Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

When did you last hear Satan mentioned in church?

If it was in the last month, you’re probably within a minority in the British church today.  The devil may have fallen off of the church’s radar in recent decades, but Satan still prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). We still need to heed Peter’s advice to be “alert and of sober mind.”

C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters were first printed in The Guardian (how times have changed!) and then published as a book in 1941. There have been endless reprints for the book has a timeless quality.

The 31 letters give us an amusing and powerful insight into the devil’s tactics. We see Uncle Screwtape, a senior devil, writing advice to his young demon nephew, Wormwood. Only a few pages in, Wormwood’s “patient” becomes a Christian and Screwtape has to do all he can to help Wormwood save this man from “The Enemy.” Wormwood tries to undermine the patient’s view of the church to make him someone who unhappily hops from church to church, unable to see beyond the flaws of his brothers and sisters. Wormwood attempts to focus the patient’s attention on his tense relationship with his mother to test his Christian character.  Wormwood fights to make his patient waste time, to be distracted from good and worthwhile work. And so it goes on…

The part which always strikes me is how Screwtape calls Wormwood to focus on the small sins:

You will say these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. 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. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. (Letter XII)

So much to think about, reflect on and pray for!

 

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About Matt Stone

I'm a United Reformed Church Minister in Norfolk.

Posted on June 20, 2012, in Wednesday Books. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Graham Leverton

    I think that preachers desire to be careful about being evocative concerning Satan. It is not clear what ‘prowling around like a roaring lion’ really means, and certainly the way Lewis uses Screwtape to describe the subtlety of smaller sin does not correlate easily with the image of a large, aggressive,roaring and proactive lion. That is not to suggest that Satan does not exist but rather that his power must have been severely diminished by the Lord’s incredible death and resurrection and the subsequent indwelling of all believers by the Holy Spirit. If it has been severely diminished (or even better as far as believers are concerned), what evidence does the New Testament exhibit for such a jolly approach?

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