I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word “classic” in relation to books. I, for much of my growing up years, pictured a musty-smelling book about as thick as my forearm that is much revered but rarely read. And I suppose it would be overly optimistic to believe that such tomes didn’t exist. I still haven’t mustered up the courage to crack open Moby-Dick and I shamelessly admit I plan to keep it that way as long as possible. But since becoming a college student, I have made a phenomenal discovery.
The hundreds of years’ worth of people who determined that these books were “Great Books” actually knew what they were talking about. Shocking, I know.
So while I won’t (necessarily) discourage you from picking up the latest novel from The New York Times bestseller list or heartily recommend some of those new Christian living books, I humbly submit that we, perhaps, ought to expand our reading list. I have come to heartily agree with C.S. Lewis (speaking of Great Books), who once said, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
This “Bucket List Books” series won’t be reviews, exactly, because I would rather not play the critic for the best books ever written. Rather, these are suggestions for books I think every Christian should try to read before they graduate—or at least before they die.
It seems appropriate to kick off this series with one of the most famous Christian classics: John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Bunyan, a Puritan and Separatist, wrote his famous work while in prison for preaching without a license. He was a literate but uneducated tinker who spent many of his days traveling the English countryside. As such, the story carries a simple charm that many early Christian works do not. Bunyan was a simple layman, telling a story for other laymen.
In this book, he takes the reader through an individual Christian’s internal journey of sanctification. Though it was written long ago using archaic language, The Pilgrim’s Progress offers themes and struggles that would resonate with any modern Christian. In the Slough of Despond, Christian struggles against discouragement and depression. In one of my favorite scenes, Mr. Worldly Wiseman tells Christian that Mr. Legalism can remove his burden of guilt from him. And if he couldn’t, his son, Mr. Civility certainly could. In simpler terms: You don’t have to follow Jesus to rid yourself of condemnation, you just have to follow the rules—or at least be nice. But in a powerful response to that common mistake, Christian finds that the law of Mount Sinai cannot remove the guilt—it will only crush him.
Bunyan’s beautiful imagery captures the struggles and joys of the Christian walk in ways systematic theologies, though wonderful in their place, never could. He doesn’t only offer helpful advice—he tells a delightful story.