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“What has drawn me back to this book over and over is how well the characters express the feelings that I so often get caught up in as a believer...”
When I was in college, a friend of mine told me about a book she read as a child called The Pilgrim’s Progress. I had never heard of it but learned that it was quite popular, having been translated into over 200 languages since it was written in 1678! So I picked up a copy and entered into the narrator’s dream, which continues to shape and encourage my Christian walk to this day.
The story follows a man named Christian, which gives you a hint about how obvious of an allegory the story is. The first half of the book recounts Christian’s journey from his hometown, the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City where the Lord of the Hill lives. Along the way he meets a variety of people, some of them friendly and others looking to lead him astray. Each situation that Christian finds himself in is rooted in something that all Christians will likely experience in some way.
What has drawn me back to this book over and over is how well the characters express the feelings that I so often get caught up in as a believer, or how they explain vast theological concepts in ways that a child could understand. In other words, I see myself in the characters. When Christian decides that the Narrow Way is too difficult, and convinces his friend, Hopeful, to veer off onto a nicer looking path that seems to be going in the same direction, I see myself believing the lie that God’s way is not the best way in my life. When that path leads to Doubting Castle and the two friends are taken prisoner by Giant Despair, I see myself entangled in the web of my sins and the doubts that come along with it. When Christian, broken to the core by his mistake, begs Hopeful to forgive him, I see myself returning to the foot of the cross once again with the burden of my sin weighing me down. And when Hopeful not only forgives Christian but encourages him to press on to escape from Doubting Castle, I see the forgiveness I receive over and over from Jesus Christ as I continue my own journey to the Celestial City.
These connections make the book very memorable. As I find myself in the Slough of Despond in my walk with God, I am reminded of Christian’s struggle there as well. Remembering the story prompts me to look out for Help, who the Lord of the Hill sent to aid weary travelers in their escape from the bog. The memorability also makes this an excellent work to read for people of any age. I recently started reading an illustrated version to the four (and a half!) year old daughter of some close friends. She doesn’t understand all of the words yet, but she consistently follows along with Christian on his journey and is constantly making connections from the story to what she knows from the Bible. She absolutely cannot wait to get to the Celestial City so she can see Jesus!
With all of that said, I would commend this classic work to any pilgrim who is on their own journey. I believe it will encourage you, challenge you, and deepen your understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Dustin is a non-vocational elder at Cornerstone and serves the church through the counseling ministry.
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