Mortimer Adler, in his book How To Read a Book makes it clear that to fully engage an author one must be willing to form an opinion for or against what the author has written. Doing this involves understanding that you are indeed able to form that opinion and that your opinion matters.
I feel odd, perhaps unworthy, to form such opinions of classics such as Pilgrim’s Progress. However, I’m certain that, in its time, it received its share of critics and exhortations. It’s not as if this were written by an immortal, or perhaps as a result of divine inspiration, so it stands as fallible and open to critique and a little interpretation. What’s interesting about that is Bunyan’s conclusion to the tale, which warns wayward interpreters to be careful how one interprets his book. “Be not extreme,” Bunyan says. Fortunately, I don’t intend to be extreme in my reflections.
Let me say first that this book comes highly recommended to me, and goes forth the same. Bunyan, from what I understand, was not an educated man, and took his time in coming to the Christian faith, but when he did, he began to preach, often finding himself imprisoned for doing so without a license. It was during one of these imprisonments that he conceived The Pilgrim’s Progress. The whole book is written as a series of dreams Bunyan had, each one in which Christian, the main character, progresses further onward in his journey to the Celestial City. Along the way he meets many different characters, some determined to see him complete his journey, and some who would deter him. The whole thing functions as an allegory for the Christian walk through life. and functions well.
The metaphors are simple, with people named Hopeful, and Ignorance, and cities named Vanity Fair and Graceless. One does not need more than this. For all the theology I’ve studied, and for all of wanting to see people understand God in deeper,more complex fashions and to explore God in new ways, it is true that one must begin simply, and work slowly through one’s faith. Even Christian does not begin to truly understand certain things about God and the faith until later in his journey, so for anyone to be overly critical of the weak and the new in Christ is unfair. Each Christian walks the same path, enters from the same gate, and finishes through the same gate. It takes time to walk the path.
Bunyan drew a lot of influence from Martin Luther, and it shows. It seems lately I’ve managed to surround myself with Reformation influenced writings, so it’s easy for me to pick up on the influences within Bunyan. It shows very well, however, an excellent, beautiful display of God’s grace, and its powerful pull on the human spirit. If you’re looking to understand the walk of a Godly person, read The Pilgrim’s Progress. Let it embolden your walk with God.