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Parenting in the World of Vanity Fair

Written by David Michael on

An animated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be released on April 18, providing an excellent opportunity to highlight one of the most famous and influential Christian classics of all time.

The book was written by John Bunyan, a seventeenth-century Englishman who was a tinker by trade and non-conformist pastor. He wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress while serving a sentence in the Bedford prison that extended to twelve years because he refused to stop preaching the gospel. After it was published in 1678, the book was translated into more than two hundred languages and, except for the Bible, it has been read by more people than any other Christian book.

The main character of the book is a believer named Christian who is on a journey, making his way to the Celestial City (heaven).  The Journey takes Christian and his fellow traveler, Faithful, to the City of Vanity (the world). Inside the city is Vanity Fair which is run by Beelzebub, whose purpose is to sell them merchandise that promises much happiness but delivers none. This excerpt from the popular and beautifully-illustrated children’s version of this story, Dangerous Journey, shows the remarkable relevance that Bunyan’s 341-year-old work has for the twenty-first-century church and the extraordinary insight this Bible-saturated pastor had into the Christian life:

…hoping they would go unnoticed, they (Christian and Faithful) pulled their collars up around their faces. But the rabble were quick to spot them. First, they jeered at them for their outlandish clothes. Then they jeered at them for their foreign accents. Finally, they asked them angrily, ‘Why aren’t you buying our merchandise? Buy! Buy! Buy!’ ‘We buy only the truth’, they said, and put their fingers in their ears and sought to turn away their eyes from beholding the vanity. At that, the townsmen were the more enraged, and the noisiest of hubbubs ensued.  

News of the hubbub presently reached the Burgomaster. He took the pilgrims to be lunatics, and bade his officers arrest them as disturbers of the peace and take their weapons from them. They were placed in a cage, with their feet in stocks, as public spectacle. They lay there for some time and were made objects of any man’s sport.

For their part, they encouraged one another to trust in the Lord, and behaved themselves most wisely—giving the passers-by good words for bad, not railing for railing but contrariwise blessing. This further enraged the men of the Fair, who now demanded in loud voices that Christian and Faithful should stand trial in the Courts.

They were brought before Judge Hate-Good and after three false witnesses came forward to testify, Faithful was judged a heretic, condemned to death, and “after endless indignities” met his end at the stake. Greeted by a chariot and horses, Faithful was taken up into the clouds to the sound of trumpets.

This small taste of Bunyon’s writing provides an opportunity to reflect and discuss our own journey through this world as we make our way to the Celestial City. It inspires hope and a vision for the next generations to “only buy truth.” May they, like Faithful, follow him who, “after endless indignities” endured the cross with his eye on the joy that was set before him and the hope that his sacrifice would provide. It will serve our children well to introduce them to this powerful description of the Christian life that has informed and influenced the faith of so many.

David Michael

David is the co-founder and executive director of Truth78, a ministry connected with Desiring God. David and his wife, Sally, are longtime members of College Park Church, where David formerly served as a pastor and elder.

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