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Why Is The Pilgrim’s Progress Popular?

Books.tied

John Bunyan wrote his allegory while he was in prison. His views were not accepted by the authorities (government and registered church). Since his book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, was first published in 1678, it has never been out of print and has appeared in numerous editions and languages. This classic has been around for a long time, 342 years ago, in fact. So why has its popularity lasted? What’s so important about a story of one man’s journey? For one thing, it’s not your usual travel novel. Even the towns from here to there emphasize the story’s purpose: Christian (the pilgrim) left the City of Destruction and made his way to the Celestial City.

An allegory is a journalistic devise to move the reader into the story―to connect one’s own life with the tale. This particular journey, the destination, the rest stops, and each character in the story reflect how a Christian acts out his daily life.

Bunyan wraps his tale around Scripture and in some editions, the publishers include these original references. Note the names of places that bear out his purpose: The Slough of Despond, the Interpreter’s House, Vanity Fair, and the Hill of Difficulty. Characters’ names reveal their true inner disposition: Faithful, Hopeful, Pliable, Ignorance, and Lord Hate-good. Christian must also deal with his own faults and failings, like pride and doubt.

The Pilgrim’s Progress has become a classic in Christian literature, influencing biblical scholars like Oswald Chambers and J. I. Packer. Because of the book’s saturation with Scripture, Charles Spurgeon commended Bunyan: “Prick him anywhere, . . . the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”

Bunyan’s masterpiece has the potential to be life-changing, but it must be read and applied. Sadly, it often sits on a shelf, unread. Some people find the original language difficult. Others are not fond of allegory. Still others like the story but don’t make personal application. The book’s riches are thus left unmined, which leaves them poor.

I’ve written a companion book, Journey with Bunyan’s Pilgrim, a resource to help readers get as much out of this classic as possible. My book’s format has thirteen six-day weeks. Each day includes a brief commentary on a portion of Bunyan’s book, a devotional thought on how Scripture connects with everyday life, and a question for the readers’ reflection, with an option to respond with journaling. Because both scholars and ordinary people (like me) have discovered spiritual richness in Bunyan’s classic, my passion grew to provide this guide for people to learn and apply what’s in store for our every-day journey with Christ.

2020 Social Distancing

hands with latex gloves holding a globe with a face mask Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

This is an often-talked-about topic, and I’m writing not with a political or medical approach, but more from a personal angle about feelings. That’s harder to express and not get in the way of how others feel.

I miss connecting and being with family and friends. You do too. For several months of Sundays, we have not been able to have the grandsons and their wives over for dinner. Bill and I are the reason for that decision, for we are the old folks, the ones most at risk. Father’s Day was the first time they visited, and we had a happy reunion.

Bill has not understood why we could not go to church. We would explain, but he would ask again. One day Paul showed him a world map to indicate how the virus is worldwide, not only in Indianapolis, not only for our church. That would last only until the question arose the following Sunday. Now for three Sundays we have gone to church, but wearing the masks poses another question of why. And under his mask he doesn’t sing along. We sit for an hour, separated from other worshipers and then return home. Good to be together, but different.

Doctors have begun to keep rescheduled appointments, and we abide by the restrictions. For the first visit, Bill asked why we had to wear a mask. Again I explained about the virus, and he said nothing like this has happened in his lifetime. I agreed. Lately he just puts on the mask.

I emphasize with those who live alone, but I don’t call or write them enough. What do I say? How can I help? It’s all a sad part of the disconnect.

In the midst of this pandemic, I sense the disconnect in my attitude and have to curb my imagination. If I feel left out of an activity or a conversation, what does that say about our relationship? Inviting myself to a pity party is too easy. I beg myself to take reasonable steps back to what’s the truth.

One step that’s proven beneficial involves technology. I have been a part of several Zoom meeting with groups related to writing and volunteer positions. One Zoom meeting with friends in Oregon got me to yearn for more. From Paul I learned how to invite others to a Zoom visit. One visit with my sister in NM made us both happy. Next week we’ll meet with my brother in OK. The three of us are in different time zones, so I had to research that for setting the start time. These visual visits are also good to help Bill connect relationships. I’ll soon plan some time with other family and friends. I’m on to something.

