Bunyan's "Hero" Is Not Heroic

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Clark-Tillian

Puritan Board Freshman
This thread was prompted by the recent thread entitled--
Biblical Argument For Spending Valuable Time Reading Fiction?

I'm no prophet, but I'm expecting to take heat for this opinion. But I've no mind on that, and it's no great matter (bonus point if you caught the allusion).

I think Pilgrim's Progress is over-rated and sentimental. Sure it was inventive for its day--but Bunyan is no Dante--not by a country mile. Not only is it overrated, obvious, bloated, and sentimental, but it has a hidden, insidious weakness that is usually overlooked: the hero certainly hasn't taken the lesson of Ephesians 5 to heart. He bails on his family to save himself--disgustingly un-Christlike and unmanly behavior.

Oh, but he tries to convince them to wander off with him and they won't, you say.

Sorry, but his wandering off and leaving his wife to take care of herself and the kids is "desertion", and Christ never leaves his bride to fend for herself. At least Milton's erroneous demonology is in plain view in Paradise Lost; Bunyan's faulty theology is shadowy. The "hero's" selfishness is nothing if not sinful. And his Quixotic wandering is more akin to desert monasticism--minus the solitude and quiet--than Reformed sanctification.

This is a Reformed blind-spot. Bunyan might've been heroic, but Bunyan's hero is no hero. He's in clear violation of 1 Tim. 5:8--But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Confessionally, the "hero" is defiantly ignoring vast swaths of of WLC 129 & 130 (superiors and inferiors).

The "hero" and his experiences are definitely "radical", so David Platt would approve; he's "wild at heart" so John Eldredge would approve; he's rugged, individualistic, and untamed so Erwin McManus would approve; he's not content to utilize the ordinary means of grace, via the visible church, so all of the 20th and 21st century non-confessional, ecclesiastical anarchists would give him bracing applause.

So there it is! I await the inevitable shockwaves. And I expect to be
fixed into a formulated phrase, and left sprawling on a pin (second hint at the poem I allude to).

 

Tom Hart

Puritan Board Senior
He bails on his family to save himself--disgustingly un-Christlike and unmanly behavior.

Oh, but he tries to convince them to wander off with him and they won't, you say.

Sorry, but his wandering off and leaving his wife to take care of herself and the kids is "desertion", and Christ never leaves his bride to fend for herself.
You're not reading it the way you're meant to.
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm not a particular "fan" of Pilgrim's Progress, but I think we should understand Bunyan as always representing spiritual lessons and not advocating applications in life as such. Thus I've always understood that opening episode as illustrating such verses as,

(Matt. 19:29 ESV) " 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life."

I don't think Bunyan is advocating desertion as such - though there's a fine line i.e. arguably what he is really representing in leaving behind such for his own sake and not for Christ's sake!
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Can the hundreds of millions of Christians and others that have appreciated Pilgrim's Progress really be wrong?

No disrespect, but in the other thread you stated, "I'm admittedly high-brow, even snobbish, in my literary tastes." :confused:

This edition offers some good literary insights that are helpful in appreciating its content and intent.
 

Branson

Puritan Board Freshman
Dr. Barry Horner writes this in his commentary on the Pilgrim’s Progress:

“It should not be thought that Bunyan is advocating that a seeking father can justifiably abandon his wife and children so as to pursue, with reduced hindrance, personal salvation according to the Bible. His devotion to his own family is beyond question, though for the sake of conscience he felt constrained to subject his own flesh and blood to deprivation on account of a higher priority represented by imprisonment for twelve years. It would seem that his second wife was in full agreement with this determined stand. Hence, in allegorical terms, Bunyan is teaching that nothing, not even one’s closest relatives, should take precedence over an individual’s quest for peace with God and citizenship in His kingdom (Matt. 6:33).”

http://www.bunyanministries.org/pp_commentary/01_com_christian_flees.pdf
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Snowflake
I think the OP is way off base and is totally missing the point of the allegory and, in my opinion, borders on pedantic absurdism. For instance, Bunyan depicts a few key battles with the enemy (or his forces), but does this mean that Bunyan thinks of spiritual warfare as being relegated to an occasional occurrence? Of course not. There's only a few times where anything in the book corresponds to going to corporate worship... yet are we going to seriously posit that Bunyan thought little of the weekly gathering of the people of God in worship? Of course not! By physically (geographically!) leaving the "City of Destruction," is Bunyan suggesting sinners need to physically move to another location (and literally abandon their family!) when they come to Christ? Of course not.

I could go on.

Clearly, Christian's fleeing from the City of Destruction, even from his family, is an allegorical way of describing the combined teaching of passages such as: Matt 10:34-39, Matt 19:29, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 14:26, etc...
 

Frosty

Puritan Board Sophomore
Not to pile on, but I'll go ahead and pile on: ya missed the point of the story. SolaScriptura said it quite well.
 

py3ak

They're stalling and plotting against me
Staff member
I would have thought it would take a genuine Prufrockian to misread matters so wildly. Locations in Bunyan stand for states or conditions; Vanity Fair, the Slough of Despond, or Doubting Castle are represented as geographically distinct, because that's what happens on a journey. The image of pilgrimage is a Biblical one, and once that motif came to Bunyan as the master image of his great work, certain things were automatically built in. It's true for Odysseus and for Aeneas as well that different things, and even different kinds of things, happen in different places. That one is allegorical and the others are not doesn't change the nature of a story line organized by departure and arrival.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I’ve often shied away from Christian fiction/allegorical books (I.e. C.S. Lewis) and have wondered why there is so much fascination with them. I suspect many (not all) drift towards them just as an excuse to avoid reading the Bible.

