The People's Pilgrim
Peter Morden's 2013 biography of Bunyan, subtitled, 'The People's Pilgrim', matches the promise of the colorful cover art by being a very visually pleasing guide to Bunyan's life and significance. The graphic design features, and the copious illustrations, are excellent supports for the text which, while being thoroughly well informed by scholarship, is accessibly presented for the general reader. Published by CWR this is a book that presumes a Christian readership and Morden wears his pastor's heart on his sleeve especially in closing sections of each of his chapters dedicated to 'Going Further', and 'Your Journey'.
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Over ten informative chapters, Morden commends Bunyan to his reader, focusing on key stages of his life, conversion, and life in ministry (the introduction is accompanied with a handy timeline graphic along the bottom of the pages noting key national political events alongside Bunyan's experiences and achievements). Judiciously dropping gems from Bunyan's wider corpus of sermons and treatises, Morden sensibly focuses on Grace Abounding, PP parts 1 and 2, and gives a good summary of The Holy War as well.
Clearly appreciative of Bunyan's example in ministry and his doctrine, Morden recognizes his subjects struggles and short-comings, whether his possible depressive episodes, and his early vituperative language in opposing Quakers for slighting the divinity of Christ. While his prison experiences can be used to lionize Bunyan's holy heroism, Morden is careful to help readers consider the seriousness of the plight of the jailed tinker while owning that he was at times free to leave jail to preach and even visit London (to the near undoing of one sympathetic jailer (96-97).
Bunyan, we learn, is an emotional man with a heart of concern for others, whose publishing success did not lead to leisure and great financial reward. Morden offers the observation that fellow Puritan and friend John Owen died four years before Bunyan, leaving over £2000 in his will as opposed to Bunyan's £42 (179). This underscores the subtitular emphasis on Bunyan's status as one of the common people.
Morden would love his readers to jump into reading Bunyan himself, starting with The Pilgrim's Progress. He recognizes in his final chapter on Bunyan's influence that there is a place both for reading new books addressing our contemporary world and a place for classics, among which PP stands. There is enough in this biography to whet the appetite to dig in deeper beyond PP though, as Morden has done to the reader's great benefit.
The biography's final paragraph is worth quoting for a flavor of the book as a whole:
'And has his influence ended? I hope not, for his life and writings have the potential to help equip a new army of so-called 'ordinary people'. These are people who will receive God's abounding grace, pray in the Spirit, engage in spiritual warfare and live the life of faithful pilgrims, followers of Jesus Christ who is the same 'yesterday, today, and forever' (Heb. 13:8). God calls us to be 'Christians' and 'Christianas', 'Great-hearts' and 'Evangelists'. If we heed and follow this call then Bunyan's influence will live on and the journey will continue.' (187)