John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was originally published in 1678 and it has never been out of print in the 332 years since. So it’s not a big surprise that this is one of the bestselling books in the English language. And it should be.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is the allegorical story of a man named Christian, all the way from conviction to conversion to glorification. Once Christian finds forgiveness for his sins in the cross, he begins a lifelong pilgrimage as a child of the King on his way to the Celestial City. An array of spiritual themes permeate the book, including worldliness, pride, humility, and friendship. Treacherous spiritual temptations are presented in pictures of monsters, giants, and deceivers. It is a brilliant fantasy, richly adorned with symbolism and penetrating spiritual insights.
But as popular as the book has been in church history it’s not a common read today. Its author—John Bunyan—was an uneducated, kettle fix-it-man and pastor from the 17th century whose book would likely have never been published except for his friendship with John Owen. Still, for all his success Bunyan is largely a stranger even among Christian folk. (I know this firsthand because I named my son Bunyan and 99 in 100 people find it odd that I would name my child after a common foot deformity.)
Of course it’s not a perfect book, but John Bunyan’s masterpiece is an important book. And thankfully there are many publishers working to keep the book available and accessible to modern readers. Not long ago Crossway released a beautifully illustrated version of the book, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come (my preview here). This latest edition joins several now in print, ranging from reprints of the original text, modernized revisions, and this nice version for kids.
But I doubt any product has more potential for introducing the themes of Bunyan’s classic to a new generation of Christians quite like the new DVD of the musical simply titled Pilgrim. The Pilgrim DVD is a recording of a performance at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD (disclosure: that’s my church). The high school students from the church performed all the acting and their work is exceptional.
But the real brilliance of Pilgrim is the theology of the script. One of my favorite scenes is between Goodwill, played by an energetic Irish woman, and Christian. Christian has not yet been to the cross. Watch how the theology unfolds:
Christian: I’m a mess. I need get myself cleaned up before I get there [to the cross].
Goodwill: You can’t. Oh, lots of pilgrims put off going to the cross so they can clean themselves up first, but you can’t do that on your own. The King is the only one who can make you clean. He loves you, despite your dirt.
Christian: I guess it’s good to know He loves me …(shrugs) … makes me feel better about myself.
Goodwill: Oh, laddie! He doesn’t love ye to make you feel better about yerself. He loves ye because that’s WHO HE IS. He died for ye to purchase ye back from the Prince of Destruction. He plans ta do a work in ye, Pilgrim, ta conform ye to His lovin’ image. And He wants to make sure ye git home safely.
Christian: Home?! NO! I want to go to the Celestial City.
Goodwill: Once you git to the cross, the Celestial City becomes yer new home.
Christian: Oh, right. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I made my decision.
Goodwill: Your decision.
Christian: Yeah, you know, to come down this road. I’m glad I’m finally doing it.
Goodwill: (chuckling) Ah, lad, ye think yer desire to walk this road began with you? No, Laddie. It began with the King. He put that desire in ye. He started it! On yer own, ye wouldn’t have come this way. And I’ll tell ye somethin’ more. It’s a blessed promise from that book [the Bible]. Since this wasn’t your idea but His, the same One who started His good work in ye will carry it through. Right to the finish.
The Pilgrim DVD is just under two hours in length and currently sells online for $18.00. I make no hesitation in saying this is a must-have addition to your family library. We recently enjoyed the presentation for our family movie night, and we used the theology of the film as a means of further discussion on the various spiritual themes. The allegory is brought forth in striking imagery and acting and singing. And while it is a serious and sobering production—how could an allegory about the Christian life not be serious and sobering?—there is some delightful humor at times, too.
Taken together I would say Pilgrim is an epic achievement in the long Bunyan legacy.
If you’d like more detail you can watch a brief trailer for the DVD here:
It’s also worth mentioning that Pilgrim was intentionally developed with the goal of helping other local churches to stage their own production of the play. Work is being completed on a performance package that will include the DVD, a reproducible script, chord charts, music, and lyrics for all songs, a music CD with full vocals, and the option to upgrade to an accompaniment CD/backing track. The performance package is now available. See here for details.