In the last few years of his ministry, Chuck Colson became increasingly concerned with the extreme individualism he witnessed in American Christianity. He became dismayed at what he dubbed the “Jesus and me” attitude he saw among Christians, especially younger ones.
In fact, the last column he worked on for Christianity Today was in response to the You Tube sensation, “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus.” While he understood the frustration people feel towards some churches, he reiterated what Martin Luther taught: “He who would find Christ must first find the church.”
Or to put it another way: “You cannot answer the question ‘How now shall we live?’ on your own.”
This emphasis on the church was not new for Chuck. On the contrary, it was the subject of one of his most important books, The Body, which was re-released in 2003 as Being the Body.
In it, Chuck and his co-author Ellen Santilli Vaughn examined the consequences of what they called “the improbable plan Christ put in place two thousand years ago.” That plan was to “leave the evidence of his continuing presence in the world in the hands of a motley crew of flawed human beings.”
That “motley crew,” of course, is the church.
The Body was Chuck’s response to the realization that the church was “infected with the most virulent virus of modern American life ... radical individualism.” The radical individualism of “Jesus and me” can never be the light in the darkness that Christians are called to be.
It can never provide strong moral resolve, feed the soul, care for the needy, and guide those who have lost their way. The idea, Chuck and Ellen wrote, that “one can be a Christian and develop one’s own faith system” is “ludicrous.”
It is every bit as “ludicrous” today as it was 20 years ago, yet, if anything, the desire to distance oneself from the institution of the church is even more pronounced today. An increasing number of Americans decline to identify themselves with any religious tradition. Because they’ve check “none of the above,” they’ve been dubbed “nones.” While some cite these findings as evidence of a growing secularism or even atheism, that’s not the case at all.
Many of the so-called “nones” say they believe in a personal God. A lot of them even want a religious funeral! They want the personal and emotional benefits of faith without the commitment to something bigger than themselves.
The rejection of individualism and emphasis on the church isn’t the only area in which The Body anticipated ideas and themes that Chuck would revisit over the next few decades. It also marked the beginning of Chuck’s worldview ministry.
While Chuck had always been engaged with the question of Christian worldview, in The Body you saw it begin to assume the kind of prominence it would have for the rest of his life. As he was fond of telling audiences back then “it does no good to tell people that ‘Jesus is the Answer’ if you don’t know what the question is.”
Understanding the questions and Christianity’s answers to them is an essential part of what it means to be the church and, so, it became an essential part of Chuck’s mission. It’s a mission that will continue here at Breakpoint and throughout Prison Fellowship.
Anything else would be, well, ludicrous.
Publication date: April 30, 2012