The White Umbrella (Book Highlights)

The White Umbrella (Book Highlights)

“It’s horrifying and absurd to think that there are currently more slaves on earth than at any other time in human history.”[1]

–Louie Giglio

“Outside of my home, I lived a normal life. I made good grades, played sports, and had a few close friends. But on the inside, I felt dirty and worthless. I felt like I needed to hide. Sometimes I wanted to die. If anyone had paid attention, they might have noticed how the light in my face had been extinguished.”[2]

–Sex trafficking survivor

–Mary Frances Bowley. The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.


Sex trafficking and sexual assault occur every day in our communities and all around us. Every year, thousands of girls are forced into sexual exploitation, most of them under the age of 18. The emotional and spiritual suffering this causes is immeasurable, but there is hope.

The White Umbrella is an important new book in the fight to raise awareness about the horrors of the sex trade. Authored by the founder of an Atlanta organization fighting childhood sexual abuse and exploitation, the book tells the true stories of victims, survivors, volunteers, and experts in order to bring the painful human reality of the sex industry into sharp relief.

The book tells stories of survivors as well as those who came alongside to help them to recovery. It describes the pain and the strength of these young women and those who held a “white umbrella” of protection and purity over them on the road to restoration—all realizing that it is the God who loves us, enters into our suffering, and stands with us that makes hope, healing, and new life possible.

In The White Umbrella, we meet Shelia, who at the age of twelve was kidnapped, gang-raped, and forced to sell her body for months before she escaped; Jessica, a girl who’d been abused so often she was afraid to speak; Angela, a woman who was abused as a girl and who became a second mom to a survivor named Shelby; and Mary Frances, who leads a model program for survivors of sex trafficking. Each has a dramatic story of both suffering and hope to tell.

The stories highlight the way that our stereotypes often blind us to the suffering occurring right around us. As the author writes, “Most abuse victims are not easy to spot, and there is no stereotype for a sexual abuse victim. She does not necessarily have to come from a single-parent household with a low socioeconomic status. Her ethnicity does not make her trauma more likely, nor does the city where she lives. Instead, she could be a work associate, a child in Sunday school, or a kid at the neighborhood bus stop. Well-meaning people often act upon misguided assumptions about who is abused, yet so many of these hurting children are slipping right under their good natured noses. The reality is that there is no profile for these silent sufferers.”[3]

The stereotypes about those exploited in the sex trade have tragically often led to misguided crackdowns that treat the victims as criminals, further alienating them and doing more harm than good. One of the stories here is a heartbreaking example, as an underage girl survives kidnapping, gang-rape, forced drugging, and imprisonment, and finally escapes to find help, only to be “arrested and put in a juvenile detention facility—all for a crime she never wanted to commit.”[4] The tragedy is increased when survivors are faced with such shame and judgment not only in society, but in the church: “Girls who are survivors of sex trafficking are branded on the streets as prostitutes, sometimes quite literally as their pimp burns his mark on their neck or ankles. But they did not choose this work, and it is doubly tragic when these young women are branded once again by stigma and shame when they walk into the wider community, and even the church.”[5]

Thankfully, The White Umbrella offers more than just stories of exploitation and suffering, but concrete advice for how to connect with and come alongside survivors on their road to healing. Drawing from her own experience, the author shows that “we have seen the most effective recovery by our girls take place in the context of relationships. We have the credibility to help girls and women only when we offer them an authentic, ongoing connection. After all, it is only through our relationship with Jesus that we are restored to our Father.”[6] Entering into someone’s deep pain as a conduit of God’s love is difficult, but ultimately rewarding: “Walking with someone through crisis recovery is scary, disappointing, exciting, and thrilling. Most of the time, you feel helpless and out of control. That’s where your dependence on God can flourish—and you can both get more out of it.”[7]

This book offers principles and guidance to anyone with a heart for these hurting young women and children and a desire to help. It is a resource for individuals or organizations seeking to learn what they can do to assist these victims in becoming whole again, and will help anyone trying to connect in a meaningful way with someone who is in crisis. Crucially, it points to Jesus as the healer and redeemer of the abused and the suffering, the one who is both the source of hope and healing and the motivation for us to wake up and work for freedom for those in captivity: “Jesus Christ came to set the captives free, and Christians have the amazing and humbling opportunity to be His hands and feet in this redemptive rescue. Christ calls us to reach out not only to those who are in physical captivity in brothels and bad situations, but also to those who are captives in their own minds to lies and distorted understanding that was formed by terrible experiences in their past.”[8]

God loves to set captives free and bring hope to the suffering, and as Christians we are invited to join him on that mission.


