‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’

Each month, with the aid of Dr. Ken Boa, we look at a great book that helped shape Western civilization. Today on BreakPoint, learn how a simple minister used the power of allegory to influence millions. It has often been described as the most popular and most influential book ever published—after the Bible, that is. Yet many literary critics of its time treated it with scorn. Its author was simply a humble Puritan minister who wrote it while imprisoned for his faith. He was not even sure if he should publish it. If you have not guessed it yet, I am talking about The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, the subject of Dr. Ken Boa’s newest “Great Books Audio CD.” Boa calls this book “an extraordinary achievement” by a man who was simply “trying to communicate the doctrine of grace”—and, who by his own account, did not even plan to write it as an allegory at first. “The thing took on its own momentum, its own life,” as Boa puts it, and it became one of the greatest accounts of “the human experience of grace ever written.” Pilgrim’s Progress is a powerful story of one Christian’s journey through life. The people, encounters, and struggles he faces have become part of the English language: Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Vanity Fair, the Slough of Despond, and so many more. Yet Bunyan was not even trying to be particularly clever or original. As Boa reminds us, Bunyan’s thinking was so steeped in the Scriptures that his book is filled with “literally hundreds and hundreds of allusions” to biblical references and concepts, and this is what makes its imagery so striking and memorable. As Charles Spurgeon, who used to read The Pilgrim’s Progress twice a year, said of Bunyan, “If you cut him, he would bleed Bible.” The book’s theological depth makes it almost suitable for a “catechesis” of the Christian faith. And something that has always amazed me about Pilgrim’s Progress is just how real Bunyan’s characters are. The pilgrims at the center of the story are no Christian supermen, no perfect moral heroes. Boa points out, “There are many weaknesses in [the characters] Christian and Faithful . . . and we see that faith co-exists with failings.” Just like any biblical hero, the Christian characters here must ask for God’s help in fighting their own flaws and failures. Their intentions are good, but they are too easily lured away from their path or cast down by their troubles. As Boa says, “It is Christian’s actual frailty, his fallibility that arouses our sympathy for him and makes us wonder what is going to happen next.” Unlike much Christian fiction of our own time, Bunyan’s allegory does not try to tiptoe around the fact of sin. The wise Puritan preacher knew he would have been remiss not to deal with it. In many ways his heroes, despite the 17th-century setting, are just like us, which is why Pilgrim’s Progress still fascinates us. Fascinates us and encourages us, as well—for as Boa goes on to say, Bunyan’s book teaches us that “any man, any woman, through grace, can become a Christian hero.” It is a lesson that has carried down through the centuries and is just as powerful today as ever—not bad for a simple Puritan preacher. Few books I have read have moved me and inspired me as much as The Pilgrim’s Progress. To gain more of Ken Boa’s profound insights on the book and on the other great works that shaped Christianity and Western culture, visit us here at or call us at 1-877-322-5527. We will tell you how you can subscribe to his marvelous “Great Books Audio CD” series.  
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Subscribe today to the “Great Books Audio CD” series from Dr. Ken Boa and BreakPoint. Call 1-877-322-5527 to learn more.  
For Further Reading and Information
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (Oxford University Press, December 2003). Gina Dalfonzo, “Read any good books lately?The Point, 07 December 2006. BreakPoint Commentary No. 070907, “Standing on Strong Shoulders: Read a Great Book.” Read online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.


Chuck Colson



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