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The Perfect Storm and the Peril of the West

Former Chief Council to President Nixon, Charles Colson spoke to a Christian gathering in Chicago recently. In his speech he outlined the “perfect storm” which places the West “very much in peril.” Colson, one of Nixon's cabinet jailed for his involvement in Watergate who later converted to Christianity, listed four conditions for western civilization's precarious predicament:

Economic collapse (due to a crisis of moral character in financial management)
Rapid growth in government (further increased by the current stimulus package)
Demographic crisis (the failure of the West to reproduce itself)
The severe threat from radical Islamic fascism.

Some might accuse Colson of an alarmist reaction, but, given the evidence, isn't alarm partially warranted? Furthermore, it is not just the crises themselves, but the underlying problems which are alarming.

For example, if economic collapse is due, in part, to a crisis of moral character, then we may need more than better regulated markets. Markets rely on ethics shared by their participants. The recent line up of corrupt investment managers epitomized by Madoff suggests that some, if not all, are abandoning the idea that the use of money should adhere to moral principles. No amount of regulation can snub out immoral activities in a “free” market. What we need are people who are rooted in the personal conviction that money should be used justly. You cannot legislate against greed, you can only repent of it and change.

How should Christians respond to the crisis? The answer, Colson argues, is doctrinal. He suggested that the church should respond to these crises by returning to orthodox historic Christian belief and by learning how to articulate the propositional truth upon which these beliefs and practices rest. He argues that the church should engage in these two tasks so that it can provide moral and spiritual leadership to our culture. Firstly, according to Colson, the church needs to teach itself what it believes. The technical term for this is catechesis: To educate itself on the core beliefs of the historic Christian church. Colson's view is that the church has swapped “truth for therapy” and in so doing has lost its bearings. He describes the beliefs of the church as a worldview. Simply put: a way in which to see the world centered on the person and claims of Jesus Christ. By recovering a knowledge of our belief, Colson argues, the church will be better able to respond to the challenges facing western civilization.

Colson's second piece of advice is that the church recover its ability to articulate the propositional truth which forms the basis for the church and for moral society. This second piece of advice may raise the eyebrow of those who have attempted to remove the Christian voice from the public square. I think many people are not too sure what the church believes anymore; they seem so divided over so many things. However, it is this conviction which propels me to write. I hope that the Christian faith be declared publicly in such a way that it engages with contemporary ideas and in so doing it should help shape public morality. I also hope that, by articulating the truth of the Christian faith, all people will have an opportunity to examine the claims of Christ and respond to them.

(Colson, Charles. "Evening Address." Founder's Week. Moody Church, Chicago. 5 Feb. 2009)