Chuck Colson Knows Best

Thanks to Rhett, I saw a recent article written by Chuck Colson regarding the issue of worship styles in Church and the replacement of conservative Christian talk radio by “meaningless” Christian music programming. Here’s an excerpt:

When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, “Draw Me Close to You.” The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” “No!” I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed.

Now let me preface the following with the fact that I think Colson has done a great deal of good with his prison ministry and his Angel Tree project. Also, there are actually some ideas he brings up in the article that I can agree with to a certain extent. But after reading that article, I’m reminded of why the Christian Church has become so irrelevant with figures such as Colson being one of the louder voices reverberating inside the christian bubble.

First, let’s address the obvious. Who really cares about what kind of music Colson likes or dislikes in church or any other application? I’d actually be more interested in what kind of paper shredder he endorses or what kind of lock pick he prefers, but that’s beside the point. Additionally, do we really need to hear about personal anecdotes how Colson like’s to obnoxiously scream out loud in church? Poor Mrs. Colson. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of “Draw Me Close to You” either, but it’s hardly due to the lyrics. Either way, who cares what either Chuck or I think?

I don’t take issue with Chuck’s taste in music as much as I take issue with the black and white moralism that saturates his whole article. Let us remember that the only reason we know Colson’s name is because of his part in covering up the Watergate scandal under the Nixon administration. He was convicted and sent to prison for 7 months for obstructing justice.

I find it ironic that someone with Colson’s sorted past has become so comfortable in the seat of judgement and has become so certain as to what’s best for christians everywhere to listen or sing along to (Heaven forbid we sing songs that could be sung “in a nightclub” as he puts it. Maybe Colson, the big lover of hymns, has either forgotten or is unaware that some of Martin Luther and Charles Wesley’s traditional hymns were adapted from music heard in taverns. Whoops!). For Colson, if Christians prefer music programming compared to “sound teaching” over the airwaves, then he contends that we’re all on our way to illiteracy. He writes:

The decision by Christian broadcasters to avoid moral controversies could result in the Church withdrawing from the culture as it tragically did a century ago. The great strength of radio, as with books, has been to present in-depth teaching that engages Christians cognitively. Unfortunately, thinking analytically is something Christians find increasingly difficult. According to a government study, the average college graduate’s proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent ten years later. The study defines proficient literacy as the ability to read lengthy, complex texts and draw complicated inferences.

Who’s to say illiteracy is all that necessary to follow Jesus? I can’t imagine the slaves in Ephesus who were hearing Paul’s letter could read very well. Does that mean they can’t experience the redeeming and loving God as well as those who can read? Also, in terms of the programming changes that have concerned Colson, maybe he hasn’t considered that Christians are becoming sick and tired of analytical thinking when approaching God. Maybe music is a welcome change to the moral issues so often ranted about on Christian radio. Colson claims that the truth must be “learned” but maybe people are tired of learning and want to experience the truth.

As I mentioned before, we only know Colson due to his illegal activities while serving Richard Nixon, but that’s not totally accurate. Yes, Chuck has had his own “experience” where he discovered the “truth”. That experience came in the form of some hard time and a little C.S. Lewis. From that experience, he’s emerged and done some very good things and has served many in the prison system that for the most part are a forgotten faction of society. For that he is to be appreciated greatly.

Like Colson, we all have our sordid pasts. At the end of the day, I am no better than he is. Because of those blemishes on our record, big and small, we have no solid ground to stand on when spouting our hallow moralism. If a house wife turns off “Focus on the Family” and switches to Michael W. Smith, don’t blame her or the radio station. Maybe it’s time for those like Dobson and Colson to take off the analytical thinking cap and take a look in the mirror. What can they do differently to connect with her and compell her to seek the will of God? May I suggest that telling her that her taste in music sucks is not the first place to start. Then again, if Colson’s bad experience in prison has helped him emerge the better man, maybe he can allow the rest of us to experience the “prison” that he calls “blissful amusement” and hopefully we can emerge as the great “morally controversial” figure he is today.


24 thoughts on “Chuck Colson Knows Best

  1. Truth is a person named Jesus. I don’t think you really “learn” a person. Nor do you just “experience” a person. You come to know a person.

    Teaching/learning and experience aren’t something(s) that have to be separated. In fact, a lot of supporters of old hymns use the doctrinal teachings contained in them to bolster their feelings that hymns are better than new songs. Songs do teach, new and old.

    But that’s not quite the whole point either. It is important that people learn to think for themselves critically and analytically. A lot of stuff goes on today that’s all about feeling good. I think Colson’s got a good point with some of those thoughts – but he’s off on the solution. I think there’s much more room in God’s economy for amusement than some would allow.

    Not going for a cheap plug, but my last couple posts on my blog are some thoughts sort of related to this post. Some reflection on Mike Yaconelli’s thoughts about play and childlike faith from his book “Dangerous Wonder” and some wondering about who speaks for Jesus today?

