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Reading Classics Together

April 12, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the sixth stage of his journey. Last week Christian dialogued with Faithful, discussing the role of the law. The two men also encountered Shame.

Discussion

The sixth stage of Christian’s journey is one of martydom as Christian’s friend Faithful loses his life for the Lord. After being warned by Evangelist of the struggles they must face and the necessity of faithfulness through it, Christian and Faithful find that they must pass through Vanity Fair.

Almost five thousand years ago there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are: and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore, at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

Vanity Fair is a place of distraction, a place where pilgrims are led away from their journey, enticed by the joys of this world. These joys can be just about anything as shown by the sheer diversity of Bunyan’s list of enticements. He even shows that each nation has their own row which represents the particular distraction or obsession of that people.

Which makes me wonder: What is our vanity? What is the thing that tends to distract us from the way. Notice that the things Bunyan lists tend to be good things—houses, honors, husbands, silver, gold. Yet these are the very things that lead us off the way. What are our things?

April 05, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the fifth stage of his journey. Last week Christian’s journey took him through two valleys—Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Though he faced fierce trials, he made it through both of them alive and now he continues on his pilgrimage.

Discussion

The fifth stage of Christian’s journey is far more about the conversation than the setting. He immediately meets Faithful and the two of them begin to converse, sharing their accounts of their pilgrimage. Here they model Christian fellowship and conversation.

There were a few things that stood out to me and the first of them was Faithful’s recounting of getting himself pummeled by Moses.

March 29, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading John Bunyan’s classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and we arrive at the fourth stage of his journey. Last week Christian looked to the cross and had his burden fall from his back. And now his journey begins anew; the difficulties have only just begun.

Discussion

The fourth stage of Christian’s journey is a tale of two valleys. As he journeys toward the Celestial City, he needs to pass through the valley of Humiliation. It is here that Christian meets Apollyon, the first great enemy he will face. Apollyon is the accuser who reminds Christian of all the sin he has committed and who tries to convince him that he cannot be forgiven for such sin. I love how Christian replies. After being reminded of all his sin he essentially says to Apollyon, “You don’t know the half of it! I am far worse than that.” And then he pleads the grace of God.

All this is true, and much more which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honor is merciful, and ready to forgive. But besides, these infirmities possessed me in thy country, for there I sucked them in, and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.

Christian’s dependence on the grace of God enrages Apollyon who responds by attacking him. The battle is long and fierce, but Christian uses the spiritual armor God provides to protect himself and to do battle. I have recently preached through Ephesians 6 so appreciated this part of Bunyan’s book in a new way.

March 22, 2012

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue with reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and we have come to the third stage of Christian’s journey. Just to do something a little bit different, I decided to listen to it while reading it, and quite enjoyed doing it that way. It seemed to help with my overall comprehension. Plus, the person reading is really, really good at her job.

Discussion

This stage of the journey gets off to a great start with the account of Christian finally losing his burden.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

I guess that is an experience every Christian knows, of looking to the cross and feeling that burden fall. There was no more to it than that; he simply looked to Christ and was transformed. But, of course, this does not mark the end of the journey—not by a long shot. Christian is immediately given certain items to take with him on his journey—assurance that his sins are forgiven, new clothing, a mark on his forehead, and a scroll—and then he travels on.

I loved to read of Christian sleeping in the daytime and the trouble that it brought him. Somehow there was comfort there in seeing him sleep and hurry on and have to travel back. And I love reading of his distress, that he had had to repeat so much of his journey because of falling asleep. That all sounded strangely and uncomfortably familiar. 

March 15, 2012

Reading Classics Together
This morning we come to our second reading in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Those of you who are reading along with me should now have read “The Second Stage” of the journey. If you haven’t been reading along but would like to, it’s easy to do; just find a copy of the book and get reading!

Discussion

Every week I like to just say something about what we’ve read. This week I’ll cheat a little bit and rely on Charles Spurgeon to say it for me. It comes from his sermon “Christ Crucified” and it talks about one weakness in this book (that Spurgeon read over and over again).

…let me tell you a little story about Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am a great lover of John Bunyan, but I do not believe him infallible; and the other day I met with a story about him which I think a very good one.

There was a young, man, in Edinburgh, who wished to be a missionary. He was a wise young man; so he thought, “If I am to be a missionary, there is no need for me to transport myself far away from home; I may as well be a missionary in Edinburgh.”

Well, this young man started, and determined to speak to the first person he met. He met one of those old fishwives; those of us who have seen them can never forget them, they are extraordinary women indeed. So, stepping up to her, he said, “Here you are, coming along with your burden on your back; let me ask you if you have got another burden, a spiritual burden.”

“What!” she asked; “do you mean that burden in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? Because, if you do, young man, I got rid of that many years ago, probably before you were born. But I went a better way to work than the pilgrim did. The evangelist that John Bunyan talks about was one of your parsons that do not preach the gospel; for he said, ‘Keep that light in thine eye, and run to the wicket-gate.’ Why—man alive!—that was not the place for him to run to. He should have said, ‘Do you see that cross? Run there at once!’ But, instead of that, he sent the poor pilgrim to the wicket-gate first; and much good he got by going there! He got tumbling into the slough, and was like to have been killed by it.”

“But did not you,” the young man asked, “go through any Slough of Despond?”

“Yes, I did; but I found it a great deal easier going through with my burden off than with it on my back.”

