupt ideas waiting to be swept into the dustbin of history. We stand at a moment in time—a remarkable, extraordinary moment—when and if, following the example of Erasmus and Kuyper and the teaching of Jesus, Christians can come together across those historic divides and bring the great strengths of our traditions to bear, we will see John Paul II’s springtime of evangelism come to glorious harvest.
Charles Colson’s latest book is
How Now Shall We Live?
coauthored with Nancy R. Pearcey. This essay is adapted from the Erasmus Lecture delivered in New York City. The annual lecture is sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Public Life.
]]>The End of Democracy? Kingdoms in Conflicthttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/11/006-the-end-of-democracy-kingdoms-in-conflict
Fri, 01 Nov 1996 00:00:00 -0500In America today, we have very nearly reached the completion of a long process I can only describe as the systematic usurpation of ultimate political power by the American judiciary”a usurpation that compels evangelical Christians and, indeed, all believers to ask sobering questions about the moral legitimacy of the current political order and our allegiance to it. This is an inquiry undertaken reluctantly and, I hope, with due caution, for the stakes are very high. Among the questions we must address is whether millions of Americans are still part of the We the People from which democratic authority is presumably derived.
]]> Crime and the Cure of the Soulhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1993/10/001-crime-and-the-cure-of-the-soul
Fri, 01 Oct 1993 00:00:00 -0400Those of us who believe that our social and political order rests on moral foundations applaud William Bennett for his
Index of Leading Cultural Indicators
graphically exposes the alarming extent to which those moral foundations have been eroded.