However, I have also come to realize that it is not just those with whom we rub shoulders that we discover in the characters of the Pilgrim’s Progress, but that we are all represented by the men and women found in the Bible–both good and evil–and that during our lives we will almost certainly meet all of the characters in Scripture.
One of the striking features of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress–perhaps most striking of all–is the way in which Bunyan so accurately portrayed the various characters that his protagonist, Christian, met with on his spiritual journey to the celestial city. Whether it was Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Help, Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Discretion, Piety, Prudence, Charity or the Interpreter, there is something apropos about how each of these figures surface in the particular situations in which Christian finds himself. It is fair to say that almost no one in church history had such a masterful grasp on both Scripture and the ability to discern individuals quite as much as Bunyan.
The world is full of Talkatives, Mr. Legalities, Mr. Worldly Wisemen, Obstinates and Pliables. Bunyan accurately describes the people with which we will meet in our lives as he wove the narrative about the believer’s pilgrimage to glory. However, it is a sad reality that we will meet almost each and everyone of these characters in the church in the here and now. Bunyan wrote his narrative in such a way as to reflect how he had met each of these characters in his own life and to bring the reader into contact with the many different individuals that he or she should plan on encountering in this life.
Years ago, when I first began the work of planting a church, a close friend of mine and I would often joke about writing The Pilgrim’s Progress for Church Planting. We would regularly have conversations about how learning the characters Bunyan’s work helped us identify the type of individuals with whom we would so frequently come into contact. Sometimes in the sharing of stories we would humorously insist that we met exactly the same person in our very difficult settings and stages of church planting.
In more recent years, I have come to believe that all pastors–who stay in the ministry long enough–will inevitably come across each and every character inThe Pilgrim’s Progress. Studying the characters that Christian met with on his journey can be an enormous aid to the pastor in assessing time, priorities and challenges as he seeks to be a faithful shepherd of the flock. For instance, every pastor will most certainly have a Talkative (or arguably more than one talkative) in the congregation that he pastors for at least some period of time. Talkative is that individual who will gladly talk about theology, doctrine, Christian living, the church, etc. but who will never put God’s word into practice in his or her life. Talkative is the individual in the church who James describes as a hearer but not a doer of the word. Talkative personally confesses that he would talk “of the vanity of earthly things, and the benefit of things above (thus in general)…the necessity of the new birth; the insufficiency of our works; the need of Christ’s righteousness, and so forth.” However, as Christian revealed to his traveling companion, Faithful, Talkative was among those who are “talkative fools whose religion is only in word, and are debauched and vain in their conversation, that (being so much admitted into the fellowship of the godly) do stumble to the world, blemish Christianity, and grieve the sincere.”