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Charles Colson has been called, "one of the most important social reformers in a generation." Ten years ago in The Body, Colson turned his prophetic attention to the church and how it might break out of its cultural captivity and reassert its biblical identity.
Today the book's classic truths have not changed. But the world we live in has. Christians in America have had their complacency shattered and their beliefs challenged. Around the world, the clash of world views has never been more strident. Before all of us, daily, are the realities of life and death, terror and hope, light and darkness, brokenness and healing. We cannot withdraw to the comfort of our sanctuaries...we must engage. For, if ever there was a time for Christians to be the Body of Christ in the world, it is now.
In this new, revised and expanded edition of The Body, Charles Colson revisits the question, "What is the church and what is its relevance to contemporary culture at large?" Provocative and insightful, Being the Body inspires us to rise above a stunted "Jesus and me" faith to a nobler view of something bigger and grander than ourselves--the glorious, holy vision for which God created the church.
Hardcover ISBN 0849917522
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Chuck Colson was a popular and widely known author, speaker, and radio commentator. A former presidential aide to Richard Nixon and founder of the international ministry Prison Fellowship, he wrote several books that have shaped Christian thinking on a variety of subjects, including Born Again, Loving God, How Now Shall We Live?, The Good Life, and The Faith. His radio broadcast, BreakPoint, at one point aired to two million listeners. Chuck Colson donated all of his royalties, awards, and speaking fees to Prison Fellowship Ministries.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
September 11. No matter how much time goes by or what has happened since, it still seems unbelievable. A dividing line in all our lives. Before and after.
Whether we watched it unfold on television from far, far away, or knelt in the ash-strewn streets of Manhattan, or lost someone we loved in the fireball at the Pentagon or in the field in Pennsylvania, it is a universal touchstone of horror and violation.Catastrophe.
C. S. Lewis said that in every human story, as in divine history, there are two catastrophes. The first is utter ruin: the catastrophe of disintegration and undoing, the end of life as we know it, light extinguished and death’s dark triumph. The crucifixion.
The second is the good catastrophe: the reintegrating and remaking, new hope rising out of the ashes—the good that would otherwise not be. The resurrection.
Both catastrophes dwell in the unsought stories of September 11. We cannot begin to do them justice. We cannot capture the horror of evil’s fiery day.
Nor can we adequately portray the triumph of hope: every candle lit in a nation whose heart was broken, every selfless act of service to those who were hurt and bereaved, every pint of blood given, every fragile tie of community restored where it once was not.
Like the unity of the heroes of Flight 93, who made sure their plane plunged into a Pennsylvania field rather than through the White House or the Capitol dome. They said farewell to their families on the phones. They prayed the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm, their hoarse voices rising together in the shadow of death. And then they took a last deep breath and rushed the plane’s long aisle to the end—in order to save others.
Just as we cannot do justice to September 11, we could not begin to detail all the ways that churches across our nation lived their faith in its wake. In the darkest hour, so many of the people of God stood as His church, doing what the church does best: being the community that brings hope and comfort to brokenness and pain.
Think of that New York homeless shelter, a beacon for the weary and burdened, where cups of cool water were offered in Jesus’ name. Or of the churches that helped widows and orphans in their distress . . . the essence of “true religion,” as the book of James says. Or of the communities of believers gathering together in homes and churches across that great city—singing praises to God, bringing their pain to Jesus, and drawing their grieving neighbors to the love of Christ.
Think, too, of the service at Washington’s National Cathedral a few days after the disaster. Government leaders, foreign dignitaries, and four ex-presidents gathered for an extraordinary service of remembrance.
Speaking with humility and power, Billy Graham laid out the gospel. “This cruel plot,” he said, leads us to “confess our need for God. We’ve always needed God . . . many who died [in the attacks] are in heaven right now. They wouldn’t want to come back. . . . Each of us must realize our own spiritual need. . . . The cross tells us that God understands our sin and suffering. He took it upon Himself. And from the cross, God declares, ‘I love you!’”
Billy Graham went on to challenge Americans to use this terrible calamity as a wake-up call to focus on the reality of the hope of the gospel. Hope for the present, that this be a time of spiritual revival, and hope for the future—“not just for this life, but for heaven and the life to come.”
In the weeks that followed, networks carried profoundly moving memorial services for those heroes—firefighters, police, and ordinary citizens—who died in the tragedy. Life as usual was no more, and millions of Americans went about their daily tasks with a thoughtful reverence born of brokenness.
