John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress and “Shame’s” speech; religion indicted

I have been reading the classic Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan written in the mid 17th century by this English churchman, pastor and preacher.  The book is an allegory set inside a dream of the narrator describing the journey of the main character, Christian, as he travels from the city of Destruction to the Celestial City in order to relieve a profound spiritual burden.  The conflict is a familiar one.  For any struggling with existential questions how does the process for enlightenment unfold?  Christian learns that progressing by the narrow way to obtain promise of burden relief comes by faith in God’s Word and the help of good friends.  One particular insight struck me as one of the not so helpful people (called Shame) Christian encountered on his journey tried to dissuade him of the “religious solution”.  The critique of religion found on page 88 of the 1895 Altemus edition is powerful and pointed.  Among other charges, Shame says, “it is a “shame” to sit whining and moaning under a sermon and a shame to come sighing  and moaning home (after said sermon)”.  How many times have I sat under sermons that have both challenged and encouraged me?  Many.  But Shame’s critique misses the crucial point as to what makes a sermon truly enlivening or simply bothersome.  That point is its origin.  A sermon prepared as the philosophical even spiritual insight of the speaker’s worldview is just as Shame implies, bothersome whining.  But a sermon which originates and expounds the Word of God from scripture is so much more.  It is not simply worldly advice, but God’s revelation speaking to us and moving us to grow and change.  When a sermon confronts us in this revelatory manner, life change happens.  This is the truth that Shame missed but that Bunyan reminds us of.

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