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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Luther’s Theology of the Cross and Ender’s Game

If you haven’t read Ender’s Game stop reading this post. You’ve been warned. If you haven’t read about Luther’s Theology of the Cross, you’ll be fine. But you may want to read his Heidelberg Disputations to get an idea of what I am basing this off of. To sum it up, read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. There is a way the world works (Theology of Glory) and the way God works (Theology of the Cross). God’s ways often seem counter-intuitive to our ways. Who would have conquered sin, Satan, and death – by dying? Who would have ransomed a people to himself not by conquering, but by taking their place? This isn’t how the world thinks – the world is concerned with a theology of glory.

Reading Ender’s Game, now for a second time, I think that in a way the story lays out clearly the way of the world and the way of God. Throughout the story Ender is shown that the way to win the battle is to destroy his opponent in the fight. He not only wins the fight, but the battle. This culminates in his destroying the entire Bugger race. The story seems to end on that note that this theory, this idea, is true. You should always make sure your opponent is so beaten that he can never retaliate.

Then in nearly the last moment we realize that the bugger race spoke throught a hive mind, unable to speak to humans. They also did not understand why a few humans destroyed here and there mattered. So it is that the wisdom of the world, destroying your opponent so completely he cannot retaliate, is actually false. The right answer would have been (in the story mind you) to try and force a way to communicate. Ender’s final decision was not the correct one. His wisdom, the world’s wisdom, turned out to be false. It was completely and absolutely wrong and cost the lives of an entire race.

Comparative studies I find to be silly sometimes, but yes I just engaged in one. Let me know what you think, am I grasping at straws?

Also, head over to the Mythguard Institute for their class on Ender’s Game (which was what got me thinking about this). If you are interesting in Luther’s Theology of the Cross, check out Alistar McGrath’s book on the subject, Luther’s Theology of the Cross.

I am NOT a missionary

My identity, the core of who I am, should not come from my desire to do mission work. I am a sinner justified by God through Christ, now adopted as a true son, and given the Holy Spirit as a deposit in part which one day I will experience in full. My home is no longer here, I belong the King and await a coming glorious kingdom. That’s who I am.

I think the title of missionary sounds cool. Let’s be honest, it’s like Bull Fighter or Jet Fighter Pilot (at least to me it sounds like that, but I have been known to dabble in fits of grandiosity). You are the person who is on the “front lines” going to exotic locals like a Bible totting James Bond.

None of that I think is even remotely true, but nonetheless it does sound nice when I consider myself in the profession of missionary. But the good news of the gospel is that I am no longer defined by that. My job isn’t what is important – its who I am called by, Jesus the Christ, my Redeemer and Savior.

Now if I could only remember this… everday.

The Joy of the Cross

Often times evangelism is something we should do, but don’t want to. It’s akin to the badly prepared vegetables – we’d rather have the cheeseburger. However, there is a joy in Christianity that I think we can convey much more easily than our standard “Gospel Presentation.”

What if, instead of the subjective – the standard find forgiveness for your sins in Jesus we exalted the objective. (This isn’t to say that it is wrong to speak of the subjection – the Bible shows that this is a viable way to present the message of the Gospel). It might be easy to explain it this way: the Gospel is the announcement of Jesus. The secondary consequence to what the Gospel is, is that those in Jesus find true forgiveness and acceptance. But that only happens if the underlying event is true. So Christianity is the story of God redeeming his people through Jesus Christ.

In a sense, who doesn’t want the story of the Cross to be true? In it we learn not only of a creator-God, but a God who entered space-time to be like his creation. No longer is God distant in the heavens above, but he has broken the heavens and come down, being made like us humans in nearly every way. Think about the religions of the world – they teach about either a god so distance you may never met it or a god so present it can’t do any good. Christianity says what we all feel, something is wrong in what should be right. It says we need to be rescued and we need to be righted.

The Cross shows a God who is experientially aware of suffering and overflowing in love. The Cross shows us that true restoration and acceptance can be had, the Cross displays for us what all what we yearn for. Christianity is a religion about an event, not an idea [1]. At this event, death is defeated, life proclaimed, liberty for the captives, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

[1] Alister McGrath The Mystery of the Cross.