Journey with Bunyan’s Pilgrim: Brief Description

Devotional Journal (2)

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, readers take a journey along with a pilgrim whose name is Christian. This adventure takes them to places like the Interpreter’s House, the Cross, Vanity Fair, the Hill of Difficulty, and the Delectable Mountains either to meet their needs or teach them lessons on their way to the Celestial City. Christian meets characters who either help or attempt to obstruct his travel. The names of these characters reflect their inner strengths or weaknesses: such as Faithful and Hopeful and Pliable and Lord Hate-good. Christian’s way is not easy, for while some hinder him, he must also deal with his own faults and failings, like pride and doubt. Here is where the connections happen between Bunyan’s characters and the readers.

The Pilgrim’s Progress has become a classic in Christian literature, influencing biblical scholars like Oswald Chambers and J. I. Packer. Charles Spurgeon commended Bunyan’s work because of its saturation with Scripture. He said of Bunyan, “Prick him anywhere, . . . the very essence of the Bible flows from him.” One of the bestselling Christian books in history, The Pilgrim’s Progress was first published in 1678. Since then it has never been out of print and has been translated into numerous languages.

Bunyan’s masterpiece has the potential to be life-changing, but it must be read and applied. For many it sits on their bookshelf. One could take the book off the shelf, read it, and be satisfied with it as literature. You could even learn some valuable lessons from its images.

So what benefit is my companion book? Journey with Bunyan’s Pilgrim* acts as a guide and integrates Pilgrim’s journey, Scripture, and the reader’s personal life. My resource  helps readers get as much out of this classic as possible. Along with studying books and commentaries on Bunyan, I have led church groups through The Pilgrim’s Progress, helping them go deeper than they likely would do on their own.

Journey with Bunyan’s Pilgrim is formatted in thirteen six-day weeks. Each day includes a brief commentary on a portion of Bunyan’s book, a devotion on how this portion connects Scripture to everyday life, and a question for readers to answer in thoughtful journaling.

Because of the format, my book can be used by individuals, but it’s also an effective guide for small group study. Readers will come to value this Christian classic and reflect on the impact of its practical truth for personal spiritual growth.

Prepare yourself for an exciting journey. On this route you’ll encounter obstacles, snags, and people who won’t support you, but you will also have rewarding fellowship with some special travelers. Let’s journey together. You’ll not regret it. This is no usual travel book.

*My companion book is in active process, not yet published.

 

About Bill’s to-be-published book: Words of Endearment

While Jews and Christians alike have revered the Ten Commandments for millennia, secularists and agnostics have tried to remove them from the public square. Some Christians wonder if they are still relevant in this age of grace, while others approach them as a checklist for earning God’s favor. But what if these ten “words of endearment” from God actually reveal the loving heart of a Father seeking to guide and guard His cherished children?

Bill Coker, Sr. faithfully served as senior pastor of World Gospel Church, Terre Haute, Indiana between 1989 – 2008. In his preaching, Bill emphasized spiritual growth based on a grounded knowledge of biblical truth. As you explore his well-honed insights about each of the Ten Commandments, you will be challenged to:

– View the Decalogue as an expression of God’s loving care vs. His wrath

– Understand the depth and purpose of each commandment

– Relate each commandment to all of the others, as part of a unified whole

– Apply the spirit of each commandment to transform relationships with God and others

Each chapter concludes with thought-provoking questions and practical action steps to help you apply these truths to your daily life as you learn about the Ten Commandments.

These ten “words” are far from a historic code or a legal obligation. They give amazing insight into the heart of God for His people and how to build a life based on His values, character, and goodness.

Words.Cover Art.STB.Final If you are ready to grow in God’s plan for you, watch for the publication date* and read  Words of Endearment: The Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love. These teachings bring fresh understanding and renewed respect for the awe-inspiring and relevant truth of these ancient words.

