Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress: Stages of Inquiry


The Three Stages of Inquiry on The Pilgrim’s Progress:

I. Grammar Stage Inquiry [The What]

Who is (are) the central character(s) in this book?  Christian in Part I; Christiana in Part II.

What is the book’s most important event?  In part I, Christian changes at the beginning of his story once he understands the real threat of the looming destruction to his city, which causes him to begin his journey as a Pilgrim.  Another consideration is where Christian comes to the Cross because here his burden is removed, and he comes to the understanding of deliverance and acceptance by God regardless of his sin.    In part II, Christiana also changes at the beginning of her story once she has a dream and sees her long list of offenses and decides she must follow after her husband.

II. Logic Stage Inquiry [The Why and How]

Is this novel a fable or a chronicle?   Obviously, Pilgrim’s Progress is a fable, as John Bunyan is presenting the journey of the Christian Pilgrim in allegorical form.  Christian is the name of the central character as well as a pilgrim who follows Christ; Faithful is Christian’s companion as well as someone who is devoted to the end, even unto death; the heavy burden on Christian’s back is his guilt of sin; and the Narrow Gate is biblical for the place where Christians enter to go on the narrow path which leads to life.

What do the central characters want?  First, Christian is prompted by his immediate concern: "What must I do to be saved?"  Christiana's spiritual interest for the things of heaven wakes her urgency to follow after her husband.  Eventually, both want to reach the Celestial City.

What is standing in their way, and what strategies do they use to get what they want?  Many trials and tribulations are standing in their way, which is common to the life of a Christian.  Many of these trials are to test a Christian’s faithfulness.  For example, the Swamp of Despondence is a place or time where pilgrims may become discouraged; hence Pliable, not being truly faithful, immediately gives up.  Christian had to battle Apollyon, who hates God and His laws and His followers, and Christian began to despair; however, he remembered that “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” and he frightened Apollyon away. 
      Most often the Pilgrims use prayer, the amour of God, such as the two-edged sword that Christian used, which is Scripture, or they encourage one another through good conversation.

Who is narrating the story? Bunyan begins telling the story in first-person narrative as he says, “I had a dream…” then he changes to omniscient point of view, as he can tell the reader the happenings and feelings of any character, such as when Talkative blushes, but regains his composure, when he is confronted with questions he is not able to answer; or when ByEnds meets up with Mr. Holdtheworld, Mr. Moneylove, and Mr. Saveall and the four of them together in a separate and private conversation mock Christian and Faithful.

Where is the story set?  The Pilgrim’s Progress is set in a made-up world within a dream with cities and towns that take the names of the human condition, such as Vanity Fair, Country of Conceit, Country of Coveting, and Fairspeech; and there are other places that take on the names mentioned in Scripture that represent our trials and tribulations or names of places Christians must go through, such as the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Swamp of Despondence, the Narrow Gate, and the Hill of Difficulty.

Beginnings and Endings?  The beginning of Part I introduces the reader into Bunyan’s dream of a frantic man named Christian fearful with urgency of where to go before the coming destruction of his city and what to do about this massive burden fixed to his back.  The beginning of Part II is the continuation of Bunyan’s dream and his concern for the wife of Christian who was left behind, who is just now preparing to set out with her four boys to follow after her husband due to a frightful dream she had which exposed her desire for the things above.  The ending of Part I and II conclude with the crossing of the river, while Christian’s experience was difficult and Christiana’s was easy, as is the case with death, yet both come to the Celestial Gate and are received with the same joyous ceremony.

III. Rhetoric-Stage Inquiry [The So What]

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones, and why?  Christian is representative of new Christians who learn along their Way to Life.  Many times he stumbled and fell, and other times he was full of wisdom; sometimes he despaired, but other times he persevered and triumphed.  Sometimes Christian made bad choices and suffered the consequences, but other times he remembered what he had learned and was able to avoid pit falls.  It was easy for me to sympathize with him, especially because his journey is very true for me. 
      There was no reason to sympathize with Christiana because she had Mr. Great Heart, her Guide, to help her a long the way, but I did sympathize with her companion, Mercy, who felt left behind at the Narrow Gate and banged at the door furiously until it was opened to her.  She understood the urgency of getting through in this Way, although at the time she probably could not have explained it.

