The Pilgrim’s Progress

Guide: Dr. Andy Draycott


Welcome to Hesperides books we’re fortunate to have with us Dr Andy Draycott today who is a professor theology at Biola University. He teaches a popular course dedicated to Pilgrim’s Progress and its adaptions in other media, such as films and video games, and you can find more about his work at
First published in 1678 the Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into over 200 languages, it’s been widely admired by authors from Sigmund Freud and Harold Bloom to Leo Tolstoy, GK Chesterton and T.S Eliot. Samuel Johnson said that the merit of the book was that ‘the most cultivated man cannot find anything to praise more highly and the child knows nothing more amusing.’ But for all its supporters, today the Pilgrim’s Progress is not read nearly so much as it was a hundred or so years ago. Andy, why is the Pilgrim’s Progress so relatively out of fashion?

Thanks. I think it’s because compared to about 100 years ago, the ascendancy of Christianity, that would have been kind of a cultural norm, has fallen away, certainly in the English-speaking world where Pilgrim’s Progress has its roots. 

That means that Christians are being shaped by stories that accompany the Bible that are new, that are generated in more recent times and are just more accessible. So a 17th century text is just a different kind of reading experience than reading something that’s written in the last 50 years, so the difficulty level or the perceived difficulty level, I think, is one of the obstacles.

You obviously still think that there’s enormous value to be found in reading Pilgrim’s Progress. Why should people read it, if you had to pitch to people an argument for the Pilgrim’s Progress?

Yeah, I do, and partly it comes from its own historical context. It’s written in a highly contentious time, where there’s a lot of conflict in civil discourse, and that’s something to be thought of—particularly when Christians in the UK are experiencing a kind of reversion to a minority status, that the minority status Bunyan experienced in his expression of Christianity is then reflected in his book. And I think there’s just great theology in it, and it’s particular emphasis on not only conversion but the life that is then lived for the Christian, and which is often tough, a struggle—and yet something in which they can persevere, and which God enables to persevere with—is something that’s very encouraging for people who live in a strife-ridden society as we do.

So Bunyan was born in 1628, and he was born into what a Chinese proverb writer would call interesting times. Can you tell us a little bit about the context?

This is a period of great turmoil. We have Civil Wars across England, the simplest kind of division of this is between the Parliamentary forces and the Royalist forces. This ends up with, of course, execution of King Charles I. And with the kind of tumult in society you get a breakdown of certain controls that would have censored expression of thought, so you get at the same time this emergence of popular religiosity and fervent political and religious provocation. 

So that when Bunyan—his Mum dies—he moves out of the home and enlists in the Parliamentary forces. We don’t think he ever saw combat, but when he’s garrisoned with the Parliamentary forces he would have certainly witnessed and heard army preachers coming through, propagating really zealous reformational Protestant, even Puritan theologies, and even more sectarian ones. That would have certainly stirred him. So that when he gets back from his experience in the army, he takes up the trade of a of a tinker (he’s mending pots and pans), but he goes through a phase of wanting to be more religious, realising he isn’t, getting married, and his wife brings a few religious Puritan books with her, a sort of dowry as it were, and he starts to kind of get into reading the Bible. 

It takes a while. He tells us all about this in his spiritual autobiography called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, but eventually, and particularly through the ministry of someone called John Gifford there in Bedford, he’s brought under the preaching of God’s word such that he is convinced of his sin. He senses this call to a reformed living and also a call to communicate this good news. So he sets out and gets commissioned to preach so that others will hear this Gospel truth as he’s received it.

Okay, so can we just backtrack a moment. Along what sort of battle lines are the religious arguments between the Parliamentary and the Royalist forces drawn? 

That’s a great question. The religious lines tend to be a Church of England, establishment oriented, conservatism wants to have an expression of Christianity that has some ceremonial features that antagonize Puritans. We also have Presbyterians, convinced Presbyterians at the time, who are thinking about church government issues and disliking the role that Bishops have in the polity of the church. We also have independents—and these are all stacking up on the side of the Parliamentary forces. Independents, who are wanting to exercise their own ministries as led by the spirit and authorized in a local setting, they don’t want to have any kind of authority over them. And this kind of combination of, they’re not united in one vision apart from dissent or a kind of contestation with the official church— a lot of that then fuels the Parliamentary drive against kind of this establishment that is allied with King Charles I.  

So we have a series of dissenting groups who object to the practices and the pomp of the established Church of England lined up against the Royalist Forces. To come back to what you’re saying, Bunyan, when he’s about sixteen or eighteen years old, he joins the Parliamentary forces as a soldier, doesn’t necessarily see action, but he joins them from a relatively impoverished background. His father was a tinker, he becomes a tinker. Up until that point he hadn’t had an especially distinguished career as a Christian. He talks about that in Grace Abounding. He meets his first wife, who is pious. How is it that he becomes more drawn into the Bedford Meeting?

He overhears some ‘godly women’ talking about their faith. He has an encounter with this Pastor John Gifford, who seems to kind of take him under his wing. And as that is happening he’s seeing lives lived in fellowship in this congregation in Bedford under Gifford and is drawn by—he would say he’s drawn by scripture, he’s drawn by his own conviction of his own sin and by the godly lives he’s seeing into this kind of attraction towards the good news of Jesus. This motivates him to, in his conviction of its truth, then to defend that against critics. So there are a lot of some of these more radical forces moving around, particularly Ranters or Quakers are some of his opponent in what he ends up kind of writing and fairly early on. He starts writing polemics and arguing against others who he sees as distorting the gospel. And this is in keeping with this new function that he’s given by that church, where he’s commissioned to preach. 

