Imagine that you and I live in England during the early 1900s. Patriotism is fierce. We are gripped by the glory of the Empire, and we long for an opportunity to carry a rifle in the name of our king. Suddenly, WWI breaks outs, and we find ourselves in line along with thousands of other young men, waiting to enlist in the armed forces. We are passionate, but we are also ignorant. We have no idea what trench warfare is or of the nature of new technologies about to be introduced to the battlefield. We think we are gallant knights joining a glorious crusade; in fact, we are sheep heading to a slaughterhouse.
Captivation without clarity, deep emotion without knowledge, is dangerous. This is true in everyday life; it is also true in spiritual life. Ignorance is a grave threat to spirituality. If men do not have a clear and true perspective of the Christian life, they will not understand what they are attempting, and thus the attempt itself will be naive and ill-measured. They will foolishly charge forward like the Light Brigade with no ability to determine what is wise and what is futile.
By clarity I mean a broad and true perspective on the Christian life. To understand this, picture a man walking down a path in the woods. The trail is new to him, and he does not know where he is or where he is going. There is a light fog, and, between the mist and the thick undergrowth of trees and bushes, visibility is minimal. He can only see the next thirty yards in front of him.
Suddenly, the path begins to climb uphill. After several minutes it bends sharply to the left. The man finds himself perched at the top of a hill, the mist gone, and the broad landscape visible around him. He catches a glimpse of where he is going, the path before him, and some of the difficulties soon to be encountered. This is what I mean by clarity. A man with clarity is a man who has an accurate sense of the landscape of discipleship. He is not a man who staggers forward in the dark, or one who carries an obsolete map purchased from Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Rather, having read the Bible as an itinerary for life, the man of faith moves forward purposefully, daringly, but also carefully.
Pilgrim’s Progress as a Roadmap for the Christian Life
How does a Christian man get such perspective on life? There is no better way of doing this than reading John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. In this allegory a man will find an itinerary that will outline the basic path that every Christian follows from conversion to death. Spurgeon allegedly read this book every year. In fact, he called Pilgrim’s Progress ‘the Bible in another form’. So it is. Pilgrim’s Progress is the substance of the Bible rewritten as the story of an individual Christian. In writing the book Bunyan did a miracle of cartography. He combined the lived experience of normal Christians with the unchanging truth of God’s word so that a road map of faith was published. A man who has not read and re-read Pilgrim’s Progress is a man who is unprepared for the Christian life.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
Paul laments in Romans 10:2 that some Jews in his day had zeal without knowledge. How can having zeal (religious excitement/being passionate about spiritual things) without knowledge be a danger for Christians today?
Read Luke 9:23. According to Jesus, what should Christians expect from a life of discipleship? How does this picture differ from what is preached in many churches?
David Brooks says that the central lie in Western culture is that success leads to happiness. Why is this lie so dangerous? What other false paths toward happiness are advertised in the modern world?
Listen to the classic hymn ‘Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken’, redone by Indelible Grace. What does the song teach us about what to expect from a life of whole-hearted discipleship?