Download Chapter 1 here.

Check out The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking. For more resources on sexual abuse, browse the Human Trafficking and Sexual Assault categories on the Resurg, and see Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

[1] Mary Frances Bowley, The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 13.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Ibid., 62.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 62.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Ibid., 194.

[8] Ibid., 71.

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Theologians of the Cross vs. Theologians of Glory

Theologians of the Cross vs. Theologians of Glory

In preparing to teach on leadership, I’ve been studying Luther’s contrast of theologians of the cross and theologians of glory. Here are some great books and blog posts I have been reading.


 On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 by Gerhard Forde

This book is a “must have” if you want to understand the implications of being a theologian of the cross. It is a brilliant theological and pastoral reflection on the Heidelberg Catechism.

The cross is itself in the first instance the attack of God on the old sinner and the sinner’s theology. The cross is the doing of God to us. But that same cross itself, and only the cross, at the same time opens a new and unheard-of possibility over against the sinner’s old self and its theology. That means that a theology of the cross is inevitably quite polemical. It constantly seeks to uncover and expose the ways in which sinners hide their perfidy behind pious facades. The delicate thing about it is that it attacks the best we have to offer, not the worst. This explains why the theology of the cross is generally spoken of in contrast to atheology of glory. The two theologies are always locked in mortal combat. Wherever there is mention of a theology of the cross without indication of this combat, it is not truly the theology of the cross that is being expressed.


“Luther’s Theology of the Cross” by Carl Trueman

Luther does not restrict the theology of the cross to an objective revelation of God. He also sees it as the key to understanding Christian ethics and experience. Foundational to both is the role of faith: to the eyes of unbelief, the cross is nonsense; it is what it seems to be—the crushing, filthy death of a man cursed by God. That is how the unbelieving mind interprets the cross—foolishness to Greeks and an offence to Jews, depending on whether your chosen sin is intellectual arrogance or moral self-righteousness. To the eyes opened by faith, however, the cross is seen as it really is. God is revealed in the hiddenness of the external form. And faith is understood to be a gift of God, not a power inherent in the human mind itself.

This principle of faith then allows the believer to understand how he or she is to behave. United to Christ, the great king and priest, the believer too is both a king and a priest. But these offices are not excuses for lording it over others. In fact, kingship and priesthood are to be enacted in the believer as they are in Christ—through suffering and self-sacrifice in the service of others. The believer is king of everything by being a servant of everyone; the believer is completely free by being subject to all. As Christ demonstrated his kingship and power by death on the cross, so the believer does so by giving himself or herself unconditionally to the aid of others. We are to be, as Luther puts it, little Christs to our neighbors, for in so doing we find our true identity as children of God.

This argument is explosive, giving a whole new understanding of Christian authority. Elders, for example, are not to be those renowned for throwing their weight around, for badgering others, and for using their position or wealth or credentials to enforce their own opinions. No, the truly Christian elder is the one who devotes his whole life to the painful, inconvenient, and humiliating service of others, for in so doing he demonstrates Christlike authority, the kind of authority that Christ himself demonstrated throughout his incarnate life and supremely on the cross at Calvary.


“The Forgotten Insight” by Carl Trueman

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith.  In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross.   Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found.  Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture.  They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross.  An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory.  Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary.  It is repentance.


“The God of the Cross” by Carl Trueman

Our temptation to be preoccupied with those that our celebrity-aesthetic society finds lovely – the young, the artistic, the talented, the famous, the trendy, the brash, the bold, the beautiful, the cool, the self-promoting and the hip – does not reflect the priorities of the God of the cross. He is more likely to build his church with precisely those that this world considers weak and despised.   Indeed, he delights so to do; and our attitude, our self-understanding, our theology, our proclamation of who God is and how he acts, must all reflect that fact if we are to be true theologians of the cross rather than theologians of glory.

The love of God does not find but creates that which is pleasing to it.  And such were some — no, such were all — of us.


