Colson, Charles W. 1931-

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COLSON, Charles W. 1931-

(Charles Wendell Colson)

PERSONAL: Born October 16, 1931, in Boston, MA; son of Wendell Ball (a lawyer) and Inez (Ducrow) Colson; married Nancy Billings, June 3, 1953 (divorced); married Patricia Ann Hughes, April 4, 1964; children: (first marriage) Wendell Ball II, Christian Billings, Emily Ann. Education: Brown University, A.B. (with distinction), 1953; George Washington University, J.D., 1959. Religion: Christian.

ADDRESSES: Office—Prison Fellowship, P.O. Box 1550, Merrifield, VA 20041-1550. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 351 Executive Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188.

CAREER: Lawyer, government official, minister, and writer. Admitted to the Bar of Virginia, 1959, the Bar of Washington, DC, 1961, and the Bar of Massachusetts, 1964; assistant to assistant secretary of U.S. Navy, 1955–56; administrative assistant to Senator Leverett Saltonstall, 1956–61; Gadsby & Hannah, Boston, MA, senior partner, 1961–69; special counsel to president of the United States, White House, Washington, DC, 1969–73; Colson & Shapiro, Washington, DC, partner, 1973–74; Fellowship House, Washington, DC, associate, 1975–76; Prison Fellowship Ministries, Washington, DC, founder and president, 1976–84, chair of the board, 1984–; Prison Fellowship International, chair of the board, 1979–; Justice Fellowship, chair of the board, 1983–84, vice chair of the board, 1984–. Speaker on syndicated radio program, BreakPoint. Member of board of directors, Voice of Calvary and Ligonier Valley Study Center, both 1980–. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1953–55, served during Korean conflict; became captain.

MEMBER: Order of Coif, Beta Theta Pi.

AWARDS, HONORS: Born Again was named outstanding evangelical book of 1976 by Eternity magazine; Religious Heritage of America Award, Freedom Foundation, 1977; L.L.D., Wheaton College, 1982, Houghton College, 1983, Eastern College, 1983, Anderson College, 1984, Taylor University, 1985, Geneva College, 1987, John Brown University, 1988, Asbury College, 1989, and LeTourneau University, 1990; Layman of the Year Award, National Association of Evangelicals, 1983; Abe Lincoln Award, Southern Baptist Radio and TV Commission, 1984; fellow, Christianity Today Institute, 1985; Poverello Award, University of Steubenville, 1986; distinguished service award, Salvation Army, 1990; Humanitarian Award, Southern Baptist Convention, 1991; Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, 1993; also received Domino's Pizza Award.


Born Again (autobiography), Chosen Books (Lincoln, VA), 1976, 20th anniversary edition, Spire Books (Old Tappan, NJ), 1995.

Life Sentence (autobiography), Chosen Books (Lincoln, VA), 1979.

Loving God, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983.

Who Speaks for God?: Confronting the World with Real Christianity, Crossway (Westchester, IL), 1985.

Kingdoms in Conflict: An Insider's Challenging View of Politics, Power, and the Pulpit, Morrow & Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1987.

(With Ellen Santilli Vaughn) Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, Vine/Servant Books (Ann Arbor, MI), 1989.

(With Daniel W. Van Ness) Convicted: New Hope for Ending America's Crime Crisis, Crossway (Westchester, IL), 1989.

The God of Stones and Spiders: Letters to a Church in Exile, Crossway (Westchester, IL), 1990.

(With others) Christ in Easter: A Family Celebration of Holy Week, NavPress (Colorado Springs, CO), 1990.

Why America Doesn't Work, Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1991.

The Body: Being Light in Darkness, Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1992, revised and updated with Ellen Vaughn as Being the Body, W Publishing Group (Nashville, TN), 2003.

Inspirational Writings of Charles Colson, Arrowood Press (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Nancy R. Pearcey) A Dance with Deception—Revealing the Truth behind the Headlines, Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1993.

Faith on the Line, edited by Barbara Williams, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL), 1994.

A Dangerous Grace (daily readings), Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1994.

