Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Pilgrim’s Progress can be properly understood only within the framework of Puritan theology. In the Puritan view, the most urgent human concern is salvation—to go to heaven. Although salvation is a free gift of God, it requires a complete detachment from all earthly ties and single-minded preoccupation with heavenly concerns during this life. The way is difficult and few make it through from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Saturated with scriptural language, metaphors, and ideas in the style characteristic of “mechanick preachers” of the seventeenth century, Bunyan’s allegory expounds a typically Puritan message in an un-Puritan manner. Indeed, as Bunyan confessed in his “Apology,” he hesitated for a while to publish lest he offend Puritan sensitivities about using allegory, but he received enough encouragement to go ahead anyway.

The narrative conveys and confirms the primary Puritan beliefs: that God’s grace is sufficient to enable the Christian to remain faithful during the arduous pilgrimage from life to death; that the goal of Christian life is the heavenly city, and life here and now is only a preparation to which the faithful must commit themselves unreservedly; that the Bible is the main guide for the journey, but other agents (the Church) also offer vital encouragement and assistance; and that true religion consists in deed rather than in word.