Today I begin teaching a series at the Christian Formation hour at church on “I Am An Evangelical.” I am an Evangelical Christian, that is. Even the best of seminary educations and the most scholarly of all seminary profs could not convince me that Evangelical was too broad of a term and better left behind in order to find my way into what I considered a room too small. I am a Baptist, an Arminian Baptist. And yet I find in my heart a deeper identification that is primary to me – belonging to that great cooperative movement among Bible-believing Christians who teach the necessity of the new birth, hold fast to Holy Scripture as inspired of God and infallible, focus on the cross as the means of atoning for sin, and the continuing mandate to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth because without explicit faith in Christ all are lost.
I am an Evangelical because of men like George Whitefield and John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, the former two being Anglican and the latter a Puritan Congregationalist. And I am an Evangelical like Chuck Colson who passed yesterday at age 80, being struck by a brain hemmorhage while he was at the lectern. Through them Christianity burst beyond the bounds of denominationalism and the narrow confines of precisionist confessionalism and to transform nations.
In one of Whitefield’s more famous sermons, he asked:
“Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians?”
“No!” the people roared.
“Any Independents or Seceders. New Sides or Old Sides, any Methodists?”
“No! No! No!” the crowd shouted in reply
Whitefield called out, “Whom have you there, then, Father Abraham?”
Heaven replied, “We don’t know those names here! All who are here are Christians– believers in Christ, men who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony . . .”
Whitefield concluded, “God help me, God help us all, to forget having names and to become Christians in deed and in truth.”
This is my heart. I believe more than what all Christians agree is the core. I believe as much as I can about all that I can about Jesus Christ. I want to know and love more than I now know and love.
But as Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, then take my hand.”
I extend this hand to the Roman Catholic laity, as Colson did and got large bruises for it, (particularly from RC Sproul and the Neo-Puritans who could never understand that Roman Catholics could be included in the Great Hallway of Faith), who believe themselves to be cast solely upon Christ for salvation and love him wholly and completely, though the Council of Trent be, in my view, highly defective and damaging to assurance in Christ and clear views of justification and sanctification.
Colson represented the best of Evangelicalism, and his book, Born Again, is one of the most clear models of conversion that our 20th and 21st century spiritual literature has produced. His Prison Fellowship Ministries demonstrates the outworking of the love of Christ in the soul. Colson was a Baptist, as am I. He practiced a faith that was more specific and at the same time broader than a mere Evangelicalism. And yet he built coalitions for Gospel ministry beyond the narrow borders of denominations to stand as one before the dark night of western civilization.
Colson was the 20th and 21st centuries version of William Wilberfore, the Evangelical British politician who fought and won, on his deathbed, the great war against slavery. In many of the decisions I faced as a pastor and Christian, I often first asked, what would Colson do with this? He was focused enough to think biblically and thoroughly. He was no sentimentalist. But he was broad enough to seek the the whole tradition of Classic Christianity, orthodoxy, as it were.
One person has said that Colson was our Apostle Paul of modern times. I agree. As one of the elite he met Christ on his Damascus Road and did a 180. From Nixon’s White House to following Christ in prison and then living out his faith serving the most rejected and humbled of peoples, prisoners, here in America and across the globe.
I will reread Born Again soon as reminder of what happens when any man, any woman, any boy and any girl meet the resurrected Jesus as the Savior and Lord of all. Well done, Chuck Colson. May your tribe increase.