As a student at a secular university who was plugged into a great local church, I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of Pilgrim’s Progress before it was assigned reading for Personal Spiritual Disciplines (considering it is the second best selling book of all time next to the bible). Despite some difficulty overcoming the language of the text, I found the entire book, but especially part one, completely edifying and perspective changing for what it really means to be a Christian. I’ve never been so clearly explained what the true meaning of the Christian life was, what it meant to be a pastor, the role of an evangelist, and the difficulty of overcoming trials as clearly as Bunyan managed to do in allegorical form.
While part two was useful for giving me an idea of the true role of a pastor, I enjoyed part one because of its application to daily Christian life. It seems to me that many Americans no longer seriously consider the Christian life as the narrow path that Jesus says that it is in Matthew 7:13. American ideals of “toleration” mean that scarcely will a Christian feel the need to confront their own family about their faith or treat sin as seriously as it needs to be treated. I truly appreciated how Bunyan began the novel by having the main character leave his family in order to follow the path of the Christian life. I think that today many people view Jesus as little more than an ancient hippy, and it’s so easy to forget that he came not to bring together, but to divide, as he says in Matthew 10:34, that a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
Similarly, Bunyan spends the entire first part of his book lending a fresh perspective to the challenges we should expect and be prepared to face in our Christian lives. The age of the book helps testify that the struggles of a Christian life are in no way new, and that many of our brothers and sisters have endured the same struggles before us. The entire first part of the book is jam packed with references to scripture, and that makes it all the more poignant. Every time I looked up the passage Bunyan was referencing, it was amazing to see that he was almost directly referring to a struggle clearly mentioned in scripture.
I found part two of the book useful because of its fresh perspective on the pastoral role and what it really means to have a “pastoral heart.” Today, I think that most non-Christians or occasional church goers view a pastor as little more than a preacher and guilt trip artist. Someone who stands up on Sundays and tells us all the things we did wrong the previous week. Conversely, I’ve noticed that many Christians these days refer to the ever elusive “pastoral heart” without ever really defining what it means. Many Christians think that having a pastoral heart means little more than caring about people in a very altruistic way. While this is certainly part of a pastor’s role, Bunyan clearly expresses the idea that a pastor is first and foremost the shepherd of his church. His role is to help his congregation overcome struggles in their spiritual life to ultimately find the peace and joy that exists eternally in Christ.
Overall, I think that Pilgrim’s Progress should be considered a must read for Christians today – at least just the first part, the second part for pastors – and serves as a sobering reminder of the true meaning of the “struggles of the Christian life,” especially as it pertains to those of us today that don’t feel like we are hitting many struggles. The only two pieces of advice I’d give is: first, it is essential to get the oxford addition – or one that doesn’t mess with the language of the original writing, and second, to look up the passages that Bunyan is referencing so that you can see where he is pulling particular events from. I found Pilgrim’s Progress to be an informative and entertaining look at the struggles that should not be overlooked on a believer’s walk with Christ.