In his latest historical epic, worldwide bestselling author Davis Bunn takes readers on a journey through an ancient landscape. Travel with Empress Helena from Caesarea to Judea. Abandoned by her husband, in danger because of her faith, but with an implacable will to do what God calls her to, she takes a perilous pilgrimage. Along the way she meets those who would help her (the wizened and wise bishop Macarius; the rough-edged but kind-hearted sergeant Cratus; the young soldier Anthony, a man who has lost everything, including his faith) and those who would harm her (the menacing and murderous Roman assassin Severus). Miracles seem to follow this humble but determined woman as she wins many over to the faith, and changes lives forever—including her own.
This unforgettable story of the discovery of the True Cross will thrill readers with its adventure, and with its vivid portrait of one of Christian history’s most important women.
Davis Bunn has been one of my favorite authors for years. He has an incredible talent that has been gifted to him by God. He also has an ability to write within a diverse range of genres. Honestly, this is the first time that I have been disappointed.
The Pilgrim is a beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring story. What I love about it is the beautiful picture of the manifest glory of God in the change of hearts within broken men and women. We are shown without equivocation the hope and healing that Christ brings.
My concerns though outweigh the parts that I love. Everything is a bit too easy in this story. Bad things happen to each character up to the time that they begin on the pilgrimage lead by Helena.
- Helena is divorced and all security removed while also having justifiable concerns about the safety and welfare of her son.
- An important character loses his wife and child in childbirth.
- A bishop has his eye gouged out and ankle tendons cut.
- The Christian prisoners and the believing guards have been dramatically hurt.
That is a lot of pain that is never truly fleshed out. Helena whole heartedly follows the call and will of Christ and because of that she is blessed and healed, but it was a long and arduous journey, for her and those joining her, without depth.
As a pastors wife I know that you can be humbly following God and seeking to serve Him as He directs. That is occurring in this story but what we don’t see is that God never said that it would be easy. He said pick up your cross and follow me. You will suffer as I have suffered…etc. Ministry is hard. It is daily battle in which you may not know if the battle has been won, let alone the war, within your lifetime. Since the fall of Adam and Eve it is just not realistic. The Pilgrim is missing the gritty edge of reality.
My Theological Criticisms:
This book is written as Christian historical fiction. As such, I believe that it should fall within the realm of accuracy in order to not lead others astray. In this context the author is given the role of teacher as the concepts will ingrain themselves in the conscious more than anyone realizes. Like the pastor or elder, the Biblical teacher is held to a high standard. See James 3:1-2.
Here are just a couple of errors that concerned me:
- While the wives of Roman elite had a strong influence upon their families, the amount of freedom they had depended on her husband’s wealth and status. Helena was the divorced wife of a Caesar therefore she could wield considerable power. Where I have a problem is that there is no mention that I am aware of in the Bible of a woman going out and starting churches during the time period of the story. This story has her planting ninety-six churches.
God exalts women throughout the Bible. Genesis 1:27; 5:1-2 shows that men and women were created equal. Wives are seen as venerated partners and cherished companions to their husbands. At Sinai, God commanded children to honor both father and mother (Exodus 20:12). The Bible affirms the valuable and necessary role of women serving in Christian ministry but it gives specific instruction regarding the roles of men and women in the church. See 1 Timothy 2:11-15 where Paul shows us God’s roles for a woman. I’m afraid that doesn’t include a woman preaching and teaching and establishing 96 churches. The Apostle Paul is only attributed 14-20 churches begun during his ministry. Ninety-six is just ludicrous.
- Helena finds the wood from the crosses of Jesus and the two thieves in Christ’s tomb. While this has not been historically proven I will let it go as literary license. The problem is that Bunn has Helena take the crossbeam of Christ’s cross to Rome to be placed in a temple dedicated to Christ. As she traveled “she segmented parts of the cross and sent it out to the main cathedrals through the Roman Empire.” This is making an idol of the cross.
There are several definitions of an idol. One is a person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered. Another is a representation or symbol of an object of worship. They are loving and revering the wood which they see as a symbol of Christ. The Bible is very clear that believers should not worship idols, Exodus 20:4 makes the point clearly.
Overall, if I were seeing this book as a pure work of fiction I would give it 4 stars. Because it is purporting to occur within a specific place and time and portrays the characters as Christians I can only give it 2 stars. I am averaging it out as 3 stars.
I received an advanced reader copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. My thanks to the author and publisher.