Category Archives: Bunyan

PRINCIPLES OR PILGRIMAGE?

Several years back I had a conversation about spiritual growth with a close friend.  Ben was bemoaning the fact that churches generally give little input to parents on getting their teenagers ready for adulthood.

I agreed with Ben, but told him there is an underlying problem–the dominant model of Christian growth in so-called conservative churches is behavioristic.  In other words, we mainly focus on people keeping their spiritual noses clean, and the way we do this is by having them jump through various hoops (read programs) we are have set up as indispensable.

These programs (they no longer feel like ministry) tend to promote disembodied principles rather than appreciating the metaphor of a journey or pilgrimage.  Granted, there are many invaluable principles to remember, but the Christian life should not be reduced to them.  Complexities which get reduced to simplicities where it is not warranted are labeled by philosophers as “reductionistic.”  It seems evangelical America is guilty of a dangerous form of spiritual reductionism.  

A journey or pilgrimage with its many twists and turns takes into consideration the uncertainties of life.  It also underscores, as Will Willimon likes to say, “a richer, thicker Chrisitan life.”  It further reminds us, as John Bunyan did so well in The Pilgrim’s Progress, that every Christian’s path of growth has challenges and opportunities for growth which are unique.  And that is indeed a refreshing truth amidst cookie-cutter approaches to Christian growth!

GO SLOW!

I had a guest post yesterday over at “Kingdom People.”(http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/)

Here it is:

Bunyan’s understanding of progress is not at all like our modern version.  Progress for Bunyan was anchored to ancient traditions which have stood the test of time.  Wise people believe these ancient paths are the only ones which offer “rest for the soul.” (Jer. 6:16)[1]

Fools in the modern age blithely discard the old for the new.  Of course, the new never stays new so the discarding never stops.  It is why people in the modern age not only flit from one fad to another; it is also why we feel the compulsion to keep reinventing ourselves.  Even we are getting old (a very bad thing in our culture) and the only way we have for dealing with it is to try some newfangled gimmick which gives the impression that we are not so old after all.  It is why cosmetics, plastic surgery, and adultery with more youthful partners are big in America.  And it is why suicide, depression, and various addictions also exist.

We modern folk view progress as anything which helps us do a task faster and more efficiently.  This is the only way “forward.”  Bunyan believed the way forward might be slow at times.  He also knew it could be fraught with all kinds of challenges which need ample time for preparation.  Going too fast may cause one to make serious mistakes.  Our fast-paced culture typically finds such methodical preparation a liability.  Joe Sobran said, “If termites could talk, they would call what they do to a huge house “progress.”[2]

When I was ministering to college students at Stanford University,[3] I greatly desired to start a Bible study in the Sigma Chi fraternity house.   The problem was that I couldn’t get anything going.  After trying in vain for over a year, my “God-given opportunity disguised as a hassle” happened one day—a day I will never forget.

It was a beautiful spring day and I was driven to get to the campus post office before hordes of students converged on it after the last morning class period.  As I made my way across the plaza en route to the post office, I heard a traveling evangelist on the free-speech platform.  He was one of those “evangelists” who points out specific sins in people’s lives he has never met.  Equally audacious was his own claim of being free from sin.  To say the least, my spirit was provoked.  I believed God was telling me to go over and ask some questions.  I reminded God that this did not “fit” into my priority of getting the packages mailed.

After arguing with God for about five minutes, I finally caved in.  I went over and engaged this evangelist on various issues related to the gospel.  A crowd of several hundred students soon gathered to listen.  After my give and take with the evangelist, a student came towards me and inquired about the possibility of us doing a formal debate.  Guess who he was?  The president of the Sigma Chi fraternity house!  I did not need to pray about it.  After the debate was over, several members of the Sigma Chi house approached me and rather sheepishly asked if I would ever consider leading a Bible study in their fraternity house!

We started at 11 p.m. and finished promptly at midnight so the guys could finish their studies.  It was not unusual for me to get home near 2 a.m. because some of these young men wanted to talk more.  From that study at least two men went on to become medical doctors.  At the beginning of the Bible study neither were convinced abortion was wrong, but both eventually came to see that position as biblically indefensible.  That’s just some of the fruit which came from the Bible study.

Back to my packages that got mailed a couple of days late.  Was I upset that my agenda got thwarted?  Not at all.  In fact, I don’t even remember what I was mailing or to whom they were being sent!

It is a daily battle to fight against thinking that simply getting lots of stuff done is success.  We swim in the assumptions of modern-day culture, and therefore need to think through how biblical these assumptions truly are.   One wise cultural commentator invites us to consider how subjective our modern notions are of progress:

Is progress greater human happiness?  Greater comfort?  Greater speed in personal transportation and communication?  The reduction of human suffering?  Longer life span?…If progress is human happiness, has anyone shown that 20th_century people are happier than 19th-century people?[4]

It is instructive to see how the “hearth” was used in pre-technological homes.  Andy Crouch, in his terrific piece on Albert Borgmann, reflects accordingly:

A hearth was typically at the center of a home—the Latin for hearth is focus—and, true to its Latin name, was the center of various household activities.  But furnaces are typically located as far out of the way as possible,  and as they become more advanced they have become, quite on purpose, ever more marginal to household life.[5]

These kinds of examples of “progress” could be multiplied many times over.  They should cause us to slow down and reconsider what we might be missing in our thoroughly modern notions of progress.  Bunyan is a great guide in this regard.



[1]One cultural historian says giving up long-standing categories of right and wrong has led to “inarticulate dread.”  See Andrew Delbanco, The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), 9.

[2]Accessed on www.dougwils.com, Dec. 8, 2008.

[3]Excerpted from David George Moore, Confident Living: How to Discover God’s Will for Your Life (Austin, TX: Two Cities Ministries, 2000), 19-21.

[4]Alan Lightman, “Rethinking Progress,” Inc. Technology, 3 (Sept. 1995): 25-26.

[5]Andy Crouch, “Eating the Supper of the Lamb in a Cool Whip Society,” Books & Culture, 10 (Jan/Feb 2004): 26.