This weekend, at the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, I saw Max McLean perform The Screwtape Letters, adapted from the original book by C.S. Lewis. It is about a head demon (Screwtape) giving advice via letter correspondence to his nephew, Wormwood, seeking to advise him in ways to corrupt the faith of a human being who becomes a Christian.
Chris, Max McLean and I outside the backstage entrance after the show
I have yet to read that book, but after hearing the one-man show of it, I am eager to delve in. Of the book, Lewis says, “If I didn’t enjoy writing I wouldn’t continue to do it. Of all my books, there was only one (The Screwtape Letters) I did not take pleasure in writing.”
Lewis went on explain: “They were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, ‘That’s what the devil would say.’ But making goods ‘bad’ and bads ‘good’ gets to be fatiguing.”
He pointed out, even in his day and age, the problem with the church. How you can go to church with Joe, the grocer, and not really care to know him outside of that building because he’s not your type. Or even how we pay our dues/tithes to the church, but don’t care to do more than that or give/invest directly into the community around us. This almost “paying” the church to perform for us – both in the leading of worship and in doing service/sending out missionaries – then living vicariously through the church and sharing in a glory that is not ours.
C.S. Lewis was once asked: “Do you feel, then, that modern culture is being de-Christianized?”
To which Lewis replied: “I cannot speak to the political aspects of the question, but I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.
The case against Christianity that is made out in the world is quite strong. Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity, contributes to making a prima facie case against Christianity. It is not easy to be a believer in the face of this surface evidence. It calls for a strong faith in Jesus Christ.”
Speaking of church, tonight one of the pastors taught on Matthew 6:1-4 – totally missed the entire point of the passage, but my dad always taught me to take something away from a message. I did like how he briefly contrasted 6:1 with 5:16, on doing good works to be seen by others vs. letting your light shine before men. One is about US and the other is about HIM. I also have to watch my heart and to not puff myself up in that “judgement.” God isn’t powerless and can use anything to and for His glory and in the hearts of people. But during the message I skimmed down to a verse I’ve memorized in the past, but that stood out to me in a whole new way. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). I thought back to my own despair at how I feel like I don’t sound good when I pray aloud anymore or have much to say. Then I realized that desire that seemed “good” and “holy” was really about my pride, how I appeared and it was, in fact, also keeping me from praying more to the Lord.
This all reminded me of a method Screwtape encouraged his nephew to use on his patient (Christian) – to use something “good” and make it bad. Shame is a powerful weapon. There is a difference between grief that leads to a godly repentance and grief that is rooted in pride and has us miring in shame and distracting us from the grace found in Jesus Christ.