Over my hot tea this evening, I found myself flipping back through a well-worn copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress. This is simply one of the greats in the Christian (and otherwise!) literary canon. Yes, the language is difficult, but it is entirely worth the effort. As much as I enjoyed The Shack, Eugene Peterson’s endorsement was a bit too strong: it does not compare to Bunyan’s masterpiece.
Consider this jewel, with All Saint’s Day coming up:
Good Christian, come a little way with me, and I will teach thee about the way thou must go. Look before thee; dost thou see this narrow way? That is the way thou must go. It was cast up by the patriarchs, prophets, Christ, and his apostles, and it is as straight as a rule can make it. This is the way thou must go.
Magnificent. These were the words with which Good Will (*not* Hunting) sent Christian on his journey to the Celestial City. Ours is the age of “Yes we can!” and “Do not follow where the path may lead…” and “Follow your heart.” Does anyone else hear Penn and (not so much) Teller yelling, “BULLSHIT”? In this age of revenge against all norms, traditions, and paths, Bunyan reminds us that the path God calls us to is not one of our choosing. We are called to a path we do not find on our own; we are defined by a story of which we are not the author. We are not “the captains of our soul,” we are simply run down by the Hound of Heaven, captured by Amazing Grace.
And in an age where we perpetually confuse wants with needs, and have lost the practices necessary to sustain even a modicum of Christian self-discipline, Bunyan’s Christian reminds us,
I walk by the rule of my master, you walk by the rude working of your fancies. You are counted theives already by the Lord of the way, therefore I doubt you will not be found true men at the end of the way. You come in by yourselves without his direction, and shall go out by yourselves without his mercy.
A little harsh, perhaps. But all-in-all, good medicine for mainline Christians who, in despising their evangelical brothers and sisters, have lost all concept of discipline and the consequences attendant to its failure. If you’ve not read Bunyan, put down your John Shelby Spong or John Piper or Joel Osteen – please, for the love of God – pick up The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan’s allegory will, I can promise, guide your own pilgrimage toward the heart of God.