Friday, October 13, 2017

Pilgrim’s Progress Redux

 The author lived more than 300 years ago and is arguably one of the most influential writers in world history. His best-known work has been called “the second best book in all the world.” It tops The Guardian’s (the respected British newspaper) list of the 100 best novels written in English. 

It has been translated into more than 200 languages and is second only to the Bible in the number of copies sold worldwide. Wikipedia calls it “one of the most significant works of religious English literature, and has never been out of print. It has also been cited as the first novel written in English.”

No, this is not a work by Shakespeare. It is John Bunyan’s 1678 Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s more complete title is The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come. (Its original title would fill half this page!)

But the chances are you have never read it. In recent decades it has fallen out of fashion, even among devout Christians. I first read it when I was 18, when I spent a summer reading all the classics that my formal education did not see fit to assign me. That was the summer I also read Dante, Homer and Milton.

I fell in love with Pilgrim’s Progress again when I visited the John Bunyan Museum and Library in Bedford, while on sabbatical in England. It prompted me to read his other works and lead discussion groups on Pilgrim’s Progress in my church.

I have often wondered what Bunyan would have written if he were alive today. That led me to my most recent writing project, entitled The Seeker’s Journey, subtitled A Contemporary Retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress.

This is not your grandfather’s Pilgrim’s Progress! In my retelling of the beloved allegory, Seeker (who later changes his name to Pilgrim) meets Campus Crusader on his university campus. The evangelist instructs him to begin his journey by entering through a gate illuminated by a lamppost, which strangely resembles the one at the boundary of Narnia.

Instead of the Slough of Despond this modern Pilgrim falls into the Bog of Existential Angst, and then stays in the Town of Therapy for a while. Where Vanity Fair used to be, now there is Prosperity Gospel Ministries. Pilgrim visits the City of Megachurch where he meets people who suspiciously resemble Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Benny Hinn.

The allegorical characters are still here, but their names are more familiar to modern ears. There is Judgmental, Bored, and Spiritual But Not Religious. Pilgrim meets Tolerant and Intolerant, Psychologist, Evangelical, and the Dark Knight of the Soul. Calvin and Arminius live in a cave overlooking the Valley of Dry Bones. Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama make cameo appearances.

In the Theologian’s House he encounters many interpretations of the Bible and Christ, all of which are recognizable from the American religious landscape – from Creationism to Feminism. Pilgrim visits First Baptist Church where he stays at the home of a Fundamentalist family. He fights the dreaded Apollyon, travels through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and encounters the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism.

These are just a few of the adventures that Pilgrim and his companions have on their journey from their home in the Shadowlands (shades of C. S. Lewis) to their Destination beyond the river. Along the way there are references to Harry Potter, Philip K. Dick, Talladega Nights, and Mark Twain. The ending will surprise you.

The Seeker’s Journey: A Contemporary Retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress is a humorous romp through the landscape of 21st century American Christianity, which I hope will get you thinking and laughing. It is available in both Kindle and paperback. I hope you enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed writing it.