Students of American religious history note that our country seems to go through religious revivals every 30 to 40 years, times of great awakening when slumbering Christians come to life and when new believers by the thousands have their lives transformed by the Gospel message.
The last such revival began in the late 1960s and continued strong for a decade. By the mid-1970s, more than 50 million Americans claimed to have received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and to have been born again.
Particularly striking is the way in which this revival crossed demographic lines. The call to be born again reached people of every age, every social group and every circumstance in life. People came to Christ in the midst of failure - and from what seemed by worldly standards the peak of success.
Jesus taught his disciples that seed scattered on thorny ground wouldn't get very far, and, eventually, many of the born-agains lost their fervor or fell away altogether, their faith swallowed up by the cares of this world. The celebrity converts in particular tended to fall away - but not always.
Chuck Colson was a brilliant, ambitious and often ruthless young man, a true believer in Richard Nixon's campaign. to take back America for the silent majority. Colson hit the national spotlight when the Watergate investigation moved beyond the original break-in and coverup to explore some of Nixon's other alleged dirty tricks. Colson was neck deep in scandal, a key figure in compiling Nixon's famous enemies list and in orchestrating the smear campaign against Daniel Ellsberg.
Seeing Colson's troubles, a timid friend finally worked up the nerve to share his personal testimony with Colson and to give him a copy of C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity." Colson's life took a major turn. Rather than fighting the charges against him, Colson pleaded guilty. Working out his salvation made coming clean essential. He spent seven months in prison, months when his intellectual and spiritual turnaround became complete.
For the next 40 years, Colson threw himself into Christian service. He started Prison Fellowship, a powerful voice for prison reform and an organization that has helped thousands get their lives back on track. He was an eloquent advocate of Christian unity, one of the key figures in helping Catholics and evangelicals overcome some of their mutual hostility. He became adept at taking the ideas of great Christian thinkers and making them accessible to a more general audience, writing a number of best-selling Christian books. In 1993, he joined the honored company of figures like Mother Teresa and Alexander Solzhenitsyn in receiving the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Chuck Colson died last week at age 80, finishing his earthly course still filled with the fervent, joyful, victorious faith that had marked his initial conversion - and perhaps having planted some of the seeds that will eventually lead to America's next great religious revival.
Art Marmorstein, Aberdeen, is a professor of history at NSU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views are his and do not represent
Northern State University.