So for quite a long time, though, when he’s preaching he’s preaching under the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell—between 1653 and 1658—and he’s accorded lots of freedom to preach, essentially, as he sees fit. There’s a regime in in power that is sympathetic to this kind of thing.

But that all comes to an end. When we get the restoration of the monarchy, we also, in simple form, get a restoration of a desire to control religion and its expression through the establishment of the church. So that if you’re going to preach you need to apply for a license to preach, and you’re only granted a license if you’re going to be preaching as ordained in the Church of England. Well Bunyan is not interested in preaching according to the Prayer Book. He’s not interested in sticking to the homilies of the Anglican Church. He wants to preach as the spirit moves him, and in fact we then find that as he does go out and preach he finds himself arrested in 1664 for unlicensed preaching, and this leads to a period of imprisonment in jail in Bedford that lasts twelve years.

Many others are there imprisoned with him, but this is the place and where we find him writing The Program’s Progress. 

He’s given, before he goes to jail, he’s given the opportunity to promise that he won’t preach any longer and go free, and he refuses that, which is why he’s jailed. You can hear, as you can throughout thinking about Bunyan’s biography, you can hear echoes of itin the work, in Pilgrim’s Progress itself, and certainly we’ll have lots more to talk about when we come to the book and we’re talking about his attitude and the law and legalism, and judges and juries too. 
In the meantime, he has managed to have four young children with his wife, his first wife, whose name we don’t know died in in 1658. His first child, a daughter, was blind, and Bunyan is very moved by the hurt that he is causing his family. But he feels that he can’t do otherwise, and again in his autobiography he writes about this. So he’s in prison for 12 years, until a relaxing of the laws, he writes his autobiography. What else what else is he doing in in prison?

He seems to be effectively preaching to his fellow prisoners, and some of that we then get can recorded in writings from the period. He writes poetry from prison

He’s actually in concern for the sustenance of his family, he’s making shoelaces with bits of cloth to then sell in order to help his family have some income and while he’s in prison. His speaking and writing and imaginative life doesn’t come to an end in prison. In fact, you might say, it actually kind of gets a real shot in the arm, gets a real boost from the constraints on his physical movement that as it were then allow his intellectual and spiritual expression to really kind of grow. 

He expresses some of this in his Apology for the Pilgrim’s Progress, when he sets out to write at the beginning a justification, a kind of explanation for why he would write this work and, he says: well, you know, I was starting, I was actually writing something else, but these thoughts just came into my mind and I couldn’t stop them. So I just put pen down and here we go. 

It seems that God uses that time of imprisonment precisely to empower his ministry of writing, that will then providentially bless Christians far wider than the circle that would ever hear him actually speak.

That means that when he does come out and can preach with a license from 1672 onwards, he has a ready audience who have been reading his books and occasionally listening to him preach. And he gives up life as a tinker and becomes a full-time preacher/author.

That’s right and he’s called to the pastorate of the congregation in Bedford just before his release from prison. They’re convinced this is coming and they call him to to be pastor. His ministry is local but it also stretches. We know that in the years after his release he’s preaching in Bedford or surrounding areas, but also making friends and connections in London so that he will be preaching there. In fact, that’s part of the geography of his life over the next nearly twenty years.

So we should say Bedford is about 50 miles or so, 45/50 miles, north of London. Although he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, Part One of Pilgrim’s Progress, in jail, it’s not published until 1678, that’s the first edition; the second expanded edition, which includes writings of his after prison is published in 1679.
Why does the work become so popular? How popular does it become?

I mean it’s a great question, why is Pilgrim’s Progress so immediately popular? And actually that second edition comes out in 1678, within the same year. It’s published eleven times in his lifetime, over the 10-year period from 1678 to 1688. Which tells you it’s popular, right? And that’s just the London editions. There are other editions in other parts of the UK as well.

Some of it is just its narrative appeal, right? It’s very readable, it’s a story that catches on and catches the imagination. It’s not expensive, it’s not a philosophical discourse that requires higher education to access. So in a whole number of ways it is a text that catches the imagination. In ways that other texts that might have been written on pilgrimage themes before, or that were worthy kind of Puritan texts that were bestsellers in his day, fall off in the next fifty or so years, whereas Pilgrim’s Progress remains and grows in in strength.

What is he hoping to achieve with the book?

I think what Bunyan is trying to do is continue his ministry. I really think of Pilgrim’s Progress as sermonic in form. He’s preaching through his and the story that he sets down. He is wanting first, I think, to encourage fellow dissenting Christians, who may still feel oppressed or minorities or just looked down on by establishment Christians to say: no, this is this is a gospel truth. Persevere in it. Because there’s a lot of that perseverance theme in Pilgrim’s Progress.

But also, I think it has a kind of a polemical or even an evangelistic goal: to set forth what he calls that gospel truth in ways that are attractive, so that it can be a kind of a missionary articulation of this Puritan inflected, dissenting, non-conformist Christianity. Certainly, that’s how it’s taken by many who take up with it in subsequent generations.

