My Friend Chuck Colson

“First, we must be diligent in the matter of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.” ~Charles Colson

Many things have been said about Charles Colson. Watergate villain. Nixon’s loyal “fixer.” Maybe the most famous convert to Christianity in this century. For certain, Chuck was one of the brightest minds I’ve ever known.

I met Chuck in the early ‘90s when I signed him to write for the publishing company I worked for. His first book with us, The Body, was the first-ever ECPA Book of the Year. Over the years we collaborated on several other titles, including his only novel. Coming full circle, this past year Worthy Publishing had the honor of publishing his last book, The Sky Is Not Falling.

As I think about Chuck, I remember an occasion years ago that struck me. After a video shoot in Fort Worth for a curriculum project, he spontaneously volunteered to field random questions from the studio audience of about 150 people. The questions were wildly diverse—politics, theology, church history, even scientific issues. Chuck responded effortlessly with direct quotes from classic books and historical dates and facts, in each case adding some form of personal application. I was speechless.

The ease with which he accessed a lifetime of learning and then so freely gave to this group of people—late into the evening—was clearly something he enjoyed. In an article in 2005, Colson wrote of the importance of Christian classical learning as a tool to engage culture. In 2009, he established the Colson Center, which he described as the “LexisNexis of resources on the Christian worldview.” He exhorted Christians to begin each day “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

It was his love of knowledge and how it can transform culture that, for me, defined my friend Chuck Colson.

As I pray for Chuck’s family and celebrate the fact that he is now with Jesus, I find comfort in knowing his impact on this world has been far greater than he ever imagined. The Colson Center, Prison Fellowship, the many books he wrote, and the thousands of organizations and leaders he advised, counseled, and encouraged, will spread his love of Christ and love of knowledge for years to come.

Why The Sky Is Not Falling On Print Part II

E-book sales may be growing, but ink-on-paper reading has a healthy future

Last week I promised to post my thoughts on the reasons Christian books will remain relevant for the long haul.

First, Printed Books Are Here to Stay

People wonder if the book business is in trouble, fearing technology will undermine reading and/or replace physical books. Let’s think about that: When parchment scrolls gave way to Guttenberg’s bound books in the 1450s there was a relative boom in reading. When higher-speed printing presses made books affordable for more than just the privileged few, there was an even greater explosion of reading with common men. Now with the digital age upon us, I’m convinced reading and books will proliferate more dramatically than ever. Change isn’t always a bad thing.

I don’t believe eBooks will replace physical books, certainly in the short term, and quite possibly not in the long run. There is emerging evidence that the exponential growth of eBooks has slowed. The quick adopters are on board and the growth of eBooks has slowed. In fact, downloads actually declined briefly last fall. My sense is that some who converted to eDevices have already modulated use and reverted to reading some conventional books, particularly in non-fiction. Certainly there will be a major role for eBooks, but there will continue to be a need for print and ink.

It occurred to me recently, as I reflected on the future of physical books, if someone hands you a music CD, what do you do with it? You must have a player of some kind, maybe in your car, to experience the music, so why not download an MP3 file to your phone or IPod? But if you are given a book, you can directly experience that book with no need for any aiding device, except maybe your reading glasses. Books are amazing inventions in themselves.

So, the core issue we are facing in my view is not the death of physical books or reading, but answering the challenge to harness this publishing revolution. It will be tough for retailers and publishers alike. Along with so many ways to access book content, paired with the consumer’s need for instant gratification, a reading boom is on. I don’t remember a day when there has been more casual conversation among friends, family and workmates about what everyone is reading.


Secondly, Books Are A Symbol of Achievement

More than once I’ve heard people say something like, “Show me a person’s library and I’ll know his head and heart.” Recently I read Eric Metaxas’s remarkable bestseller, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson). That book is on the shelf in my office and when I happen to see it, I smile. Several guests have eagerly asked about it when they notice it sitting there. Physical books are monuments to intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention achievement. It’s just not the same to shelve a file on a digital reading device. People decorate their homes with books they’ve read; cities and universities continue to build libraries for the enrichment they bring to communities. Books are a unique phenomenon.


Third, People Are Hungry for Books

A growing world population needs our message more than ever before. Books, Bibles, and other materials are life-giving for cultures that are sliding towards greater secular relativism. We don’t need to be sociologists to see that people turn to the Bible in adversity and uncertainty. The current economic crises and geopolitical issues suggest to me that, if we provide the right content, consumers will reach out for Christian books, not unlike what we experienced in the wake of 9/11.

The most compelling reason why I believe books are with us for the long-term lies in the very nature of our faith. Truth is eternal. I ran across some words by Billy Graham, reminding me that Christian books aren’t about an industry, but about man’s hunger for God:
“If you read the Bible (or any other literature from the ancient world), you’ll realize that the people who lived then had the same fears and hopes and shortcomings we have today — because human nature hasn’t changed. But neither has God changed. He is the same today as he was thousands of years ago — and thousands of years from now he’ll still be the same. But something else hasn’t changed — and that is our need of God. We need his forgiveness, and we need his strength to live the way we should.” **

We have been called to a great work – publishing and distributing great Christian books. Never have publishers had greater need for retail partners as we do today!

**© 2011 Tribune Media Services 9/26

Why The Sky Is Not Falling On Print Part I

E-book sales may be growing, but ink-on-paper reading has a healthy future

With the changes book publishing faces, especially in light of what’s happened to the music industry, I am frequently asked, “Are physical books a thing of the past?” I am always quick to say that books are more current than ever. Still, publishers, retailers and consumers are unnerved about the future of books and bookstores.

As background for my optimistic outlook, we chose to launch Worthy, likely the newest publisher, right in the middle of one of the greatest economic and political crises of our lifetimes. That said, my experience in Christian publishing over the last twenty years gives me reason to believe the sky is not falling on the book industry and that opportunities are still alive.

Books have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a seventh grader I remember sitting in the aisles of a nearby college library during the summer break reading everything you could imagine. I passed that love of books along to my children, including “date days” with my daughter. She and I would often browse in a bookstore together—leisurely noting particular titles or passages for books we found interesting, using those moments as a basis for discussions we both remember years later.

As a young publisher, I was brought to Word Publishing in the late 1980s during some tough days. Then, in the mid-90s, Word was acquired by Thomas Nelson, which brought unsettling changes including a move for many of our staff from Dallas to Nashville. Yet from early on we were honored to sign and publish many best-selling authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, Charles Swindoll, Barbara Johnson, John Maxwell, Frank Peretti, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Frank Peretti, and so many others. Though turbulent at times, God still worked amazingly.

Leaving Nelson, we launched Integrity Publishers, ironically moving into our first office on 9/11/2001 as reports of terrorist firestorms rang out. Despite the ensuing market crash, we experienced great receptivity for Christian books and found wider distribution through new channels. God continued to work through books more mightily than ever.

Now, as Worthy Publishing enters its first full year of commerce in 2012, I see parallels with the past. Economic crisis, unpredictable retail patterns, and shifts in sales volume from traditional channels to new technology, keep us wide-eyed. When will I ever learn that each decade will undoubtedly bring its own new set of changes – and that in the long-run God will use change to expand the reach of the Gospel? I’m convinced that more people are reading books today than ever in history, though maybe in different ways than before.

I believe, contrary to some, that Christian books will remain relevant for the long haul and next week I will share with you three reasons why.