Owen Strachan on Chuck Colson
Date: August 16th, 2015

What happens when you walk the highest hallways of power and then end up in prison for your role in one of America’s most famous political scandals?  Such was the life of Chuck Colson.  Owen Strachan — associate professor of Christian theology at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — takes us on a journey through this fascinating individual’s life via his recently-published book, The Colson Way.

We begin the discussion with a bit of background on Owen himself, finding out what he does as the director of the Center on Gospel & Culture and how he is able to write so many books even though he is quite young.  We also learn that he is answering these questions while sitting in a Toyota Highlander (which is not moving, for the record).  Owen explains how he came to write about Colson, noting that as a historian he is always taking stock of who is, and who is not, being written about and finding opportunities to connect with new communities.  Prof. Strachan makes a case for writing about Colson to bring this man’s life to the attention of the so-called Millennial generation, a theme that he picks up again at the end of the interview.

We then plunge into the early life of Colson, the “swamp yankee.”  Owen defines this term that Colson used to describe himself as someone who grew up in New England but who does not have the elitist trappings of that region.  This aspect of Colson’s life is important as we find out that he goes through much of life with a “chip on his shoulder,” even deciding to turn down admission to Harvard University in favor of Brown.  Combined with his brief time in the US Marines, this “swamp yankee” mentality forms his personality in such a way that will make him an ideal candidate to eventually take on the role of prison minister.  We walk through the Watergate scandal and Colson’s role as “the fixer” in the Nixon Administration, noting that Colson was a guy that was able to get things done, even if it entailed “breaking some china” along the way.  Again, this is another related aspect of Colson’s demeanor that helps explain his doggedness in his Christian faith in later years.  Owen spends time noting that Colson’s role in Watergate has been exaggerated in media accounts, and that he wasn’t involved much about some of the deeper scandals.  Nonetheless, Colson was sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement, of which he served about seven months of the sentence.

During the period that the Watergate scandal was breaking, Colson was also experiencing a spiritual transformation.  Seeing how Colson was stressed by the pressure of the White House and media attention on Watergate, Tom Phillips, CEO of Raytheon Corporation, gave Colson a copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which had a huge impact on Colson who was not much of a religious man at the time.  We discuss how Colson picked up on a number of other (relatively) contemporary Christian scholars such as William Wilberforce, Frances Schaeffer, and Carl Henry.  Tony asks Owen to reflect upon this pathway to Christianity, noting how it is different than the typical “going to church as a kid every Sunday” method of picking up and learning one’s faith.  Owen agrees that this is a much different means of coming to Christianity, and combined with his time in prison, helps to shape Colson’s approach to missionizing.  While Colson saw a role for the corner church and Sunday services, he was unsettled with this as a way of bringing the Gospel to the world.  Instead, he preferred taking Christianity to the places where it typically wasn’t, which becomes the basis for the eventual creation of Prison Fellowship, not to mention a number of other entrepreneurial creations credited to Colson, including Breakpoint radio.  It is clear how Colson’s hard-nosed “fixer” and “swamp yankee” personality shape his approach to Christianity, including taking ex-cons directly to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to pray for and with Congressional representatives, an approach that was shocking to some at the time.

Our conversation continues to discuss the various other endeavors that Colson undertook in his life and how each tended to reflect a “whatever I want to do” approach to missionizing that Colson adopted.  At the end of the interview, Prof. Stachan reflects upon some of what he learned from exploring the life of Colson.  He notes how Colson’s life tended to come “full circle” when presented with a special pin honoring his service at a White House ceremony during the George W. Bush administration.  He reflects upon how it must have seemed to be given an award for service in a place that had earlier sent him to the bottom of the barrel in his own life.  Colson, in essence, returns to the place of his own undoing in a triumphant manner — a quintessential American success story that is peppered with hardship and determination.  Owen also discusses how he came to realize the importance of prison in the Biblical narrative, with many of the key players from Daniel and Joseph in the Old Testament to Jesus and Paul having had to spend time in such an environment.  Prof. Strachan further explains how this lesson can be important to the disaffected youth of today’s Millennial generation, who seem to be experiencing a “hollow prosperity.”    Recorded: August 13, 2015.


Owen Strachan’s bio at Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.

The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World, by Owen Strachan.

Awakening of the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement, by Owen Strachan.

The Pastor as Public Theologian, by Kevin Vanhoover and Owen Strachan.

Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome, by Owen Strachan.

Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F.H. Henry, by Matthew Hall and Owen Strachan.

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice, edited by Owen Strachan & Jonathan Parnell.

Born Again and Life Sentence, by Chuck Colson.

Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Breakpoint Radio.


Jeff Henig on Prison Ministry.

Byron Johnson on More God, Less Crime.

Byron Johnson on Religion & Delinquency.

William Wubbenhorst on Serve, West Dallas.

Jay Hein on the Quiet Revolution of Religious Social Work.

Leave a Reply

Listen or Download This Episode
Search The Podcast
To search the podcast, type a term and click the Search button.

Connect With Us