But he definitely wants his readers yes to enjoy the devices, the literary techniques that he lands on, but not to lose track of the real heart of the matter, which is the gospel articulation, and particularly this is a gospel of justification by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the core of it; it’s a very reformational text, and he says  as much in his conclusion very clearly. When you’ve got to the end of the story, his conclusion just makes that point: by the way, don’t be distracted by any questions you might have about the devices or the narrative and the story, get to the heart of the matter, that’s what I want to achieve.

Before we come to the literary devices and to the story itself, can we just talk a little bit about Bunyan’s theology? In brief, if that’s not too horrible a question.

Bunyan’s theology is learned on the fly and in polemical contexts. He does write a little treatment on the Trinity, he’s a trinitarian Christian, but it’s a very short text and he’s not trying to be a systematic theologian. But he’s shaped by an English

church scene that among the kind of Puritan influences is Calvinistic. We know the Bunyan read and really enjoyed Luther’s commentary on Galatians that he read in English. So he has this kind of reformational concern for an articulated theology that includes that importance of imputed righteousness of Christ for salvation, that leans on the Holy Spirit and divine agency as the driver of all the salvific experience, that has very clear (and this will be very true to his 17th century context) very clear eschatological, that is of last things, conceits of hell and its punishment and the destruction that’s to come and God’s wrath that is poured out on the Son so that we may enjoy the benefits of his work on the cross. 

Throughout, right, and this is true in the little treatise that he writes on the Trinity, he basically says: you know, well, it’s in the Bible. Charles Spurgeon said about Bunyan: he’s just Bible through and through.

He reads the Bible in a particular way. There’s a way of reading the Bible that sees in the Old Testament particularly types of events that will then be fulfilled in the New Testament. He has this typological reading of the Old Testament. That it comes across very clearly in texts he chooses to use and in ways in which he deploys the Bible in his text. But he really wants you to turn to the Bible as the authority, which is why his text when it’s published has a ton of marginal Bible references all the way through. 

His theology is, I think we would say today, a conservative evangelical kind of theology in terms of its emphasis on Bible and conversion and mission, but it has a Puritan English, Calvinistic expression that means that, for example, the experience of conversion is a drawn out one. That’s not that it must be, but it’s understood to go through stages of awakening, conviction of sin, justification and then, and maybe after quite a while, assurance of that salvation and participation in in the elect community under God’s will. 

That is different to how we might think of know responding to a gospel appeal today and giving your life over to Christ: that would kind of be seen as one event, whereas it’s more drawn out in Bunyan’s own experience, and then in how he writes Pilgrim’s Progress.

Okay, and that is the story of Pilgrim’s Progress. Why does he, because you wouldn’t necessarily think that a Puritan, someone with a puritanical inclination like Bunyan, would write in allegory, why does he use allegory in the book?

I think as a preacher because it gets him to illustrate the truths he wants to dress up

in personification and narrative events in a way that captures the imagination. He has to, in his Apology, make an effort to try to explain to people who would think, ‘oh, this is a bit dodgy. You’re using fiction. You’re using kind of fantasy. What is this?’ He says, ‘this is okay because art is gospel truth.’ But also he would say well Jesus uses parables, Jesus spoke in metaphors. This is clearly something that God authorizes. He feels well hold this up to Jesus, so I test this out against the Bible, but I think I’ve even got biblical warrant to do this. It is unusual and one of the things that stands out if you were to look at the title page of the book in its original form you’d find that the title is lengthy but the word that really stands out is ‘dream’. Here’s the full title, but just know that the word ‘dream’ is massive compared to all the other words on the on the title page of the book. The full title is The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream Wherein in Discovered, The Manner of His Setting Out, His Dangerous Journey; and Safe Arrival at the Desired Countrey and then under that there’s a little kind of byline: ‘I have used similitudes,’ that is metaphors or images, he quotes Hosea at 12:10 as a proof text for his method right there on the cover.

Why is it important to him that he sets this as being a dream, or more precisely something delivered under the similitude of a dream?

We see this right on the first page, once we get past the apology, and we see the justification. There are a couple of reasons why the dream account is so important and we have it justified in scripture. So if we if we can let’s just read a little chunk of uh that first bit of the narrative. Let’s do it: 

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?”

Bunyan does give us some Bible references here, to Isaiah 64:6 ‘I saw a man clothed with rags,’ so he gives us some grounds, a few other references there, but I want to draw attention first to ‘I laid me down in that place to sleep’. This is a direct quotation from Genesis 28, when we see that Jacob lays down his head to dream. And he dreams (Jacob’s Ladder) he dreams of the angels ascending and descending on his ladder to heaven, and he has access to a vision of God. I think what Bunyan does here in signalling with that exact quotation is that he is taking upon himself, or the person of his narrator at least, this kind of Biblical dreaming authority. And from Acts 2 ‘young men will dream dreams’ and from the status of Daniel in the den, and again Bunyan’s in jail so the analogy with Daniel is very clear. Daniel’s a very popular writer particularly in the 17th century because of his apocalyptic visions. Bunyan’s drawing on that kind of appeal to say this: dreams can give truth. 

