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Talking with Talkative or not really?

In class seminar today we discussed Christian and Faithful's meeting with Talkative. We recognized that in our Christian university context it might be easy to be Talkative. As Bunyan did not say, talking the talk is no good if you are not walking the walk - or, at least, he did not say it in those exact words. He does offer the incident as a colorful illustration of James 1:26-27:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Faithful is initially impressed by the talk, but Christian knows Talkative from of old, so he fills Faithful in. He'll conform his talk to anyone's company he keeps, it turns out. Faithful then engages Talkative in conversation which eventually prompts the latter to start to withdraw as he senses he is being trapped by the line of questioning. Commentators have noticed that the conversation doesn't proceed so much with kindness a desire to convict fault. Is our readerly sensitivity due to a different culture? Is this harsh for a first time encounter? Maybe. Does the fact that Talkative is left in his error, lacking in heart religion, by the two godly pilgrims show a faulty evangelism?

As with so much of Bunyan, we could also repurpose the question to ask who is being trapped and who evangelized. After all Talkative is a character device constructed to make a point in Bunyan's allegory. And the point is for the reader rather than for the character - this is not a novel where rounded characters display their human complexity. The Pilgrim's Progress is much more a creative devotional encouragement to Christians on life's journey. And because Bunyan is stuck with the pilgrimage metaphor, so many encounters are one-off and abrupt - they happen along a journey path that needs progress (although this is slowed down in Part II, the logic of progress remains). But, arguably, he is not outlining model conversations for evangelism so much as edifying his readers to embrace the gospel in understanding its true and false versions lived out. He is identifying traits within a Christian culture that may not betoken true discipleship and exposing these to a primary readership among fellow dissenters seeking to test and welcome others into covenanted fellowship.

If this is true, Faithful sets up his response to Talkative in enumerated sermon points or 'heads' is because he is preaching to the reader, rather than to Talkative. If Talkative is lacking in holiness as the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, the narrative merely suggests the hope that the conversation may have been helpful to him, but the real trap is set and sprung for the reader who is invited to reflect on their own life, talk, and walk as evidence of not only head knowledge but also heart religion.

And we also recognized that Ignorance is the flip-side antagonist who takes the story to its conclusion, but more on that episode another time.

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