Posts Tagged ‘The Screwtape Letters’

At Christmas time,I like to say tongue in cheek that, “I just want to be whipped into a Yuletide frenzy”, but that type of emotional high seems to be the modus operandi of many a Christian congregation and their worship services:  get the faithful into some sort of emotional high. In the central act of inculcating emotional highs, generally speaking happy highs, the very act of doing so precludes, disallows and disavows other emotions:  sorrow, sadness, anger to be expressed or confessed.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, in the fourth letter, Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood that Wormwood’s “patient” can be tempted, and so succumb, if the patient does not pray. One of the methods that Screwtape  explains to Wormwood to have his patient’s prayer neutralized is the following:

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment. (italics original)

Prayer as in worship is directed outward not inward. I think Lewis was on to something here.  Ministers and churches which practice this prayer just might be doing the devil’s own work. Prayer does not come from our feelings, but on account of God’s Word, even when we don’t feel it. This is why prayer is from the heart,that is,  the heart of God to our hearts, souls and minds through His Word is His grace and guidance to us:  see The Lord’s Prayer, see the longest book in the Bible, the Psalms!  It is that prayer that is prayer to the Lord.  

So many pastors and ministers can get folks feeling brave, charitable, forgiven.  Back in college, when the Jesus movement, later called “born-again”, was starting, a football player had a poster: “I used to get high on drugs, but now I get high on the Jesus”.  I did not think Jesus was like a joint, a drug.  Still don’t.  Too many ministers and their followers hook them with those emotions, like junkies, and when many ask for money, like a junky pay the price.  Am I against emotions?  No.  As a pastor I have seen people kneeling to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, with smiles or with tears.  They heard the Word which causes joy. Feelings will follow but they do not lead and must not: only the Lord leads as He went into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I am glad my classmate was not on drugs and the Lord turned him around, but getting ‘high’ on Jesus would too wear off.

Prayer, as faith, Baptism, Communion depends upon His Word to us.  So many avoid Good Friday services for Easter.  Good Friday and Easter does not depend upon us but on His suffering, bleeding, dying Word for us and our salvation, thirsting for your salvation. He alone turns us to Himself.

This is the Screwtape Letter quoted above, the fourth one, as read by John Cleese:

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This posting is a reflection on a portion of C. S. Lewis’ first Screwtape letter.  I earlier posted this letter as read by John Cleese.  It is posted below again for your convenience.


I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naive? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.(emphasis my own)

When someone says we should not argue, be wary, the devil is lurking.  Remembering the Bible begins with a dialogue, “Did God say…?”  Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. The serpent introduced new theological jargon into the ‘spiritual’ dialogue ‘for’ Eve:  “being-like-God” and who would not like to be like God?  Except, they were already made in Image of God! This ‘Godness’ will be the result of eating,  and so knowing good and evil and the serpent theologically concludes this is the attribute of the LORD;  except in Genesis 2:  17, there is not a hint of this. In fact, is knowledge of good and evil the ultimate attribute of God?  From the Scripture we know of one ultimate attribute of the Lord and it is agape, that is His steadfast love and mercy by which He makes faith in our hearts through Jesus Christ.  The serpent did not want that and so introduces theological jargon:  “knowing good and evil”. This has Eve looking away from the Lord, keeping her away from His Church and toward herself.  This terrible reality of evil is precisely rendered in this woodcut by the Reformation artist, Lucas Cranach the elder:  note the serpent has transformed itself into a woman but not any woman, but Eve!  She liked what she saw: the image, and not the source of the image:  the Lord.  She bought the jargon and bit the fruit. No arguments about that.

I have noticed that in political and theological debates the last thing we are supposed to do is “argue”.  Argument is bad but “discussion” and “dialogue” is good. “Can’t we all just get along?”, comes the plaintive plea.  Lewis had it “spot on”:  it used to be argument was good because philosophy, science, and theology were about truth or falsehood.  The constant engagement with the entertaining media massages the brain to think in categories other than truth or falsehood;  after all, the media is in thralldom to the sacred self and with the self, relativism, as it was not so long ago called.  It is in the lingo:  “it’s cutting edge”, “it’s speaking truth to power”, “it’s about reconciled diversity”, “avant-garde”, “the way of the future”.  So when it comes to Biblical and theological “dialogue” it’s about jargon, not truth or falsehood,  because someone does not want the faithful layman (and pastor!) to know that step by careful step the truth of God’s Word is being whittled away. The frog is being boiled. And finally, with jargon alone, not Word alone, doctrine and saving truth is the casualty.

After years of discussion on sexuality issues, the jargon has become a doctrine in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Over ten years ago, in the fight to gain acceptance of homosexual false marriage (note:  the powers of darkness won), they came up with the idea of  “bound conscience”.  They used Luther’s statement at the Diet of Wurms, “my conscience is bound to the Word of God”, but perverted it.  There are two bound consciences.  The first one, the actual one, is the classical Lutheran teaching: bound to the Word of God. The second one is the ‘new’ teaching which the ELCA taught: bound to the conscience of my neighbor  in service to him. Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Note: The consciences are equal and yet not.  If my conscience is bound to my neighbor, and his understanding of Scriptures regarding,say, inclusive language or gay marriage which is non-Biblical, it does not matter: I must respect him and his conscience.  Why would I do that?  My love of him/her.  So love triumphs over truth.  No argument. Bound Conscience II trumps Bound Conscience I, the Word of God.  Note that there is no arbiter between the two “consciences”, except political correctness or who is wielding power and in control, after all, the Scriptures have been neutered.  Two consciences is the classic schizoid mentality, split mind, certainly not the mind of Christ and His sound doctrine.  The arbiter of Scripture alone is denied and so a liberal Protestant church body can no longer say, “We believe, teach and confess…”, as did the blessed Reformers. (By the way:  you never hear of “bound conscience” any longer as they tossed out that piece of heretical jargon for ‘new’ versions.)

We are to argue but without hatred and derision and to do so without ad hominem argumentation. It is clear from Scripture that our fight is not against, “…flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evilin the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God…” (Ephesians 6) Humanly speaking, in an argument this is most difficult to do, in fact impossible without the whole armor of God. It is not the person but whether what is taught, preached and said is true or false. We must argue for the sake of His Word so that you may know it is true and frees you from Screwtape! So that others may know and love Jesus Christ!

Triune God, be Thou our Stay,
Oh, let us perish never.
Cleanse us from our sins, we pray,
And grant us life forever.
Keep us from the Evil One;
Uphold our faith most holy,
Grant us to trust Thee solely
With humble hearts and lowly.
Let us put God’s armor on:
With all true Christians running
Our heavenly race and shunning
The devil’s wiles and cunning.
Amen, Amen, this be done,
O Lord, have mercy upon us.

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