So he structures this as a dream. It becomes very famous from the third edition. In the frontispiece, in the illustration that first accompanies Pilgrim’s Progress, you see a dreaming Bunyan and he’s kind of sleeping over a cave that has a lion in it. The interpretation by the artist Robert White blends this kind of biblical authority to this notion of dreaming even in the wilderness of this world. Again, there’s an Israel metaphor there, there’s a kind of going through the wilderness, it’s this worldly as opposed to the world. There’s a lot that’s kind of freighted in those first few lines, as well as just I think the joy and the bounce of the phrasing. ‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world,’ there’s a kind of poetry, and the alliteration that happens here shows you that this is kind of really crafted. Yet gets us right into the story, there’s not a big prologue, there’s no build-up, but boom and we meet this man, we don’t know who he is, but he’s got a great burden on his back and he’s weeping: ‘What shall I do!’ This is a great setup! Now I’m hooked. Well, what are you going to do? What’s going to happen?

It’s not a bad opening! And the man with the burden on his back, that could be the bag of a tinker. You do feel its weight as you go through the first part of Pilgrim’s Progress, as does Christian. He’s in such distress because he finds himself in what is called the City of Destruction, which is hometown. What’s the significance of this part of Bunyan’s opening?

What we have here with his being in the City of Destruction and knowing that

there will be fire from heaven; it tells us that biblically he’s aligning this city with Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis 19, and there’s a lot of Genesis 19 language that it just imports into the first few pages of the book. He’s saying there is divine judgment that is coming, and in the face of my recognition, in the words of the man, my recognition that my failings are bound up with the failings of the place where I live. I need to get out. That’s the logic of the drama as he is explaining this. 

In the first edition we don’t get him explaining to his wife and children how he’s feeling, and Bunyan quickly puts that in the second edition. Actually he has a wonderful 17th century phrase when he talks about my dear wife and the ‘children of my bowels,’ which means the children are my guts, my heart is kind of compelled by them. We don’t use that bowel language in the same way anymore, but it just shows you that the man is distressed by his burden, and he says that he is ‘undone’ which is exactly the phrase that the prophet Isaiah uses in Isaiah 6 when he is confronted by divine holiness and the presence of God. He realises he’s a sinful man, so we know this is about sin. We know he’s come from reading a book; we’re not told what the book is until a bit later, but every evidence is this is the Bible. So this city, or the world, is that which must be escaped, and of course the man’s dilemma is he doesn’t know how to get away or where to go. And that’s when you get the vital insertion of his first encounter, which is with the character of Evangelist.

What does the character Evangelist tell him that he needs to do?

Very pithily, he tells him to fly from the wrath to come by giving him a parchment roll that says exactly that, and more importantly he tells him where to go. He points out over a field, and he says do you see yonder Wicket Gate. So there’s a gate that Christian is to see, and he doesn’t see it very clearly, but oh yes I just see the light. That’s where you need to go. That gate and it’s that that impels Christian now on his journey. Okay, I can find relief for my burden if I make this journey. I can escape this judgment that’s coming on my city if I follow this path to the wicked gate. And that’s what he sets out to do.

Okay and he leaves his family behind in in part one to do so, and we can talk a little bit about that later. This is the first allegorical character that we’re meeting. Could you tell us a little bit about the nature of the characters he meets on his journey and what they represent?

One of the fun things about Bunyan’s characterisations is it’s pretty clear how he wants you to read them. So Evangelist, well what is he? He’s someone who proclaims the good news. He is his role and that’s how he functions. He pops up a couple more times, and doing that same thing, keeping Christian on the on the right path because of the good news he’s announcing.

But then we’ll immediately meet Pliable and Obstinate. Pliable, well will go one way then another, so Pliable ends up going along with Christian for a bit. But Obstinate, by name stubborn, doesn’t. Mr Worldly Wiseman, Mr Money-love: these kinds of names are meant to be immediate hangers to associate with some vice or theological error. 

One of the things that is probably a mistake in reading Pilgrim’s Progress is to think of these, although the dialogue is very realistic in the way it’s constructed, is to think of these as models of actual encounters with actual people. I don’t think that’s what Bunyan thinks we as readers are supposed to take away. ‘Oh, that’s how I should talk to someone’. Rather, no, if you encounter this error or if you encounter this vice, this is how to react against it. This is how to deal with it. It’s more of a spiritual-intellectual framing than it is a kind of a manual for how to have evangelistic conversations.

So he meets Obstinate, he meets Pliable, he goes along with Pliable for a little bit through the Slough of Despond. All the time he is trying to lose the burden on his back. How does he come to lose the burden on his back?

As I mentioned earlier, the theology is of a progressive, sequential conversion so that

really, we see him entering into the way of salvation, or the way of holiness when he gets through the wicked gate. 

He’s pulled in there by Good-will, who in part two we learn is Jesus, so that’s really when he’s saved, but he’s still got the burden on his back. He makes his way to the Interpreter’s house and there we find a ton of little scenes, little emblems they would have been called, that illustrate some good teaching of Christianity. The Interpreter is often understood to be the Holy Spirit, so he’s getting instruction. God is helping this new Christian grow. But he’s still got the burden. 

Why, even after this? Because I know this is something that people pick up on as a difficulty. Why does he not lose the burden after his encounter with uh with Good-will at the Wicket Gate, with the Jesus figure?