Complacency—the greatest enemy of spiritual vigor in the West—had been shattered by the catastrophes of life and death, good and evil, hope and despair. Churches filled across our nation, as thousands of people realized—or subconsciously sensed—that the terrorist attacks of 2001 had actually changed everything.
In 1992, the year The Body was originally published, professor of public policy Dr. Francis Fukyama published The End of History and the Last Man. It became a bestseller, voicing the exhilarating hope of the times: The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Iron Curtain had rusted away, the Soviet Union had crumbled, the Cold War was over. The world as we had known it had changed, and America, to its exuberant surprise, found itself the lone remaining superpower: King of the World.
The End of History became standard fodder for commentators and op-ed writers, its ideas trickling down to the masses. It was an irresistibly seductive notion: Western liberal democracy had won the great ideological struggle of the twentieth century. Communism and fascism had been vanquished. A new era of enlightenment had dawned. Defense budgets were slashed, fueling the great economic boom of the nineties. Nothing could now derail a future of peace and prosperity, with America and its ideas reigning throughout the planet.
Had human nature indeed been transformed and evil banished?
Any such utopian hopes collapsed the day the Twin Towers fell.
Perhaps a more prescient prophet of the twenty-first century was Harvard professor emeritus Samuel Huntington, who in 1996 wrote The Clash of Civilizations. Huntington’s controversial book posited that the world is divided along the lines of the great religious civilizations: those states comprising the Eastern religions in one bloc, the Judeo-Christian West in another, and yet another being the scattered nations of Islam, which form a belt around the globe’s girth from Nigeria in the west, eastward to Indonesia. The great confrontation, predicted Huntington, would be between the Muslim world and the West, a clash that Huntington said Islam will win.
While we challenge Huntington’s ultimate conclusion, his analysis was prophetic. Many Christians did not see the coming confrontation between Islam and the West; we were distracted by the simmering culture wars between Judeo-Christian tradition and the aggressive forces of secular naturalism.
Then 9-11 jolted us to the reality of another, more chilling front in the war of world-views. While the culture war, for the most part, is conducted with clever words in Hollywood, on Capitol Hill, and in newspaper editorials, this new war of world-views is literal. It is waged with bombs and hijackings and murderous annihilation.
Islam is intrinsically a militant religion, which, if true to its own doctrine, expands by force. Some moderate Muslims say the term jihad, which literally means struggle, is used figuratively as a picture of the individual’s struggle to achieve holiness. That is doubtless so for millions of Muslims. Yet it was during an intense time of local wars that Mohammed, seeking to unite his people against aggressors, wrote of jihads. Many scholars believe that he meant it quite literally; indeed, the new religion Mohammed founded soon vanquished its enemies by the sword.
Some Muslims still follow that paradigm today, including terrorist cells scattered throughout the world. This is why those who have been privy to classified information, like former CIA Director Jim Woolsley, believe that we are in the middle of World War IV. (The Cold War was World War III.) That’s a harsh thought; it pierces any complacent visions of the end of history.
Any who question the seriousness of the confrontation with radical Islam should examine the differences between its world-view and Christianity’s.
First, consider their respective views of human nature. The Muslim believes that human beings are inherently good, that all that hinders paradise is the failure to advance Islam, and that once it is fulfilled (by whatever means), there will be peace and happiness.
What militant Muslims seek, therefore, is no different than what Hitler and the Marxists desired: Give us power and we will usher in the perfect state, the super race, or the workers’ paradise. The greatest horrors of the twentieth century were perpetrated by utopians, who always suppress liberty (usually with bloodshed) because they will, by force if necessary, put their views of what is good ahead of your right to determine that for yourself.
The Judeo-Christian world-view believes that human beings are sinful people who need individual redemption and the continuing restraints of law and culture. (As G. K. Chesterton said, this doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy validated by thousands of years of recorded human history.) Paradise is not achieved by anything we can do—spiritually, politically, or otherwise—but by the gift of God.
Second, Islam is a theocracy. The Koran is the law, and under that law, those of other faiths cannot truly exercise full rights of citizenship. This is why Christians are not allowed to practice their faith, even in private, in Saudi Arabia—and why in most Islamic states, people other than Muslims cannot hold office and indeed in some places must pay extra taxes. There is intense persecution of Christians in many Muslim states like Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
While secular elites in the West carp about religious groups (usually meaning Christians) “imposing their view on others” (as if we could) or chipping away at the proverbial “wall of separation between church and state,” nothing in our experience is even remotely close to theocracy.
