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Russell Moore, Karen Swallow Prior Spark Outrage for Saying They Don’t Enjoy ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’

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Screenshots from YouTube / @ChristianityTodayMagazine

Some Christians are reacting with indignation after Dr. Russell Moore and Dr. Karen Swallow Prior said that they do not enjoy “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” a 17th century Christian allegory written by Puritan preacher John Bunyan. The work is one of the bestselling books of all time, at one point coming in second only to the Bible.

“I have written extensively of my admiration for Bunyan in two books,” said Prior, pushing back on the controversy in a Thursday post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “So you can listen to a very clipped clip that’s circulating, or you can read the books. (Yeah, we know what the click-baiters will choose.)”

Moore and Prior on ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory, meaning that characters, places and events are symbols that directly represent something else. The first half of Bunyan’s story tells how a man named “Christian” leaves the City of Destruction to embark on a journey to the Celestial City while his wife and children remain behind. 

Along the way, Christian encounters challenges that include the Slough of Despond, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and the Giant Despair. He receives encouragement as well, however, from different sources such as the Delectable Mountains and his companions, Faithful and Hopeful.

The second part of the book recounts how Christian’s wife, Christiana, and his sons decide to embark on the journey as well.

Prior, a professor and author, joined Moore, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, on “The Russell Moore Show” to discuss Prior’s new book, “The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis.”

During the conversation, as the two were discussing similarities between the challenges social media presents and the advent of the printing press, Moore commented, “I don’t like John Bunyan.” He then clarified, “I like the person of John Bunyan, I like the life of John Bunyan, but ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ leaves me cold, and ‘Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners’ even more so.”

Moore went on to explain that the reason why he dislikes Bunyan’s works is likely because he’s “seen so many people who started reading some Puritan literature from that time period who became so morose and so introspective and believing there’s no way they could really be a Christian.” He observed that in her new book, Prior discusses “just how significant” “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was “in terms of shaping everything around us.” 

“I’m going to be completely honest here,” Prior replied. “‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ is kind of a drag to read.” Her students, she said, “love to hate it, and I love to teach it to try to, you know, hate it with them and help them see it.” 

Prior said she is glad she discovered Bunyan’s work as a student of literature. “Seventeenth century literature is tough,” she said, but pointed out that “The Pilgrim’s Progress” was a product of the fact that Bunyan “luxuriated in his imagination. He let it sort of influence him and lead him to the Lord, to the source of that imagination.”

Moore and Prior went on to discuss the significance of imagination, with Prior expressing that the evangelical movement has emphasized the rational mind, but has “failed to take enough account of aesthetic experience, the imagination, the heart,” as well as “the body.”