(With Ellen Santilli Vaughn) Gideon's Torch (novel), Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1995.

(Editor, with Richard John Neuhaus) Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1995.

(With John Trent) Go the Distance: The Making of a Promise Keeper, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO), 1996.

The Enduring Revolution: A Battle to Change the Human Heart, Barbour (Uhrichsville, OH), 1996.

(With Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado) The Glory of Christmas, compiled and edited by Terri Gibbs, Word Publishing (Waco, TX), 1996.

The Line between Right and Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Barbour (Uhrichsville, OH), 1997.

Burden of Truth: Defending Truth in an Age of Unbelief, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 1997.

(With Ellen Santilli Vaughn) Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, Vine/Servant Publications (Ann Arbor, MI), 1999.

(With Nancy R. Pearcey) How Now Shall We Live?, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 1999, collegiate edition with Bill Henry, LifeWay Press (Nashville, TN), 2000.

Answers to Your Kid's Questions, compiled and introduced by Harold Fickett, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2000.

Chuck Colson Speaks: Twelve Key Messages from Today's Leading Defender of the Christian Faith, Promise Press (Uhrichsville, OH), 2000.

Justice That Restores: Why Our Justice System Doesn't Work and the Only Method of True Reform, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2001.

(With Nancy R. Pearcey) Science and Evolution: Developing a Christian Worldview of Science and Evolution, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2001.

(With Nancy R. Pearcey) The Christian in Today's Culture, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2001.

(With Nancy R. Pearcey) Developing a Christian Worldview of the Problem of Evil, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2001.

(Editor, with Richard John Neuhaus) Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, W.B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.

(Editor, with Mark Earley) Six Million Angels: Stories from 20 Years of Angel Tree's Ministry to the Children of Prisoners, Vine Books (Ann Arbor, MI), 2003, published as Charles Colson and Mark Earley Present Six Million Angels: Stories from 20 Years of Angel Tree's Ministry to the Children of Prisoners, Regal Books (Ventura, CA), 2004.

(Editor, with Nigel M. de S. Cameron) Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, InterVarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL), 2004.

(With Anne Morse) How Now Shall We Live?: Devotional, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2004.

(With Harold Fickett) The Good Life, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2005.

Lies That Go Unchallenged in Media & Government, compiled by James Stuart Bell, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2005.

Lies That Go Unchallenged in Popular Culture, compiled by James Stuart Bell, Tyndale House (Wheaton, IL), 2005.

Contributor of articles on prison reform to Policy Review and other periodicals. Contributing editor, Christianity Today, 1983–.

ADAPTATIONS: Being the Body was made into a sound recording, W Publishing Group (Nashville, TN), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Charles W. Colson has had a high-profile career in both politics and the ministry. As special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, Colson was a prominent figure in the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. For his role in acquiring confidential FBI files on Daniel Ellsberg in the "Pentagon Papers" case, Colson served a seven-month prison sentence. Upon his release from prison, Colson turned from politics to religion, founding Prison Fellowship Ministries to bring Christian teachings and assistance to those incarcerated in America's prisons. In the years since its founding in 1976, Prison Fellowship Ministries has become one of the largest organizations of its kind and has spun off several related groups helping the victims of crime and the children of prisoners. It also works to bring about reforms in the American justice system.

Colson's political career began with his appointment as special counsel to President Nixon in 1969. His loyalty to the president was strong. He was quoted as saying, "I would walk over my grandmother if necessary to get Nixon re-elected." This loyalty led Colson to be charged in several Watergate cases, including a burglary of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to find damaging information about the man who had released the "Pentagon Papers." Another of these actions was to help cover up the involvement of campaign workers in a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building in Washington, DC. In the ensuing Watergate scandal, Colson was sentenced to three years in prison and served seven months.

While awaiting trial, Colson met an old friend who had become a born-again Christian. He also read C.S. Lewis's book Mere Christianity. These influences inspired him to accept Christianity as well, and to plead guilty to an obstruction of justice charge rather than to delay his court proceedings with further legal maneuvers. He was convicted and sentenced in 1974.