Luther’s Theology of the Cross by Alister McGrath

An excellent historical guide to Luther’s theology of the cross.

A fundamental contention of the theologia crucis [theology of the cross] is not  merely that God is known through suffering (whether that of Christ or of the individual), but that God makes himself known through suffering. For Luther, God is active in this matter, rather than passive, in that suffering and temptation are seen as means by which man is brought to God.

This brings us to the dialectic between the opus proprium Dei [God’s proper work] and the opus alienum Dei [God’s alien or ‘strange’ work], which Luther introduces in his explanation of Thesis 16 [of the Heidelberg Disputation]. The basic paradox involved is illustrated with reference to the justification of an individual. In order that a man may be justified, he must first recognize that he is a sinner, and humble himself before God. Before man can be justified, he must be utterly humiliated – and it is God who both humiliates and justifies. ‘Thus an action which is alien to God’s nature (opus proprium Dei): God makes a person a sinner in order that he may make him righteous.’ The opus alienum [strange work] is a means to the end of the opus proprium [God’s proper work]. The significance of suffering, whether this is understood as passions Christi [the suffering of Christ] or Anfechtung [spiritual assaults of the Christian], is that it represents the opus alienum through which God works out his opus proprium.


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The Work of Christ: A Q&A with R.C. Sproul

The Work of Christ: A Q&A with R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder of Ligonier Ministries, the author of more than 70 books, and a beloved Bible teacher, pastor, and scholar. He was also my seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr. Sproul recently wrote a new book, The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You, and I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about it.

Justin Holcomb: Is it helpful to distinguish between the person of Christ and the work of Christ? Why or why not?

R.C. Sproul: This distinction is not one that I make. It’s one that’s been made classically, and there’s a reason for it. In order to understand the significance of everything that Jesus did, his work, we have to understand who Jesus is. To understand who Jesus is, we have to look at what he did. So there’s a symbiotic interaction, an interconnection between who Jesus is and what Jesus did. We distinguish them, but we can never separate them because it’s the same Jesus who did what he did and who is what he is.

JH: In the book, you describe Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism as the most important text in the New Testament for defining the work of Jesus (p. 74). Why is Jesus’ baptism so important, and why does it matter for our salvation?

RS: It’s so important because, first of all, it was when his public ministry began, when he was ordained as the Messiah. He was anointed at his baptism by the Holy Ghost coming down from heaven, and his baptism itself showed his ministry of taking upon himself, in his human nature, all of the obligations given by the law of God to the people of Israel. You remember that John the Baptist was reluctant to perform the baptism of Jesus since it was for repentance of sin. Jesus has no sin, and John knew that. He tried to stop Jesus.

Jesus said, “No, wait. It’s necessary. I have to do this.” In his baptism, he was identifying with his fallen people that he had come to redeem and taking upon himself the whole weight of the demands of the law as the new Adam.

JH: Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. You distinguish the active obedience of Christ from the passive obedience of Christ. Why is this distinction necessary, and why do you think it has been neglected?

RS: First of all, let me be quick to say that this distinction, again, does not originate with me. There’s a classic distinction in theology between the active obedience and the passive obedience. Here’s what it gets at.

The passive obedience of Jesus describes the work that he did to take upon himself the punishment due to us for our sin. Jesus was like the lamb led to the slaughter: he passively allowed himself to be killed and to be crucified and to have our sin imputed to him. All true Christians will certainly grant that Christ bore our sins for us, and that his work on the cross was the work of obedience.

“One issue came up that the Protestants and Catholics could not agree on . . .”

Remember, in the garden of Gethsemane, he asked that the cup be removed, but he said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” Jesus passively obeyed that mandate and went to the cross. Without the cross and without the imputation of our sin to Christ, there’s no salvation for us, and Christianity is nothing but moral suggestions.

In distinction from that, we talk about his active obedience. To understand the importance of that, let’s realize that the cross achieves and the atonement effects for us the removal of our sin. And the removal of our sin makes us innocent before God. It puts us in the position that Adam was before the fall. But for Adam to inherit the kingdom, he not only had to be innocent, he had to be righteous.

