Archives For Screwtape Letters

Filling the Shoes of Giants

September 22, 2020 — 9 Comments

One thing all humans have in common, is that we are mortal. Immortality is not inherent to our nature, and eternal life can only come as a gift from our Creator. All men and women live and die. In the words of Ecclesiastes:

It is the same for all, since the same event [i.e. death] happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath (Ecclesiastes 9:2).

Naturally, there are many metrics by which to measure a person’s life. For my purpose today, I’m thinking about people who exerted an outsized* influence on culture through their testimony for Christ.

Richard John Neuhaus was such a man. Neuhaus served an integrated Lutheran congregation in Brooklyn during the 1960s, where his reputation as a socially conscious pastor began. Following the Roe versus Wade decision, Neuhaus’ involvement in liberal politics ebbed. However, his commitment to applying Christian ethics to society remained strong. In 1990, he became a Roman Catholic. He also founded the Institute on Religion and Public Life which continues to publish its ecumenical journal First Things.⁑

In his tribute to his uncle, “Can the Shoes of Richard John Neuhaus Be Filled?” Pastor Peter A. Speckhard acknowledges the sad prospects of lesser voices.

Sincerely Christian intellectuals who can articulate a solid orthodox take on any subject, but to whom nobody but their students and blog followers feel any urge to listen, are also a dime a dozen.⁂

Speckhard’s point is that there are many who are brilliant and devout, but few who can fill the shoes of giants. Speckhard offers this stark appraisal, however, without seeking to discourage other Christians from speaking to whomever might listen. (Which is much-needed encouragement to bloggers who are disappointed at how few read their posts.)

C.S. Lewis, an Even Taller Giant

As great as Neuhaus’ contribution to the advance of Christianity has been, it cannot match that of C.S. Lewis. Lewis, after all, was the great Christian apologist of the twentieth century. (An “apologist” is a person who argues in the defense of something that is controversial, in this case, the claim of Jesus himself that he “is the way, the truth, and the life [and] no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

While Neuhaus’ witness has continued to influence many Americans, Lewis’ impact has been felt around the world. Not only has God used his works to convert many readers, Lewis’ writings continue to teach and encourage those seeking the truth today.

I have not yet had an opportunity to read The Fame of C.S. Lewis. From the reviews, it is not so much about Lewis’ writing, but the way in which his reputation has grown. Thus the subtitle: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America. The author addresses one of the myths that has bothered me for years.

You may have heard the contention that Lewis is more popular in American than he is in Britain. It often carries a negative innuendo and comes across (to me, at least) like: “Lewis is more popular in the naïve, religiously unsophisticated colonies, than he is in enlightened, theologically cultured Britain.” In fact, Stephanie Derrick concludes, “the scale of Lewis’ renown was greater in the States than in Britain in large part because the difference in population there amounted to a much larger audience.”

Derrick addresses “larger question: how is renown made and kept?” She argues that “much of Lewis’s popularity is properly attributed to factors besides Lewis’s talents.”

Indeed, much of The Fame of C.S. Lewis is devoted to exploring the external factors that shaped Lewis’s success—the many actors and circumstances that have contributed to his popularity. Institutions, editors, changing social forces, and audiences have all had a hand in moulding Lewis’s image.

She is certainly correct that a wide range of factors, recognized and unknown, influence how we view people. This is particularly true after the individual (e.g. Rev. Richard Neuhaus) has become a part of history, once death has extinguished them, as Ecclesiastes might say.

However, I disagree that Lewis’ fame is an accident, the result of a unique combination of uncontrolled variables. On the contrary, I believe his reputation is based upon (1) his literary talents, (2) his humility and transparency, and—most importantly—because, (3) at the core of his most significant work, we find truth. The foundation of Lewis’ most precious writing is based on an unchanging, even eternally, relevant foundation.

I have no doubt God will continue to raise up other Christian apologists with anointed and far-reaching ministries. Ravi Zacharias, ⁑⁑ who recently died, is such a champion. There will be others to fill the shoes of C.S. Lewis and Zacharias, but their successors will require very remarkable gifts.

Bonus

One final link. This one is to the Moral Apologetics website, which has some very good articles on C.S. Lewis. And, if you decide to subscribe to their free newsletter, they allow you download The Ichabod Letters: Epistles from a Junior Demon. (Author Elton Higgs says his “study in demonic subterfuge [is] modeled on C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters.”)


* That’s the first time I’ve ever used that word. Seems too slangish for my tastes. But apparently it has been around since it dates to the early 1800s. (By the way, I hope you appreciated my facetious use of “slangish,” which is considerably younger and more slangy.)

First Things is an ecumenical publication, but my subjective estimate is that about 70% of the articles relate rather directly to Roman Catholicism. They offer a worthwhile newsletter featuring free access to a number of their articles.

⁂ Peter A. Speckhard, “Can the Shoes of Richard John Neuhaus Be Filled?” Concordia Theological Quarterly 77 (2013), 342-53. The article is available here.

⁑⁑ Zacharias leaves behind a lasting legacy, particularly in the form of the ministry he founded, RZIM. Check it out for some thoughtful resources from Zacharias and other like minded contemporary Christian apologists.

C.S. Lewis On Stage

March 3, 2015 — 9 Comments

fpaIf you live in one of the cities listed below, you will definitely want to see the impressive stage performance of “The Great Divorce,” currently touring the United States.

This weekend my wife and I journeyed great distances to the city of the Space Needle. (It’s an arduous trek, and involves taking to the seas aboard ferry boats that tourists love and commuters endure.)

Frankly, it requires a lot to move me to subject myself to the teeming masses of traffic and humanity on the streets of urban Seattle—but this performance was more than worth the trip.