After his time in prison, Colson began working with the Christian ministry organization known as Fellowship House. He also published his first book, Born Again, which details his spiritual conversion. Many people were skeptical about Colson's change of heart in 1974. Molly Ivins of the New York Times Book Review conceded that when "his conversion was made public in mid-Watergate, it produced a spell of coast-to-coast sniggering." But Ivins judged that Colson in Born Again "is not only serious, but also … manages to make his conversion entirely credible." She added, "There is no doubting his sincerity."

One sign of Colson's sincerity is his fervent devotion to Christian ministry in the nearly thirty years since Watergate. He has become a leading spokesperson for criminal justice reforms, encouraging Christians in particular to become actively involved with this and other social issues. The Prison Fellowship Ministries organization includes several subsidiaries: Prison Fellowship, U.S.A. (with a network of more than forty-five thousand volunteers; it is affiliated with Prison Fellowship International, a larger network connecting prison ministries in more than ninety countries); Justice Fellowship (formed in 1983, to assist government officials and private sector groups working for change in the nation's criminal justice system); Fellowship Communications (developed in 1984 to produce publications to mobilize the Christian church for social action); Neighbors Who Care (founded in 1993 to assist the victims of crime); and Angel Tree (a ministry to the children of prisoners).

Colson's second book, Life Sentence, describes his experiences after he left prison and began to organize Prison Fellowship. More recent books, such as Kingdoms in Conflict: An Insider's Challenging View of Politics, Power, and the Pulpit, warn American Christians to re-evaluate the proper relationship of faith and politics. A believer who has never identified "with any one camp," Colson, reported Kathleen Hendrix in the Los Angeles Times, is equally concerned about "those who see religion as a completely private affair that should have no influence in public life, and those who would use political power to play God, dominating society through legislation and court decisions, taking it upon themselves to fulfill Biblical prophecies." Reading current events as elements of Armageddon, for instance, could lead us prematurely into conflict with other nations, he argues in the book. Hendrix cited Colson's statement in Kingdoms in Conflict that sums up the challenge: "The real issue for Christians is not whether they should be involved in politics or contend for laws that affect moral behavior. The question is how."

Colson comes back to this question in The Body: Being Light in the Darkness, which is "more than just another evangelical jeremiad," according to Roger E. Olson in Christianity Today; rather it is a "prophetic warning." Colson contends in the book that the biggest subverter of the gospel is actually culture and the big business that dominates it. The bottom line, Colson argues, is creeping into how the gospel is packaged and sold, so that the way it is preached and taught is, according to Olson, "fast becoming a generic gospel designed to offend no one and to bring fulfillment and self-actualization to everyone." Thus the concepts of sin and repentance, of God's wrath, are being sacrificed for a larger market share. "Colson may not be today's Jeremiah," Olson concluded, "but he is a voice crying in the late twentieth-century wilderness of Christian confusion showing how evangelicals (and others) can become salt and light in society."

Colson spread his literary wings with the novel Gideon's Torch, coauthored with Ellen Santilli Vaughn. Here Colson brings his years in Washington to the fore for a political story of intrigue in both the White House and the Justice Department. The poll-driven Republican president J. Whitney Lowell decides to crack down on all anti-abortion groups after a clinic doctor is gunned down, and a civil liberties battle quickly ensues. One such group plays video vigilante on public airwaves while another pulls off a bombing on an AIDS research facility. An alleged accessory to this bombing, Maryland preacher Daniel Seaton, is tried, convicted—though innocent—and later killed in prison. Writing in Nation, Donna Minkowitz noted that of several recent Christian novels, "Colson's effort is the most enjoyable of the lot," and that the author is willing even "to skewer many abortion-clinic protesters as loutish." Other critics also found merit in the novel. John Mort, reviewing Gideon's Torch in Booklist, felt that Seaton's character gives the novel "a certain mournful elegance," and also wrote that the authors "present every warring faction fairly." Vince Passaro, writing in Harper's, found the novel to be "workmanlike and professional," though he also felt that there is "much narrative-killing discussion in the book about 'moral consensus' and about 'God's Law' and 'Natural Law.'"

