Book review: The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters

by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett

★★★

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the late Charles Colson, he was known as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” convicted during the Watergate scandal. He pleaded guilty and served seven months in prison. Just before serving, he converted to Christianity and underwent a radical life conversion. He founded a prison ministry and authored perhaps two dozen books about Christianity.

In this book, Colson promises to explain what Christians believe, why, and why it matters. He succeeds in two out of three goals, describing conservative beliefs and how the beliefs transform lives. He doesn’t, however, explain very well why conservatives believe.

The book is in two parts, and the first part is painful, so bear with me until I get through this section. Hoping to explain why Christians believe the way he does, Colson instead highlights how differently many Christians really do believe. For example, a poll showed that “49 percent of Protestant pastors reject core biblical beliefs,” whatever that means. Colson is unfazed; he chops them out of the church, so they don’t count. One of his favorite phrases is “true Christians,” by which he means anyone who agrees with his “nonnegotiable, irreducible fundamentals of the Christian faith.”

Colson argues with emotional appeal. For instance, he writes about struggling with his children’s illnesses, questioning God’s love, and then stepping outside the hospital to see the beauty of creation. God Is, he immediately concludes, and the book transitions into a discussion of three possibilities: A godless universe; a pantheistic universe; and a personal God. But why does he neglect to consider the most obvious fit to his observation: Deism. Doesn’t his observation imply a creative creator who then ignores his creation?

Colson’s logic in this book seems to be that since the Bible is true, everything in it is true. The Bible is our rock, the ultimate authority, and because it came from God, it must certainly be true. And how do we know the Bible is literally true? Because “there has been no discovery proving the Bible false.” Sigh. Maybe the most obvious “fail” here is that archaeology has thoroughly debunked many of the claims of conquest in the book of Joshua. Elsewhere, Colson argues that Jesus’ resurrection must be true, because nobody has yet disproved it. I guess Elvis fans can take heart: Nobody has yet proved he’s dead, either.

Colson especially goes on the offensive against liberal Christianity, labeling it “institutionalized agnosticism,” “no better than paganism,” and insinuating that liberal Christians were responsible for Hitler’s eugenics movement. I can handle the anti-liberal posturing by people who misunderstand the nature of Christ. I’m quite used to that. But the first half of Colson’s book is little more than fundamentalist rhetoric.

After whittling the Christian community down to his own mold, he is ready to move on to part 2. But not before dissin’ even my man Einstein, claiming that Einstein detested the “religion of fear and morality” that a personal God brings (Einstein actually said something quite different … that development from a religion of fear TO moral religion was a great step forward, and he pointed to the Bible as evidence of that progression).

Anyway. On to part 2 where the intolerance continues but where it now mixes with some very inspiring words about how Christians are to live out their faith. This is where “why it matters” rings true, and this section raised my rating from one star to three. God’s favorites, Colson notes from scripture, are the poor, the destitute, the widowed, the fatherless, the sick, the prisoners, and anyone suffering injustice. So we choose sides. We choose love, and plunge into the battle between good and evil. Once on God’s side, we come to understand God’s point of view and position ourselves to experience God’s love and friendship in a whole new way.

This time, Colson is correct. He has identified the “true Christians.”

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