Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: The Good Life by Charles Colson

I bought The Good Life [2005, Tyndale, ISBN 0-8423-7749-2] by Charles Colson at full price at Borders about six months ago. I bought it because the small group study our Life Group was about to start, Wide Angle: Framing Your World View, said that the two were companion books. I didn't like the Wide Angle book, so I bought The Good Life, thinking the two together might work. The $25 price tag on it, though, I knew was excessive for our Life Group.

However, having the book in hand, and it being a companion to our study we were about to do with the video series only (no book), I decided to keep and read it. I'm glad I did, even though I didn't think it went with Wide Angle as well as the latter book suggested. Colson, with his collaborator Harold Fickett, did his usual excellent job. The subtitle of the book is Seeking purpose, meaning, and truth in your life. It is a follow-up book to Colson's How Now Shall We Life, a worldview book I blogged about previously (and again here). That was a great book, so I entered this one with high expectations.

The book is full of stories. Colson/Frickett tell stories to illustrate points. It begins with the Normandy graveyard scene from Saving Private Ryan, where the older Ryan says to his wife, "Tell me I'm a good man." Most of the stories are from real life, however. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco is the poster child for corruption. Jamie Gavigan, a Washington DC celebrity hair stylist, is the poster girl for excess consumerism. Nien Cheng, an educated Chinese woman who ran afoul of the Cultural Revolution, shows steadfastness and honesty under duress. John Ehrlichman, a colleague of Colson's on President Nixon's staff, shows how a life without repentance and acknowledgement of wrongful deeds can be anything but the good life.

With each story, Colson/Frickett give many annotations of the points being illustrated. Frequent mention is made to How Now Shall We Live?, indicating how the worldview of the person in the story is illustrative of a right or wrong worldview—or perhaps I should say of a beneficial or destructive worldview. While some of the same themes span both books, The Good Life is not a re-hash of How Now Shall We Live. It is a different book. The authors are encouraging us to adopt a Christian worldview and make it a real part of our lives. In this way we will live the good life, make our lives count for something. Thus, the book is evangelical in intent and content.

I will probably read some or all of this book again. Certainly, when we return to the Wide Angle study in our Life Group after the fourteen week interruption for an all-church study, I will be seeking to pull illustrations from this to go along with the video lessons. But one of the reasons I'll read it again is that, by the end of the book, I had forgotten the beginning. No joke. In many of the latter chapters the authors would say "Remember the story about ___________", referring to an earlier chapter, and I would have no idea what that story was. Rather than go back and find and re-read it, I just plowed ahead, knowing I'd be going back in support of our Life Group study.

That forgetting so completely the early parts of the book concerned me. The reading is easy. Did I read in a distracted manner, thus not retaining? I had some time gap between the first part of the book and the latter parts, but not that long. I shouldn't have forgotten it so easily.

Were there too many stories? I wonder if that's true. The book contains a lot of stories. Perhaps retention of so many is difficult. Or was the book written in such a way that the words and organization did not facilitate retention of the stories? I know as a writer I shouldn't blame the reader. If the reader doesn't get it, blame the writer. That's one of the mantras of the poetry critique forums I've been in.

But sometimes the reader doesn't get it, despite clear and excellent writing. I suspect that's the case here. For whatever the reason, my retention was lacking. I won't lay that on the authors, though I do mention it for consideration of my readers.

By all means pick up a copy of The Good Life and read it. I don't think you will be disappointed. Then, if you haven't already, find How Now Shall We Live? and read that. The two are related and supplemental, and worthy to have in the Christian's library.

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