I think in terms of the narrative, it’s just because Bunyan wants him to have an encounter at the Cross. For whatever reason, he’s not put the Cross at the Wicket Gate. We have to wait till we get to the Cross on the hill to have the experience of assurance of salvation. Now, could you have put it earlier? In part two he signals that you can see it straight from the gate, so it does kind of appear earlier. Maybe that’s a correction on his part. But also, as we’ve said, there is something of the ‘we don’t need to say this is kind of rushed or all fulfilled in the same moment’. We can say that the Christian experience with this man is one of security and salvation that God achieves, this would be what Bunyan would say, that God achieves at that moment of the Wicket Gate. Yet my understanding and apprehension of it and grasp of it takes longer. 

Christian jumps for joy when at the Cross the burden is loosed from his back. It just falls from his back, rumbles down the hill and falls into a grave. Wonderful Resurrection and Cross stuff going on there. But it’s only as he takes that truth on board for himself that he experiences the assurance. That’s the only kind of I think narrative explanation for why we get this delay. 

It doesn’t seem that, for example Faithful or Hopeful have had that experience, it’s not the experience that anyone else has in part two, so it’s not a requirement, it’s just how it came to Bunyan, I guess. What he is not doing, I think, is saying that there are multiple levels of salvation, or that if you didn’t experience some sort of anguish or burden after you accepted Jesus that somehow you haven’t really dealt with yourself. He’s not prescribing a Christian experience, but it’s just the way Bunyan chose to set it down.

After he loses his burden, he sees for the first time three Shining Ones. The Shining ones are in Pilgrim’s Progress, angels. What’s their importance, and the importance of help figures more generally, to the narrative?

So they’re given three gifts, and this is the importance of The Shining ones. They offer him peace, the first one, forgiveness of sins. Then they are offering him new clothing right—‘raiment’ it’s called in the original, but new clothing. It gets called a coat of righteousness. This is the righteousness that Christ—so ‘put on Christ’ this is what Bunyan is representing, that biblical call to put on Christ. He gets new clothing, and then the third shiny one offers him a mark on his forehead. So he’s distinctively marked in this encounter, externally for others to see. He also receives a roll, sometimes it’s rendered as a scroll, which is his certificate (it’s called that later in the in the book) that he has to keep hold of, that he will hand in eventually at the gate of the Celestial City.

That scroll is both, in a sense, an assurance; this is the sealed scroll, so this is the seal of the Holy Spirit, and Bunyan gives the reference to Ephesians 1 there; as well as God’s word. Because we see him then consulting this scroll. The book somehow disappears, but the scroll is now what he reads for comfort. So God’s word now takes on this role as a scroll, and he puts it in his bosom, he puts it right next to his heart and consults it along the way.

We get multiple kinds of interventions in this way. In extraordinary fashion, like with the Shining Ones, but also in human companionship along the journey. 

There’s a part where he has to retrace his steps because he loses his passport, his certificate, his roll. Should we read into that that sometimes people slip backwards and have to uh retrace their steps in order to move forward, is it as simple as that, or is there more to it?

It’s interesting because sleep features a number of times in Pilgrim’s Progress. Sometimes it’s really positive like in Palace Beautiful, where he gets a beautiful, restful sleep—and that’s a great thing. But later on there’s the Enchanted Ground, and Hopeful and Christian can’t fall asleep there because that’s really dangerous—which then gets taken up in in The Wizard of Oz, in the scene where you might fall asleep in the poppy fields. 

Here it seems that the problem with Christian sleeping is he gets to a resting point up this Hill Difficulty, it’s really hard work so he rests. That seems to be a good thing. But what he does is he luxuriates in that rest, he oversleeps. The problem being that then he can’t get to his destination before nightfall. And you don’t want to be traveling at night, just practically, but also night time is just spiritually dark. So he kind of leads himself by his laziness, or protracted self-comfort into a more prolonged rest. As a result of turning in on himself and his own comfort, we see that he at the same time loses his roll. So a focus on self, a loss of focus on God and God’s word, and it seems to be that which is pointed to in this episode where he gets to the top of the hill, he wants to consult his scroll, ah! he hasn’t got it!

Great lament, great tears, rush back down the hill again, have to do the journey multiple times, but again providentially where he looks he finds it. Then he gets back on his way. But he knows it’s vital to him, for his salvation to have this word, the scroll, and not something to be neglected. So I think what Bunyan is trying to communicate there is that neglect of God’s word, but also neglect of kind of Godward focus, is going to lead you into trouble as a Christian.  I think that’s what’s driving that little episode.

If I could just dwell on this uh part of the book for one more question, Bunyan has Christian meet Formalist and Hypocrisy. This is one of the moments where the historical context is written across the narrative. Could you tell us a little bit about what Formalist and Hypocrisy are meant to stand in for here?

Formalist is not about formal dress, but about formalities or formalism in Worship, kind of sticking to the prescribed prayer book, kind of authorized state Christianity. Because Formalist is with Hypocrisy, you know that that twinning is for Bunyan is at least suggestive of a kind of civil religiosity that lives out the forms but isn’t living out the practice.

Formalism and hypocrisy, then, kind of belong together, so it’s a kind of characters that attack the formal established religion of his day and what he would associate with the spirit of those who kind of simply go along being establishment Christians without thinking much about their Christianity. No, we’ve got to live this out. Of course he’s doing that to encourage his community of Christians who are precisely not in that Church of England experience.