Turning from fiction to nonfiction again, Colson compiled some of his BreakPoint radio commentaries in Burden of Truth: Defending the Truth in an Age of Unbelief. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that Colson is something of a "modern-day Augustine" who "habitually raises probing moral questions about Western civilization at a time of vast social change." However, the reviewer concluded that the born-again evangelist is "not at his best here."

With How Now Shall We Live?, written in collaboration with Nancy Pearcey, Colson attempts to explain how and why American culture has become "post-Christian," and what he feels must be done to rebuild the Christian faith and create a worldview that is more biblical in orientation. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Colson is "thoughtful and articulate" in his discussion of Supreme Court cases that touch on religion, or when he outlines his own theology, but felt that his book "suffers from a narrow perspective and an overdependence on the opinions of a few others." However, Harold O.J. Brown, writing in Christianity Today, called the same work a "magnum opus," and further noted that "in a book that tries to equip the Christian soldier for philosophical war, it is impossible to cover all points with the precision of a series of scholarly monographs." For Brown, the occasional "oversimplifications" in the text were excusable as representing something akin to "editorial cartoons," that "nevertheless, they tell us something a photograph would not, something true and important, something we ought to know." And for William F. Buckley, reviewing How Now Shall We Live? in the National Review, the arguments made in the book "are cogently and readably presented," and the entirety is "buoyed by the liberating conviction that we are all here by divine mandate."

In Justice That Restores: Why Our Justice System Doesn't Work and the Only Method of True Reform, Colson goes after the legal system in America. It is Colson's contention that, with more than two million citizens in jail and prisons becoming big business, something must change. His proposal is what he calls "restorative justice," with a focus on penance, from which the word "penitentiary" comes. Noting that this idea is "as old as the Quaker focus," a reviewer for First Things wondered, "What is the alternative? Three million?" A contributor for Publishers Weekly noted that Colson's anecdotes about Christian-run prisons, community courts, and more creative types of sentencing "are inspiring and would likely motivate readers of all stripes," though these are only "footnotes to a diatribe."

In 2000 Colson's civil rights—including the right to vote, serve on a jury, and even practice law—were reinstated by Florida Governor Jeb Bush, thus wiping the slate clean for this former member of the Watergate crew. "The crime that he committed was a serious one," Governor Bush was quoted as saying in Christian Century, "but I think it's time to move on. I know him. He's a great guy, he's a great Floridian."

In 2002 Colson served as coeditor of Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Commenting on the collection of essays, a First Things contributor noted that the book "recasts old arguments, and advances some new" in the debate over "Scripture alone" and "Scripture and tradition." In his revised and updated version of The Body: Being Light in Darkness, titled Being the Body, Colson provides additional material on personal reflections by survivors of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and how the Christian brethren have furthered their community efforts because of the attacks. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the book "will certainly be as influential and provocative as its predecessor."

Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy is a collection of essays from conservative Christians focusing on the ethical and legal aspects of biotechnology. Co-edited by Colson, the collection contains "some promising suggestions for Christian public advocacy," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Eric Cohen, writing in First Things, noted that the "collection surveys a wide range of novel biological experiments," adding, "These advances, say the authors, all force us to reflect again on what it means to be human—and especially on what it means to have 'dominion' over God's creation and to be creatures 'made in God's image.'"

In his book The Good Life, Colson reflects on the things he has done wrong and right in his own life to highlight how someone's life can and should count for something. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author's "deep humility is striking, and many will welcome this well-researched book, built on his lifetime of learning and extraordinary experience."



Aitken, Jonathan, Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (biography), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2005.

Colson, Charles W., Born Again (autobiography), 20th anniversary edition, Spire Books (Old Tappan, NJ), 1995.

Colson, Charles W., Kingdoms in Conflict: An Insider's Challenging View of Politics, Power, and the Pulpit, Morrow & Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1987.

Colson, Charles W., Life Sentence (autobiography), Chosen Books (Lincoln, VA), 1979.