So again, to obtain the goal of saving us, the Savior had to not only take away the guilt of the people he was trying to save; he also had to provide for them the positive righteousness that God required in order to be saved. As the new Adam, Christ succeeded where Adam failed. By one man’s disobedience, death came into the world. By another man’s obedience came life and salvation. The active obedience of Jesus has to do with Jesus’ living a life of perfect obedience to the commands of God and achieving, in himself, perfect righteousness, which righteousness is the grounds for our justification. His righteousness imputed to us covers us and gives us the righteousness that God requires for us to be saved.

“. . . the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers as the grounds for our justification.”

This whole idea of imputation has been coming under attack in recent decades, partly because of what happened in the Evangelicals & Catholics Together (ECT) discussion. If you go back to the 16th century after the Reformation, after the split, there was an enormous effort to heal that breach. Significant discussions between leaders of the Reformation, the Protestants, and leaders of the Roman church were held. They came together to try to resolve their differences. There was a point at the Regensburg meeting when many thought the breach was resolved and healed and it was going to be okay, but then one issue came up that they could not agree on: that was the issue of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers as the grounds for our justification. The Roman Catholic Church insisted then and insists now that the only way God will declare a person righteous is if righteousness inheres within him. The Bible and the Reformers teach no, the only way God ever declares us righteous is by imputing to us righteousness that is not inherently ours. Martin Luther called it a foreign righteous. He stated that it is an alien righteousness that is outside of us. It is the righteousness of Christ, which is accomplished through his perfect obedience.

“Our whole salvation is linked to what Jesus spoke of [during] the Lord’s Supper.”

So you have people now who want to keep this rapprochement with Rome, who want the Protestants to drop the imputed righteousness or the perfect active obedience. There are also certain dispensationalists who don’t like the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ because it’s so closely related to the idea of the covenant. Adam was in a covenant with God that we call that the covenant of works. It can be fulfilled only by somebody performing those good works. We say we’re justified by faith alone. That’s the graciousness of the covenant. But the point is that the demands of the law, the works that are required, are graciously provided for us by the active obedience of Jesus.

If you don’t like or don’t believe in a covenant of works, then you don’t like the whole concept of Christ’s active obedience. So, from that circle among evangelicals, we’ve had strong, sometimes fierce, attacks on the active obedience of Jesus in recent years. I think it’s a great tragedy.

JH: In the book you note that when Jesus held the Last Supper, he was taking the Old Testament liturgy of the Passover and transforming it. What do you think is the significance of this for our understanding of Jesus and for how we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

RS: Clearly the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of an Old Testament liturgy. Jesus met with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, and he changed the liturgy of the Passover. This is where the church was born and the new covenant was instituted because Jesus instituted a new covenant in his blood. That new covenant was not a radical split from the old. It was the fulfillment of the old.

Jesus is the Passover Lamb. It’s his blood that gives the atonement, not the blood of bulls and goats, and it is his blood that keeps us from the avenging angel of death, that is, the blood of the lamb that we now have on our doorposts. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the historic Passover and the whole system of redemption in the Old Testament. That’s why he said this is a new covenant “my blood . . . which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

“Without the resurrection, the mission of Jesus would have been a failure.”

I think that the new covenant was instituted with that declaration, and it was ratified the next day with the pouring out of that blood in Jesus’ atoning death. It is extremely important for us to understand that our whole salvation is linked to what Jesus spoke of in the upper room when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.

JH: Why was Jesus’ resurrection necessary for his mission? And what does it mean for our future?

RS: Again, Jesus’ mission was to save his people. The New Testament tells us he was raised for our justification. What does that mean? Obviously, if Jesus died on the cross and stayed dead, there’s no reason to believe that his atoning sacrifice was acceptable to God. But God’s message with the resurrection is that God declares him to be the Just One, the Holy One, the One who is our Redeemer. So without the resurrection, the mission of Jesus would have been a failure.

JH: This book comes as a continuation of a long and fruitful writing and ministry career for you. What do you believe is the most important book you’ve written? What issues do you believe need to be addressed by the next generation of Christians?

RS: You know, I don’t know which is the most important. I keep coming back to The Holiness of God. I also think that Faith Alone is an important book, and The Truth of the Cross. Different books are important for different reasons. When I write in apologetics, that has a certain kind of importance that is different from when I write in theology. So, it’s hard for me to say.

JH: What other books do you recommend for those who want to dig deeper into the work of Christ?