We’re going to have to skip forward. We’re going to have to move past the Palace Beautiful and the beautiful maids there, and through the Valley of Humiliation…actually, let’s talk about that quickly. Christian, by the virgins in Palace Beautiful, has been given, among of things, a coat of armour and it comes in handy because, actually in one of the most dramatic moments of the narrative, there’s a battle scene.

 Yes there is, and this might be drawing on some of Bunyan’s early reading, which he does mention in his other writings, of classic battle scenes in chapbooks or popular kind of stories George and the Dragon, and the like.

 Well,  Christian gets into the valley of humiliation and he meets Apollyon, and this is a kind of a devil figure. It’s drawn mostly from Revelation, but a bit of Ezekiel as well, in terms of informing the terrifying visual appearance of this beast. Apollyon says, you belong to me, you belong to my uh principality. I’m your Prince. Christian says: no, I’m now on the Lord’s way. 

The interesting thing about uh this encounter with Apollyon is Christian soon realises he can’t turn back, and part of the reason he can’t turn back is because he’s actually got no armour on his back. Although he’s been equipped with armour at Palace Beautiful, what they equip with him with is the armour of God from Ephesians 6, and Ephesians 6 doesn’t list the back plate. It only lists the breastplate. So that’s why Christian hasn’t got any armour on his back. 

This is clearly meant to be a spiritual battle, but the description is really physical. They go at it kind of hammer and tongs, and although he doesn’t kill Apollyon, he does strike him a blow that drives him away. 

That battle scene is just really intense drama, it’s really exciting for the reader. It gets at, well who does claim the Christian in this world? And the struggle that it might mean, even a kind of nearly deadly struggle, to stay on the Lord’s path.

That’s then followed with the Valley of the Shadow of Death, which is more even psychologically terrifying. You know when Marvel do a Comic version of Pilgrim’s Progress, when they illustrate it, the graphics of it really stand out. and this is true in other adaptations too.

As you say, they come to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and Christian finally finds a fellow traveller in Faithful. Can we talk about Faithful’s story a little bit?

 Faithful is someone who has been on the same journey. He’s not made the same stops. He didn’t stop at Palace Beautiful, he just kind of he got there and was passing it in the day so just carried on his journey. Christian overhears him singing Psalms and catches up with him, and they have a conversation. 

That conversation is pretty long and we get a number of these kind of long conversations in Pilgrim’s Progress. Just because I think Puritan’s really valued the art of conversation, Godly conference they called it. What you see is a kind of testing out of each other’s witness and testimony. Faithful gives his testimony and he talks about himself being assaulted by a figure who Christian says, ‘Ah that was Moses.’ He was assaulted by the claims of the Law. The Law wanted to beat him back, and yet one comes along who has scars in his hands, this is Jesus, and relieves him. He casts Moses aside. We get a lot of this pretty Lutheran account of the Gospel getting rid of Law in in Pilgrim’s Progress.

Faithful is allowed to proceed but he’s particularly beset by someone called Shame and Shame points out among a number of things: ‘hey, this Christianity you’re going after, Faithful, you know this is not something that reputable people do. This is just for low life people.’ The kind of repute, maybe even the repute of the particular kind of Puritan non-conformist Christianity, that hasn’t got great social standing, is something that Shame attacks. But Faithful continues, as his name suggests, to be faithful to the gospel call that he’s that he’s understood, in the conviction of sin that he’s understood.

If we take the journey forward, we see that Faithful proves his faithfulness even to the point of death. Their journey carries on, they have a number of encounters, but the key one that gets centre of attention is when they get to Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair is not a theme park but a place of commerce and trade kind of market fair, but all kinds of wares and goods and temptations are on offer. Faithful and Christian refused them to the point of being hauled before a judge, Hate-good (it just doesn’t stand you in good stead if that’s what your judge is called) and Faithful, with not very much opportunity to defend his case, is convicted of bringing the Lord of the Fair, Beelzebub, the devil, into disrepute, and sentenced to death. 

We see Faithful’s martyrdom, this was the one of the first illustrations that ever populated a Pilgrim’s Progress book in Bunyan’s lifetime, a depiction of Faithful being martyred. This is the image that captures Bunyan’s readers because they’re associating themselves and their suffering and their minority status with godly Puritans who were burned at the stake by Queen Mary some years before. They have this kind of persecutory imagination, and that then we see fulfilled in this experience that Faithful has. 

Christian, wonderfully providentially, manages to just kind of walk out of prison and carry on his way.

And he’s martyred horribly, as horribly as you could possibly imagine.

 It’s a very graphic in the description, yeah. 

Christian soon finds a new person to come with him, a native of Vanity Fair, in Hopeful and they manage to make the rest of the journey together. Again we’re going to have to again skip a little bit. One of the big mistakes Christian makes is he thinks they should leave the path set out for them as it gets rough and difficult, and follow a parallel path, that seems to him and to Hopeful easier, and they come to a sticky situation with the Giant Despair. Would you tell us about that?

Giant Despair is the Lord of Doubting Castle, and he captures Hopeful and Christian sleeping on his grounds, takes them into his custody, and also, persuaded

by his wife Diffidence—which means distrust in by Bunyan’s day—is set on killing them.

