Charles Colson’s Born Again presents a paradigmatic “faith story” of 1970s evangelicalism—with a few twists. Here we get the inveterate sinner, the man whose hubris gave him success and rewards in “the world.” But he always felt empty. When Colson ought to have been on top of the world, the night in 1972 when he won President Richard Nixon a second term by the biggest margin in history, Colson felt hollow. Worldly success was nothing. In fact, it was downright sinful. The Nixon White House, in which Colson thrived, encouraged a cutthroat, take-no-prisoners machismo culture that led ultimately to the disgraces of Watergate and the first resignation of an American president. For now, it all seemed like guts and glory. Colson, “Nixon’s hatchet man,” knew how to get things done: he could destroy political enemies, stand loyally behind his commander in chief in the bloodiest political knife fights, and punish those who dared question the tactics of the administration. But all along the way, Colson felt like something wasn’t satisfying. As the noose of Watergate began to tighten, a friend’s faithful Christian witness showed Colson a better way. God’s presence became real. He asked Jesus to “Take me.” Suddenly, the world made sense. He wasn’t alone. God was faithful and would see him through anything. After admitting to a crime for which he hadn’t even been charged, Colson went to prison. The great man of the world had been made to pay for his crimes. Even in prison, God was working. Colson entered fellowship with other prisoners, fought off the powers of darkness, brought dramatic bodily healing, and clung to a faith that sustained him through many dangerous nights. His very last night in the pen, he received a vision of thousands of men and women coming to Christ in prison. It was a sign from God, a call to a new ministry.
For me, this book operated on two levels. On the one hand, Born Again presents a thoroughly engrossing political memoir of a turbulent period in American history. Colson is a talented writer with a knack for narrative. The book flows seamlessly from high-level policy decisions made over cocktails with Kissinger and Nixon to the frantic pettiness of arranging a last-minute theater visit for the president. I spent far too much time imbibing the minutiae of the Nixon White House and of 1970s prison life. Colson crafts his story masterfully and the book reads like a novel. On the other hand, the symmetry, the conversational and situational details, the characters, indeed everything about this book serves a different purpose than merely telling a good story. This is a faith story. A conversion narrative in the tradition of Wesley’s “strangely warmed” heart. If you know what you’re hearing, evangelical terms and concepts reverberate throughout this book. Early in the book, Colson was seeking. He finds Jesus. He receives a vision of his ministry that serves as his call. When he’s casually being witnessed to in a Christian friend’s home, he isn’t even offered a drop of his customary scotch. If you’re not paying attention, or don’t know what you’re hearing, it’s easy to miss the fact that this book serves one goal: it’s trying to convert you. As a window into the inner working of the Nixon White House or the embodied practices of 70s evangelicalism, this book proves invaluable.