John Bunyan and the Pilgrim’s Progress: From the Publisher

THE RESPONSE TO OUR RECENT LETTER and survey to subscribers drew the largest response we have ever received. Your suggestions for topics to cover and special issues to publish make our job both easier and more difficult.

Easier in that we have an array of vital subject areas requested that is diverse and stimulating. More difficult in that collectively you have set before us a task that would take dozens of years to fulfill.

This present issue emerged from strong reader interest in monumental figures from the history of the church such as John Bunyan. His Pilgrim’s Progress is the first place bestseller (apart from the Bible) in all publishing history, an astounding achievement for a common working class person whose life was confined to a rather small area in the seventeenth century.

In this issue you will see why and how Bunyan’s life and work made such an enduring impact.

We were surprised to discover that Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress were not included in Encyclopedia Brittanica’s Great Books of the Western World. If these words should come to Mortimer Adler’s attention, perhaps he will write us and tell us why.

We have also noted in an informal and by no means scientific sampling of churches and lay people that Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress are largely unknown today. I have always vividly remembered a series of sermons preached by our pastor when I was about 12 based on the book. The images he effectively and dramatically recounted were burned into my largely unretentive mind for keeps.

A quarter year for Sunday School or a summer vacation school could feature a series on Pilgrim’s Progress to great benefit for the children in any local church.

The late Dr. Frank Gacbelein in his lecture—essay “Encounter with Greatness” relates a comment made to him by Dr. Emile Caillet of Princeton University. Caillet said:

In my own estimation, next to the Bible which is in a class by itself, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress rates highest among all classics . . . the reason I have to put The Pilgrim’s Progress next only to the Bible is that as I proceed along the appointed course, I need not only an authoritative book of inspiration and instruction; I need a map. We all do. My considered judgment . . . is that Bunyan’s masterpiece has provided us with the most excellent map to be found anywhere. Why, having read and reread the book some fifty times, I see that map most vividly unfold under my gaze, in whatever place or situation I find myself. What clearer answer could one find to his basic questions, “What kind of place is this?” and “What should I do in the situation?” What more adequate climax to the human quest for truth?

Is the “most excellent map to be found anywhere” still useful? Surely we need other more detailed maps for questions raised in our age, and Bunyan’s cartography concentrates on the individual soul and does not go into depth on the corporate nature and responsibility of the faith. But beyond doubt great personal enrichment will still be found by taking another look at the skillfully conceived map and its author; to that end we commend to you this current issue.

By the Editor

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #11 in 1986]

Next articles

John Bunyan and Pilgrim’s Progress: Did You Know?

Fascinating facts about John Bunyan and his famous allegory.

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A Tinker’s Dissent, A Pilgrim’s Conscience

The self-educated Bunyan gloried in the Spirit's power.

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The Quakers

Bunyan challenged the Quakers on a number of occasions.

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The Fifth Monarchy Movement

The Fifth Monarchists were convinced of Christ’s imminent return to establish his Kingdom.

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