Q&A: Chuck Colson on Faith

Recent popular books by atheist authors have spawned a new generation of Christian apologists. The latest rebuttal is "The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It and Why It Matters," by Chuck Colson, the convicted Watergate felon turned prison reformer. Colson was Nixon's special counsel, a man so ruthless that, according to legend, he once said he'd kill his own grandmother for his boss; now he argues on behalf of Jesus. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Lisa Miller.

Why did you write this book?
Christians are making a very poor case in public about what we believe. [Christopher] Hitchens's book is literally an embarrassment. We're being defined by people outside of the faith … Christianity in its radical form, its apostolic form, is a dynamic story, a powerful force that shaped Western civilization. In prisons, what resonates is the story of Jesus, a poor man riding on a borrowed donkey, born in a borrowed manger. That's the story that's resonating in the Third World. In South America, Africa, Asia, they're preaching the real thing.

In your book, you use the word "orthodoxy" to describe the kind of Christianity you advocate. How does that jibe with the American ideal of pluralism?
Pluralism means a plurality of points of view. It doesn't mean you have to treat them all as equal. When people talk about pluralism, they say all religions are alike and that's absolutely not true.

What is "orthodox Christianity," then?
Right thinking and right beliefs. It doesn't change as times change. It's eternal truth if it's true at all.

Do you think the religious right is weakening or fracturing?
I think evangelicals have grown up, are more mature. Our influence as a power bloc has weakened, yes. But that's only because of the candidates. If you had a candidate who really expressed all the traditional moral values—

Well, doesn't Huckabee do that?
He was a minor candidate who has emerged as one of the last men standing. My hunch is that before the fall, most evangelicals will be organized behind McCain.

What does McCain have to do to win Christian conservatives?
He's got to emphasize his pro-life credentials, which are pretty good. He's got to pay a lot more attention to values.

What do you think about a McCain-Huckabee ticket?
I don't have any inside track … but I have heard it discussed by people in the McCain campaign.

How much power do old-guard evangelicals, like Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, still have in Washington?
[Dobson] said he wasn't going to vote [if McCain was the nominee]. I thought that was a mistake, I told him that before he said it … It's a sin in my opinion not to be involved in your civic duty.

Should evangelicals stay out of politics?
No, of course not. You should stay in and fight, but not as a power group.