LANSDOWNE, Va. – Too many Christians have truncated the Gospel and dumbed the faith down to just being a relationship with Jesus Christ, lamented evangelical author and commentator Chuck Colson.
"Christianity is not simply a private experience between Christ and me," he told The Christian Post. "I experience it privately and personally because that's how I come into the Kingdom. But then once I'm in the Kingdom, I have responsibilities."
"Christianity does not stop with salvation," he’s often stressed.
And that's something the 78-year-old ministry leader is trying to impart to the younger generation.
For the past seven years, Colson has been equipping believers to develop a robust Christian worldview and to live out their faith.
His Centurions Program takes in 100 people every year for an intense yearlong program that features a mix of Bible studies, cultural studies and secular studies.
Martha Anderson, national director of the Centurions Program, said the goal of the program is not to simply teach worldview but to teach people to live as Christ did.
"Understanding your faith in Christ should lead to a different way of living," she commented. "Really, it's discipleship."
Anderson believes that while many people are raised in the Church, they never really understand the big picture of the Bible and what their role is in the world as a result of that.
"We're taught basic rules but not the whole picture of what it means to be made in the image of God," she commented. "We're taught that we're saved to go to heaven but not to live like Him."
The inspiration for the Centurions Programs dates back to some 20 years ago when Colson realized that the problem in society was one of worldview. Everyone has a worldview. It's "a way of making sense of the world and our lives in it," according to the Colson Center.
Colson had been evangelizing to inmates for years but found that prisons were being built faster than he could get to them. Though he remained committed to reaching out to prisoners, the former aide to President Richard Nixon felt he wasn't going to "do any good" if he didn't deal with the cause of the problem.
So he began tackling worldview with commentaries, books and later the Centurions Program. Colson, who converted to Christianity in the wake of the Watergate scandal, was inspired by research from Stanton Samenow and Samuel Yochelson and later James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein – who found that crime is the result of individuals making wrong moral choices and that the answer to crime is a conversion of the wrongdoer to a more responsible lifestyle.
For Colson, Christianity was that "more responsible lifestyle."
Ultimately, Colson holds to a firm belief that societies can be changed from the bottom up or by mass movements and Christians need to be trained to defend against the "moral rot" than can destroy a culture from within.
Already, 600 people have graduated from the Centurions Program and most, if not all, are actively putting what they learned into practice.
Some have gone on to start local biblical worldview programs and others are influencing the marketplace and culture.
Sue Thielke, founder of Framework Productions, is championing the biblical worldview by reintroducing Christ to the world through music, drama and art.
She was trained in the Centurions Program in 2008 and is currently in the process of completing an advanced program called Centurions 2.
"Chuck Colson is an intriguing individual," she told The Christian Post. "He is very effectively raising up a school of modern day prophets like myself – modern day prophets that are developing ministries actively involved in returning America to its Judeo-Christian foundation. We are telling everyone that will listen that things are not the way they are supposed to be."
Meanwhile, Bill Peel, who participated in the first Centurions class in 2004, has designed a learning course for medical professionals.
"When participants graduate, we’ve given them more than a head full of knowledge, but an idea of where God may want them to use it – an idea of what 'God prepared beforehand for us to do,'" he explained.
Describing the value of learning and teaching biblical worldview, Peel said, "The Centurion course gives participants a framework to not only evaluate their own thinking and beliefs, but also a model of how to impart it to others. Our culture establishes cultural norms and beliefs early, so the sooner people begin to recognize unbiblical thinking, the better."
After years of attracting more applicants than it could take, the Centurions Program has begun to lose steam. Last year, only 90 people applied for the course as opposed to the 200 applicants in previous years.
But Colson believes it's "imperative that we give deeper discipleship to Christians" especially in a relativistic, postmodern world where young people face enormous pressures.
"Earlier, the cultural values would reinforce the Christian teaching of young people. Today, the cultural values mock it," Colson noted. "So there are much more pressures on a young person. Someone 18 or 19 leaving home and going to school is really subjected now to a barrage of hostile pressures, including the idea that there is no truth."
Colson wants to equip believers to be able to not only understand their own faith but also to be able to defend it publicly and live practicing it.
The ministry leader acknowledged, however, that young evangelicals are trying to establish a separate identity from older evangelicals.
"They don't want to be settled with my generation's commitments because they want to express theirs in different ways," he said.
Young people, nevertheless, are responding.
"They think my generation has been unloving and hypocritical and judgmental – probably some truth to it. But it doesn't mean that what we believe is any different than what they should believe,” he remarked.
"They may want to apply better what we believe but there should be agreement on what we believe."
Colson said what he’s found is that when he explains what he believes and why he believes it, the young people respond.
“And they'll respond to me because I've worked in the prisons,” he added.
“They probably won't respond to a theologian, but they will in due course because they will recognize that without the foundations for your belief, your belief isn't going to survive," Colson concluded.
The application deadline for next year's Centurion's Program is Nov. 30. The next program is set to run from January 2011 to January 2012.
On the Web:
Website for the Centurions Program at www.breakpoint.org/resources/centurions