Sunday, April 22, 2012

"How Now Shall We Live?" (Charles Colson)

TITLE: How Now Shall We Live?
AUTHOR: Charles Colson (with Nancy Pearcey)
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999, (580 pages).

In remembrance of Charles Colson (1931-2012), who died yesterday, I will reflect on one of Colson's bestselling book.

Based on his central conviction that Christianity must go beyond being simply a private and personal religion, Colson argues powerfully that Christians ought to contend for the faith in every walk of life. They are called to expose false worldviews for its errors, enable one another to live enriched lives for God, share Christ through understanding how non-believers think, and to learn to build society based on biblical principles. Colson is quite hard on the Church at large.

"The church's singular failure in recent decades haw been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence. This failure has been crippling in many ways. For one thing, we cannot answer the questions our children bring home from school, so we are incapable of preparing them to answer the challenges they face. For ourselves, we cannot explain to our friends and neighbors why we believe, and we often cannot defend our faith. And we do not know how to organize our lives correctly, allowing our choices to be shaped by the world around us. What's more, by failing to see Christian truth in every aspect of life, we miss great depths of beauty and meaning: the thrill of seeing God's splendor in the intricacies of nature or hearing his voice in the performance of a great symphony or detecting his character in the harmony of a well-ordered community." (xii)

He then proposes the following central questions for any worldview to answer.

  1. Creation - Where did we come from, and who are we?
  2. Fall - What has gone wrong with the world?
  3. Redemption - What can we do to fix it?
The large 580-pages volume comprises of 5 parts that attempt to make sense of this central questions from a Christian point of view. 

Part One talks about why worldviews matter. Colson begins with a leader of the Prison Fellowship in Ecuador called Dr Jorges Crespo de Toral, who like him had left a career in politics to serve God in the prison ministry. Being a new creation of Christ means one needs to help live out this reality by helping to create a whole new world for others. Christianity as a worldview, by default, is in conflict with every other worldviews. Rather than believing Samuel Huntington's tri-cultural clash (Islamic, Western, Eastern), Colson insists that it is only 2: Christianity and every other system. Using the oyster analogy, Colson says that it is the spiritual order (the oyster) that forms the material order (the shell).

Part Two tries to tackle the question of Creation. He takes aim at Darwin, whose evolution theory presumes that God is not necessary. He makes a strong case that only Christianity is able to justify the basis of human dignity, and adequately explain the world as it is.

Part Three explains the human dilemma, of pain and suffering, of disease and death, and how to explain the meaning of evil. He raises the many aspects of evil happening in the world, and how inadequate other views are. Finally, he zooms in to the love of God, in which while people are still sinning and failing away, God comes in love to redeem the world.

Part Four talks about redemption. Like a mini-modern version of Ecclesiastes, Colson goes through the various ways the world tries to bring about meaning, through scientific advancement, through searching for meaning, through good intentions and good works, sexual liberation, pleasure, and the futility of it all. He then tells us what true redemption is:
  1. Christianity accurately DIAGNOSES the human condition.
  2. Christianity provides the best ANSWER to the problem of in.
  3. Christianity's offer of SALVATION is based on historical truth.
Part Five is the application of the whole framework. If the first four parts are the theories, this part is the practical. In it are the answers to the question posed by the title of the book. Christians are called to be transformed people who transform culture. Transformed people are called to:
  • Go beyond religious duties and to engage culture at large
  • Engage by applying truth for one's own family first
  • Engage through ethical standards and moral assertions
  • Engage the neighbourhood
  • Help create a good society
  • Learn to proclaim God's truth everywhere God shows us.
Colson's conviction electrifies the entire book.  The tone of his conviction will certainly ruffle many feathers, even Christians. In a world in which many cities elevate pluralism above any one ism, equal rights above any one truth, and ensuring that Christians stay within the four walls of their own church buildings, it is easy to take potshots at Colson by asking him to mind his own business.

Colson is not easily dissuaded. He knows in his heart what God stands for. He wants to be a part of the redemption party of doing everything he can, not the relaxation party of doing nothing. He wants to share the good news in every area of life, instead of being hemmed into one area only called religion. He wants to give leadership and guidance, because he is deeply concerned that doing nothing is one of the worst positions any Christian can take.

The Christian world has lost a great voice. We do not have many people of such convictions nowadays. While Christians are largely divided over his tough views about being involved in every part of society, most of them acknowledge one thing: Colson is a leader with a powerful voice.

If only there are more people like him, people who argue with passion, love with compassion, and live with conviction. We will miss Colson. Thankfully, he has given all of us a gift through his writings and speaking ministry, This book is one of them.


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