I’m having so much fun discussing The Shack with my very astute readers. I knew I could count on you guys for some very insightful and thought provoking responses! To continue in that line of discussion, I thought I might provide an excellent alternative to reading The Shack, one that holds up to the truth and light of scripture and has also stood the test of time. I’m speaking of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which is just as good today as it was 300 years ago.
It’s occurred to me that instead of merely trashing The Shack and telling people that their theology is warped, the best response might be to offer them an alternative that you could fully endorse. Of course, the best source of truth is the Bible, but when it comes to easy chair fiction, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a great substitute for The Shack. Like The Shack, it deals with the problems of human suffering, it allegorizes elements of the story, and it is a super best seller (in fact, the bestselling book of all time, next to the Bible).
Some of you might be a bit worried about reading a book written in the mid 1600s. Rest assured, the language is a lot easier to read than Shakespeare’s verse, but it does require a bit of effort. You’re not going to plow through it at the speed you might read a Danielle Steel novel, but after awhile, you’ll get used to the style. You can even read it online for free here. If the language drives you crazy, there are modern language versions of it, as well as children’s versions (for the kids at heart).
Pilgrim’s Progress is divided into two parts, which were published several years apart. The first part is the one we most commonly associate with the book. Few people read the second part these days, and frankly, I think it’s a shame. I suggest getting a book that includes both parts as well as one that cites the scripture verses in the margins (as Bunyan intended). Some versions drop the scripture references entirely, and it’s helpful to read them along with the text, to guide you back to the Word if you have any questions.
The plot is very simple. A man named “Christian” is an everyman who sets out on a journey to the “Celestial City” (heaven). He encounters trials along the path, including people who are set on hindering his journey, such as “Mr. Worldly Wiseman,” “Mr. Legality,” and the “Giant Despair.” He slogs along in the “Slough of Despond,” walks up the “Hill of Difficulty,” and gets stuck in “Doubting Castle.” Here, there are real enemies, but Christian himself also is undergoing a process of sanctification throughout the journey. In the second part, Christian’s wife “Christiana” follows her husband’s example and goes down the path with her children. Personally, I think more women should take an interest in her story (but you have to read Christian’s first for it to make sense).
It’s a very straight forward allegory (some have criticized it as “overly simplistic”), without a lot of a fancy plot devices or emotional manipulation (but I admit that I cry at a couple places in the story), yet there’s truth that speaks to many generations. You’ll find references to this book in many great works of literature because it’s influenced so many believers across the ages. It’s woven into the pages of Little Women, Huckleberry Finn, and Jane Eyre.
So while some might argue that The Shack is the book that speaks to this generation (i.e. Eugene Peterson), I’ll argue that Pilgrim’s Progress is the book that speaks to all generations.