Perhaps no other book besides the Bible itself, has had more of an impact on Western culture as a whole and Christianity in particular than John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan was not a well-educated divine, nor a churchman of high caliber. He was not educated in Oxford or Cambridge. No, he was a simple tinker — yet he proved to be a master of English prose. His writing anticipated the novel, bringing together fantasy, adventure and suspense masterfully.
How could such a simple man create one of the world’s true masterpieces of literary art? And just who was Bunyan anyway?
A new biography by Kevin Belmonte in the Christian Encounters series from Thomas Nelson publishers, aims to unravel Bunyan’s tale and introduce us to the man behind Pilgrim’s Progress. Written in a simple, straightforward style, this little book is the perfect starting point for learning more about John Bunyan. The account of his life begins with a depiction of England’s countryside in the time of Cromwell. Bunyan’s years in the parliamentary army, and the commonly available adventure tales of the day are described in detail. Bunyan’s trade and his family home, his first marriage with its sorrows. And finally the account of his conversion, all are traced in detail.
Then the ordeal of his imprisonment and the heroic role his second wife played in pleading for her husband’s freedom in front of several high nobles, are recounted in surprising detail. Bunyan’s masterpiece is summarized and described, as is his subsequent noteworthy career. Bunyan’s death and his lasting impact are covered as the book ends with a timeline for situating the events of Bunyan’s life with that of wider history.
At times the book’s straightforward nature, and use of multiple sources gives it a start and stop, stilted feel. Perhaps this helps the average reader today, who may more easily absorb the material as it comes in smaller chapters that are easier to tackle. After getting used to the stylistic difference, the book warmed to me and I appreciated the level of detail that Belmonte was able to work into this short volume, of only 170 pages. The fact that numerous works on Bunyan are consulted and often quoted, ensures that the fullest picture of the man is painted. And I found the many quotes from notable figures, past and present, about their view of Pilgrim’s Progress and Bunyan’s impact, to be a welcome addition to the book.
If you’re looking for an introduction to John Bunyan, a truly great man, this book is for you. The sources will also point you to fuller works to pursue after finishing this one. The lasting legacy of Bunyan is captured and presented to the modern reader well, in this little book. Reading this will help you appreciate Pilgrim’s Progress more, and make you want to pick up that classic again. It will also cause you to thank God for heroes of the faith, like Bunyan, whose willingness to suffer for the Faith is a lesson for Christians of all ages.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Thomas Nelson publishers. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.