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Applause for The Pilgrim's Progress

There are some stories we fancy we know so well that we don't bother to pick up the book—and for a long time, for me, that was The Pilgrim's Progress.


It wasn't until a recent book thrifting excursion, when I found a stunning cloth-bound edition, that I finally set out to follow Christian on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City from beginning to end, once and for all! I'd been putting it off for years, and having experienced different versions of it (from storybook renditions to the new animated film to Adventures in Odyssey's audio version) I almost felt like I'd already read it. Now that I'm deep in John Bunyan's masterpiece, though, I can see that all my prior experiences with The Pilgrim's Progress have been mere fragments of the whole.


In case you're not familiar with The Pilgrim's Progress, it's an allegory of the Christian journey published in 1678, and one of the highest-selling, most translated English books of all time. It follows a man named Christian, who, being warned of the judgment coming for his city of Destruction, sets out on a pilgrimage through perilous lands to reach the Celestial City, and win eternal life.


What do I love most about The Pilgrim's Progress? Well, first of all, it's the total manifestation of the potential power in fantasy writing. I mean, Christian faces everything from Giants of Despair to the dragon Apollyon in just the first half, and if those aren't classic fantasy elements, I don't know what is. What's awesome, though, is that this fantastic journey is so firmly grounded in Truth that it opens our eyes to the giants and dragons looming in our own lives. And isn't that the untapped power of fantasy writing? To expose Truths in the wondrous that are buried in the mundane?


It's also just extremely clever. Clever, but clear. Applicable. I mean, with a cast of characters like Obstinate, Pliable, Talkative, Shame, Faithful, Legalism, Envy, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hold-the-World, Hopeful, Charity, Prudence, and more, you'd think the blatant allegory would be overly, well . . . blatant. And true, Bunyan doesn't leave much room for misinterpreting his characters, but that doesn't mean he's not clever about it. Those characters represent their virtue (or vice) in a way that's obvious for Christian's story, but more subtle in our own lives. There's no mistaking Mr. Worldly-Wiseman for anything less than a charlatan in Christian's journey . . . but that's brilliance in itself, for now we know what to look for in ours.


I'm not sure what this blog was intended to be when I started, but since it's become a commentary on The Pilgrim's Progress' fine qualities, I guess I'll roll with it.


I've always loved viewing the Christian journey as just that—a journey. A quest over treacherous terrain and through perilous pitfalls, a straight and narrow path slicing across a tangled maze of distractions and worldly dangers. I'm sure it's the fantasy-lover in me—the romantic—that loves that image. But I'm not the only one; Paul used similar metaphors as well. The Christian walk is a journey. A pilgrimage. A quest through worldly perils for an otherworldly prize. And beneath the wonder, the allegory, the wit, The Pilgrim's Progress marks the same quest that Apostle Paul took before us, that we take today, that saints will take after us until Jesus comes again.


But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:13-14

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