As one pastor told me, all allegories fall short - and thus I am generally apprehensive about any non-inspired allegorical use. I’m not sure Pilgrims Progress deserves quite this level of attack, though. In addition to the aforementioned teachings of Jesus in the other responses, you might also consider Lot (later described as righteous in Hebrews) leaving his wife and sons-in-law behind as he escaped imminent judgment.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Freshman
One can't exactly force others to go on a spiritual journey seeking Truth. Nor would it be advisable to "remain" with them due to their unwillingness.

I think that's clear enough.
 
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C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
This thread was prompted by the recent thread entitled--
Biblical Argument For Spending Valuable Time Reading Fiction?

I'm no prophet, but I'm expecting to take heat for this opinion. But I've no mind on that, and it's no great matter (bonus point if you caught the allusion).

I think Pilgrim's Progress is over-rated and sentimental. Sure it was inventive for its day--but Bunyan is no Dante--not by a country mile. Not only is it overrated, obvious, bloated, and sentimental, but it has a hidden, insidious weakness that is usually overlooked: the hero certainly hasn't taken the lesson of Ephesians 5 to heart. He bails on his family to save himself--disgustingly un-Christlike and unmanly behavior.

Oh, but he tries to convince them to wander off with him and they won't, you say.

Sorry, but his wandering off and leaving his wife to take care of herself and the kids is "desertion", and Christ never leaves his bride to fend for herself. At least Milton's erroneous demonology is in plain view in Paradise Lost; Bunyan's faulty theology is shadowy. The "hero's" selfishness is nothing if not sinful. And his Quixotic wandering is more akin to desert monasticism--minus the solitude and quiet--than Reformed sanctification.

This is a Reformed blind-spot. Bunyan might've been heroic, but Bunyan's hero is no hero. He's in clear violation of 1 Tim. 5:8--But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Confessionally, the "hero" is defiantly ignoring vast swaths of of WLC 129 & 130 (superiors and inferiors).

The "hero" and his experiences are definitely "radical", so David Platt would approve; he's "wild at heart" so John Eldredge would approve; he's rugged, individualistic, and untamed so Erwin McManus would approve; he's not content to utilize the ordinary means of grace, via the visible church, so all of the 20th and 21st century non-confessional, ecclesiastical anarchists would give him bracing applause.

So there it is! I await the inevitable shockwaves. And I expect to be
fixed into a formulated phrase, and left sprawling on a pin (second hint at the poem I allude to).
The Pilgrim's Progress is essence of experimental Christianity. I read it through every year as a matter of course. Might I humbly encourage you to commit to reading it once through for the next four years? I suspect its value would grow immeasurably in your own estimation and leave you embarrassed at what you've said here. What do you say?
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Kevin, you troll. ;)

Should we expect less from someone with the name "Clark-Tllian"? :rofl:
 
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bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
It's an allegory, son. Don't try to make it walk on all four legs, so to speak.

John Owen, no less, once told King Charles II that he would willingly give up all his learning and erudition to be able to preach like John Bunyan.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
In our current evangelical culture, where perfect-looking Christian families are sometimes idolized, it is refreshing to have a literary work that acknowledges the difficulties of (allegorically) walking the Christian path when one's family will not come with you. Not only is Bunyan's work not a problem, it is a badly needed encouragement to the many believers who find themselves trying to remain faithful to Christ even when their family, spouse included, will not join them.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
As for A Pilgrim's Progress being "obvious, bloated, and sentimental," that's a fair criticism. It's also part of what makes it a classic. The sentimentalism, in particular, is both the book's weakness and its strength.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
This thread was prompted by the recent thread entitled--
Biblical Argument For Spending Valuable Time Reading Fiction?

I'm no prophet, but I'm expecting to take heat for this opinion. But I've no mind on that, and it's no great matter (bonus point if you caught the allusion).

I think Pilgrim's Progress is over-rated and sentimental. Sure it was inventive for its day--but Bunyan is no Dante--not by a country mile. Not only is it overrated, obvious, bloated, and sentimental, but it has a hidden, insidious weakness that is usually overlooked: the hero certainly hasn't taken the lesson of Ephesians 5 to heart. He bails on his family to save himself--disgustingly un-Christlike and unmanly behavior.

Oh, but he tries to convince them to wander off with him and they won't, you say.

Sorry, but his wandering off and leaving his wife to take care of herself and the kids is "desertion", and Christ never leaves his bride to fend for herself. At least Milton's erroneous demonology is in plain view in Paradise Lost; Bunyan's faulty theology is shadowy. The "hero's" selfishness is nothing if not sinful. And his Quixotic wandering is more akin to desert monasticism--minus the solitude and quiet--than Reformed sanctification.

This is a Reformed blind-spot. Bunyan might've been heroic, but Bunyan's hero is no hero. He's in clear violation of 1 Tim. 5:8--But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Confessionally, the "hero" is defiantly ignoring vast swaths of of WLC 129 & 130 (superiors and inferiors).

The "hero" and his experiences are definitely "radical", so David Platt would approve; he's "wild at heart" so John Eldredge would approve; he's rugged, individualistic, and untamed so Erwin McManus would approve; he's not content to utilize the ordinary means of grace, via the visible church, so all of the 20th and 21st century non-confessional, ecclesiastical anarchists would give him bracing applause.

So there it is! I await the inevitable shockwaves. And I expect to be
fixed into a formulated phrase, and left sprawling on a pin (second hint at the poem I allude to).
If you knew that fire was about to fall from the sky and devour your city, but your wife refused to leave with you, would you stay until you were all incinerated, in the interest of providing for your family?
 
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ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
As for A Pilgrim's Progress being "obvious, bloated, and sentimental," that's a fair criticism. It's also part of what makes it a classic. The sentimentalism, in particular, is both the book's weakness and its strength.
Allegory has also evolved as a literary type. Expecting subtlety is anachronistic.
 
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