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Labyrinth vs. Pilgrim’s Progress
Since discovering Labyrinth of the World, 20 or so years ago, I am continually astounded by it. Once I had, I finished adapting this work—from three of its more complicated to read English translated forerunners—I went about to try and find endorsements. I was struck by the comment of one person who rather emphatically said that “Pilgrim’s Progress is a much better story.” This came from a professor of literature that had no prior exposure to Labyrinth. I honestly beg to differ on several levels. This post will spell out how Labyrinth of the World is a much healthier book from a spiritual perspective.
Our favorites, or what we think is “the best,” might have more to do with what we grew up with, or what first imprinted how we perceive things. We ought rather to look at a like this discussion at a much deeper level to ascertain value.
Pilgrim’s Progress seems to be focused upon getting the Celestial City.
Pilgrim’s Progress seems to imply that a believer must tolerate “the world” around him or her on their way to heaven.
Pilgrim’s Progress seems to make salvation purely a person’s experience with no focus upon discipleship, community, or spiritual growth that touches others’ lives in the everyday sense.
Pilgrim’s Progress seems to imply no victorious life of Christ in us (union life) the hope of glory.
Commentary about these points
These aspects seem to support the attitudes and actions of many in religious circles today—and perhaps for a very long time. As an example of this perception, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., is attributed to having said, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” It would appear that religious people—have so concentrated on “getting to heaven” that they have been abysmal at living and perhaps even being decent during their lives—has been an observable reality for a long time. I don’t think this perception has changed much since.
That said, such a reality seems to play into the second point from above: that Christians seem to tolerate the world order around them because they are on their way somewhere else. That notion can be seen most in Christian’s retreat from everything, or their vacillation between political protest or Dominionism. If they can’t protect themselves from the world, they ride out to utterly dominate it for their own purposes and suit themselves. Can we not see this playing out in this country over the last 18 years, if not 60?
Additionally, the seeming individuality of church thinking apparently plays into personal individuality to the point where there cannot be true connection. There can only be proximity between religious people in a place, but not familial community. You’re left to make or break your own situation. People in the pew next to you will let you not do so well and idly watch. They will not concern themselves with anything concerning you other “hi and goodbye” until your situation becomes a three-alarm crisis, maybe…
The practical reality of discipleship and spiritual growth in church circles today is so meaningless that up to 63 percent of students—who were supposedly discipled, with apologetics and the works—also become atheists within nine weeks of leaving home and going to college. How is that possible, if what we are doing is what we thought we were doing?
It would seem that the underlying notions, or shortcomings, of Pilgrim’s Progress—as good as it might be—has contributed or buttressed a negative reality in churchianity. On the other hand, Pilgrim’s Progress has been used for theological instruction, spiritual formation, and perspective building for over three centuries. It has been one of the best-selling books in history. Are the two correlated? Quite likely.
The Labyrinth of the World
Labyrinth illustrates that the world is irreparably messed up because vanity, violence, despair, and destruction are involved with everything. But more importantly, we are also messed up—and cannot live a good life without directly contributing to these realities in our natural efforts or good intentions.
Labyrinth shows that the only way in life—to not be part of all the negativity and evil of the world—is to be transformed by Christ and walk in union life with Him. In this way, He can inspire us in what to do in the world that first draws all men unto Himself. But, also, that we could walk in sureness and peaceability because we are in obedience to Him in our very steps since He is authoring our walk. The security of this arrangement is far superior to trying to eke out a life in a world we’re trying to tolerate on the way to where it will be all better for us.
Labyrinth articulates how a truly transformed life directly translates into community, discipleship, and spiritual growth. These aspects are substantively shown in service to others and developing spiritual capability and mission. These, in turn, serve inside the fellowship of faith to those we know, as well as outside it in the way of portraying in our own lives being the Good Samaritan ourselves to those who we come across.
Labyrinth gives us the perspective of Anabaptists—some of whom the author Comenius knew because of his travels and learning—that there are only two kingdoms in this world, which are exclusive. You belong to either one but not both. This reality allows believers to live the concepts of the New Testament: of being aliens, strangers, sojourners, and most of all ambassadors. Understanding this truth reduces the religious reaction of feeling enfranchised or, more importantly, disenfranchised by what is done in the world around us, politically, socially, legally, or any other way, allowing us to serve and shine the light.
While Pilgrim’s Progress is a fine literary accomplishment and has some tremendous allegorical lessons that are genuinely Biblical; it is fraught with religious error because of the theology of the person who wrote it. John Bunyan was a fine man and dutiful to his gifting and calling. However, his Pilgrim’s Progress employed theological idea developed outside the Bible. This accounts for his listeners being more like than Protestant Reformers than the 1st Century Ekklesia. If you read beyond the Puritan and Reformer’s accounts of themselves it proves to be just as bloody as that from what they supposedly reformed.
However, in the case of Labyrinth of the World, experience with the religious, and the world, combined with soul searching through the scriptures to find reasons for all the religious hypocrisy, drove Comenius to Christ. There he found the transformation of his own, which led to a more thorough application of the New Testament. This is all reflected in the Bohemian Brethren and the Moravian Brethren to be more like the early church than like the Reformers. They were never responsible for spilling anyone else’s blood in religious efforts, but plenty of their blood was spent over the centuries. The Moravian missionary movement far outstripped any Protestant effort since.
Which book is better? Well, I suppose that comes down to what basis one considers valuable. If it’s sales, notoriety, and grand literary allegory? I suppose Pilgrim’s Progress is the heavyweight champion of the world. However, if it is an inspiration, which lights people on fire and helps them see the world and themselves a healthier way—so as to fulfill the Great Commission—not just get to heaven someday; my pick would be Labyrinth of the World, hands down. I’ve read both multiple times, and Labyrinth helps me make better sense of the New Testament. Does this post challenge you to read Labyrinth and find out for yourself?