Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Screwtape Letters- Letter XII

I must confess that I have owned C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters for a few years now and have tried to read it but could not. The same happened with Mere Christianity. I don't know why it is difficult for me to get into those books, so it was good for me to be assigned a letter from The Screwtape Letters. Maybe I just needed some motivation.

This letter is about "Uncle Screwtape" writing to his "dear Wormwood" about how to lure his Christian "patient" into rejecting Christianity. Basically, this is a fictional story in which these guys are employed by the devil to turn people away from God. Obviously, this strategy is effective because it encourages a Christian to get a glimpse of the "other side." As Beth Moore said once, there are two problems with Christian approaches to Satan: 1. The demonic world is not addressed, and 2. It is addressed way too much. I am not an expert on Christianity during the time when C.S. Lewis wrote, but I have a hunch that The Screwtape Letters was innovative for its time. I grew up in an Episcopal church, and C.S. Lewis was Anglican, so if that upbringing was anything like mine, the devil was completely ignored. Probably people were shocked when this book came out. I have been to churches that both overemphasize and underemphasize Satan, and I can attest to the danger of both extremes. The Screwtape Letters is a valuable resource for Christians who might be skeptical about the devil (French poet Baudelaire apparently said according to http://www.espacepat.org/quotations/2-quotations-501534.html that, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist"). At the same time, Christians shouldn't talk ONLY about the devil and his schemes because that gives Satan too much glory.

The letter we read is about lukewarm Christianity. Screwtape and Wormwood want to know, "How can we turn a devout Christian away from God?" They decide to tempt the Christian with making different choices, having different habits, and accumulating small sins all of which amount to a spiritual "snowball effect." As Screwtape writes at the end of the letter, "But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effective is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing... Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one." So true.

"Lukewarm behavior" comes from Revelation 3:15-16- "So, because you are lukewar-- neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Lukewarm Christianity is quite familiar to me as I grew up in a post-Christian suburb. I might argue that it's one of the biggest problems in Christianity today. I would like to address two aspects of "lukewarm Christianity" because people are raised in different ways and have different religious experiences. The question of "How does a devout Christian fall away from God?" is a loaded one.

1. I grew up in a "lukewarm Christian" atmosphere, but it wasn't as if people had fallen away from faith. They had never really been passionate about their faith in the first place. My peers usually went to church... until confirmation, when their parents didn't make them go anymore. My own brother went to church for 18 years and started at the University of Michigan this fall and refuses to go to church or even talk about Christianity. I guess these Christians might also be called "nominal Christians" or "deists," but I think the "lukewarm Christian" model applies here still. So many people I know believe that Jesus is the son of God, etc. but that's it for them. Faith is not dynamic; they have no relationship with God. When I was in Europe, I went to HUGE cathedrals with almost no one in them. It breaks my heart. Christianity has become "cultural" in so many parts of the world and many have substituted a vibrant, rich faith life for a stale one hour on Sunday, if that. Lewis doesn't really address this in the letter we read, but I still think the devil is working there.

2. The other kind of "lukewarm" is what is more familiar to Grand Rapids (it was totally foreign to me before I first came here). There are statistics that claim that many young Christians fall away from their faith, and it is a huge concern. It's raising huge alarms in the church. How could active youth-group participants and dedicated church-goers just fall away from their faith later on? What might possess that to happen? Right now the "College Transition Project" through Fuller Seminary's Youth Institute is striving to answer that question. But before this project, Lewis addressed this issue in letter XII of The Screwtape Letters.

I grew up knowing no real "passionate" Christians, so the thought of passionate Christians falling away just made no sense to me until high school. I still don't have very much insight into this topic, but from what I gather, Lewis' analysis is astute. It is the little things that matter, the little, everyday habits and choices that accumulate. The main warning I get out of this is BEWARE of the devil's schemes and always be on guard!!!! It is never safe to just "chill" at a certain point spiritually and not devote much effort to improving because that is a potential spot of weakness. I see a parallel between falling away from Christianity and addictions. Let's say you are an alcoholic. If you make one bad decision and drink again, it is so easy to just pick up that bottle one more time. And once you do it once, you feel this momentary rush and the urges get stronger and more frequent. Pretty soon, you've relapsed. I would argue that sin is an addiction. Each little sin "just one sip" just whets our appetite for MORE. Therefore, I would advise Christians to never settle or compromise because it is in all these little decisions that the battle is made.


  1. Dear Charlotte,

    I think you mention a real issue. You are right; the problems in Europe are ahead of us about 50 years. I remember churches full, with people and song… As a child I could not look in the heart of the community, but today the churches are empty. The most active are the Pentecostal free…
    The only thing we can do is be faithful ourselves (in Screwtape Lewis suggests us some of our probable cultural pitfalls) and encourage others to do the same.
    A & P

    1. Thank you Charlotte,

      Thank the Holy Spirit, as well. Several of these issues are at hand today, and you addressed them almost perfectly, in my eyes. Thanks. It is something we should pray about for our families and for the world too. Take care and God bless.

      Yours truly,

      Laura Birr