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Southwestern professor helps put Bunyan back in Bunyan Society

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When the John Bunyan Society had seemingly forgotten its namesake, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor stepped in with a dramatic reminder.
John Drakeford, a distinguished professor emeritus in the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary’s psychology and counseling department, traveled to Scotland with his wife, Robina, last September to portray the 17th-century Puritan author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” at the John Bunyan Society’s meeting at the University of Stirling.
The trip came about after Drakeford began studying the life of Bunyan and discovered an Internet site for an international society, mainly of academics, who study and discuss the era in which Bunyan lived.
Drakeford found that while society members were presenting papers on political and social movements during the time of Bunyan and other 17th-century English figures like Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, there was not much material on Bunyan himself.
The presentation he and his wife staged, in which Drakeford dressed as the English preacher and recounted Bunyan’s story, received an enthusiastic response from the some 200 members at the meeting.
“It was a very, very, rewarding experience. We very much enjoyed it,” Drakeford said.
Participants came from various countries and most were teaching English in secular universities, which Drakeford said reflects a growing interest in Bunyan’s works, especially The Pilgrim’s Progress.
“It seems Pilgrim’s Progress has a lot of attention in English studies,” Drakeford said. But while society members studied Bunyan’s book as an example of English literature of that era, Drakeford had a different reason for putting on the drama, a reason which he says undergirds all his efforts.
“I feel we Baptists have got to be more conscious of our history,” he said, noting Baptists’ freedom to express their faith has come at a great cost.
In Bunyan’s time, the English were required to worship under the Church of England and those who did not could be imprisoned. Bunyan, who was a Baptist as well as a Puritan, was imprisoned for 12 years beginning in 1660. Much of The Pilgrim’s Progress was written during Bunyan’s imprisonment, and it was released in two parts in 1678 and 1684.
Drakeford recalled another more recent English prisoner who said Bunyan’s suffering helped him through his ordeal. Former Anglican envoy Terry Waite, Drakeford said, told people that reflecting on Bunyan’s time in prison gave him peace during his four-year captivity in Lebanon beginning in 1987.
In addition to Bunyan, Drakeford, who has taught at Southwestern for 30 years, has brought to life the stories of other giants of Christian history, including George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards and Roger Williams.
Breathing new life into the stories of Christian leaders got its start at conferences that Drakeford and his wife conducted concerning family life. At a singles conference, he wanted to use Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as an example of how God used a single man. Drakeford wondered how to make Wesley’s story more interesting, and the idea suddenly came to him of telling Wesley’s story as if he were the Methodist leader himself. From that came the idea of doing monologues.
Drakeford performs a monologue at a Southwestern chapel every year and, among his performances this year will be one at the Colorado State Storytellers’ Association.

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  • Cory J. Hailey