Pilgrim’s Progress theme Part III

Write2Ignite Conference 2018 theme series—by Deborah S. DeCiantis 

After his escape from the Slough of Despond, Christian meets Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who convinces him that an easier way to get rid of his burden is to turn aside from the path to the Wicket Gate and instead climb the hill to meet Legality and Civility. Christian believes him and takes this detour until he sees the true height and menacing overhang of the mountain. Now in doubt about this choice, he sees Evangelist coming and immediately feels ashamed.

Evangelist brings a stern look and rebuke, but when Christian fears he has lost his chance to get back on the right path, Evangelist reassures him that the way through the gate to deliverance is still open.

Several points related to our faith and writing journey emerge from this episode.

  1. Many sources offer persuasive words urging people to follow other worldviews, values, and self-help paths. These are often attractive, appealing to logic and human wishes (the “easier” way), and seem designed to help people achieve happiness and success. Those tempting alternatives, whether shortcuts or “new, improved” ideas, can trip up adults, too, especially when we are feeling vulnerable or defeated. Christian starts with good information (“the book”) and sound direction (Evangelist’s instructions), but his encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman nearly derails his faith.
  2. Bunyan knew well through personal experience the dangers for a believer. His testimony includes not only struggles with doubt and discouragement, but one episode in which he heard the words, “Sell and part with this most blessed Christ. . . . Let him go if he will.” He tells [readers] that “I felt my heart freely consent thereto. Oh, the diligence of Satan; Oh, the desperateness of man’s heart.” For two years, . . . , he was in the doom of damnation. “I feared that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable.” (Piper)
  3. Just as adults need to avoid these pitfalls in our own faith walk, children need to understand how temptations come and how easily they can fall prey to wrong ideas when people package them in nice words that seem to offer what they want or words that question what God says.

Bunyan continued in his state of fear and uncertainty for two years, but eventually he perceived the corrective and life-changing message “Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand” (qtd. in Piper). Although times of discouragement still followed, this turning point cemented his faith.

  1. Evangelist, in this illustration, fulfills a role similar to that of Christian writers who desire to help children establish their faith through finding and following the “narrow way.” Those who write Sunday school curriculum may present explicit spiritual counsel, much as Evangelist does for Christian. However, for writers of other genres—nonfiction articles, children’s stories, historical fiction—the challenge is to address these concepts while engaging children to enjoy the stories in which lessons (avoiding temptations to stray from what’s right) are embedded.

In Part II, we emphasized the author’s method of revealing background through the main character’s experiences (usually, mistakes) and explaining a principle the mistaken choice illustrates. This process is much like the principle often applied by both teachers and parents, known as the “teachable moment.” When things go wrong, people have a chance to take stock – to review the situation, words, decisions, and actions which led to an unwanted result.

Even young children can understand this principle: you know X is right, but in this situation, your words and actions went against X. Evangelist takes time, after rebuking Christian, to encourage him: “Thy sin is very great, for by it thou hast committed two evils; thou hast forsaken the way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the gate receive thee, for he has good-will for men; only, said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again. . . .”

Evangelist leaves Christian with a kiss and a smile – important signals that despite his failure, he will be welcomed at the gate. In fact, Good-will lets him in and directs him to find “The Interpreter,” who shows him many scenes of different characters and possible outcomes, good or bad. At first, Christian needs Interpreter to explain these, but as scenes continue, he begins to understand their significance.

Christian, who still bears his burden, is now encouraged and leaves to keep on the “straight and narrow” path which Interpreter has cautioned him to follow.

Contemporary stories may feature a spiny echidna’s adventures (real or imagined), a juvenile biography of Madame C.J. Walker, explanation of “How the U.S. Congress Creates a Law,” or a fictional teen’s struggles to deal with a family crisis. In each case, Bunyan’s model fusing truth principles and human experience with teachable moments offers Christian writers material for meditation and method for application.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the desiringgod.org website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” Desiringgod.org. 2014. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/website_uploads/documents/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress.pdf?1417090573 .

Next time: More on Interpreter’s role, plus Christian’s encounter at the cross.

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