*Send me al2.coker@gmail.com your email address and I will contact you when Bill’s book is available on amazon.com

Birthday #85 Reflections

Bill.BibleStudy.FLCC

June 17th was Bill’s birthday and we planned no party, but we had two visitors at separate times. These two friends represent various areas of Bill’s life and ministry.

In the morning Rev. Gary Scroggins came from Brazil, IN, and brought several birthday cards from friends in the Emmaus community. Bill served on the board and on more than 50 Emmaus Walk teams while we lived in Terre Haute, IN. The Frodermans from World Gospel Church sponsored our Walks, and after that Bill recommended others to go on walks. As a clergy member of a walk team, Bill’s favorite talk was “Obstacles to Grace,” and he was known to ask for more time than allotted on the schedule. Some of those who served with him and the pilgrims on the walk have taken this opportunity of Bill’s birthday to send their thanks for the lessons they learned and applied to their lives. I read Facebook greetings to Bill and there were over 130.

Since Gary is a pastor (Presbyterian), that connects with Bill’s church ministry. Many of the greetings wrote of Bill’s sermons and how his commitment to biblical truth influenced them. We heard from one young man who was a teen when we were at WGC. He went on for further study in philosophy and theology. He attributes that interest to sitting under Bill’s preaching.

Another ministry: Gary and Bill traveled to Alabama several times during a two-year period to participate in a Spiritual Formation program. This was a stretch for Bill to get out of his comfortable element, but it led Gary and Bill to lead the same program in central Indiana for pastors of small churches.

Our afternoon visitor, Linda Ford, is a graduate of Asbury University in Wilmore, KY. This was her second time to come see us this year. She’s a psychiatric nurse in Maryland. Linda had Dr. Coker as a professor and also heard him many times as the chapel speaker. Linda is a vibrant witness to her faith, and she firmly believes that Asbury grounded her in Scriptural truth. Having Linda here reminded us of others who had Bill as a professor. We’ve heard from former students who are now pastors or teachers (some retired). One wrote that Dr. Coker “modeled insistence on careful scholarship,” and yet his chapel messages were “solid and applicable to real life.” Reading that note humbled Bill.

All these tributes about Bill confirm my thrust to get his messages published. We begin with a book, Words of Endearment: The Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love, to be available later this year. Then I have other topics in various stages of progress: The Church; Pastoral Prayers; Holiness. None of these have publishers yet. We enlist your prayers, and we’re grateful for all your expressions of appreciation.

Shame Can Be Good

This sample day will appear in my companion book for John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Shame Can Be Good                                                       Week Two Day One
Christian ‟saw Evangelist coming to meet him; at the sight also of whom he began to blush for Shame.” . . . Evangelist ‟began to reason with Christian” (p. 15, Barbour edition; p. 22, Moody edition).
‟Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18, KJV).
When he saw Evangelist, Christian blushed with shame. Evangelist questioned Christian who defended his departure from the prescribed way to the Wicket Gate. The advice of Worldly Wiseman seemed good at first, or at least easy. But Christian found no relief from his burden.
Evangelist’s reasoning counteracted the worldly wisdom that led Christian astray. From this experience Christian learned to hate three things: if he turns out of the Way, if the Cross seems too hard, and if someone leads him on the path of death. The emphasis remained on the Cross—to prefer that more than any treasures he could collect. All Evangelist’s teaching was saturated with Scripture from the gospels and epistles. ‟May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
Christian asked if there was still hope for him. Evangelist neither ignored nor excused the pilgrim’s sin, but instead sent him on his way to the gate. Determination now ruled his steps.
Takeaway: Christian’s sorrow led to repentance. I think first of shame as something wrongful, but shame can lead to confession and redemption. If I admit my shameful acts I start the road to recovery and to right the wrong. I’m grateful for second chances, for even now as a senior citizen, I need hope for today’s failures and tomorrow’s fears.
Your Turn: What second chance has God given you by His grace? ________________________________________________________________________________________
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Diving Deeper

Diving Deeper Into My Passion for The Pilgrim’s Progress

Yes, I have a passion for The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. But I tend to tell about it in surface waves, so I need to dive deeper with you. Why is this passion of value? How do I feel when I read Bunyan’s classic? What are the connections that make me share this passion with you?