RS: Well, there’s been work done by David Wells at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the work of Christ. G. C. Berkouwer, my own mentor in my doctoral studies, has two volumes, The Person of Christ and The Work of Christ, both of which, I think, are extremely important and are two of the better works in his career. I recommend those.

JH: Thank you for serving the church by writing this book. I hope many readers will get it and benefit from it as they continually look toward the work of Christ for their hope and assurance.

Dr. Sproul’s new book is called The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You.

Good Friday Reading Recommendations

Good Friday Reading Recommendations

Good Friday is a crucial day, not only of the year, but also for world history.

Since Jesus’ death, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. On Good Friday, millions of Christians set aside our other concerns to meditate upon what this astonishing claim means.

One way to meditate on the crucifixion is to read and reflect on the seven sayings of Jesus from his cross. These sayings have been used in Good Friday services for centuries.

  1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
  2. “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  3. “[Jesus] said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19:26–27)
  4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)
  5. “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
  6. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
  7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)


There have been numerous books written on the theological analysis and the devotional elements of these seven sayings.


The Seven Last Words from the Cross, by Fleming Rutledge

The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, by A. W. Pink

Finding Hope in the Last Words of Jesus, by Greg Laurie

Cries from the Cross, by Erwin W. Lutzer

Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus

Cross-Shattered Christ, by Stanley Hauerwas

Thank God It’s Friday, by William H. Willimon

Human Trafficking: Recommended Reading

Human Trafficking: Recommended Reading

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

“Trafficking” is modern-day slavery and is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them.

The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people are trafficked annually. The U.S. State Department estimates an even higher number: about 12.3 million adults and children “in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.” It deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, is a global health risk, and fuels organized crime.

Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking ranges from domestic servitude and small-scale labor setups to large-scale operations such as farms, sweatshops, and major multinational corporations.

Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children.

I’ve posted on human trafficking before. To help you get informed and inform others, here is a reading list on the topic.



Benjamin Skinner, 2008

Journalist Benjamin Skinner reports on current and former slaves and slave dealers in Haiti, Sudan, Romania, India, and suburban America.



Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter, 2009

Scholars and activists Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter document routine coercive slave labor in domestic service, prostitution, farm labor, factories, light industry, prisons and mining operations.


Kevin Bales, 1999

Going undercover, Bales investigates contemporary slavery around the world and reveals how it is linked to the global economy.


U.S. Department of State (annual reports from 2001 to 2011)

This is the U.S. government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It is also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts.



Kathryn Farr, 2004

Farr looks not only at the victims but the sex trade’s main players, organized crime structure, economic conditions, and role in which various militaries perpetuate its demand.


Siddhartha Kara, 2010

Kara author penetrates seedy underworlds and forced labor markets in made India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Albania, Moldova, Mexico, and the United States. He witnessed firsthand the sale of human beings into slavery, interviewed over 400 slaves, and confronted some of those who trafficked and exploited them.


Victor Malarek, 2005

A journalist reports on the most recent wave in the global sex trade and the exploitation of women and children from Eastern Europe.


Patricia McCormick, 2008

A fictional account of a 13-year old girl from Nepal who is sold to a brothel by her step-father, based on the author’s research and interview of numerous former sex slaves.


Theresa Flores with PeggySue Wells, 2010

Flores tells her true story about how she was enslaved as a 15-year-old in the world of sex trafficking while living in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit.



Daniel Walker, 2011

Walker is an undercover investigator who infiltrated the multibillion-dollar global sex industry for the purpose of freeing women and children from sex trafficking. I reviewed this book for The Gospel Coalition.


Gary Haugen

In a small Cambodian village outside of Phnom Pehn, little children as young as five years old were forced to live as sex slaves. Haugen writes about the efforts to rescue these young girls. His team infiltrated the ring of brothels, gathered evidence to free 37 young girls and children, and secured the arrest and conviction of several perpetrators.


Sharon Hendry

A first-hand account of a survivor of human trafficking in India.



Gary Haugen

Haugen offers stories of Christians who have stood up for justice in the face of human trafficking, forced prostitution, racial and religious persecution, and torture.


David Batstone

Batstone tells inspiring stories of modern-day abolitionists and their campaign to free slaves and end trafficking.


Kevin BalesBales writes about his involvement in the antislavery movement, offers a history of slavery, and provides a guide for eliminating modern slavery.

