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Russell’s compiled responses to Chuck Colson

This message is part of a continuing discussion with Chuck Colson.  For my initial email to him, see this post.  For Chuck’s replies:

Chuck Colson’s post #1; Chuck Colson’s post #2; Chuck Colson’s post #3

 

To Chuck Colson:

It has taken me a while, but I’ve replied to the major points in the three letters you sent to me regarding my review of The Faith.  Please visit the following links to see this three part reply.

Part 1: Faith and certainty
Excerpt:

“To return to the original theme that I touched upon when I discussed your book, the main difference between your position and mine appears to be that you have chosen to take a position of unwavering certainty, and then you describe that as knowledge.  But it’s a highly subjective kind of knowledge, for your central point is that knowledge begins with something that (you acknowledge) you have arbitrarily decided to believe without reason.”

Part 2: Prison Ministry statistics revisited
Excerpt:

“It’s not the soundness of your methodology that I’ve questioned here; it’s the results.  The study looked fine to me, and I certainly can’t go back and try to reproduce the results myself.   But I don’t need to.  The study you referenced already demonstrates that the program was counter-productive.  In fact, if you look at page 18, it’s stated explicitly: ‘Simply stated, participation in the program is not related to recidivism reduction.'”

Part 3: Slavery and Christianity
Excerpt:

“While I would agree that you could not fault Christianity for a misapplication of the teachings in the Bible, we are not talking here about people who read clear injunctions against slavery and rebelled against them.  We are talking precisely about what it says in the Bible that clearly supports slavery.  For better or worse, Stringfellow seems to me to have been a sincere Christian who genuinely believed that he was acting in accordance with the clear commands of the Bible.  The Bible said to hold slaves, and he preached that Christians should hold slaves.”

Although I waited longer than I intended to get back to you, I want to say that I did appreciate your response, and continue to enjoy the opportunity to explore our differences.  I’ll make no promises that my next response will be speedier than this one, so feel free to take as much time as you need if you would like to get back to me.

Sincerely,
Russell Glasser

Comments

  1. says

    Postscript:I considered writing a fourth message to wrap up some odds and ends in Chuck Colson’s email. There are still several things that I did not address, including Mr. Colson’s understanding of the biological sciences, and some brief throwaway comments he made about things like love (I did a whole show on this once) and Islam’s purported relation to post-modernism.In the end, though, I decided that these are small points that don’t add up to enough material for an entire post, and if I tried then the resulting post would be too disjointed to be worth reading. Hence, I’m ending this round with Mr. Colson. If nobody has any major corrections or additions to recommend in comments, I will be submitting this series to Zondervan as-is in about 24 hours.

  2. says

    I don’t know if you’re accepting comments, but I’d like to commend you.This is exactly the kind of thorough response in e-mail debate I specifically look for, but rarely find.Well writ.

  3. says

    Unfortunately it completely slipped my mind to send a message last week and through the weekend, but I have just corrected that oversight. I emailed a message to Keith at Zondervan moments ago. I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything back.

  4. says

    Hi Kazim,just happened upon this and wanted to leave you a note. I am not familiar enough with the recidivism stats to comment (am only now looking into them which is how i found this!), but I wanted to comment on the overall exchange between you and Colson. His was a respected name in my house growing up, spoke at my college graduation, and continues to be someone I admire and respect. While I have yet to acquaint myself with you/your website, and look forward to doing so, I wanted to say I appreciate the civil nature of your dialogue, which seems so rare. As a Christ-follower, I would imagine we disagree on many things. But I am always trying to understand what makes people tick, especially those different from me and who take different positions than me.You've probably already seen it, but another example of this is called "Collision", a DVD collage of dialogues between Chris Hitchens and someone I had never heard of before Douglass Wilson. It is phenomenal. I can only hope to one day experience the brilliance of these two men! It was quite thought provoking and I recommend it to you. Feel free to contact me via email, I would love to hear from you.Jordanjordan.williams1984@gmail.com

  5. some Matt or other says

    Did Colson ever respond in any way to this – even an intention to respond? I’m not surprised that he wouldn’t; he covered a lot of his typical thematic bases, and that probably satisfied him more than true dialogue. (I think it’s telling that the Zondervan blog links to your opening post and his three responses, but not to this.)

    I admire your restraint in not indulging the tangents you mentioned in the postscript. His certainty-of-God’s-existence-would-preclude-love argument was particularly egregious. After I read that, I told my wife, “I love you because, among other reasons, I know you exist.”

    Also, his excessive “apologizing” wore on me. It smacked of insincerity, but I’m no mindreader and I admit that’s just a gut reaction. I think I can more supportably say that he seemed to mistakenly think of the criticism in tone-troll terms; he was sorry if he came across arrogantly, but he didn’t acknowledge that you were also telling him his philosophical position was fundamentally arrogant regardless of how it was worded.

    I was a reader of Colson and his fellow travelers in the early-to-mid-’90s. If only this blog and others like it had existed back then, I might’ve been able to jump past a whole chapter in my life.

  6. some Matt or other says

    Disappointing. For a guy who claims to “enjoy an honest dialogue,” it seems he puts little value on the sustained interchange of ideas.

    Also, I have to mention that I would’ve had a hard time stopping myself from jumping on this sentence: “Most of the great human rights campaigns have been led by Christians, or perhaps more precisely, many Christians have been involved in them.”

    There’s a fair bit of difference between those two fact-claims, and his “perhaps more precisely” is the weaselliest of dodges. I can only assume he knows he can’t defend the first one, but he still wants to plant the idea in the reader’s mind without admitting its baselessness. I can honestly think of no other reason why he would’ve phrased it that way.

    But I think you did the right thing, staying on target with the message that no amount of right- or wrong-doing among specific Christians can change the problems inherent in biblical law. Kudos for your very well-thought and well-written critiques; it’s a shame you haven’t been repaid in kind.

  7. Kazim says

    To be fair to Chuck — and this doesn’t come across as obvious now, when you can just go back and read the whole thing at once — it took me over six months to reply to his first round of comments. I admit that I was a bit discouraged by his rather overbearing answers (particularly the bit about how he knows the Bible is right because he’s thought about it a lot). I wound up procrastinating a lot and might have taken longer still if I hadn’t finally decided to split my responses up into managably sized chunks. After that much time elapsed, I’m not that surprised if he either forgot about it or decided it wasn’t worth reopening.

  8. some Matt or other says

    I suppose. I don’t know what a reasonable statute of limitations for this sort of thing would be, but I don’t think the five weeks he took to respond to your first post was exactly an instant response either. I think a months-long delay is acceptable under the “we’re both busy guys” rationale; you might be judging yourself harsher than most would because you know exactly how much procrastinating was involved.

    At any rate, as a debate participant, it’s gentlemanly of you to give him the benefit of the doubt and play up your own perceived missteps. That’s why I prefer being in the peanut gallery. :)

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