He tries to persuade them to kill themselves, and Christian comes really close to thinking that suffering here in prison is so bad maybe that’s the right option. Hopeful, of course, by name, prevails in persuading him: No, look how long, how well you’ve persevered, look what you withstood.

It’s an account of spiritual depression and darkness. I don’t think it should be read as a kind of diagnosis of how we deal with clinical depression. They get out of Doubting Castle because all of a sudden Christian, after praying for the night on Saturday,  on Sunday morning—not surprisingly on Sunday morning—he discovers that he has a key in his bosom. Some will tell us it’s in his pocket, but it’s in his bosom because actually the key, and Bunyan tells us in a marginal note, promises this is God’s word again, and somehow now God’s word has gone from being a scroll to being a key.

Well, let’s use the key. Yes, it works! And they get to escape just by recalling God’s word. Now there’s lot of pastoral truth in calling Christians to contemplate the truth of God’s word as they have doubts about their salvation or about their kind of continuing walk with Christ. What it’s not is a kind of a recipe for Christian counselling to say, ‘Oh, you feel depressed. You know, read some more of the Bible.’ So as long as we don’t take it that way, but it does show us the doubt is a part of a Christian experience, and Bunyan doesn’t kind of just have this victorious Christian life. Rather, it’s a struggle, and even someone who seems to be this firm, they’ve got so far on their journey, they fall into this state. It’s a wonderful little construal. 

Then they travel, again we’re going to have to skip a little bit, they travel through some beautiful lands they begin to spy the Celestial City, which is the end of their journey, they’ve been working toward it. And eventually they come to the Dark River. What is the Dark River meant to represent and, can you explain the manner in which they cross it.

This is the this is the River of Death right, in other instances of course it’s the River Jordan. It’s coming to the promised land, yet we know they have to cross the river because everyone has to cross this river—oh, except for Elijah and Enoch, these are the two characters in the Bible who didn’t die in an ordinary fashion. We’ve all got to go through death, and this is Christian and Hopeful facing their deaths.

What’s significant here is that Christian, even at the end of the journey, is still assailed by doubts. You know, do I really belong in this Celestial City? Am I going to be admitted? When he steps in the water he immediately sinks, and he struggles to keep his head above water. In fact, Hopeful has to help him keep his head above water. But Hopeful says, ‘remember in whom you have faith.’ Christians is seized by a vision of Jesus. He hears God’s word spoken to him and that then means that the water’s kind of abate. He then is able to put his feet down and cross. But Hopeful was getting across pretty easily. Christian doesn’t have that same experience. So even in death, Christian experience can be a struggle, but again the whole point is the assurance that in Christ you make it across.

As opposed to the figure who crosses the river at he same time as Christian and Hopeful, who we’d have met earlier in the story, called Ignorance. The short story is that Ignorance never got himself a scroll, never got himself a certificate, presumptuously thinks that because he knows some theology and has done some good things, that his good works will be counted for him as admittance, gets up to the gate, Christian and Hopeful are admitted—Wow! Wonderful!—Ignorance is not. So this is how the story ends. Ignorance is taken and cast into Hell. That’s how the story ends. 

Bunyan really is in ending the story that way, ratcheting up the emphasis on being assured in the right things. If you’re approaching death. And death and for Bunyan in his day death wasn’t some future possibility when you maybe got beyond retirement age and got really infirm. No death could happen at any time, so you need to be right before the possibility of death in Bunyan’s view. That’s why that warning is so stark with Christian, Hopeful but then Ignorance in contrast.

Yeah, he talks a lot about being ready for death and the importance of that readiness in his other writings. If all goes well, you do enter the Celestial City, and there it’s paved with gold, it’s a marvellous place, full of riches, everyone has a harp in their hand, crowns upon their heads. What is the Celestial City meant to convey to the reader?

It really does kind of depict literally that New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22, and so it’s very scripturally rich. There are a couple of things that I think could be done with this. So they have to go up through the clouds to meet the city. That could lead you to think this is a kind of only spiritual not very material kind of reality. So going up to heaven is just escaping kind of worldly creatureliness, and some theologies go that way. Bunyan, I think, by being so earthy in the materiality of his descriptions and his narrative doesn’t need to be read that way. This is a city, it is for Bunyan a city that you ascend to, but that will one day come down. This is a future Heaven and Earth meeting, experienced by the Christian already. It’s that place of bliss, it fulfills prophecies from Isaiah as well as Revelation, and is a real kind of comforting—no more pain, no more death, no more tears—that kind of experience. Which of course, as he’s writing to a minority, or even at times persecuted Christians, he really takes that comfort to heart. I think it’s a really powerful vision that he leaves at the end and takes us to. And why it’s a city, just because that’s the way the Bible ends too.

Now we have Christian in the Celestial City, but we’ve left his family behind. At various stages in the journey he’s been absolved of guilt from that, but the fact that it has to be talked about shows how difficult it was and how difficult it is for readers to comprehend. That is one of the great moral quandaries of the book. And part two picks that up. Could you just tell us briefly the why Bunyan wrote a part two?