3 Books You Should Know By John Bunyan

3 Books You Should Know By John Bunyan

Last week, I did a post highlighting the grace-filled life of John Bunyan, and this week I want to look into three of his most popular and theologically rich books.

1. Pilgrim’s Progress

The Pilgrim’s Progress is John Bunyan’s most famous work and the most popular novel in the history of the world (The Portable Bunyan). It’s a story about a man named Christian with a Book in his hand and a great burden on his back. It is the Book, the revealed Word of God, that has made him conscious of his burden and the awful consequences if he is not delivered from the guilt and power of his sin. While still in the City of Destruction he longs for peace with God, deliverance from the burden, and to get out on the road to Heaven.

The Book he is reading makes him cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” It is then that Evangelist draws near and sets him upon the right road. Turning his back on the City of Destruction, he starts out and comes to the Cross, where his burden tumbles away from him. Christian goes on a long journey where he deals with people such as Mr. Worldly-Wiseman who advises him to head toward the town of Morality where Legality can ease him of his burden. He journeys on through the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and ultimately crosses the River of Death into the Celestial City. Although his friend Faithful goes with him, his other traveling partner Ignorance is denied and thrown into hell.

It is quite noteworthy that Bunyan wrote such great theological and fictional works. Ernest Bacon describes Bunyan’s motivation for this shift from theology to fiction: “As he wrote the Confession of my Faith, it suddenly struck him how effective it would be to set forth the Christian’s pathway to Heaven, and the truths associated with it, in fictional or allegorical form. He remembered his youthful delight in stories such as Bevis of Southampton, George on Horseback, The Seven Champions of Christendom. What if he could set out the Christian life and trials and triumphs in story form? The Pilgrim’s Progress…! Yes, that was it exactly” (Pilgrim and Dreamer). As John Brown has rightly said, “He gave them theology in a digestible form” (John Bunyan: His Life, Times, and Work).

2. The Holy War

The Holy War is Bunyan’s allegorical rendition of the supreme realities in the spiritual development of humanity. It is ultimately the story of the most epic battle between God and Satan, beginning with creation, the fall, the ongoing spiritual battle and ultimate victory and reign of Christ. The story is centered on the city of Mansoul, which is located in the country of Universe. This city has been built by Shaddai for his own delight and in its center is the dwelling place of Shaddai himself. Diabolus, the king of the fallen angels, has formerly served Shaddai, but since has aspired to the crown, which rightfully belongs to the King’s son. His lust for the crown leads him to conquer the city of Mansoul.

Much of the story is this battle over Mansoul, which ultimately results in a victory for Shaddai by his Prince, Emmanuel. Although victory is achieved the story is left somewhat unfinished, as the battle continues in Mansoul. “The lesson of the final passage is that Mansoul is never entirely secure unless her citizens are absolutely loyal to the Prince Emmanuel” (John Bunyan the Man). Frank Harrison recognizes that, like many of his stories, this is greatly an autobiographical story of Bunyan’s struggles throughout life. Bunyan “has also been constantly engaged in Christian warfare…In fact, Bunyan is his own Mansoul” (John Bunyan: A Story of His Life).

3. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners is Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography, written during his twelve-year imprisonment. It is a riveting and passionate portrayal of God’s amazing grace saving Bunyan from his sinfulness.

Although the work is autobiographical, Christopher Hill notes that “Grace Abounding is an unsatisfactory document for the biographer,” primarily because “The object of the work is to convey a message” (A Tinker and a Poor Man). In other words, Bunyan is not merely telling the story leading up to his conversion, he’s preaching to the church regarding the grace of God and the sin of man. Hill says, “Bunyan’s primary object in writing Grace Abounding was pastoral. He aimed not to convert but to convince the elect that they were indeed saved, whatever their doubts and temptations.”

This work is very significant for understanding Bunyan. The fact that it helps to know the man behind the book is especially heightened for Bunyan because so many of his other books are anonymously autobiographical. For example, when one reads Grace Abounding it becomes apparent that the Pilgrim’s Progress isn’t just about a random character named Christian­—it arises out of Bunyan’s life experiences.

Other Works

Though these three books are his most well-known, Bunyan produced numerous other writings during his imprisonment and ministry. All of his written works are available online for free.