Take the book by itself and it could be boring, especially if read in the original script. What made it come alive to me was the combination of the book, Scripture, and personal experience. The tool that connected these ingredients is journaling. When I read a section of The Pilgrim’s Progress I also looked up the Scripture references Bunyan cited and some that came to my mind. Further connection meant I would address a personal need or happening in my life. Then I would write it down in my journal. I’ll prove this case with two examples.

HelpThe scene around the Slough of Despond held several characters in contrast. Pliable decided to join Christian, but when he fell into the muck, he got out on the side closest to home. Only one way gets us to the desired destination and that’s keeping on the way. It’s ever a temptation to turn around and head back to what’s familiar and seemingly safe. When I’ve been interested only in the benefits and blessings of God’s way, I get tangled in myself and lose sight of what’s ahead. (See Psalm 119:105.) But a strong man, Help, rescued Christian from the slough. He pointed to the steps, always there but not noticed. He promised that help is always available when needed. Too often I try to get myself out of a problem first before turning to ask for help from Jesus. The focus is only corrected when I remember God’s Word and His steps that lead me to Him. (See 1 Samuel 12:23). In this one passage I’ve corrected my faulty way with God’s right way.

At one point in the journey, Christian met Hypocrisy and Formalist. Here was a good teaching point about faith vs. works (Galatians 2:16). I ask myself, “Do I ‘walk by the rude working of my fancies’?” I wrote in my journal about a day at the Crisis Pregnancy Center. I saw six clients and I confessed a need to be ready and bold to proclaim God’s love and deliverance, to be confirmed in peace as I help unhappy people. Then on the following Sunday, I was tempted to pity myself. No one wanted to sit by the pastor’s wife. So I took the initiative and chose to sit by someone who was also alone. Like Christian, I’ve moved up the Hill of Difficulty, stopped at the “pleasant arbor,” and found rest and renewal.

Do you feel the need to make connections and seek out your feelings as I’ve done? My hope-to-be-published book will help you with your journey. I trust you find a passion for relating your own need with the helps found in Bunyan’s classic, Scripture, and thoughtful journaling.

My Love Affair with Pilgrim

Pilgrim's Progress. Barbour

I began my love affair with John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress when I found Barbour’s unabridged edition complete with marginal notes and Scripture references. Hearing Bill quote Bunyan in sermons piqued my interest, but reading this classic and looking up each Scripture gives substance for my Christian growth. My daily thirst for following Christ is satisfied as I discover Bunyan’s creative details of the joys and pitfalls any Christian experiences. Bunyan’s characters, the places, the journey itself all have meaning and contribute to knowing what it means to be a Christian in a world that’s not a friend to grace. Each time I return to this book I find fresh food, for it’s like reading and re-reading the Bible. I always learn more about who God is and who He wants me to be.

Do you understand the Christian life, what it means to follow Christ? I’m not alone when I answer that question with a tinge of doubt. Like me, you also need a guide during your life’s journey – to find meaning in daily struggles. Yes, we read our Bibles and we pray for God to guide us. And yes, we practice Christian fellowship with other believers. In reading The Pilgrim’s Progress along with Scripture I connect my personal life with Pilgrim’s journey to the Celestial City. Pilgrim struggles with doubt and fear, but he also seeks what’s right and good in order to please Christ his Savior. Companions who travel alongside help him trust and rise above inner struggles. These are examples for me to follow.

The format of my book, Journey with Bunyan’s Pilgrim, [yet to be published] is wrapped around the genres of Bible study and personal devotions, with the structure of a six-day week. In thirteen weeks, each day includes a reflection on a portion of Bunyan’s book, how this section connects Scripture with personal experience, and a question for the reader to answer in thoughtful journaling.

