Graceful Reading: Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan

Graceful Reading: Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan

Graceful Reading: Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan

Graceful Reading: Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan


Graceful Reading is a study of the writings of the seventeeth-century preacher John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress. It reassesses the relationship between Bunyan's theology and his narrative style, redefining them both according to a more specific understanding of seventeenth-century 'Calvinism', and a more 'postmodernist' understanding of narrative.


This is the sweetest study that a man can devote himself unto; because 'tis the study of the love of God and of Christ to man. Studies that yield far less profit than this, how close are they pursued, by some who have adapted themselves thereunto?

(MW xiii. 407)

The aim of this book is to encourage readers to think again about how they read the works of John Bunyan. In order to do this, I offer two basic points for consideration. First, I propose that Bunyan's theology, contrary to popular critical opinion, is far from harsh, inhumane, and obsessed with the horrors of Calvinist predestination. Bunyan's doctrine is, I argue, essentially accommodating and consoling, an aspect of Bunyan's writings brought home to me when reading doctrinal works such as Saved By Grace and The Water of Life as a postgraduate research scholar at the University of Leicester. Beginning my doctoral investigations by exploring Bunyan's metaphors for grace, I was struck immediately by the medicinal, curative, and restorative images that Bunyan uses throughout his works to describe the process of salvation. This was a language irreconcilable with the Bunyan who, as presented in so many literary studies, is said to promote only anxiety and despair over one's soteriological fate, and who has become known subsequently more for his own supposed mental illness and schizoid depression than for his commitment to spiritual healing and well-being. It was at this early stage of my studies that I underwent something of a conversion as far as reading Bunyan was concerned. In preaching the gospel of a pastoral rather than a predestinarian Bunyan, the result is a book that has come 'at last to be | For length and breadth the bigness which you see'.

Secondly, though, my point also is that Bunyan's writings can and must be read as 'literary' precisely because, and not in spite, of the terms of his doctrine of salvation. It has been the practice of many literary critics and commentators, certainly in the twentieth century, to respond to Bunyan's theology in one of two ways: either they encourage readers to read books like The Pilgrim's Progress in purely general, moral, or universally religious terms (thereby

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