Question (composite of several): I wrote to Chuck Colson concerning his acceptance of the Templeton Prize. The reply from his ministry contradicts what you reported. They state that the public presentation in Chicago, though it will be attended by many from the Parliament of the World’s Religions, is not part of the Parliament, but actually precedes it. Being awarded the prize, according to Prison Fellowship, has enabled Chuck to “present the Gospel at the United Nations, the National Press club…[etc.].”
Response: Unfortunately (for whatever reason), you are not receiving the facts from Prison Fellowship. The truth is that the public award ceremony is a major event (perhaps even the major event) of the Parliament. The “Twenty-First Presentation of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion” is listed in the preview of major events of the Parliament titled “Glimpses of the 1993 Parliament” contained in the official packet sent to all registrants. It does not precede the Parliament, but, according to the official schedule of events, takes place on the sixth evening of the eight-day Parliament—Thursday, September 2, 1993. The CPWR [Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions] Journal of June, 1993, indicates that Sir John Marks Templeton, founder of the prize, is a “CPWR Board Member” actively involved in planning and promoting the Parliament. He is also a major donor for the underwriting of expenses of the Parliament.
Let us consider a few other facts. The panel which chooses the recipients of the prize includes leading Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews. The very purpose of the prize (stated by Templeton when he awarded it to Colson) is to “encourage understanding of the benefits of each of the great religions.” (Imagine Elijah on Mount Carmel “encouraging understanding of the benefits of paganism”!) Sir Templeton, the founder of the prize, declares that God is the only reality (pantheism) and that Jesus Christ is in everyone whether he realizes it or not (universalism/human divinity). Should a genuine Christian be associated in any way with such a prize or such a man? In receiving the prize, Chuck Colson has identified himself with its goals and the man behind it—and not only implicitly but overtly. For example, at the February 17, 1993 press conference called by the Templeton Foundation (Sir John and Chuck were both present and spoke) Chuck praised Templeton himself and the Templeton Prize: “And so I salute Sir John for establishing this award and doing it in such a generous way…[etc.].”
Moreover, contrary to what his ministry reports, Chuck has not “presented the gospel” of Christ in conjunction with his acceptance of the Templeton Prize. The above acceptance speech contained repeated references to “moral breakdown,” “moral values,” a “rising spiritual movement in America,” etc.—ideas acceptable to all religions and even to humanists. While Chuck did refer to “the love of Christ,” the “reconciling power of Christ,” to a friend’s “conversion to Christ,” these were vague terms without any explanation of who Christ is, why He came, what He accomplished, and how we are saved. Chuck described his own conversion as calling out to God to “Take me as I am,” with the added comment the “From that moment to this, my life has never been the same….” Followers of many religions with varying concepts of “God” give similar testimonies. The gospel was not presented. Nothing was said that would contradict the false beliefs of Templeton or offend any of the press corps or would lead any of them to saving faith in Christ.
The same was true of Colson’s “Speech to the National Press Club,” March 11, 1993 concerning the reception of the Templeton Prize. Again the gospel was not only missing but some of the “spiritual” terminology he used undermined it. The talk was an appeal for reconciliation between the secular press and the "religious right.” It contained interesting insights into crime, the prison system, and the breakdown of morality in our society. There were once again repeated references to “morality and character,” “spiritual awakening,” “deeper morality,” “moral reformation,” “religious value and religious hope”—vague terms acceptable to almost anyone and adaptable to whatever meaning one cared to put upon them. There were also references to “redemption” and “Christian principles,” but what was meant was not explained. In fact, some of his statements, such as that placing nonviolent inmates in “work camps or community-based treatment centers” would be “redemptive for the individual by teaching responsibility for his actions" and that “religion provides a moral impulse to do good” undermined the true gospel meaning of “redemption” or “Christian principles.” Chuck mentioned “the love of Christ,” a "beautifully carved crucifix of Jesus hanging on the cross,” but again did not present the gospel. He hinted at it—“only the gospel of Christ can bring about moral reformation…it is Jesus Christ who made a lasting difference in my life”—but never explained how or why.
It has been very sad to hear of evangelical leaders falling into immorality. It is perhaps even more tragic to see a man such as Chuck Colson fall into the trap of ecumenism, compromise, and even praising those who promote it, while at the same time imagining, apparently sincerely, that he is thereby presenting the gospel of Christ!