The old woman was quite right. John Bunyan put the getting rid of the burden too far off from the commencement of the pilgrimage. If he meant to show what usually happens, he was right; but if he meant to show what ought to have happened, he was wrong.

We must not say to the sinner, “Now, sinner, if thou wilt be saved, go to the baptismal pool; go to the wicket-gate; go to the church; do this or that.”

No, the cross should be right in front of the wicket-gate; and we should say to the sinner, “Throw thyself down there, and thou art safe; but thou are not safe till thou canst cast off thy burden, and lie at the foot of the cross, and find peace in Jesus.”

Spurgeon addresses the confusion I was feeling. If a man comes to me with a great burden I point him to the cross, not to a wicket gate!

March 08, 2012

Reading Classics Together
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.

February 16, 2012

Reading Classics Together
It was back in 2007 that I had an idea that genuinely changed my life. I wanted to read some of the classics of the Christian faith, but I knew that without some measure of accountability I would never have the self-discipline to make it happen. I realized that this accountability could come by reading classics together in community. I decided to launch a reading program called Reading Classics Together.

In the years since this program began we’ve read some amazing classics from years gone by and from the present time. These include titles like Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, and The Cross of Christ by John Stott. These books and others like them have benefited me immensely and I know the same is true of those who have read along with me.

It is time to embark on a new reading project and it only seems right that we should go to the bestselling and most enduring Christian classic of them all—The Pilgrim’s Progress. This is a book most of us have read at one time or another, or perhaps at many times, but if any book bears repeated readings, this is the one. It is, after all, the most widely-published book in the English language, not to mention one of the most influential and beloved books ever written.

Please consider this an invitation to read The Pilgrim’s Progress with me. I plan to begin reading it on March 8. Here is how you can read along. Simply find yourself a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress and read chapter 1 prior to March 8. Then visit this web site on March 8 and I will share some thoughts on that chapter and we can discuss it together.

Sound good?

There is one complication: There are many, many versions of the book available and they sometimes break the story into chapters in different places. I intend to follow the ten-chapter breakdown you can find at CCEL. Also, some people may prefer to read a modernized adaptation instead of the original; if so, feel free. Finally, I intend only to read about Christian’s journey and not the further journey of his family.

Here are some options:

  • A modernized but still-faithful adaptation from Crossway ($16.32 in hardcover, $3.96 in Kindle). It is a great version and easy-to-read, but the chapters are broken down differently. Still, it’s a great option.
  • This Kindle version is a good one if you’d like to read the original text. It costs just $2.86.
  • This softcover version is good for those wanting to read the original text. It has no chapter breakdowns and costs $8.80.
  • Now, here’s another option. If you’d like to listen to the book, you can download it from Audible (an Amazon company). If you’ve never been an Audible member, you can join their program with a free 14-day trial that allows you to download one book at no cost. You can download The Pilgrim’s Progress and, if you don’t find that you’ll use the program or don’t like it, cancel your account and keep the book you’ve downloaded. It’s truly risk-free. To get started with Audible, click here.

If you’re going to read along with me, why don’t you just leave a comment below so I can get a gauge on interest.

November 10, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Here we are at the very end of another Christian classic. As of today we’ve come to the thirteenth and final chapter of John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. He closes the book with a chapter titled “Suffering and Glory.”

Suffering & Glory

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.” So this is not only a challenge for today (though certainly it is a distinct challenge) but a challenge for every day. The challenge of those who plead suffering as their foremost objection to the Christian faith is not new.

Sott says, “The problem of suffering is far from being of concern only to philosophers. It impinges upon nearly all of us personally; few people go through life entirely unscathed.” He goes on to state, “It needs to be said at once that the Bible supplies no thorough solution to the problem of evil, whether ‘natural’ evil or ‘moral,’ that is, whether in the form of suffering or sin. Its purpose is more practical than philosophical. Consequently, although there are references to sin and suffering on virtually every page, its concern is not to explain their origin but to help us overcome them.” His object in this chapter, then, is to explore the relationship between the cross of Christ and our sufferings.

By way of introduction, he mentions the standard arguments about suffering: suffering is an alien intrusion into God’s good good world; suffering is often due to sin; suffering is due to our human sensitivity to pain; suffering is due to the kind of environment in which God has placed us.

November 03, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we come to our second-to-last reading in John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. We are in a section that discusses some of the implications of the cross, or, as Stott phrases it, “living under the cross.” He wants us to know that the cross directs our conduct in relation to other people which leads to this chapter’s topic: loving our enemies.

Loving Our Enemies

I sense that the book is beginning to slow down a little bit. While last week and this week have had plenty of good information, it seems like the greatest impact of the book was earlier on. I guess that should not be surprising. And still, Stott continues to deal with important topics.

The first thing Stott looks at is conciliation and here he shows that the command that we live at peace with everyone is very difficult to actually do, at least in part because true reconciliation and peace requires both parties to cooperate. Here is what he says:

October 27, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we draw one week closer to completing John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.  After this week’s reading, we’ve got just two remaining before we’ve finished the book and wrapped up another reading project. Thank you for bearing with me last week when I just wasn’t able to get things done on time. 

Self-Understanding and Self-Giving

You remember that last week’s chapter was about the community of the cross being a community of celebration. This week Stott shows that the community of the cross is also a community of self-understanding. “This may sound like a reversion to individualism. But it should not be so, since self-understanding is with a view to self-giving. How can one give what one does not know one has? That is why the quest for one’s own identity is essential.” That makes good sense to me!

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