“The Great Divorce” has been adapted for the stage by Max McLean and Brian Watkins. McLean is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA) in New York City. You can learn more about the Fellowship and their offerings here.

His last foray into C.S. Lewis’ work was a widely applauded rendition of “The Screwtape Letters.” It was so well received that it may be taken on tour again in upcoming years.

In the current production, three talented actors bring to life a wide range of characters from Lewis’ work about the gulf (“divorce”) between heaven and hell.

Following the performance, McLean offers the audience a short Q&A session on the work. During ours, he was asked if he is contemplating any more Lewisian adaptations. With a broad smile he assured us he was, saying, “I’m smitten by Lewis.”

When asked about the way in which Lewis’ fantasy work was a response to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he paraphrased Lewis’ remarks in the preface of The Great Divorce. Then McLean said he wished they had used Lewis’ original title for the work.

In May of 1945 Lewis wrote to a regular correspondent, “The title Who Goes Home? has had to be dropped because someone has used it already. The little book will be called The Great Divorce and will appear about August.” Those acquainted with the volume will recognize how much better suited to the work Lewis’ preferred title was.

So, Where Will the Play Be Performed

Here are the remaining locations for the performances. They are in the midst of their tour, so I will not list places they have already visited. (Don’t wish to disappoint anyone who missed out on an opportunity to see it.)

Portland, Oregon

Chicago, Illinois

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Cincinnati, Ohio

Everything FPA creates is exceptional. I encourage you to sign up for their email list to keep apprised of their future offerings, including updates to their tour schedule.

I was recently reminded that February 2012 marks the seventieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters. Other bloggers have remarked on the anniversary, for example here and here.

Lewis dedicated the book to his dear friend and fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien.

If you’re unfamiliar with the letters, you really should rectify that gap in your knowledge. The letters are penned by Screwtape, a senior Devil, to Wormword, a less experienced tempter. They illuminate Satan’s demonic tactics and provide keen insight into our fallen human nature, replete with its countless vulnerabilities.

There’s even a graphic novel version of the collection which was published in 1994 by Thomas Nelson in partnership with Marvel Comics.

While the anniversary of the Letters in and of itself is certainly significant enough to merit a blog announcement . . . this post includes something quite rare. The fact is we’ve come into possession of one of Screwtape’s instructional emails, written to another subordinate demon.

For the benefit of those who would arm themselves against the snares of the Enemy, we reproduce it in full below.

(Oh, and as a reminder, when Screwtape refers to his Enemy, he is actually talking about the Creator of heaven and earth. Also, you can’t actually trust anything he writes since he’s a Liar, just like the archangel he followed so long ago. For example, note his incorrect reference to his own “immortality.”)

My Dear Esculentus,*

Another decade has passed since that puppet of the Enemy released to the world a portion of my correspondence with Wormwood. Of course, the lamentable Wormwood has had ample time to regret his carelessness in that matter, as I often remind you.

A decade’s but a snippet to immortals such as us, of course, but to the mortals it marks a significant portion of their brief lives. Why the Enemy loves those pitiable insects so much goes beyond logic!

Still, another halfscore has flown past and that damaging treatise remains in print. In fact, if anything, it continues to grow in popularity.

We simply cannot have our “patients” made aware of our treatment regimen for them. If they come to realize that our most successful deception is untrue, the relentless work of centuries will be undone.

We have labored tirelessly up to the present day to persuade humanity that all truth is subjective! Fortunately, the vast majority of the population in what are ironically labeled “enlightened nations,” has accepted our suggestion. This allows them to eagerly swallow the comforting lie that “all roads lead to god.” If they realize that all roads do indeed lead to a ‘god,’ they might abandon one of the many paths that lead to our Master who is ever-eager to “swallow” them in turn.

Better by far that those entrusted to our misleading, nourish our infernal Father than that you and I sate his appetite. (As you know, I say that figuratively, since our Father’s hunger for power can never be truly satiated. His all consuming hunger is one of his infinite qualities, which we rightly extol.)

But, back to your primary concern my appetizing friend, your patient. By all means keep him from reading The Screwtape Letters. In fact, the farther you keep him from anything written by Clive Staples Lewis, the better!

Keep him in the company of liberal companions who have embraced the myth of there being no objective truth. That way, we can prevent him from ever meeting the Enemy who proclaims himself to be—yes, disgusting isn’t it—the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Never pass up an opportunity to impress upon your patient that such a claim is politically incorrect to the utmost. Remind him he will be shunned by society if he argued there was a single truth. Indeed, make him think the very suggestion that anyone sincerely following another path might be lost, is repugnant.

Many of your fellow tempters have experienced great success in motivating the humans they treat to replace in their world views the virtue of Truth with the sentimentality of Sincerity. This you must do as well.

Persuade him that the eternal destiny of all who believe in something, is secure. Convince him that it is by their sincerity that they are saved. Oh how sweet it is when they accept this dark epiphany!

And it has never been easier to win humans over to this view than it is today. If you wish to embellish the doctrine with vague language about “God being love” and all that, so be it. Just see to it that they never open the Enemy’s book to recognize how grossly they have edited and distorted that concept!

Oh, and in closing, allow me to once again remind you of how I began this digital epistle. (We both know that it frequently takes a dozen or more reminders to make a firm impression on your dull mind.)

Do whatever it takes to ensure that your patient never reads the Letters! And, be wise to guard our own correspondence, lest you end up in the agonizing company of the afore-censured Wormwood.

Your affectionate adoptive Uncle,

Screwtape

*Esculentus translates from the Latin as either “delicious” or “succulent,” and if you have read The Screwtape Letters you know what that suggests about Screwtape’s interest in his protégé.