Does the writer’s technique give you a clue as to his argument (his take on the human condition)?  This question was made for Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  Absolutely, Bunyan deliberately and purposefully presents the human condition in his allegorical story of the Christian pilgrim’s journey.   Once an individual comes to the understanding of the burden of sin in his life he will do one of two things: either find a way to remove it, which is the path Christian took, or he will hide it, justify it, protect it, love it, or encourage it as did many of the other individuals or personifications along the way, such as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, Mr. Carnal Delight, Mr. Talkative, and Mr. ByEnds. 
      Bunyan makes it obvious that a Christian’s journey in this life is not easy, but rather often met with difficulty and tests.  Unfortunately, many do not make it because they choose to follow their own rules and formulate their own way, such as Formality and Hypocrisy, who skipped going through the Narrow Gate, but climbed over the wall in the Way.  They argue, “…if we get into the pathway, what does it matter which way we get in?”  But Christian warned, “You came in by yourselves without His direction, and you’ll go out by yourselves without His mercy.”  Sure enough, they never make it up the Hill of Difficulty, taking a short cut around it, and being cut off completely in their journey.  
      Often, during times of difficulty, Christian, Hopeful, Christiana, Mercy, and the rest are challenged to persevere.  They must encourage each other not to fall behind or give up or become careless.  Fellowship is so important for Christians because we must embolden one another during times of weakness and tribulations.  This was the case for Christian in crossing the river before the Celestial City, in which he panicked, but his friend Hopeful encouraged him to “depend upon Him in his distress.”

Did the writer’s times affect him?  I don’t know if it is the writer’s times that affected him as much as his own personal conviction.  Bunyan followed a Puritan persuasion apart from the Church of England and became a lay-preacher in the 1650s-60s, but when freedom of worship was challenged under Charles II, anything but the Church of England was outlawed; therefore, Bunyan spent many years in prison because he would not recant, return to the state church, and stop preaching.  In prison, he wrote several works including
The Pilgrim’s Progress.
      Mostly I find that this work was so important to him because he focused on the human condition, which transcends time, and the urgency for man to come to Christ through repentance, faith, and obedience to God’s commands.  He was more influenced by his own personal journey to a relationship with God, which was long and arduous, than with the times.  I suspect that some of the other wayward characters may be representative of what Bunyan may have been like before he came to truly know Christ.

Is there an argument in this book?  Do you agree?  The argument is that a Christian’s journey in this world is difficult, dangerous, urgent, and full of disbelievers, hecklers, phonies, deceivers, and assailants.  Yes, I agree wholeheartedly! 
I was immersed in the personifications meant to influence or undermine the Pilgrims from the path. They surround me; and many I know personally.  For example, Formality and Hypocrisy who enter the path over the wall remind me of Oprah Winfrey.  She once declared: “If it brings [you] to the same path, it doesn’t matter if [you] call it God along the way or not.”  Oprah is blazing her own trail.  When Bunyan wrote this story, he knew a few Oprah’s in his time, I’m sure.
How many Worldly Wisemen or Ignorances do I know?  They attend church where the gospel is watered down and the Cross is offensive, or they attend church to feel good about themselves.  They rather believe that they are truly good and do not need to repent.  They plan to enter eternal life on their own merit and goodness, but that is not the case.
Those like Mr. Selfwill pervert Scripture for their own gain.  They care not to know the Truth of Scripture, but prefer to use it to justify their own vices; and they do it knowingly.
Ugh!  And Mr. Talkative loves to talk about heavenly things, but he does not produce the fruit as proof of faith of one who has obtained wisdom from God.  “Talking is his religion.”  He’s a talker, not a doer.  How many people do you know who talk like they know God, but the more one shares the Truth with them, the less they want to talk any longer?
Finally, Vanity Fair is a fine display of the world today.  I feel like I’m walking through Vanity Fair when I walk through Las Vegas or Walmart.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been to both, as I do not like either.  Imagine all of the useless and meaningless things for sale, attractions that are wasteful or ungodly, lifestyles that are immoral, and the like.  It just feels like chaos and confusion.  (No offense to those who love Walmart...the Walmart where I live attracts the foulest of individuals who shop in their pjs and fuzzy slippers, curse out loud at their children, and has occasionally had a murder or two in the parking lot.)
The argument works for me, and the characters are very real and true to life.  This title is timeless because the message or argument is just as pertinent today as it was in Bunyan’s time; and the dangers are still the same as well.   Christians are warned of these very dangers and pitfalls in Scripture, and Bunyan portrays them very well in his story of a Christian’s journey to the Celestial City.

4 comments:

  1. You do such a lovely job with the "wrap-up" questions. My answers are always fragmented and they frequently end with a question mark (because I'm afraid to commit!). When I need a review of a story,I'm coming to your responses!

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    1. Thank you, BUT please don't take my word on it! Ahh! I think I just barely scratch the surface when I have to think about these things. Notice the metaphor question is mysteriously missing??? I cannot wrap my brain around that idea. Very scary!

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  2. This sounds like a must-read for a Christian reader. -Sarah

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  3. I really love all the connections you've made to modern life. It's true that although very simplistic, these characters and places are still here now to tempt people :) Apparently you've liked the book much more than I did, and it's interesting that despite that our answers are more or less similar :)

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