  2. Nice post Zach.

    It’s interesting how quickly people seem to forget what it is we’re called to do in this life…and it isn’t to stop the spread of contemporary music or argue amongst ourselves on talk radio about stuff that has little or no eternal signifigance, meanwhile forgetting to do the things like, say, love people so that they might have a better understanding of the all-loving God we claim to serve.

  3. Mike, I agree with you completely. By both learning about and experiencing God, we can begin to know God. I don’t want to say that learning is bad, it’s needed. The problem I find in this is what is at the heart of what people like Colson and Dobson want us to learn. My point is that maybe there are less and less people out there that are buying what these guys are selling. I agree that it’s not all about feeling good, but it’s also not just about gay marriage and abortion.

    By all means, let us learn and fill our minds with wisdom and knowledge. Let us crack open the Gospel and hear what Jesus has to say about learning, experiencing and knowing God. I think that’s a much better option than the blitzkrieg of “radio theology” that clutters our airwaves.

  4. What, you mean go straight to the source?
    No way.
    That won’t work.
    We just have to be spoon fed little bites of theological regurgitation for several hours a day.

    …or not.

  5. i like the song as the deer. does that make me irrelevant? i think that Chuck was trying to be edgy by stating that he does not like a particular chorus.

    what he is forgetting is that fact that how God moves me may not be the same way that God moves you. I may be moved to worship God through an old hymn and you maybe moved to worship God through the sound of a stream and the wind in the trees. We all experience and worship God differently and neither way should be considered irrelevant. God has given us the unique freedom to worship him in an infinite number of ways. i think that, that is real freedom.

  6. Pingback:
  7. Chuck jumps to a great conclusion. Literacy down? It’s the music we’re listening to! Oh and excuse me for my preferance of worshipping God over the recycled horse manure that has become Christian talk shows. The next time I hear him on the radio I might just say ‘No!’ and turn the dial. 😉

  8. Hey Zach…I agree with most of your points in this post. Thanks. But, like Colson, your sarcasm seems just a bit biting, I think. (Even though, I found myself chuckling.) I think your arguments are sound enough to not poke at Colson–even if the poking may be deserved. Peace.

  9. Am I the only who read this– “I don’t take issue with Chuck’s taste in music as much as I take issue with the black and white moralism that saturates his whole article”– and thinks that Zach is engaging in black and white moralism about Colson’s black and white moralism? Anyone question whether Zach thinks Colson’s moralism is definitely wrong?

  10. What I don’t get about guys like Colson, whom I have read extensively by the way, is how they can reason that a song like “Draw Me Close” isn’t as theologically sophisticated as a song like “Amazing Grace”. I mean come on, “I’d lay it all down again…to hear you say I’m your friend” how deep does he want?!@#

  11. Glen,

    Thanks for the questions. I feel that I just don’t fully appreciate the approach taken by Colson in his efforts in general. His need to focus on so many divisive issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and natural science just doesn’t appeal to me. His approach is one entrenched in a modern mindset that I just don’t connect with. He dislikes postmodernism, and I happen to be very interested in postomodern ideas and ways of approaching life, faith, God. I feel that much of what those like Colson and Dobson focus on are issues that fan the flames of dogma and moralism. You may feel that I’m promoting my own version of black and white moralism with this post, but that is not my intent. Please notice words like “maybe..” or “may i suggest…” that are found in my post. Also, maybe you missed these two sentences in my post:

    “Like Colson, we all have our sorted pasts. At the end of the day, I am no better than he is. Because of those blemishes on our record, big and small, we have no solid ground to stand on when spouting our hallow moralism.”

    Thanks for the comment.

  12. Glenn…please don’t miss Zach’s point. I realize you feel similarly to Mr. Colson, but your preference in music isn’t going to bring anyone closer to experiencing the love of Christ in your life.

  13. Zach,
    Thanks for your reply. I may have mis-read your post. My context is reading your comment at Rhett’s blog, then the above post, and then lastly your reply comment.

    From my perspective, you have moved from an unkind jab at Colson (at Rhett’s blog), to a kinder and more substantive critique in your post above (that was fairly black and white about Colson’s black and white moralism), to a grey explanation of your overall preference for postmodern sensibilities vis a vis Colson’s modern sensibilities in your reply comment above.

    Perhaps I mis-perceive this 3 step movement but I think it’s there.

    As I affirmed under your comment at Rhett’s, I think criticism is necessary and good in the Christian community when done fairly, with grace. I am sympathetic to a number of your contentions in this post and in your reply comment above and I’m glad you wrote them.

    I did notice your specific inclusion of yourself with Colson at the end of the post. (I think you mean “sordid”) I’m with you– I’m no better and probably far worse. I need Jesus’ grace for everything.

    My comment about the irony of your position in the post was your critique about black and white moralism. To be consistent, any critic of black and white moralism would need to be grey about one’s stance on black and white moralism. If anyone asserts that black and white moralism is wrong, one is being a black and white moralist. The best a critic of B&W moralism can do is say, “I prefer otherwise.”

