April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

During their abuse at Vanity Fair, Christian and Faithful are comforted by remembering the words of Evangelist from back before their journey even began. Evangelist told Christian that things like this would probably happen, and that people will be angry with them for even going on their journey.

It’s a sad truth that most evangelists today say the exact opposite of Bunyan’s Evangelist. Instead of warning about the hardships of following Christ, they come off as salesmen trying to impress upon people that by choosing Jesus, things will somehow be better. This modern style of evangelism flies in the face of pretty much everything that Jesus himself taught on the matter. Time and time again, he told his followers that they will be hated, attacked, and persecuted for their decision to follow him. We don’t do anyone any service by covering this part of his teaching up.

What comfort would Christian and Faithful had if Evangelist had not warned them of what was to come? If Evangelist had merely told them that their lives will be easier, and they were only following Christ under the pretext that it would be nothing but smooth sailing, what else would they do but abandon it when things started getting tough?

It is to our shame that we have neglected this part of the message. We are not called to follow Christ because it’s helpful to us, or it will make our lives comfortable, we are called to follow Christ simply because it’s the truth. Christian and Faithful are aware of this and it is the rock they stand on throughout their many trials.

When asked what they will buy at Vanity Fair, they respond by saying succinctly: “We buy the truth.”


Vanity Fair

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

As Christian and Faithful pass through Vanity Fair, they are thrown into prison, put on trial, found guilty, and Faithful is tortured and burned at the stake. The reason behind their trial and martyrdom is a simple one: They didn’t buy anything at the Fair. The charge against them is non-conformity.

This is a petty thing to kill over, but we see this same kind of sentiment all the time. People absolutely hate it when you don’t join in with the rest of the crowd. Our inaction is sometimes more of a threat than any action could be.

They want us to join the herd and act as everyone else does because when we don’t, we are taking away from everyone the excuse of – “But this is what everybody does.” By not participating in their actions, you make them accountable and rob them of any justification they thought they had in the matter.

The smaller the minority of dissenters is, the more the majority hate you for not going along.

The Valley of Humiliation

April 9, 2011 3 comments

The reason the Valley of Humiliation carries that name, is because it is in this valley that Apollyon tries to humiliate you for not following God perfectly.

On the surface of it, this seems like a counter-intuitive way for the devil to act. Surely God is the one who is concerned about us following his laws, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be him who scolds us for not doing things right? Why does the devil care? Instead of this, perhaps Bunyan should have tried to get Apollyon to make Christian hate God and feel good about himself. This seems like it would be more appropriate.

But Bunyan hasn’t written it that way, and rightly so. God is not the one who tries to make us feel bad for not acting perfectly all the time. That’s what the devil always does. Contrary to popular thought, the devil doesn’t want you to feel good about yourself, he wants you to feel as terrible about yourself as he can. And he goes about this by showing you everything you’ve ever done wrong. He humiliates you.

Humiliation is his great weapon he uses to achieve his ultimate goal. His hope is that you will become sick and tired of feeling unworthy and judged all the time, and come to hate God and all his stupid rules. He does this by making God nothing but an overbearing killjoy.

Read more…

Not Wanting Others Saved

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Before Christian even enters the Wicket Gate, Mr. Worldly Wiseman intercepts him and gets him to give up his quest in favor of going to house of Legality instead. It makes sense for Worldly Wiseman not to go to the Cross himself, since he takes comfort in following the rules of Legality and Civility and is counting on them to ease his conscience concerning his ultimate fate. But why does he go out of his way to keep others from the Cross? What benefit is it for him to have anyone else follow his example?

The motivations behind his actions are the same most people have behind wanting others to defect to their own position. Mr. Worldly Wiseman has taken comfort in following Legality’s quaint rules and regulations. He hates the Cross of Christ, because the ramifications of the Cross really being what it claims to be, is that Mr. Worldly Wiseman himself is NOT okay. The Cross means that he CAN’T attain his own salvation by following the Law the way he hopes that he can. The Cross means that we are to give up our own attempts and cling to Christ. Everything Worldly Wiseman has worked for is useless if the Cross is real.

There is a comfort in knowing that others have also taken the path you have chosen. Any doubts that might arise can be quashed simply by looking at all the others who have joined you in the sinking boat you’re all in. But when you look away from your own group and see someone going along a different path only to have their burden removed FOR them… those fears and feelings of inadequacy return.┬áIt means that your own burden should not have been removed, and all your works to remove it yourself have been in vain.

There is a similar incident in the Second Part of Pilgrim’s Progress. Christiana decides to leave on the path to the Celestial City for herself, and her neighbors come to try and dissuade her. Christiana hasn’t done anything to them, and nothing particularly bad would happen to them if she did leave, yet still they can’t stand to see her go. The reasoning is the same as Worldly Wiseman’s: If Christianity is true, then they are not safe. Christian’s and Christiana’s very existence is a threat to their way of life. It’s easier to try to ignore it and to keep living their life the same way they were, than to imagine it might be true and follow it themselves.

