The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I somehow ended up in my church’s lending library. It was an improbable place for me to be not because I wasn’t active at the church (I was) or because I wasn’t a reader (I was), but because the holdings in that particular church library — like so many church libraries — weren’t what one might call “high caliber.” This is to say that most of the volumes were fluff of one flavor or another: Christian pulp fiction, inspirational-motivational manuals, and light topical teachings. There was even a series of 30-year-old filmstrip guides on how to be an effective church usher. Not the sort of fare in which a thirsty Christian college student would be interested.
One book, however, did catch my eye. There were actually two copies, which may have helped it find my attention. They were yellow hardbacks (the dust jackets were long gone) with the title written on the spine in one of those typefaces that could only have come out of the 70s. The book was Born Again, by Charles Colson – the former Nixon hatchet man’s memoir of the Watergate scandal, his conversion to Christ, and his subsequent imprisonment.
I had recently heard a speaker on campus reference Colson, so against what I thought at the time was my better judgment, I checked it out. It was the first spiritual biography I had ever read, and really the first Christian book outside of the Bible I had ever read. I was riveted.
Decades after Watergate, the term “born again” is most often used adjectivally to refer to certain kind of Christians — you know, the ones who teeter on the edge of fanaticism. But in reality, being born again is the essence, not the adjective of Christian conversion. Colson’s faith and transformation seemed something that could only have been wrought of God.
Unless one is a slave to the bestseller list, a good reader of books follows the links from one good work to another. While I can’t say Born Again was the most influential book in my formative years, reading Colson’s gripping, unapologetic biography started me down a path that has undoubtedly shaped my thinking and thus my actions today.
I saw him speak a few years ago, and the way he married his passion for Christ with intellectual acuity is a model for all in the service of the Kingdom. May he rest in peace.