While the still skeptical secular media chose to describe Chuck Colson as a "mastermind of dirty tricks" in obituary columns, Christian leaders focused on his life and work after his transformation and remembered him as a great friend, mentor, apologist and witness for Christ.
"I'm saddened by Chuck Colson's passing yet rejoicing that he is now in the presence of the Lord he loves so much," Lee Strobel, author and Christian apologist, told The Christian Post.
"Chuck once asked me to succeed him as head of Prison Fellowship, but I knew I could never fill his shoes," Strobel recalled. "The world has lost a passionate, brilliant, persuasive and humble witness for Christ. Those of us who remain should redouble our efforts to define and defend the truth of Christianity to an often hostile and skeptical world, as Chuck urged us so often to do," Strobel said after Colson's death Saturday.
Strobel, like numerous other Christians, focused on Colson's life after his born-again experience amid the Watergate scandal in the 1970s and his advocacy for the spiritual transformation of prisoners. But for The New York Times, Colson was still "a political saboteur for President Richard M. Nixon," who "masterminded some of the dirty tricks that led to the president's downfall." The newspaper suggested that Colson "then emerged from prison to become an important evangelical leader, saying he had been 'born again.'"
As the GetReligion.org blog pointed out, "there's a hint that there might be some problems with the timeline the Times is working with." The Times went on to say that Colson was sent to prison after pleading guilty to obstructing justice in the Watergate affair. "After having what he called his religious awakening behind bars, he spent much of the rest of his life ministering to prisoners, preaching the Gospels and helping to forge a coalition among Republican politicians, evangelical church leaders and Roman Catholic conservatives, helping to change the dynamics of American politics."
But Colson became a born-again Christian "prior to going to prison. He was converted in a bipartisan Bible study group," the blog stated.
Apologist Ravi Zacharias, who called Colson "a prophet for our times," said his "dramatic conversion after the dark Watergate days was almost Paul-like." "His courage," Zacharias said in a statement, "to share the Gospel with clarity and his deep concern for our deteriorating society were ever at the heart of his thinking. Truly, Chuck was a bold witness for our Lord."
Colson became a committed Christian while the Watergates charges were still pending against him and after a friend gave him a copy of the C.S. Lewis book Mere Christianity. His conversion led him to plead guilty to obstruction of justice while a judge was considering dismissing the case against him. He served seven months of a one- to three-year prison sentence.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Colson "a fine man whose life proved that there is such a thing as redemption."
Evangelist Billy Graham acknowledged Colson's "tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ" for three and a half decades. "When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them," Graham said in a statement, adding, "I count it a privilege to have called him friend."
One Andrew Mullins from Georgia tweeted to testify of Colson's ministry. "The man changed my life in High School. His prison ministry changed other lives, as well," he said.
Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania Ministries, said he considerd Colson a close friend and confidant, and the two collaborated on several projects to develop the Christian worldview of teens.
"He was a statesman and very generous with his wisdom and encouragement toward our ministry," said Luce in a statement. "He gave his best to reach this generation, and I am forever grateful for his heart for the Great Commission. Chuck will be greatly missed in this world, but we have the promise of Jesus: 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies: and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.' I look forward to seeing Chuck again one day."
Family Research Council also paid tribute to Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Justice Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. "I have long admired Chuck Colson, because of his commitment to showing both the truth and the love of Jesus Christ. By his example, he taught Christians how to fully integrate one's Christian faith with a role in the public realm," FRC President Tony Perkins said in a statement.
Colson founded the prison ministry in 1976 and it now operates in 113 countries around the globe. Colson personally visited 600 prisons in the U.S. and 40 other countries over the last four decades of his life.
Focus on the Family President Jim Daly remembered Colson as "a gentleman and statesman of the highest integrity and character."
Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, likened Colson's influence to that of a "giant sequoia... Like a sequoia, Chuck Colson has seeded many of us on the issues of human dignity and religious liberty."
Alan Sears, president of Christian law firm Alliance Defense Fund, called him "a true mentor and friend."
Mark Driscoll, author and pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., recalled his one-on-one luncheon meeting with Colson about a year ago. "He gave me a wealth of insight about where he sees the church and culture heading and what his encouragement was to be ready for future gospel ministry. To be honest, it was among the most encouraging and clarifying discussions I've ever had," he said on his website.
Musician Slater Armstrong called Colson "a man of faith, courage, wisdom, conviction, and especially, compassion! Hero to many, servant of God."
David Platt, pastor at The Church at Brook Hills, tweeted what many others also said of Colson. "I have to believe Chuck Colson just heard a Galilean voice say, 'I was in prison and you visited me.'"
Chuck Swindoll, pastor, author and radio preacher, saluted his "friend, brother, and fellow Marine." His tweet perhaps summed up Colson's life, saying he "fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith."