Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Brief Review: The Colson Way: His life, his heroes, his impact

It’s hot outside. The Philly area, where we landed just over three weeks ago, is experiencing its fourth heat wave of the summer. The third occurred just as we were unloading our rental truck, making the back end like a sauna. Not that it’s any consolation, but Cleveland, where we moved from, is hot today as well.

All that to say simply that this is my first post-Cleveland blog post. Which is really neither here nor there, as they say. Still, it seems worthwhile to point out.

But the purpose of this post is not to share about our move. Rather, it’s to offer a brief review of the new book from Thomas Nelson, The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World by Owen Strachan.

The Colson referred to in the title is of course Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and former Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon of Watergate fame. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Colson’s release from prison and the start of his prodigious ministry endeavors.

The book comes with high praise in the form of endorsements from a variety of notables, including Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Eric Metataxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, penned the foreword.

The book is generally well-written and a pretty smooth read. The primary target audience, as mentioned several times in the book, is Christian millennials. Still, anyone interested in the life of Chuck Colson will probably be comfortable reading the book as it’s primarily a biography.

Oddly though, not once in any description of the book, on the cover or online, is there any reference to the fact that this book is a biography of Colson. The books is classified as “Christian life / General.” The closest mention I could find that hints that this is indeed a biography is in the endorsement blurb by Sean McDowell who calls it an “eye-opening look at one of the most significant Christian leaders of the twentieth century.”

Actually, the book isn’t simply a biography. It’s sort of three books in one:
  • Colson Biography: The heftiest bulk of the book focuses on the life of Colson. For those unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with the amazing life of Chuck Colson, this is an excellent resource to learn about this very important evangelical leader.
  • Influencer Profiles: Included at key points are profiles or mini-biographies of key influencers in Colson’s life. Several, such as William Wilberforce, R.C. Sproul, Carl F.H. Henry, and Francis Schaeffer, are people who have had a big impact on all of evangelical Christianity, not just on Colson. A couple, such as Rocky Scruton, either had a more direct influence on Colson or are mentioned to illustrate a character trait of Colson.
  • Expository commentary: The second largest chunk of the book is the author’s commentary, offering insights into the challenges facing modern millennial and other Christians. These bits are cast as “lessons learned” from Colson’s experiences. Throughout most of the book, they run only a few paragraphs and, at times, seem as if they were tacked in as after-thoughts. The last couple of chapters are almost entirely commentary with snippets of biography or profile interlaced. The commentary comes the closest to actually delivering on the promise of the book’s title.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book. Just a tad confusing and a little frustrating. As I’ve said, it’s well-written and an interesting read. But if you’re coming to the book with your expectations set by the title and the marketing descriptions of the book, like me, you may also experience a bit of confusion as you’re reading.

Nowhere is there a clear, definitive declaration or descriptive lists of what “The Colson Way” is. It’s subtly implied through his story.

Likewise, there is no clear, definitive declaration or descriptive lists telling us how to love our neighbor and live in hostile world. Rather, again, this is subtly implied through the commentaries and profiles.

At little less subtlety would have been a positive thing.

While others may be fine with this blending throughout the book, I found it slightly annoying. Fortunately the good writing and fascinating subject kept me going. Hopefully, being forewarned will allow you to enjoy the book even more than I did. Reading it will not be a waste of your time.

The points I believe Strachan is trying to make can be found in two brief quotes from the final chapter:
  • “We are one body working to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples through the plain and simple preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
  • “Not all of us will stand before kings, but our faith, too, must be exercised not only in the privacy of our homes, but in public, in our workplace, schools, governments, playgrounds, and everywhere God would have us go.”
Chuck Colson, in his own way, exemplified these truths brilliantly, no matter what the cost.

BTW: As I wrote this review, it went from 91 and swelteringly sunny to 84 and overcast with rain. I think the fourth heat wave may be broken.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Do you know much about Chuck Colson? Watergate? Prison Fellowship? Have your read any of Chuck Colson’s books? If so, which were favorites? Why? Would you be put off if a book did not deliver what its title promises, even if the book is well-written and seemed worthwhile to read? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!