    That’s why your reply comment above seems appropriate– you are expressing your preference for postmodern sensibilities and your lack of enthusiasm for Colson’s sensibilities. That strikes me as different from this criticism: “we have no solid ground to stand on when spouting our hallow moralism.”

    I’ll confess to this sin- my antennae are highly attuned to particular po-mo criticisms of modernism. As long as a po-mo critic does not use modernism (black and white, certainty) to criticize, no problem. But as I surf emergent and po-mo blogs, repeatedly I see people unwittingly using modernist sensibilities in their criticism of modernism.

    It’s similar to those who bash intolerance in general…and yet are intolerant of intolerance. Makes no sense.

  14. Glen,

    I guess we are all guilty of this kind hypocrisy that you’ve outlined. On Rhett’s blog you asked me this:

    “Why not criticize with grace, fairness, and love? Why not take Colson’s theological argument about the content of hymns vs (some) choruses seriously on the merits? There are substantive arguments against Colson’s position– why not marshal them? Why resort to an uncharitable dismissal? Is this love?

    …and here is Colson regarding Michael W Smith’s song:

    “We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, “Draw Me Close to You.” The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” “No!” I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed.”

    What’s interesting is that you are quick to question me on my method of “jabbing” Colson but you aren’t compelled to critique Colson’s “uncharitable dismissal” of Michael W. Smith’s song. You are holding me to a certain standard but fail to point out the same behaviour in Colson’s article. Maybe I was fighting fire with fire in my comments and that certainly doesn’t make it right, so thank you for pointing that out. But I couldn’t help but notice that glaring double standard. Would Colson’s positive review of your book have anything to do with that? Just curious.

  15. as far as the song “draw me close to you” goes, i could take it or leave it, but saying it has “zero theological content” shows chuck’s unfortunate failure to think analytically about the song.

    draw me close to you (jer. 31:3)
    never let me go (deut. 31:6)
    i lay it all down again (mark 8:34)
    to hear you say that i’m your friend (john 15:15)
    you are my desire, no one else will do (psalm 73:25)

    help me find the way (psalm 23:3)
    bring me back to you (matt. 18:12-14)

  16. Zach–

    I think you did a fabulous job in your critique of Colson. I also see Glenn’s point of view. The problem is that it’s all really rather grey. Too often folks try to live in a black and white world, when really there is no such thing. For example, Glenn spoke of being intolerant of intolerance as making no logical sense. And it doesn’t if you’re trying to think in terms of black and white. But if you oppose something enough to stand firm in your opposition, then you aren’t going to tolerate the opposition. And thus, being intolerant of intolerance is the only choice.

    Black and White morality doesn’t exist in our culture anymore. People think it does, but if you step back and really look, you’ll find that everything is really seen in shades of grey.

  17. Zach,

    Excellent question about the double-standard and about my motives for a double-standard.

    You’re right in your highlighting that I affirmed what Colson wrote/said, even though part of his Break Point commentary was uncharitable and dismissive. If I am going to question you for a lack of charity I should be willing to question Colson’s lack of charity.

    So I will. While I do sympathize (and others may not) with theological critiques of SOME choruses, those critiques should be gracious and fair. Colson should have been more gracious and nuanced in his critique of the song in question.

    It reflects poorly on me that I didn’t notice that in my enthusiasm– I very much appreciate theological assessments of lyrics in worship songs.

    As to my motive, you may be right– in fact you’re probably right– that Colson’s positive review of CG influences me. I am not aware of it affecting my stance on this issue, but surely given human psychology I am far more inclined to see him in a highly favorable way. I have to cop to that.

    I should also say that I’ve enjoyed your replies, your honesty and graciousness in engaging me. I’m grateful for our discussion and appreciative of your questions- the Lord has used them to awaken me to more failures, and in His economy of grace that is a good thing for my soul. Thank you.

  18. Amanda,
    You may disagree but I think what you and I could agree on is this:

    There are things that we should tolerate.
    There are things that we should not tolerate.

    It is wise and good to be intolerant of things-that-should-not-be-tolerated.

    It is wise and good to be tolerant of things-that-should-be-tolerated.

    It is unwise to be tolerant of intolerable things, and it is unwise to be intolerant of tolerable things.

    That’s why the specifics matter. That’s why when people say they are “against intolerance” it makes no sense. They are not really against “intolerance” but rather they are opposed to specific intolerances of things that should not be tolerated (like murder, racism).

    I am intolerant of racism. That’s a good thing. If you’re against intolerance PERIOD, then you would think my opposition to racism is wrong. Hopefully you’re pro-tolerance and pro-intolerance depending on the specific issue at hand.

    Can we agree on that?

  19. Zach-

    I can definitely agree with you on that. And you’ve proved my point on the black and white vs. grey areas issue. 🙂

    I also want to commend Glenn for his graciousness and willingness to take (and give) constructive criticism from you. Well done Glenn!

  20. Zach, you had me right down to the point where you say we can’t blame the housewife for switching on MWS.

    Can’t we please blame her for that…please?


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