Grown Up Thoughts About Pilgrims Progress
This past month one of the books I read was the story Pilgrim Progress’s: A Journey from this World to the Next Delivered on the Similitude of a Dream. I had heard this story multiple times before — it’s almost impossible for any boy growing up in Christian home and attending a Sunday School at the earliest age possible to not have heard the story. A stripped down version of the tale almost appears to be mandatory Sunday School Curriculum. I’ve always been more than enamored by the characters and pretense of the story. The story is full of fanciful imagery and Tolkien-styled characters — though Bunyan penned Pilgrims progress long before JR ever envisioned a Hobbit — and has enough enchantment to peak even my fanciful imagination.
The story follows the travels of a man, named Christian, through his “faith” walk from his moment of conviction in the city of Destruction to the Heaven. From the very onset of the story he encounters locations and individuals each encompassing some aspect of the Christian walk. Sometimes he stays on the “strait and narrow” saving himself from delay and destruction, other times he ventures off the path and must be either be rescued or guided back to where he should have been all along.
Now that I’m an adult I enjoyed re-reading the story, but something stuck out to me that I missed as a child. The personality of the protagonist, of Christian, came off as kind of a jerk. (Jerk is actually a deeply theological term. If you don’t believe me, look it up in the Bible.) He comes across as mean, short sighted, and very exclusionary — attributes which to “grown up” me seemed off putting and foreign. At numerous points in his journey he encounters people that he appears to belittle and berate, and walks through towns keeping his eyes fixed towards his exodus because he’d too good to be brought down by the lower activities of the lesser townsfolk, and consistently chooses to walk alone rather than to keep the company of certain individuals.
The examples in the text are numerous but one encounter stood out above the others. At one point Christian denies another his company whose theology is “made up” by reprimanding him with the simple phrase:
“I walk by the will of my master. You walk by the will of your fantasies”.
This sole statement stood head and shoulders above some of the others in the book. This single phrase goes against just about every philosophy that’s permeating the culture today. Scores of books, lectures and talk show guests are pontificating the exact opposite message; a message that every idea, every world view, every religious context has validity. Furthermore; anyone who would venture to stand against such ideals is labeled as intolerant. The same circle that cast this label would also like us to believe that intolerance in and of itself is one of the worst offenses that is possible to commit.
Comparing the journey Bunyan writes against the ideology of the modern day philosopher, I conclude two possible ways with which to judge Christian’s behavior.
The first, is that Christian is positioned in the story as a “holy than thou” protagonist who can’t be bothered with the concerns of ideas of other travels that walk a different path than he does. People who don’t share his worldview are not worth his time; companions that disagree with him on talking points are shunned and abandoned; and those who don’t listen to his instruction are worth pouring time into. Essentially the first view we could take of Christian, would be that he is a prig.
The second way would be to view a man who understood the destruction he was bound for and recklessly abandoned his old life and all those who were part of it (who wouldn’t willing follow) in favor of salvation and redemption.
Idealistically I would like to think that I would have assumed and seen the second motivation behind the man, but truthfully assigning the first to Christian was my initial reaction. This was a type of wake up call for me. I’m afraid that if I use the barometer of exclusion-ism that the character Christian appeared to model, I haven’t been being a very good Christian. I’m not suggesting that I need to be “walking alone” by any extent of the phrase, but I certainly haven’t been encounter any spiritual resistance lately — a sure indication I haven’t acting how I should.
Why, there I hope to see him alive that did hang dead on the cross; and there I hope to be rid of all those things that to this day are in me an annoyance to me; there, they say, there is no death; and there I shall dwell with such company as I like best. For, to tell you truth, I love him, because I was by him eased of my burden; and I am weary of my inward sickness. I would fain be where I shall die no more, and with the company that shall continually cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy!”