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The Screwtape Letters is one of many books authored by the late C. S. Lewis.  Lewis taught literature and Cambridge and Oxford universities and wrote over thirty books during his lifetime.  Some of his better known works include The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere ChristianityThe Screwtape Letters is considered to be a classic.

The Screwtape Letters is a collection of letters from a fiend named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood.  The book is simply a collection of these thirty-one letters from Screwtape to his nephew.  Wormwood’s job, as a fiend, is to be the devil’s representative in a particular human being’s life in order to cause him to live a defeated lifestyle which will lead him to hell.  Through the letters written to Wormwood, the reader is able to chronicle the events in the human’s life and the ways in which Wormwood attacks.

Screwtape first tells Wormwood to not teach his person to think, but this fails and the human eventually becomes a Christian.  At this point, Screwtape tells Wormwood to cause his person to stumble by having him focus on Christian hypocrites.  Wormwood attacks this man in other ways as well: by damaging his relationship with his mother, by trying to impede his prayer life, by sexual desire, etc.  However, in the end Wormwood fails, for the man to whom he was assigned dies and goes to be with their enemy, God.

This book brought to light many encumbrances which people face in their Christian life.  One fact that some believers seem unaware of is that we are in a spiritual battle.  Christians who do not know this are not prepared to face the adversary and consequently live a defeated life.  Christians who are aware of this fact often times forget about the battle and are not prepared.  They end up falling flat on their face as a result.  This is the message that I get from Lewis in reading The Screwtape Letters.  Although we need to be reminded of this battle, the focus on the battle is an inherent weakness of this book.  This book causes the reader, presumably Christian, to focus on the spiritual battle and on our adversary, the devil.  This is probably what has made this book a classic.  Contemporary culture is enamored with evil and invites it into their home on a regular basis.

I would contend that the focus should be on Christ.  As Paul says in his letter to the saints in Ephesus, we are in Christ and we must live our lives in a way such that the fact that we have God’s authority and power is clearly evidenced.  The ultimate victory has already been won and we should “put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10 NASB)  As Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chronicles 20:12,

“O our God, will You not judge them?  For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

When Jehoshaphat was powerless against his enemies he focused on God, the only one who could save him.  Likewise, we should focus on our Lord and not Satan as we fight this battle.  It is only through Him that we “take up the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) and can be victorious in this battle.

Although Lewis takes what I believe is a wrong approach to describing this issue of spiritual warfare, he brings out some key points in his book which I believe are worth repeating.  First, shortly after Wormwood’s assigned human becomes a Christian, Screwtape writes the following to him,

“As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago.  And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognised, sin, but only with vague, though uneasy, feeling that hasn’t been doing very well lately (52).”

The point is not that Satan is afraid of Christians who repent of specific sins and live victorious Christian lives, as the context of the letter seems to indicate.  The point is that, if we have genuine salvation, there will be a spiritual change in our lives and the change will not be simply external but a change from the inside out.  Involved in this change is repentance of specific sins.  Lewis is right to point out that we will live defeated lives if we do not live in such a way that we confess each of our sins specifically.  We must not live defeated mediocre lives.

Lewis makes another point which also bears repeating.  Screwtape writes the following to Wormwood regarding what one would call “small sins:”

“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 effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing…Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without miles-stones, without signposts (54).”

The enemy Screwtape speaks of is God.  The strategy is for the fiends to use small sins to gradually drive the man away from God.  This is a good reminder for Christians.  Just because we are not committing the so-called big sins, by committing small sins, we gradually drift away from God.  This is one way that Christians are attacked by our enemy and he knows just how and where to attack.  This is why Paul exhorts all of us through his letter to the Ephesian church “to take up the full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Screwtape also writes to Wormwood regarding the redefining of Jesus.  He writes, “this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a “historical Jesus” to be found by clearing away later “accretions and perversions” and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition (85).”  Lewis shows how our adversary can use the quest for the “historical Jesus” against the cause of Christ.  Screwtape writes that this quest will “tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical (86).”  By focusing on this, we also “distract men’s minds from Who He is, and what He did (86).”  The letter is fictional but it is good description of how Satan can use the teachings of people like John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar to further the cause of evil in the world and to cloud the truth about Christ and who he was.  ABC and the late Peter Jennings produced a show a few years back on Jesus but the Jesus they presented on the show was not Jesus Christ at all.  They redefined Jesus, what he did, and what he said.  We, as Christians, must combat this kind of evil.

There are many other strategies of Satan which Lewis points out in The Screwtape Letters but space does not allow the discussion of all of them.  This book has helped me to become more aware of the ways in which Satan attacks me.  However, I must not let my focus be on the attacks.  My focus must be on my relationship with Jesus Christ.  I must major in discipleship and ways in which I can put on the full armor of God.  Only by doing this can I overcome the enemy and claim that victory which is already mine through Christ Jesus.

If you have never read The Screwtape Letters I recommend you pick up a copy and read it.  If you are a Christian who likes movies about magic, or likes books about witches and wizards, or are fascinated with exorcisms, etc., then you’ve got issues.  But you probably really like this book.


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