To suggest that a college student today read John Bunyan is to invite floods of questions. What could this seventeenth-century Tinker of Elstow possibly have to say to the twentieth-century college student? What relation could there be between one who knew little about the academic life and those who have had twelve or fifteen years of unparalleled educational privileges? What could this Puritan preacher tell a contemporary college student who is preoccupied with “relevance” and who day after day delves into the riches of some of the greatest minds of the ages? The questions might go on and on.

For one who will begin with the reasonable assumption that at the heart of the educational life is the quest for truth, John Bunyan offers not a mere repining for what was but a vital dimension of depth for what is. And for one who still contends that education is the training of human beings—the meeting of mind and passion, the interaction of criticism and creativity—the experiences and writings of John Bunyan tellingly fix our gaze on both the subject and the object of our educational pursuits.

Two of the most pressing questions for the contemporary student—indeed, for all mankind—are, “What situation am I in?” and “Where do I go from here?” The moment he sets foot on the college campus, he wonders, “What kind of place am I in?” In his first class, similar questions arise in his mind—“What kind of a class am I in and where do I go from here?” They are the most fundamental of human questions. However informally or academically we may phrase them, they remain intertwined with the major purpose that called colleges into being: the human quest for truth.

After intensive study of John Bunyan’s life and works, I am persuaded that this tinker ...

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