An Application of Bunyan – Pope, Pagan, and a Mistaken Author

July 11, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Though morning has broken over the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christian has only come through the first part of the valley.  There is more to come, and, indeed, the second part of the valley will be more dangerous than the first, being “full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings down there, that had it now been dark, as it was when he came the first part of the way, had he had a thousand souls, t5hey had in reason been cast away.”

As Christian finally approached the end of this dangerous valley, he came upon a cave in which he saw two giants, named Pope and Pagan.

It is here that Bunyan makes his understandable error, for he writes, “But by this place Christian went without much danger, whereat I somewhat wondered: But I have learnt since, that Pagan has been dead many a day.”

Surely, from Bunyan’s perspective this must have seemed self-evident.  Paganism surely must have appeared over and done, entombed in the mists of ancient history.  He could not have foreseen its resurgence in our “modern” world.  Bunyan could never have imagined that there would come a time when we would be speaking of “Post-Christian” England, or Europe, or, anachronistically, America.

It has been argued that much of what we understand as “secularism”, is actually a return to a pagan religious conception.  But one does not need to look to such abstract concepts.  Paganism in its overt form is making a resurgence.  New Age practices, Wiccans, the occult…all are example of this pagan resurgence.  Each solstice one will hear of hundreds, and thousands, gathering at Stonehenge and similar sites thought to have some kind of spiritual significance and power.

No one in Bunyan’s day could have anticipated this.  Christianity was on the march.  The church was growing, and thanks to the Reformation, was becoming more and more pure and true to the New Testament vision of what the Church should be.  Bunyan could not account for the ebb and flow of history.  He did not consider that God has His own plan for building His church, and that plan, it seems, looks very different than what he, or we, have imagined.

Is the Post-Christian West a cause for alarm?  Certainly it is, in the sense that we desire to see men and women come out of the darkness of their deception and into the light of the gospel.  But in the larger sense of the advance of God’s kingdom, the answer is no.  God is building His church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Christ’s sheep will hear His voice and follow Him.  But those promises are for the Church as the Bride of Christ.  They are not promises which are applicable to any particular local church, or the church in any particular nation, or culture.  As the church declines in the west, God is growing His church in Asia, in South America, and in Africa.

What then?  As Augustine helped to reorient the church to a new reality after the fall of Rome through his City of God, we in the west must reorient ourselves to a new Post-Christian reality.  This is no cause for despair. Rather, it is cause for joy. Our mission field is right outside our front door!

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