The more people you can be around who think the same way you do, the easier it becomes to ignore the whole matter, and think that all those ‘other people’ are just crazy after all.

Bunyan’s Theology and Christian’s Burden

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

At the beginning of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, has a burden on his back. If the reader is wise to the allegory Bunyan is working with (as the introduction would certainly make them), they would more than likely conclude that the burden which Christian is caring is his ‘sin’.

This though, is a misunderstanding of where Bunyan is coming from – the burden is not Christian’s sin. Bunyan attempts to explain this to us, but in a roundabout way. He makes Christian enter though the Wicket Gate and yet still retain his burden. After this, Christian reaches the Cross and Sepulcher and it is only at this point that his burden is removed.

This ordering of events is highly important (and was a very deliberate move on Bunyan’s part). Throughout the rest of the allegory, Bunyan is clear to explain that the salvation of a person (e.g. what puts you on the path of righteousness and saves you) is that they have entered through The Wicket Gate and received their papers. But if Christian is actually saved at the Wicket Gate, then why does he still carry his burden? Why is the Sepulcher located AFTER the Wicket Gate? Read more…

The Knight’s Tale

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

And so the poem begins. The pilgrims have been introduced, some at length, some thrown in together with one sentence. Yet regardless of the length or description given to their introduction, each one is on the same pilgrimage and has a tale to tell. This strikes me as odd, for The Canterbury Tales have been accredited with being accessible to all men, regardless of their status or creed – and it does seem to be giving very definite variations of both so far – but then why are these men and women all traveling together for the same purpose? Apparently, pilgrimages were very different in the 1300s than they are today.

The Knight draws the short straw (literally) and begins. It is odd that he is described by the narrator to be very concise and yet his tale is anything but (although not the worse for it). At one point he offers 44 lines of description for one scene immediately after saying he lacks the time to describe the details.

The Knight’s Tale centers around nobility and death for a noble cause. The cause being a beautiful woman whom two cousins fall in love with almost simultaneously. At first it struck me as simply a ruse for story-telling that they would fall in such terrible love for the same woman whom they had never met. But to give the benefit of the doubt, they had been locked away together for years and the tale implies this was the first woman they had seen since they had been imprisoned.

Now let’s assume that each of the characters is an actual human and go from there. For some reason my brain is screaming against this. I don’t know if it is me, or if it is because these stories are almost fairy tales. No, not fairy tales, but something else… something like Aesop’s tales. Spoken to teach a moral. Most definitely NOT character studies. For instance, what I was trying to say before – two cousins fall for the same girl. That, and some loose following of a knightly ethical code are the ONLY driving force in these guys. In fact, I am more drawn to the poor girl, begging to Diana to spare her all of this and let her live her life doing what she enjoys and also what she must. This is the only time in the entire tale that anyone alludes to actually enjoying something. Alas, her prayer is the only time we get to witness this humanity. After that, she says nothing more and indeed is only a pawn in a morality tale.

The moral being:

“God grants us a life fulfilled, no matter how long that life may be or what anyone else may deem ‘fulfilled’.”


The fact is, I really enjoyed the Knight’s Tale. I thought some parts (including the premise) were goofy, but that’s okay. I enjoyed hearing the gods’ reactions to the knight’s prayers. I enjoyed the descriptions of the temples. I especially enjoyed the inevitability of it all.


February 8, 2011 1 comment

I will be listening to the audio book of The Canterbury Tales (BBC Audiobooks America, translated by Burton Raffel) and using my paperback copy (Penguin Classics, translated by Nevill Coghill) as a reference.

As I am a bit of a literary purist, I often feel that I am cheating in some way when I listen to an audiobook. Combine that with having to use a version that has been translated from something that sounds so simple as “Middle English” and I feel rather ashamed of myself. Thankfully, the introduction quickly put my shameful misgivings to rest.

First off, many older books have a strong background in oral tradition, told and retold aloud before ever being committed to the written word. Raffel (the translator) even goes so far as to say that one would miss something of The Canterbury Tales without reading the poem aloud, even if it is just to oneself.

Secondly, Middle English is not so easy as it would seem. It starts off very simple: “Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury”. And even the first three lines are doable: “Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour,”. Something about April showers taking away the dryness of March and making everything green and intoxicating. Then we come to lines four and five: “Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth,”. Okay, I think the plants are pollinating in the nice breeze. Really, though, what it comes down to is that I will miss a lot of what Chaucer is saying if I attempt to read the book in its original language. And to further put my mind at ease, Raffel says, “A great story doesn’t change, but the language it was written in does.” So there we have it. And I tell myself I can always go back and read the Middle English version once I’m familiar with the story.

Useful web resource: http://www.thegreatbooks.org/. This website offers a side by side comparison of the Middle English version and a translated version. Also fun to check out their library of other authors.