So what is The Pilgrim’s Progress? It is an incredible repository of Christian truth brilliantly written as an entertaining allegory. The author, John Bunyan, accurately portrays the Christian life as a pilgrimage. The reader experiences so much in this one story – heights and depths, gains and setbacks, angels and demons, saints and deceivers, joys and agonies. In the end, the pilgrims realize the extent of their King’s grace that has brought them safely Home.
When it comes to this story, you can call me a fan. I can get really excited over anything related – books, comic books, videos, games. . . Why, come to think of it, I even have a Pilgrim’s Progress watch tucked away in a drawer!
This said, I do have certain scruples that sometimes overtake my complete joy. When it comes to PP books and films, I can even get a bit critical. A lot of it boils down to two simple questions: “Will this please my Lord Jesus?” and “Would this please John Bunyan?” Admittedly, once in a while I get annoyed and think, “Hey, this is a literary classic packed with biblical truth that has graced the world for over 300 years. What are these changes I see?” Then, I remind myself to take a deep breath and lighten up a bit.
One issue for me is knowing that Bunyan hid profound truths in his story for our discovery. When we do too much tampering, these truths often get missed. I learned this firsthand. Years ago, I taught The Pilgrim’s Progress in a youth discipleship class. In preparing my lessons, I compared versions I could find. I worked around certain irritations until one day I thought to write a fresh modern translation. After floating the idea with a number of publishers, I landed a contract with Tyndale House Publishers. Upon the book’s completion, I felt Bunyan would have approved. When the Evangelical Christian Publishers Assn. gave it a Gold Medallion Award, I knew God smiled on it. (From there, I also did The Pilgrim’s Progress Devotional and The Pilgrim’s Progress Discipleship Course.)
Now you know a bit about how I tick, let’s move on to this new movie. Granted, I know nothing, in general, about filmmaking so know nothing about CGI (computer-generated imagery). Regardless, the thought of a CGI Pilgrim’s Progress movie excited me. I was eager to see it. Let the adventure begin!
It opened dramatically in The City of Destruction. The vibrant scenes and memorable characters did not disappoint. Well done! Still, content is paramount to me, and entertainment is secondary. I soon grew restless. I tried to rein in these feelings and even chastised myself for my less than 100% approval. Still, I honestly wondered where we were headed.
Now, just to let you know, I really do believe this film is worth seeing and even purchasing. It makes its contribution to the ongoing “progress” of Bunyan’s classic tale. But let me tell you a few of my issues. True to form, my concern was with certain story alterations. Yes, I found them entertaining, but sometimes I wondered, “Don’t they think the original story speaks for itself?”
Of course, Bunyan’s story is a complex narrative with an impressive array of characters, places, and teachings. Thus, no one could squeeze everything of value into a 2-hour movie. Still, additions to the story, while well done and entertaining, took precious space that could have been used for more spiritually significant content. But this wasn’t my only issue.
Let’s look at the Interpreter scene, for instance. Here are 3 issues:
In the original story, The Interpreter (representing the Holy Spirit) shows Christian many “excellent things” (straightforward Gospel teachings). Most of these lessons are omitted in the film, a couple are kept but made scripturally weak, and a new one is added. Perhaps a modern “Re-Interpreter” is now more fitting.
The Interpreter is now a woman. This reminded me more of The Shack than Bunyan’s story. And she is a woman of ethereal beauty. It seemed the scene is more about her and her radiance than about the critical lessons the young pilgrim must learn.
When Christian asked what was meant by the things the Interpreter showed him, she indicated that this was for him to interpret. Umm, the pilgrim is not the interpreter; the Interpreter is the interpreter. In fact, the young man doesn’t yet have the resources for solidly interpreting his experiences. His salvation comes in the next scene when he comes to the Cross.
Lest too much gets divulged, let’s skip to the end. Here are 3 issues:
When the Pilgrims reach their final trial – crossing the River of Death – it looks more like they’re diving into a wall of water at the Red Sea crossing.
I was sad that Hopeful and Christian don’t cross together as in the original story. I have always loved Bunyan’s depiction of the two pilgrims experiencing death together, one with terror and the other with great hope, yet both arriving at the Celestial City victoriously.
And, I think Bunyan would have wanted his character Ignorance included at (along with Vain-hope to ferry him across the River). After all, Bunyan used Ignorance to make his final critical point: “Then I saw there was a way to Hell, not only from the City of Destruction but from the Gate of Heaven itself.” Is it that talk of eternal judgment is not palatable today?
Now, back to some affirmations. Indeed, I had positive feelings. Here are some primary praises:
For pure entertainment, this film is quite good. Especially considering its budget, I think it is technically quite impressive.
Despite my objections, the faith lessons truly are significant. Unlike with The Shack, you won’t be left confused about salvation. There is one way to salvation, and from start to finish, we see the wicked devils of hell behind the scenes furiously attacking against it. Their evil goal is to prevent salvations and to waylay even the most dedicated pilgrims. The spiritual warfare against souls is portrayed clearly. (For this reason, I can’t recommend this film for young children.)
You see that the Christian walk requires perseverance on what truly is the “straight and narrow” way. Get diverted from it, and there is great peril. And the pilgrimage is not some short emotional whim but a lifetime journey of faithfulness. Of course, we fail at times, and when we repent, He is faithful to restore us.
God’s pilgrims may suffer through many trials, questions, and even doubts. If we press through, patiently waiting for “the good life,” at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, we find unspeakable joy, a great and precious eternal reward.
Here’s the bottom line: Absolutely, watch the movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story, you will love this film.
However – and this is so important to me – if you do not know the real story well, I hope this film whets your appetite to read and dig past the surface for what Bunyan calls his hidden nuggets of truth. He did not mean for it to be some weak Christian adventure story but a profoundly theological lesson book packed with overtly deep scriptural teaching. Yes, it is entertaining, but it is meant to move you to navigate your Christian pilgrimage in the wisdom and safety of biblical truth. And, believe me, there is a gold mine of truth to be discovered here!
Generations upon generations have found great spiritual enrichment through this story. In fact, for the 340+ years of its existence, The Pilgrim’s Progress has never been out of print! Also, having been translated into more than 200 languages, it is truly an international phenomenon. I urge you to join this worldwide crowd of witnesses.
This is why I worked hard to provide responsible related resources for today. I sincerely hope you’ll want to read and study my version along with the accompanying The Pilgrim’s Progress Discipleship Course. You can learn more about these books at my website: www.cherylford.com.