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March 08, 2012
A few weeks ago I announced that the next Reading Classics Together project would take on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Reading Classics Together is a simple program: We (that’s me and anyone else who cares to join in) read books in parallel and meet up here to discuss them. If you’d like to participate, you’re not too late. Just start reading!
This week’s assignment was to read the first “stage” of Bunyan’s classic. We’ll be reading it according to the classic chapter (or “stage”) breakdown you can see in the CCEL version of the book.
Now I am going to be perfectly honest with you and admit that I have read Pilgrim’s Progress a few times and have never much enjoyed it. I don’t exactly know why this is. I’ve always wanted to enjoy it, but just haven’t been able to. So when I decided that we would do it as our next classic, I also decided to try reading it differently. Actually, I decided to listen to it. I have to say, so far it’s made all the difference.
The version I have been listening to is narrated by Nadia May and she does a wonderful job of it; the way she reads the text helps explain the text. So far it’s making all the difference. My friends at ChristianAudio have discounted it to just $4.98 in case you’d like to give it a listen as well (add it to your cart and use the discount code Challiesrtc).
Now, on to a discussion of this week’s reading.
The First Stage
I will get our discussion underway with three observations.
First, as I listened to the chapter I was struck by how cliche this type of allegory is. However, I had to remind myself that what Bunyan did was actually completely or near-completely original. What has made it feel cliche is the reality that he has had many, many imitators (though very few peers). He is the one who really defined this genre and the others all follow in his wake.
Second, while I didn’t care so much for the characters Obstinate, Pliable, and Help—I find them rather forgettable—I found myself really taken with Mr. Worldly Wiseman and, even more than the man himself, the way he tried to woo Christian to visit Legality in the city of Morality. There is a man who could help Christian with his burden and what Mr. Worldly Wiseman held out to him was the ease with which he would do it. By veering toward Legality, Christian would avoid his long and difficult journey. Instead, he could be free from his burden while still able to keep living in this world. He did this all with words that seemed sweet, even while they dripped with death. There are so many in the world who are just like that.
Finally, I was challenged by Evangelist in the way he came across Christian a second time. It was not enough for him to meet with Christian the first time; he had to follow up. Christian was weak, he was easily led astray, he had not yet found the wicket gate and had not yet been relieved of his burden. And so Evangelist came upon him a second time to help him correct his course. I prefer to think that Evangelist was deliberate in seeking him out.
For next Thursday please read (or listen to) stage two. You may want to consult the CCEL version if the version you are reading has a different chapter breakdown.
The purpose of this program is to read these books together. If you have something to say, whether a comment or criticism or question, feel free to use the comment section for that purpose.