In reality, the democratic ideal of the West—one that is not understood by those who seek to banish religiously informed values from public life—is genuine pluralism. This is the religious freedom and healthy tolerance that respect people’s unalienable rights—not just Christians’—to pursue and practice their religious beliefs. As for religious persecution, it is noteworthy that the West came to the aid of Bosnian Muslims against their Serb oppressors, who were largely Orthodox Christians in name.
Third, the Koran’s view is that Allah rules by his will, with no assurance of ultimate redemption for his followers—unless a Muslim dies as a martyr in a jihad to repel the infidels. Hence the seemingly endless supply of suicide bombers. For most Muslims, any hope of redemption lies in being able after death to walk across the sword of judgment, being pronounced by his or her deeds as acceptable to Allah. On the other hand, the God of the Bible is the deity of such supreme love that He sent His Son to die a substitutionary atoning death for all who believe. He promises heaven—not for good deeds, and surely not for the murders of opponents, but by the extravagant gift of His grace for those who put their trust in Him.
This leads to yet another major difference. Islam rejects the Trinity, saying it is the worship of three gods and is thus blasphemy to Allah. Muslim students on American campuses today are handing out tracts showing a diagram of three separate gods—Christianity’s fundamental heresy, they say.
But for the Christian, difficult as the mystery of the Trinity may be, it goes to the heart of our belief. God the Father and Creator, Jesus the Redeemer and the Word become flesh, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer are one essence. The same God who made us sacrificed Himself to save us and lives in us by His Spirit.
Finally, Islam advances inevitably by force as it achieves power in each state. This is why militant Muslims are fomenting unrest and violence around the globe. They must, if consistent with their own beliefs, seek political power. But the Christian gospel, by definition, advances in the world only as God’s love is extended, people are redeemed by Christ, and by His Spirit believers perpetuate His good in the world around them.
This sketch is brief, but it highlights the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity. No one who understands these distinctions can be sanguine about the clash of civilizations. Two immense belief systems are contending for influence and for the advancement of their beliefs—and their basic suppositions are fundamentally at odds.
Thus we cannot accept the mushy civic religious ecumenism that sprouted after September 11. In the many religious services that followed the tragedy, organizers scrupulously gave equal billing to all faith groups. The nation received a massive dose of politically correct sensitivity training—and it stuck. Polls showed that Americans’ respect for Islam actually increased after September 11.
President Bush, understandably anxious to reach out to moderate Muslim governments and to avoid a backlash against Arab Americans, hosted the first dinner ever held at the White House for Muslim clerics. Other politicians were equally sensitive; appropriately so, considering the volatile circumstances. After all, the politician’s role is different from the pastor’s.
But some pastors evidently didn’t make that distinction. Muslim imams not only appeared at interfaith services, but also spoke from pulpits in some Christian churches. And incredibly, a poll showed that nearly 50 percent of highly committed evangelical Protestants agreed with the statement that many religions can lead to eternal life.
It is important not to inflame a difficult situation or trigger a reaction against Muslims in this country, the overwhelming majority of whom are surely patriotic, peace-loving Americans. But it is also crucial for Christians not to blur the clear differences between our beliefs. How can we contend for Christian truth if we don’t know the distinctives of our faith or why the truth claims of other world-views fall short? Our case must, of course, be made in a loving manner; that’s a given. But being loving doesn’t mean ignoring truth.
In fact, if we follow Jesus, we will love Muslims so much that sharing the love of Christ with them is the most natural thing we can do. This is more important now than ever, for thoughtful, peace-loving Muslims should find terrorist violence abhorrent. Is this, then, not a good time to introduce them to the love of the Christ, who died and was bodily raised from the dead, and to the promise that their sins can actually be forgiven and that they can have the assurance of paradise with Christ forever?
I have found that Muslims respond to this message, particularly the historicity of the resurrection. Once, during a trip to visit with Prison Fellowship India volunteers and workers, I was invited to address a Christian Businessmen’s evangelistic luncheon in Bombay. It was a particularly sensitive time in India. Several missionaries had had their visas revoked, and a former Indian president had issued a public warning against Christians who were seeking political power.
Four hundred businessmen, about half in Western dress, the other in traditional Nehru jackets, gathered for the luncheon in one of the city’s luxury hotels. I described my own conversion to them in detail. Then I talked about why my experiences in the White House and Watergate had convinced me of the historicity of the resurrection of Christ.
Many decisions for Christ were made during that luncheon, and a long line of peop...
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