Prepare yourself for an exciting journey. As you read The Pilgrim’s Progress, you’ll encounter obstacles, snags, and people who won’t support you, but you will also have rewarding fellowship with some special travelers. Come along and journey together with my companion book (when it gets published). You’ll not regret it. This is no usual travel book.

What was Bunyan’s Purpose for Rest Stops?

Pilgrim & Goodwill.Granger

When traveling in our day as well as in Bunyan’s day, we all need rest stops. Today we identify rest stops by the nearest town or their varied features – whether they have road maps, vending machines with our favorite snacks, and clean restrooms (most important of all). We are grateful for this addition to our road travels.

The Way provided rest stops for Christian and his companions and each had a name and a purpose. While Christian had a few snags at the beginning, he arrived at his first good stop as Evangelist had directed him, and that was the Wicket Gate. Though his time there was brief, Goodwill pointed him to the Interpreter’s House even before he arrived at the Cross.

Thus Christian still had his burden of sin on his back as the Interpreter gave him a tour around the rooms filled with object lessons. The type of rest Christian received here came in the form of instruction necessary at the start of his journey. In later episodes he would make the application. For example, two children, Patience and Passion, occupied one room. Often Christian needed this lesson of patient waiting for the right answer.

At the Cross eternal rest began as the burden of sin fell off Christian’s back and rolled into the tomb, never to be seen again. “He said with a merry heart, ‘He has given me rest by His sorrows, and life by His death.’” Three heavenly beings assured Christian of peace and sins forgiven, and gave him new garments and a book to read along the way.

The next rest stop, the Palace Beautiful, is likened to the Church and fellowship of believers. The porter welcomed Christian and introduced him to the household of faith: Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. Each has a part in preparing Christian for the rest of his journey. As they questioned him about his past, his purpose, and destination, we find out that Christian’s former name was Graceless. He told them of his family, how he began his journey, and what had kept him on the way.

Toward the end of the journey, Christian and Hopeful found refreshing while at the Delectable Mountains in the care of Shepherds. From here the travelers view Immanuel’s Land. The shepherds’ names also tell of their duty: Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere. A few more stops and the pilgrims reach home – the Celestial City.

Did Bunyan have hidden meaning for his characters?

Walk to Emmaus

John Bunyan’s pilgrim is named Christian who met many interesting people on his way to the Celestial City. I introduce you to a few. Some traveled with Christian, such as Faithful and Hopeful. Right there you know that names have meaning. Faithful was Christian’s first companion, but they did not meet until after Christian had been to the cross and helpful instruction invested in him. At first Faithful came reluctantly alongside Christian, but then he found benefit in their discourses and evaluating others along the way, as well as keeping to the right path that did not always look straight or smooth.

The first person Christian met was Evangelist who pointed him in the right direction and warned him of taking any shortcuts. Two men from the same hometown, the City of Destruction, chased after Christian. Obstinate set his mind to persuade Christian to return home, but Christian was determined because of two items he possessed: the Book that showed him the way and the burden of sin on his back. Pliable, the other neighbor, easily drew near to accompany Christian when he learned of upcoming rewards such as golden streets and gates of pearl. But Pliable, true to his name, soon headed back when they met unexpectedly with difficulty.

A strong man named Help got Christian out of that difficulty and set him on his way again, promising that help was always available. Christian soon met Mr. Worldly Wiseman who berated Evangelist’s direction and persuaded Christian to take another (easier) route. Yet this gave Christian false hope in the village of Morality where he would meet a man called Legality. Evangelist rescued Christian who confessed his wrong. He quickly set out for the Wicket Gate where Goodwill let him inside. From there his journey added benefits and endured hardships.

If this begins to resemble our Christian walk, you understand Bunyan’s purpose in developing this story he puts forth as a dream. Remember that Bunyan wrote this in prison. He knew hardship and the loss of fellowship. Many more characters develop the character of Christian who in the end enters the Celestial City with his friend Hopeful. We learn much more about growing as a Christian when we travel along with them.