Pilgrim’s Progress and Modern Evangelicalism

An allegory published in 1678 is a much better gospel tract than most produced today. Evangelicalism has a bad tendency to reduce the gospel to its bare minimum. While sometimes we have to condense information, I think going back to the well worn path trod by Christian as he journeys towards the Celestial City offers a better picture of salvation than do the Four Spiritual Laws of Billy Graham or Campus Crusade.

In modern evangelicalism there is an over emphasis on a decision – a single point in one’s life whereby someone becomes a Christian, usually from praying a prayer. But in the story of Christian in the Pilgrim’s Progress, when does Pilgrim become a Christian? Is it at the moment of the Cross, at the place of Deliverance where his burden falls off? Or is it in the City of Destruction when he is told to run to the Small Gate by Evangelist? Or is it upon his entrance into the Celestial City that he is most assuredly a Christian? Or does it matter, so long as he is on the King’s Highway enroute to the Celestial City?

Becoming a Christian isn’t simply about a one-time decision; it’s about a life. It isn’t about a prayer but about clinging to Christ now and forevermore. Being a Christian is a journey, not a point in time. Yes we were all Graceless at one point, but Christian is called Christian in the City of Destruction when he becomes aware of his sins. Who cares how many decisions or gospel presentations we do, if all those who hear and pray never end up in the Celestial City?

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian spends more time disuading people from the path because they aren’t true pilgrims than he does recruiting other pilgrims. Many on the path to the Celestial City won’t make it there; they fill up churches because people are happier with numbers than with pilgrims. Jesus said many are called, but few our chosen (Matt. 22:14). The way to destruction is wide and easy, but the path to salvation is narrow and hard (Matt. 7:13-14). Our concern should be faithfulness: quality not quantity.

There is more, but it might be time to familarize yourself again with the Pilgrim’s Progress or encounter it for the first time, if you haven’t before. Desiring God has a nice free edition. And you can get a good recording of it through Audible (which you can get for $2.99 if you “purchase” the free edition from Amazon). Lastly GCP has a course for little kids that we are using presently at our church.


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