There were a few other writings before part two. Part two is published in 1684, we see him taking up the journey again, and this time Christian’s wife, Christiana, her four boys and her companion friend Mercy, set off on pilgrimage together. Along the way they accumulate quite a lot of companions. They are pastored, or guided and conducted, by Great-heart all the way through their journey. So they have someone who kind of takes care of them, as well as picking up Mr Ready-to-halt and Mr Feeble-mind. What you find in part two is not just a kind of reassurance that you don’t have to abandon your family to be a Christian, you get an affirmation of churchliness and companionable journey. Now we’ve seen that a little bit with Christian: Palace Beautiful, Hopeful, Faithful. But really this is a kind of a whole cohort, a whole congregation making its pilgrimage through the world, and they meet the same stations, they have the same geography, they experience it a little differently. The instruction, the theology, the references back to part one, tell us again that part one isn’t a model for all Christian experience, but also widen the scope of those who can count themselves as Christian. Because the danger is reading Christian and Hopeful and Faithful as heroes in some way, whereas this emphasis on weak church members is, I think, what drives part two.

Now there are criticisms. Should women be represented in this way? There is an element of gender patronising that goes on in some of the way the text is written, consistent with Bunyan’s day. But the positive is this affirmation of the fact that because the journey is secured by the truth of what God has done in Jesus Christ, then you don’t have to have this kind of heroic personal experience, or disposition to participate fully in that. We see that there’s a lot more emphasis on good works, a lot more emphasis on those Christians on pilgrimage dealing with and having interactions, and positive interactions, with the community around them. This is reflective of the fact that by 1684 the non-conformist experience is already different. There’s more acceptability, there’s more prospect of just being citizens with others in the life of the nation, and I think that peaceableness comes out more in in this repeat journey. There’s still a lot of good stuff there.

What influence has Bunyan had on later writers and thinkers?

A lot, I suppose, is one way of answering. Specific instances that often get mentioned, are the ways in which Little Women is organised and it’s chapter headings are organised around episodes from the Pilgrim’s Progress. Harriet Beecher Stowe,  in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, frames her narrative and some narrative events around, and even quotes Pilgrim’s Progress, especially quotes part two in her text.  

Initially Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t very visibly influencing literally because it’s not really the literature that’s taken up by the literary elite, the people who are writing in the in the 18th century. It gets a greater Place culturally, comes to be more widely recognized, particularly in the 19th century. It’s shaping and influencing those who have influence on culture broadly, certainly of course with missionaries, with preachers you see that. Even just the continued like multiple publication of this book shows that it is being used in kind of common hands and more prestigious hands that can afford the more expensive luxury editions. The spread of the book is not only in in the UK and then America, but in translations across the world, casting its vision very widely.

When I introduced you, I spoke about how you teach on the ways in which the book’s been adapted in other media could you tell us a little bit about some of those?

It goes from the British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who has an opera, he didn’t call it an opera, but in fact it was an opera, based on Pilgrim’s Progress. It occasionally gets performed.

Then you have progressive rock band called The Neal Morse Band, who have a double concept album, which they then kind of followed up with another double album of Pilgrim’s Progress based work.

You have various animations and movie adaptations. Liam Neeson’s first movie role was in the Pilgrim’s Progress back in the 70s. Then more recently, in 2019, we’ve had a CGI-animated Pilgrim’s Progress. Again, movies have to cut episodes, so there are always quibbles about what it is they adapt, but as adaptations they’re really fruitful and imaginative.

A ton of adaptation has happened in terms of presenting this story to children, children’s book adaptations, I mean. It becomes a book often oriented to children, just to kind of teach them Christian stuff, but then gets adapted. Enid Blyton did an adaptation. There are a ton of these that are ongoing through our time.

Then there are board games, a video game. There’s just tons of interaction because the story itself is just compellingly creative, and even just the fact that it gets illustrated in so many diverse and sometimes even peculiar ways, you see that it’s a story that continues to catch the imagination.

If people have read Pilgrim’s Progress, and they’ve enjoyed it, is there anything you’d suggest that they read next or watch next?

Of Bunyan, he has a couple of others if you’re drawn to and enjoy the Pilgrim’s Progress kind of conceptuality. In between part one and part two, he wrote The Life and Death of Mr Badman, which is meant to be a kind of reverse narrative. It’s a bit more socially realistic. But a reverse narrative of, as it says, the bad man and his experience.

He also writes The Holy City, which is a more complex and elaborate allegory, where the City of Mansoul is the human person, and so it has a kind of psychodrama effect to it. So those might be the ones to kind of jump into as follow-ups to reading Bunyan.

Sometimes people ask me what modernised English version is particularly helpful. If you look at a 17th century text, and you can find some of these freely online, but if you look at the 17th century text, and you think ‘oh gosh, that’s just a bit hard going for me,’ then there are a couple that I recommend. Cheryl Ford has both parts one and part two in her Pilgrim’s Progress Faithfully retold by Cheryl Ford. Then there’s one, a little earlier, The Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English by Edward Hazelbaker.

Those are two that I think—there’s always a little bit of compromise when you’re adapting: how much do you keep of the original? how much do you change?—and I think those two do a pretty good job of making the language more accessible. So you feel, I’m not reading the 17th century version, but I’m still getting a ton of Bunyanesque feel to it as much as I can get.

Brilliant. I’ll try to put in links to all of those. Andy, thank you very much for being our guide to Bunyan and keeping us on the straight and narrow.

I appreciate it.

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