America's Intelligence Wire, July 14, 2005, interview with Charles Colson.

Booklist, November 15, 1987, p. 514; May 15, 1989, p. 1582; September 1, 1995, John Mort, review of Gideon's Torch, p. 5.

Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1987; January 26, 1988.

Christian Century, October 25, 2000, "Charles Colson's Rights Reinstated by Florida," p. 1062, October 23, 2002, Stanley J. Grenz, review of Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, p. 42.

Christianity Today, June 15, 1984, p. 42; February 19, 1988, pp. 31-33; January 15, 1990, p. 58; April 5, 1993, Roger E. Olson, review of The Body: Being Light in the Darkness, pp. 86-87; September 11, 1995, p. 40; January 10, 2000, Harold O. J. Brown, review of How Now Shall We Live?, p. 81; June, 2003, "Charles Colson: Survival through Community," interview with the author, p. 52; August, 2005, Cindy Crosby, review of Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed, p. 69; August, 2005, Stan Guthrie, "Charles Colson," interview with author, p. 23.

Church & State, March, 2003, Rob Boston, "Evolution of a 'Hatchet Man': Charles Colson's Transition from Prison Reformer to Religious Right Reactionary," p. 7.

Commonweal, July 1, 1976.

First Things, February, 2000, J. Budziszewski, review of How Now Shall We Live?, p. 52; October, 2001, J. Budziszewski, review of Justice That Restores: Why Our Justice System Doesn't Work and the Only Method of True Reform, p. 67; December, 2002, review of Your Word Is Truth, p. 65; January, 2005, Eric Cohen, review of Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, p. 38.

Harper's, September, 1996, Vince Passaro, review of Gideon's Torch, pp. 64-70.

Human Events, January 6, 1990, p. 13; November 5, 1999, p. 16.

Insight on the News, September 13, 1999, Catherine Edwards, review of How Now Shall We Live?, p. 33.

Journal of Christian Studies, winter, 1993, p. 179.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2005, review of Charles W. Colson, p. 393.

Library Journal, February 15, 1984, p. 380; June 1, 1989, p. 112; September 1, 1995, p. 156; April 1, 2005, Leroy Hommerding, review of Charles W. Colson, p. 98.

Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1987, Kathleen Hendrix, review of Kingdoms in Conflict: An Insider's Challenging View of Politics, Power, and the Pulpit.

Nation, February 19, 1996, Donna Minkowitz, review of Gideon's Torch, pp. 25-28.

National Catholic Reporter, April 24, 1998, p. 16.

National Review, August 6, 1976; February 5, 1988, p. 49; September 15, 1989, p. 52; December 25, 1995, p. 58; June 5, 2000, William F. Buckley, Jr., review of How Now Shall We Live?

New Republic, May 29, 1995, p. 9.

Newsweek, June 17, 1974; July 1, 1974; September 9, 1974; February 17, 1975; October 25, 1976; October 8, 1984.

New York Times, March 29, 1973; March 2, 1974; March 28, 1976.

New York Times Book Review, March 28, 1976, Molly Ivins, review of Born Again.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, p. 258; September 11, 1995, p. 41; June 23, 1997, review of Burden of Truth: Defending Truth in an Age of Unbelief, p. 83; August 30, 1999, review of How Now Shall We Live?, p. 74; April 9, 2001, review of Justice That Restores, p. 70; March 17, 2003, review of Being the Body, p. 74; July 12, 2004, review of Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, p. 61; May 16, 2005, review of Charles W. Colson, p. 58; May 16, 2005, review of The Good Life: Seeking Purpose, Meaning, and Truth in Your Life, p. 58.

Time, June 17, 1974; July 8, 1974; February 2, 1976; March 1, 1993, p. 16; November 13, 1995, p. 105.

USA Today, October 27, 1982.

Washington Post, July 24, 1983; December 25, 1987.

West Coast Review of Books, September, 1986, p. 47; Volume 15, number 1, 1989, p. 76; Volume 15, number 6, 1990, p. 40.